Someone once told me “Houston is a great place to live, but not the best place to visit.” Having lived there for six years, I totally get what they meant now. It took me about two years to get my bearings in Houston and once I did, I completely fell in love with the Bayou city.
Unlike other major cities in Texas, Houston’s Charms aren’t that obvious at first glance. It doesn’t have a lot of natural beauty like Austin and it isn’t a cultural phenomenon like Dallas. But with a little digging and some good resources, I know you will see what a gem Houston is.
From incredible food to world-class museums and more shopping than you can imagine, Houston has everything you could ever need or want. Because Houston is technically larger than the state of Rhode Island, I’ve found the trick to enjoying the city is finding the neighborhood you like and going from there.
Rice Village/West University
The Museum District
The food in Houston is some of the best in the world. When I lived there, going out to eat was my favorite thing to do. Whether it was brunch with girlfriends, grabbing a bite to eat at the cafe after a day at the museum or a dinner out with my husband, there was no shortage of incredible and diverse restaurants to choose from.
Something I love about Houston is that they have BYOB restaurants. I haven’t quite tapped into that scene in Austin, but I live for BYOB spots. My No. 1 all time favorite restaurant in Houston is Huynh and it is BYOB. Since I’m a wino, I am SUPER picky about the wine I drink. Going to a BYOB restaurant is great because I can bring literally anything I want and enjoy it with fabulous food all at a reasonable price.
Hole in the Walls/BYOBs:
In addition to my BYOB faves, I have a solid list of go-to places that I would be at on a regular basis. For dinner, I love Kata Robata (fancy sushi and IMO better than Uchi, Nobu and MF Sushi), Coltivare–you cannot beat the experience of Coltivare in Houston. It is a farm-to-table Italian restaurant in the Heights with its own garden. You can wait in the garden for your table (and have one of their famous gin and tonics), the food is incredible as well. Nobie’s is also fabulous for dinner. Their menu is always changing and the food is top-notch. The restaurant is so cozy so I love it for a date night or dinner with close friends.
I love B19 for a boozy brunch or dinner with my girlfriends and Bistro Menil is the absolute best for a salad, carafe of wine and a delicious dessert. The Menil Collection is a must-see while you’re in Houston too so you can knock out two birds with one stone with this one.
I also love Mala Sichuan and miss it dearly. If you’re looking for legit sichuan go to their China Town location, but if you want a hip vibe in town, check out their Montrose location. If you’re looking for a bougie Asian dining experience look no further than Le Colonial. I absolutely love everything about this place. From the decor, to the food, wine list and service, Le Colonial is hard to beat. I love it for brunch, a boozy lunch, dinner and late night… yes, the second floor of Le Colonial turns into a mild club scene at night and it is SO fun! Another fun dining experience with fantastic food is Armando’s. In my opinion, Armando’s has the best margaritas in town and while their food is flavorful, it doesn’t leave me feeling sick and way too full like other Mexican restaurants in town. On Thursday nights, Armando’s also turns into a dancing scene! It is the absolute best.
For sophisticated dining I always seem to go to State of Grace and La Table. Both restaurants are beautifully designed and in fabulous locations. I love the oyster happy hour at State of Grace, but really everything on the menu is incredible. La Table is truly French fine dining. The wine list is the best in Houston and I love all of their food. The service is also outstanding.
If you’re looking for a Fancy dining experience in Houston, there are so many world-class options to choose from. I added La Table on this list as well because it is a very upscale dining experience.
Houston recently opened its first Michelin starred restaurant, Le Jardinier, at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) and it is truly incredible. The decor is very European and the food, wine and cocktails are outstanding. Musaafer is also new on the food scene in Houston and if you like Indian food as much as I do, you will not want to miss this spot. In addition to incredible food, the decor and vibe of this restaurant are unparalleled. Bludorn *somewhat* recently opened in town and we love everything about it. It is more traditional, elevated American food with oysters, steak and a killer wine list.
Whenever Will and I were celebrating something special, we would try to go to BCN. This elegant spanish restaurant is phenomenal and so charming. It is very hard to get a reservation so you will have to plan your visit far in advance, but it is totally worth it.
If you’re looking for an over-the-top steak experience, Mastro’s and Doris Metropolitan are my favorites. Mastro’s is just a sceney experience with great cocktails food and people watching, but Doris Metropolitan is really for the foodies. I think the best steak I had in Houston was at Doris.
Fancy Night Out
The activities in Houston are endless, but I don’t think they are obvious to a first-time visitor. If you couldn’t tell from my extensive food list, eating should be a top priority if you’re in Houston. Make reservations in advance and do a fun food tour trying out as many places as you can. I cannot stress how incredible the museums in Houston are enough. Having visited museums around the world, I can honestly tell you that Houston has some of the best. The MFAH is remarkable in every way. It is an entire campus with multiple buildings that house different kinds of art, sculpture gardens, the Glassell School and incredible dining options. In addition to the MFAH, the Contemporary Arts Museum, Jung Center and the Houston Museum of Natural Science are fantastic. If you are with children, the Children’s Museum, the Health Museum and the Zoo are incredible as well.
Adjacent to the Museum District, is Rice Village (my old neighborhood) and Rice University. This is one of the most stunning campus’ in the U.S. as it is lined with century-old oak trees and gorgeous brick buildings. There is a walking track that runs the perimeter of the campus and is a perfect 3-mile loop. I used to walk the loop every morning for exercise and I miss it so much. While you’re doing the walk, you can stop to see James Turrell’s famed SkySpace (sunrises and sunsets are the best time to go) and when you’re done, you can pop into Rice Village for food, drinks and shopping.
If you’ve taken in enough culture for your visit, Athletic events are always fun to attend….Astros games are definitely my favorite. The shopping in Houston should also not be missed. The Galleria is incredible and has every store imaginable. I love the Saks Fifth Avenue and all of the restaurants around it most. Outside of the Galleria, Tootsie’s is fabulous and if there is one store you absolutely have to go to while in town, it’s Kuhl Linscomb. To say I’m obsessed with Kuhl Linscomb is an understatement so if you’re in town, please go!!
Fun Things to Do
Visit the museums
Walk around Rice University and see the James Turell SkySpace
Go to a game! Texans, Astros and Rockets games are the best
Do a food tour
I hope you all have the chance to visit Houston soon and that you love it as much as I do! If you have been, leave me a comment and tell me your favorite things about the city! Hope you all have the best weekend!