Houston Essentials

See the best Houston has to offer in dining, entertainment and more.

Adobo Chicken Tamales

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...

SHOP LIKE A GOURMET

Central Market 
3815 Westheimer 
Near Houston’s fabled, swanky River Oaks neighborhood, this large, upscale, intentionally maze-like store is a foodie’s delight. Its fresh produce, cheese, meats, seafood and fancy treats make it a destination market.

SAVOR GENUINE MEXICAN FOOD

Pico’s Mex-Mex 
5941 Bellaire Blvd. 
You can find Tex-Mex all over Houston, but this is the real deal. Chef/owner Armando Richards learned his cooking style in his family’s restaurants in Mexico; he calls it Mex-Mex. There’s a small Tex-Mex section for those craving refried beans and sour cream. Richards also carries a large selection of specialty tequilas.

GET LATE NIGHT TEX-MEX

Spanish Flowers 
4701 North Main 
Open 24 hours (except Tuesdays), this north Houston neighborhood restaurant features both Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican food served in a friendly, family atmosphere. Not gourmet, but good and plenty.

Andy’s in the Heights 
1115 E. 11th St. in the Heights 
There’s never been anything fancy about Andy’s, a neighborhood hangout popular with the all-night crowd. When you’re running on caffeine, those enchiladas, tacos and fajitas hit the spot. But try the any-hour Mexican breakfast, too. Since they’re next to a church they can’t serve alcohol, but they gladly allow the wine or beer you bring with you on ice.

EAT WITH THE FISHES

The Aquarium 
410 Bagby at Memorial Drive, downtown 
Purists regard the Aquarium as a downtown eyesore, but this amusement park-like restaurant is popular for its Ferris wheel, animal exhibits and the gigantic, multi-story fish tanks that surround diners.

SAMPLE SOME SUDS

The Ginger Man 
5607 Morningside 
This pub in a small, converted house on the edge of the Rice Village shopping area has been a popular hangout since 1985. Laid back, with a front veranda and a back deck under oak trees, the Ginger Man attracts Rice students, Medical Center workers, British and Irish ex-pats, singles and marrieds now carting around baby carriers. There’s a great jukebox and -- oh yes -- an enormous selection of draft beers from around the world.

COMMUNE WITH JOE

Catalina Coffee Shop 
2201 Washington, five minutes west of downtown 
This place is what a coffee hangout should be: friendly and a bit funky. Wi-Fi? Sure, but it comes with genuine atmosphere.

WINE AND FINE DINE

T’Afia restaurant 
3701 Travis St. 
Owner/chef Monica Pope likes to use local products and a lot of eclectic wines in this midtown Houston eatery.

Ibiza 
2450 Louisiana 
Excellent food, an intelligent wine list and reasonable prices.

WINE FOR WINE'S SAKE

The Corkscrew 
1919 Washington Avenue 
This Old Sixth Ward neighborhood wine bar, west of downtown, is housed in a 1915 auto parts store that has been refurbished into a warm, hip hangout. Best of all, there are 250 wine choices.

GET WINE TO TAKE HOME

Spec’s Warehouse Store 
2410 Smith St. 
Spec’s giant flagship store has one of the largest selections of wine in the country, with an incredible world-spanning array and very low prices.

Richard’s Liquors and Fine Wines 
2142 S. Shepherd 
Caters to discriminating wine lovers so the store is not as huge and the wine isn’t as cheap, but Richard’s has knowledgeable, personal service.

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to...

TAKE IN GREAT CITY VIEWS

J.P. Morgan Tower Observation Deck 
600 Travis St. 
The tallest building in Texas, at 75 floors, and located right downtown. On a clear day, the 60th floor deck has a sweeping Houston view for many miles to the west and south. Free during business hours.

PEOPLE-WATCH

The Williams Water Wall 
2800 Post Oak Blvd, (near The Galleria) 
Renowned architect Philip Johnson co-designed the 64-floor Williams Tower and this fabulous six-story water feature popular with families and sweethearts. It’s most striking at night, when it’s lighted. Get real close for the full visual effect, but expect to get damp.

