Food

Houston is a meals lover’s paradise






As a lifelong Yankee, I’d all the time related Houston with issues like huge oil, larger hair, 10-gallon hats, and 10-lane freeways. That’s, it by no means confirmed up on my quick checklist of trip spots. However after marrying a Texan, I’ve adopted it as an unlikely second hometown. Bizarre, I do know.

After just some visits, I began buying and selling tried-and-true New England notions like winter, two-lane highways, and the idea of “walkable distance” for issues like tacos on days aside from Tuesday, avocados that don’t require financing, and a second particular person plural that, frankly, I’m undecided the place I’d be with out, y’all.

I’ve additionally come to be taught that Houston is extra than simply warmth, humidity, and Halliburton.

Houston is, certainly, an absolute beast of a metropolis, masking greater than seven occasions the realm of Boston, with greater than thrice as many individuals calling it dwelling. And whereas it takes time to seek out the wonder in H-City’s expanse of cracked asphalt and strip malls, it has a means of displaying up proper in entrance of you, generally thrice a day.

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For quite a lot of causes — Houston’s place between Gulf seafood and Texas produce, its lengthy historical past of overlapping immigrant cultures, and an ever-expanding vastness that has enabled these migrant cultures to settle and thrive — town has some of the thrilling and undiscovered meals cultures within the nation. In a state of previous traditions, Houston is a metropolis of newcomers. It’s additionally now essentially the most numerous metropolitan space in the USA. (No, actually!)


Over the previous few many years, Houston’s inhabitants has been outlined (and redefined) by waves of immigrants, placing down roots in Texas soil and forming thriving communities. Today, the fastest-growing populations listed here are Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nigerian.

The results of this (literal) melting pot are dishes that replicate a world made somewhat smaller by a tangle of freeways — and served rather a lot larger. (That is nonetheless Texas.) The culinary crossovers evident throughout Houston serve a much more sensible aim than attracting the eye of meals writers obsessive about “fusion” — it’s about feeding your neighbors, all 2.three million of them.

This additionally makes it one of many extra accessible foodie holidays you’ll be able to take. Fares between Boston and Houston may be shockingly low (I’ve had dearer spherical journeys between South Station and Penn Station), and for the reason that meals right here is outlined extra by cultures than by ideas, you find yourself spending much less and consuming extra.

A notice on logistics and lodging: Do put together to lease a automobile or use ride-share companies. As I’ve talked about, there’s an entire lot of Houston, so take into account staying in a central neighborhood “within the loop” (inside Interstate 610).

Lodge ZaZa (888-880-3244, hotelzaza.com) is a neighborhood mainstay within the world-class Museum District — reap the benefits of its longhorn limos, which make for a candy journey anyplace. Theater buffs may go for the Lancaster Lodge (713-228-9500, thelancaster.com), a Texas historic landmark simply throughout from Jones Corridor, the house of the Houston Symphony.

Now all that’s left is to get up and begin consuming.

This may very well be so simple as an ideal kolache. The Czech pastries are a breakfast (and anytime) staple in Texas, particularly so in Houston, the place Weikel’s (weikels.com) and Hruska’s (979-378-2333, hruskas-bakery.com) stand like obligatory checkpoints on routes into city. However at Christy’s (713-524-4005), a small nook doughnut and kolache store within the Montrose neighborhood, you too can take your first cross-cultural nibble of Houston within the type of a pillow-soft boudin kolache: a N’awlins-style sausage filled with spicy soiled rice, itself stuffed right into a pocket of candy dough — type of a Texas-sized pig in a blanket. (And technically, a klobásník, however attempt to get a Texan to say that.)

Elsewhere in Montrose, you’ll be able to put your identify on the checklist and squeeze right into a sales space at Child Barnaby’s (713-522-4229, barnabyscafe.com) for some mind-blowing migas (eggs cooked with crispy tortilla strips) and proof that not every part in Texas is so huge. The modest parking zone patio of La Guadalupana Bakery and Cafe (713-522-2301) fills up every morning with neighbors craving breakfast tortas, actually phenomenal chilaquiles, or perhaps a morning slice of tres leches cake (extra on that later).

