Judging by his photo in the back of the 2013 edition of Moon Handbooks Houston & the Texas Gulf Coast, author and travel writer Andy Rhodes seems like a nice guy. He lives in Austin—a strike we're willing to forgive—with his family, and has been the editor of The Medallion, the Texas Historical Commission's magazine, for over a decade.
But then you read this line and something seems a little...off: "His ideal weekend includes a visit to Houston's Museum District, followed by a trip to Mustang Island for swimming and fresh seafood." That's a little over three and a half hours—a pretty long drive for swimming and seafood, even on a weekend. But maybe Rhodes just really likes to cruise the Texas highways; I don't know.
What I do know is that Rhodes doesn't exactly have the grasp of Houston I'd hope and expect from a long-time travel writer and self-professed Museum District fan. His inclination to drive to Mustang Island after a day spent walking through the MFAH and the CAMH somehow makes sense in the company of some of his other, stranger recommendations for a visitor to the Bayou City.
1. Houston isn't the fourth largest city in America, or anything.
Says Rhodes: "Visitors and residents benefit from the city's enormous international population, offering authentic fare from all corners of the globe, including specific regional varities not found in most midsize cities." Who you calling midsize?
2. Houston is smoking.
Rhodes wrongly asserts: "This being Texas, the options also include a fair number of home-grown varieties, including some of the state's finest barbecue..." With all due respect to Killen's BBQ, Corkscrew, Gatlin's, and Pizzitola's...we know our place in the barbecue firmament; Houston is not a barbecue city—we have considerably more talent in other areas.
3. You can share a meal at Oxheart!
No mention at all is given to the fact that Oxheart is a tasting menu–only restaurant where the dishes rotate out with considerable frequency. Instead, Rhodes suggests sharing a "dessert treat of tomato tart on shortbread crust," which can't be ordered a la carte, and praises chef Justin Yu's famously subtle dishes for their "bold flavor combinations."
4. Forget what we said above about home-grown varieties.
Rhodes suggests downtown visitors head to Corner Bakery Cafe for breakfast—a chain restaurant that can be found from San Diego to Salt Lake City. Sure, The Breakfast Klub (which is in Midtown) gets a nod, but what about the amazing Macondo Latin Bistro? Or Niko Niko's in Market Square Park? Or Barnaby's? Or Irma's? And if you're randomly including Midtown in your purvey, why not suggest Harry's? Or Natachee's? Or Tacos a Go-Go?
5. You know: the Montrose-Kirby corridor.
I'm not sure what this area of town is supposed to be exactly, but it seems like Rhodes's catch-all designation for Montrose, River Oaks, Rice Village, West University, and Upper Kirby. They're all roughly the same place anyway, right? Here, Rhodes manages to make some good recommendations, with all the standards making an appearance: Uchi, Underbelly, Hugo's, Backstreet Cafe, Mark's American, Da Marco, Hay Merchant, Churrascos, Indika, and Local Foods, among others.
But sprinkled throughout are strange non-sequiteurs, like this appraisal of Underbelly's Korean braised goat and dumplings: "...a wonderfully savory meal brimming with rich flavors you'd never expect from goat meat." Have you eaten goat before, Rhodes? How about the suggestion of Fajita Pete's for Tex-Mex? Or Ra Sushi for Japanese—without a single mention of Kata Robata?
6. "The Heights"
In Rhodes's book, The Heights really means the Washington Corridor and/or Shady Acres. As a result, no real Heights restaurants are even mentioned save Happy Fatz on White Oak. No Down House, no Revival Market, no Zelko Bistro, no Shade, no Liberty Kitchen, no Glass Wall. It makes no sense to specifically call out one of the city's richest dining neighborhoods, only to completely disregard its best offerings.
Instead, in the "Heights," we're told to eat at Sushi Tora, Mam's House of Snoballs, and the Bernie's Burger Bus that's...occasionally parked at Little Woodrow's.
7. You know what's really worth the drive? TopWater Grill.
No, wait. It's totally not. Yet that's the sole seafood destination Rhodes lists in his "Greater Houston" section. If you're going to drive that far, go to Gilhooley's. TopWater is so painfully average as to be perhaps the biggest embarrassment on this list.
8. "Houston has a sizable Chinese population."
While this isn't untrue—Houston has over 72,000 Chinese residents—we're not known for our Chinese cuisine, as Rhodes is suggesting with this statement. We're known for Vietnamese, thanks to having the second-largest Vietnamese population in the country. Despite this, Rhodes fails to send readers to Chinatown at all. Instead, he suggests three restaurants nowhere near our most fascinating dining corridor: Fung's Kitchen, Yao Restaurant & Bar, and Kim Son. (Earlier in the book, it should be noted, Rhodes did throw a bone to Chinatown—except that he listed it as existing on Harwin, and being a "concentrated collection of Chinese establishments" with no mention of dining whatsoever.)
Done-freaking-raki. There is no excuse for this. None. At least Rhodes gave a nod to Pico's Mex-Mex and Taco Keto, although he called the latter a "sample of Houston's burgeoning food truck scene," despite the fact that it's 15 years old, and incorrectly placed it in a Kroger parking lot.
10. No Ninfa's. No Tony's. No Pondicheri. No Triniti. No Haven. No Cove. No Reef. No Hubcap. No Pass & Provisions. No Phoenicia. No Mahatma Gandhi District. No Chinatown.
Look, I understand wanting to direct visitors to some more underappreciated, less busy, "hidden" gems. Houston is rich with those. But failing to mention some of Houston's best and brightest restaurants, cuisines, and neighborhoods—the very things that have made Houston a dining destination—so that you can save room for the more standard fare at places like III Forks Steakhouse, Divino (great wine list; mediocre food), Chama Gaucha, Becks Prime, Mary'z, and the others already noted above makes absolutely zero sense
My suggestion for culinary visitors to Houston: take some of Rhodes's own advice and go with something home-grown. Houstonia's own guide to Houston's top 50 restaurants, of course. Also: the Eater Houston Essential 38, the My Table Ultimate Food Lover's Guide to Houston, and the Fearless Critic Houston guide.