Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...
SHOP LIKE A GOURMET
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
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
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
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
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
3701 Travis St.
Owner/chef Monica Pope likes to use local products and a lot of eclectic wines in this midtown Houston eatery.
Excellent food, an intelligent wine list and reasonable prices.
WINE FOR WINE'S SAKE
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.
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 Grill, Star Cinema Grill and Movie Tavern.
DANCE THE TWO-STEP
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
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.
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.
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.
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.