SAIL FOR FREE

Sam Houston Boat Tour 
Port of Houston, 7300 Clinton Drive, gate 8 
You don’t really reach the sea on the popular Port of Houston boat tour, but you cruise past a heck of a lot of ships just in from the sea. The 25 mile-long Port of Houston gets more foreign tonnage than any other U.S. port. It hosted 7,550 vessel visits in 2006. Free 90-minute tours run Tuesday through Sunday. Reservations needed. Homeland Security now forbids cameras.

EAT, DRINK AND WATCH MOVIES

Houston’s Cinema Eateries 
Thanks to Texas liquor laws, Houston has numerous movie houses that serve full meals and alcohol at your specially designed table/seat. Sounds annoying to movie purists, but the service is fairly inconspicuous. The most funky in design and cinematically adventurous is the Alamo Draft House (West Oaks and Katy), which shows film oddities and current TV series as well as first-run films. Other chains include Studio Movie GrillStar Cinema Grill and Movie Tavern.

DANCE THE TWO-STEP

Wild West 
6101 Richmond Ave. 
The urban cowboy isn’t quite the icon he once was, but don’t tell that to folks at this southwest Houston club, still stomping after 20-plus wild and wooly years.

ENTERTAIN THE KIDS

Children’s Museum of Houston 
Creative, fun, hands-on exhibits teach children how money works, what goes on behind the scenes on a TV show and how food gets to the grocery. It’s in the Museum District, near Hermann Park, the Houston Zoo and the Houston Museum of Natural Science with its dinosaur and butterfly exhibits, IMAX and Planetarium.

Outdoors Essentials: Best Places to...

PARK IT DOWNTOWN

Discovery Green 
1500 McKinney Street, downtown adjacent to the George R. Brown Convention Center 
A four-year, $122-million transformation turned a dozen blocks of parking garages and lots into a 12-acre urban park for people. There’s a lake, lawns, an amphitheater and a playground. It's located three blocks from the Astros’ Minute Maid Park.

RUN WITH THE HERD

Memorial Park running and biking trails 
On any reasonably decent day (when the temperature is under 100 degrees Fahrenheit) the 2.93-mile jogging trail around Memorial Park’s golf course/picnic area is packed with serious runners as well as serious posers just wanting to be seen. The wooded Memorial Park Picnic Loop is a paved and winding bike-training favorite. The park also has hidden, heavily wooded mountain-bike paths.

KAYAK UP

SouthWest PaddleSports 
26322 I-45 North (exit 76A) in The Woodlands (near Spring) 
A focus on kayaks (and a few canoes) means SouthWest PaddleSports can offer a big selection, knowledgeable service and certified lessons. They also host group kayak trips to many area waterways.

BUY A BIKE

The Bike Barn 
5925 Kirby Drive 
Great personal service, a huge selection of bikes and all the trimmings. They carefully customize your bike to fit you. The Kirby Drive location is the flagship store, but there are several other locations around town.

CHILL OUTDOORS

West Alabama Ice House 
1919 West Alabama 
Ice houses are a Texas tradition that seems to defy logic. On a hot night you go sit in an open-air space to drink cold beer and cool off. Some places have air-conditioned space, but that’s not authentic. The point of an ice house is to sit on the patio (often a concrete parking area) and sweat, showing that you’re an authentic Texan. West Alabama Ice House is a perennial favorite near the arty-trendy Montrose area. You can play pool and there are shaded tables out back. No kitchen, but they will give you local take-out menus to order food from another place.

TAKE FIDO

Danny Jackson Bark Park 
On Westpark Drive, just inside West Loop 610 and just South of U.S. 59. 
It’s so fun to see happy dogs frolic! This Harris County facility is just one of many Houston-area dog parks. There are separate areas for large and small dogs, dog swim ponds, a wash-off-the-mud station, a walking trail and poop bags. No children younger than 12.

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