The past few years have been good to this city, culturally speaking. From the 2016 airing of Anthony Bourdain’s Houston episode of Parts Unknown, to countless Netflix specials and GQ articles, plus a World Series ring and the great Texas barbecue renaissance, the cultural and culinary accolades keep rolling in.
While those of us who spent years preaching the merits of the Bayou City to a deafening chorus of eye rolls and shoulder shrugs now find ourselves saying “I told you so,” we embrace the many plaudits about our city’s incredible diversity, thriving food scene and “Southern cool” aesthetic. Come experience Houston the way Bourdain, David Chang and most recently Andrew Zimmern did. Whether visiting a friend, traveling for work or embarking on a long overdue gastro-pilgrimage, we’ve got the food and drink recommendations you need. This is our version of a perfect weekend in the Bayou City.
Once you get over the heat and humidity, you’ll want to kick things off with a welcome dinner. Somewhere flashy, ostentatious, sure of itself, yet lacking nothing in the way of substance. A place meant to challenge your assumptions of both a city and a cuisine. We’re talking about Xochi, the crown jewel of chef Hugo Ortega’s culinary empire. From mole tasting flights to an obscure Mayan soup kept hot by volcanic stones, Xochi’s menu is a culinary walk through the ancient indigenous cuisine of interior Mexico.
After dinner, a downtown nightcap is a Lyft ride away at Market Square Park. Once the commercial hub of Houston, today it stands as a rare historical landmark in a city that lacks the charming colonial history of the Dixieland South and eastern coastline. There, you’ll find the oldest continually operating bar in Houston, La Carafe—part Texas history, part French Quarter suave, part foggy London pub. It's beer and wine and a cigarette on the patio, or watch the candle wax melt inside to the sounds of lounge piano and creaking floors.
For a more spirited affair, walk a block up Travis Street to Public Services Wine and Whiskey Bar, where part-owner and wine buyer Justin Vann is typically ready to walk you through his extensive selection of rare whiskeys and wines.
Now it’s time to venture out, beyond the skyline—where the people are.
Nothing says Saturday morning in Houston like scrambled eggs in a flour tortilla. In Houston, several old school taquerias serve up classic breakfast tacos on handmade tortillas with a certain inimitable je ne sais quoi passed down through generations. La Guadalupana Bakery & Café, a hold out from a time and a neighborhood lost to soaring property values and cultural whitewashing, is one such place. They don’t encourage to-go orders, so bring some company, or sit and enjoy the sounds of a neighborhood dive on a lazy Saturday in Montrose.
Travel is essentially a free pass to drink all day. There's no five o’clock rule on vacation. With that in mind, we head to the Heights—Houston’s oldest, most walkable, most “un-Houston” neighborhood—to a cocktail destination as effortlessly cool as every bar in America thinks it is. Better Luck Tomorrow is a joint effort by James Beard awarded chef Justin Yu (Oxheart, Theodore Rex) and mixology heavyweight Bobby Heugel (Anvil, The Pastry War). The pair put their collective efforts into creating a neighborhood bar with the cocktail chops of the swankiest downtown gin joint and the menu potential of one of Yu’s highly decorated restaurants.
Next, back to Montrose, where a restaurant is quietly creating a legacy for its own chef-owner, Ryan Lachaine. Riel is the first concept by the Canadian and former sous chef of Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly. Lachaine’s creativity and flair for ethnic influence makes his intimate restaurant and small plate menus some of the most exciting gastronomy in Houston. Try vodka-soaked Oysters Moscow topped with a dab of creme fraiche and caviar, munch on mushroom stuffed empanadas, or take a shot of whiskey through a bone marrow luge and chase it with a marrow-slathered piece of toast. Riel's cocktail menu reflects Lachaine's love of classic hip hop with drink names like the tequila-centric My Mind's Playing Tricks On Me, created by Houston rap legend Willie D.
After two days of trendy eating and ritzy drinking, it’s time you stepped out of the Loop to experience a side of Houston that more accurately defines the daily lives of its 2.3 million residents. We’re talking about Asiatown and the greater Houston metropolis beyond its gentrified Inner-Loop neighborhoods.
Asiatown grew from a handful of strip malls filled with former Inner Loop dwellers priced out of their Midtown and East End communities. Today it spans several miles of businesses, now extending further southwest into adjacent Alief. The growing community covers the gamut of Houston’s diverse Asian immigrant populations—primarily Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese.
Start with dim sum. The traditional Chinese small plate dining serves as the perfect conduit for American weekend binge eating. As Houston dim sum goes, Fung’s Kitchen is an absolute must. A family-operated institution with weekend push-cart service, Fung’s is known to serve some of the best Hong Kong dim sum in the country. Choices include almond fried shrimp, taro puffs, noodles in black eel sauce, pork belly, and dozens of dumpling varieties. It is, undoubtedly, a defining Houston experience.
After breakfast, a drive on Bellaire Boulevard should provide enough entertainment to fill whatever is left of the afternoon. Consider a visit to Dun Huang Plaza, a vibrant commercial hub with over 100 outlets offering everything from foot spas to Chinese bakeries and boba tea.
In a perfect world you’d have time for Sunday dinner. So, hopefully you’ve prepared for this trip in advance, with a coveted Sunday reservation at Houston’s revered neo-soul tasting concept, Indigo. Chef Jonathan “Jonny” Rhodes opened his intimate, 13-seat dining room in 2018. The experience is a guided tour through food with origins in Africa, with Rhodes leading each course and its associated history lesson—oppression and survival being the focus. It’s a revelation of food, history, and art, in a neighborhood most Houstonians hadn’t previously visited. In its own poetic way, Indigo defies expectations, much like the Bayou City itself.