If it’s Sunday, it’s Hugo’s (713-524-7744, hugosrestaurant.internet). Texas is a land of buffets (Luby’s being essentially the most prevalent, and the Luann Platter being its best-known choice), however none is finer than the opulent Mexican brunch unfold laid out by James Beard Award-winner Hugo Ortega — the chef behind three extra of Houston’s finer eating places, the neighborhoody Backstreet Cafe, the coastal Mexican sizzling spot Caracol, and the Oaxacan-focused treasure Xochi. After brunch, take a stroll up and down Westheimer — a 19-mile street that stretches throughout Houston and blooms right into a strip of tattoo and resale retailers, bars, and cafes as soon as it hits Montrose.

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Chef Hugo Ortega within the kitchen at Hugo’s.

However breakfast may (and will) imply rising early and staking out a spot in line at The Breakfast Klub (713-528-8561, thebreakfastklub.com) — the legendary Midtown soul meals vacation spot the place deciding on wings and waffles or “katfish & grits” is the day’s first not possible alternative.

ART BREAK!

Enable time between breakfast and lunch to digest on the Menil Assortment (menil.org), a Renzo Piano-designed free museum tucked right into a quiet Montrose neighborhood, that includes a mixture of up to date work and a surprising assortment of contemporary and Surrealist artwork. The museum is central to a campus of everlasting displays of labor by artists corresponding to Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, and Dan Flavin. Its shady sculpture park is a favourite spot for picnics — and if one in every of Houston’s highly effective thunderstorms barges in, Bistro Menil (713-904-3537, bistromenil.com) makes a high-quality different in a pinch.

Lunch in Houston can imply one cease or a number of alongside a very crushed path. A stretch of Lengthy Level Street capturing by way of the once-German settlement of Spring Department appears like a beat-up few miles of unhappy strip malls; pull in and park nearly anyplace, nonetheless, and also you’ll discover a luncher’s paradise, with a dizzying mixture of storefronts and meals vans providing every part from Thai to tacos, Korean to Honduran, Vietnamese to Salvadoran.

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Line cooks getting ready tortas at Las Tortas Perronas.

My go-to is Taqueria Las Glorias (832-665-1624). The oddly Shrek-themed truck serves up life-changing tacos al pastor (pork stewed with pineapple) in addition to a lengua (tongue) price attempting in the event you by no means have. The proper Salvadoran pupusas at Cocina Latina Pupusa Buffet (713-218-6666) are irresistible, whereas the tortas at Las Tortas Perronas are past beneficiant (713-461-1900) — particularly good when paired with a chilly bottle of Mexican Squirt soda. And you’ll’t very properly simply drive previous the smoky Monterrey-style asada plates served from the window of the Pollos y Carnes Asadas El Norteño transformed bus (713-825-1257).

Simply down the street, Vieng Thai (713-688-9910, viengthai.com) focuses on “curries in a rush” in addition to two kinds of som tum — tangy papaya salad with crunchy salted crabs. Korean barbecue lovers can take their decide on Lengthy Level from a row of locations — although I’m keen on Korea Backyard (713-468-2800, ) for its kimchi pancake and spicy stews (surprisingly refreshing on a Houston-hot day).

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Prospects get pleasure from tacos at Taqueria Las Glorias.

It might be cheap to imagine that the unshakable staples of Houston lunch time are tacos and barbecue. And whereas Goode Firm (713-522-2530, goodecompany.com) and The Pit Room (281-888-1929, thepitroombbq.com) qualify as must-hit pit stops throughout the loop, the dominant lunch sandwich in these components is undoubtedly the bánh mì.

You’ll find flawless specimens of those Vietnamese-French mainstays in Midtown at Cali Sandwich & Quick Meals (713-520-0710) and Les Givral’s (832-582-7671, lesgivrals.com), each of which tuck completely charred BBQ pork (for instance) into mushy but crunchy baguettes, with a wealthy smear of pâté and the punch of pickled carrot, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeño.

Soup savorers can discover Houston’s most beloved bowl of traditional pho at Mai’s (713-520-5300, maishouston.com), whereas at hip Austin import Ramen Tatsu-Ya (346-226-3253, ramen-tatsuya.com) the strains get even longer when it serves up its most anticipated mash-up particular: brisket ramen.

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The inside of Korea Backyard.

Whereas we’re speaking about lengthy strains, the breakout star of the soul meals scene right here (thanks partly to shout-outs from Snoop Dogg and James Harden) is Turkey Leg Hut (832-787-0770, theturkeyleghut.com), whose namesake fall-off-the-bone turkey legs (optionally filled with Cajun crawfish mac and cheese) and otherworldly gumbo (served on Thursdays and Fridays) has develop into the stuff of legend.

Not removed from the Hut is Houston’s best-known fried hen spot, Frenchy’s (713-748-2233, frenchyschicken.com) — which additionally skews closely Creole, with a imply jambalaya and a number of pitch-perfect po’ boys. In spite of everything of this, don’t be shocked if lunch time turns into nap time.

identified fried hen spot, Frenchy’s (713-748-2233, frenchyschicken.com) — which additionally skews closely Creole, with a imply jambalaya and a number of pitch-perfect po’ boys. In spite of everything of this, don’t be shocked if lunch time turns into nap time.

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Cachetes de res (beef cheeks) with mole pasilla at Xochi.

ART BREAK!

Give your self an hour earlier than venturing out to dinner to absorb the Houston sundown by way of James Turrell’s beautiful Twilight Epiphany Skyspace (skyspace.rice.edu), on the Rice College campus close to the Museum District. At evening, viewers congregate to look at the sky’s altering hues framed by way of the construction’s large overhead aperture, itself coloured by a sequence of gently altering lights. Open day by day however Tuesday, it’s free and reasonably magnificent. Early birds can catch the present at dawn, too.

For dinner, Houston’s iconic cross-cultural providing is sweet previous Tex-Mex. And no person on the town does the fajitas and ’ritas factor higher than the unique Ninfa’s on  Navigation (713-228-1175, ninfas.com), though El Actual (713-524-1201), a former film home turned margarita hub in Montrose, and Chuy’s (713-524-1700, chuys.com), an more and more ubiquitous Elvis-inspired chain, will greater than do in a pinch — particularly in the event you’re tuckered from a day of procuring down Westheimer on the tony Galleria.

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A server speeds previous a portrait of Mama Ninfa on the authentic Ninfa’s on Navigation.

However a visit farther afield — i.e., down Bellaire Boulevard — may be revelatory (and price all of the lane altering). It’s a miles-long stretch of strip-mall eateries and freestanding pan-Asian palaces, with each conceivable Asian language calling out from gleaming timber of signage presiding over packed parking tons. The sprawling eating room at Fung’s Kitchen (713-779-2288, eatatfungs.com) fills up for its magnificent dim sum, however I like going there only for a small shell-shaped dish of chilly sesame squid, an Asian tackle ceviche.

That’s normally as a result of I’m leaving room for a go to to Crawfish & Noodles (281-988-8098, crawfishandnoodles.com), the unofficial coronary heart of Houston’s vibrant Viet-Cajun scene. Spicy crawfish are soaked in unctuous garlic butter, paired with heaps of steaming stir-fried noodles and precarious piles of large crab legs. Two warnings: One bib is rarely sufficient, and your fingers will odor like garlic on the flight dwelling.

Crawfish and Noodles Restaurant, Houston Texas

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The Viet-Cajun crawfish at Crawfish & Noodles.

There’s additionally the touchdown strip of dinner locations on Airline Drive, the place you’ll find two of my favourite Mexican seafood joints, each run by Chinese language households. The menu on the understated Connie’s Seafood (713-868-2144, conniesseafood.com) options traditional seafood gumbo subsequent to tangy ceviches atop crispy tostadas. Similar at Golden Seafood (713-802-9989, goldenseafood.com), the place huge plates of jumbo shrimp a la parrilla (i.e., char-grilled) are a match made in Houston with a heap of Chinese language fried rice. However my favourite on the strip (and on the town) comes from Tampico (713-862-8425, tampicoseafood.com) — which knew a terrific concept when it noticed one and serves fried rice, too.

Ought to your journey require a date evening, Nancy’s Hustle (346-571-7931, nancyshustle.com) within the fast- growing EaDo neighborhood is a showcase of chef Jason Vaughan’s refined indecision — Turkish lamb dumplings with tart labneh really feel proper at dwelling right here subsequent to hand-cut spaghetti (with crabs and fermented chili butter), and that ubiquitous pan-roasted snapper. However don’t go with out sampling the Nancy Desserts (house-ground cornmeal griddle truffles with whipped butter and smoked trout roe).

One other cozy couple’s choice is tucked into the Warehouse District simply north of downtown. Theodore Rex (832-830-8592, trexhouston.com) is esteemed chef Justin Yu’s follow-up to his adventurous, award-winning Oxheart. Deal with your self to a divinely ready Wagyu loin or the requisite purple snapper — however don’t miss the rice and beans, among the many finest you’ll discover in Houston.

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A number of recent seafood at Tampico.

Any touring foodie can be properly served at UB Preserv (346-406-5923, ubpreserv.com), the most recent providing from chef Chris Shepherd, who continues his ongoing homage to the various Houston meals scene that impressed him to open his first hang-out, the heralded Underbelly. A single dinner right here may embrace every part from Vietnamese short-rib fajitas to wok-fried collard greens to a guava mousse cake with mint and pickled strawberry.

In fact you’ve left room for dessert, which itself isn’t proof against cross-cultural tweaks. Himalaya Restaurant (713-532-2837, himalayarestauranthouston.com) is an Indian-Pakistani favourite on the various strip of Hillcroft Avenue that places a deliciously desi twist on its tres leches by coating it in luscious mango sauce. The River Oaks pan-Latin kitchen Américas (832-200-1492, americasrestaurant.com) tops its model with cloudy Italian meringue. At Griselda Barrios and Jodi Wray’s downtown dessert cafe Treacherous Leches (treacherousleches.com), a  breathtaking riff on the traditional competes with purple velvet, key lime, and fried doughnut variations. However the final tres leches comes from any of a number of places of El Bolillo Bakery (713-921-3500, elbolillo.com), which provide the traditional vanilla model in addition to strawberry, peach, mocha pecan, caramel, and Oreo interpretations.

From the appears of Houston — its huge, featureless expanse pockmarked by potholes and parking tons — it’d be simple to mistake it for an entire lot of nothing. However Area Metropolis seems to be a universe unto itself, and the households who’ve settled listed here are serving day by day classes in how a metropolis of the long run may look — and style.

Reckon y’all may expertise the same change of coronary heart, must you ever mosey down this manner. And don’t fear, nobody truly talks like that right here. (Properly, aside from the y’all half. That’s a keeper.)

> MOVABLE FEASTS

In fact, in the event you introduced a Texas-sized urge for food to city with you, don’t maintain again on my account: The seventh Annual Houston Barbecue Competition (houbbq.com) is April 14, and the Houston Crawfish, Crab & Grill Competition (hccgfest.com) is Might 11. And in the event you can stick round for dessert, the Pasadena Strawberry Competition (strawberryfest.org) is the weekend of Might 17. It consists of strawberry celebrations topped with a rousing sport of mud volleyball and a magnificence pageant — which I’m assuming don’t overlap.

> WHAT TO DO BETWEEN MEALS

Houston isn’t nearly consuming — it’s additionally an ideal getaway for artwork lovers, music buffs, sports activities followers, and anybody who simply wants somewhat “me” time.

As an illustration, although Houston’s octagonal oasis of quiet contemplation, the Rothko Chapel, is closed for renovations for many of 2019, you’ll be able to nonetheless discover a welcome stretch of beautiful silence at its dad or mum museum, the Menil Assortment (menil.org), which can have a good time its spring exhibition Assortment Shut-Up: John Cage (by way of Might 12) with an open public meditation March 20.

On the alternative finish of the tranquillity spectrum is the spectacle on wheels that’s the Houston Artwork Automobile Parade, which rolls by way of downtown for its 32d installment April 11 by way of 14. Offered by the Orange Present Heart for Visionary Artwork, this annual procession of greater than 250 festively festooned rides offers Austin’s much- ballyhooed weirdness a run for its cash (thehoustonartcarparade.com). If that’s not quick sufficient for you, on Might four you’ll be able to catch the Houston Dragon Boat Competition (texasdragonboat.com). This kickoff to Asian Pacific American Heritage Month brings professional paddlers to the Buffalo Bayou for a day of races, stay music, and celebrations of Houston’s wealthy pan-Asian neighborhood.

Opera buffs may settle in for a weekend with the world-renowned Houston Grand Opera (houstongrandopera.org), which closes its spring season with a efficiency of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (by way of Might 5), in addition to the world premiere of The Phoenix, composer Tarik O’Regan and John Caird’s story of the redemption of Lorenzo da Ponte, the scandal-plagued librettist of Don Giovanni (by way of Might 10).

Or observe the Purple Sox into city once they put the squeeze on the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park (Might 24-26), however you’ll discover that folk round right here get simply as labored up over the native soccer membership, the Houston Dynamo (houstondynamo.com), which has a half-dozen dwelling matches this spring.

Michael Andor Brodeur is a Boston Globe columnist. Ship feedback to journal@globe.com. Get one of the best of the journal’s award-winning tales and options proper in your e-mail inbox each Sunday. Join right here.



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