A Guide to the Best of Houston’s Rice Village
Rice Village is the vino-loving cool aunt of Houston neighborhoods. This outdoor mall proudly advertises itself as Houston’s go-to for high-end shopping, spa spoils, and—of course—generous pours of vino. That’s all part of the charm, especially for anyone who's ever been on the receiving end of wholesome, boozy bathroom pep talks from all-grown-up woo girls.
Yet despite its reputation as one of the city’s main havens for national and international luxury chains, Rice Village still plays host to some truly spectacular local gems also popular among nearby collegians. For one, it houses the best Turkish food one can find inside the loop, at both Istanbul Grill & Deli and Pasha. (No, we won’t rank them against one another. They’re forever tied in our estimation.) Second, considering how many Rice students and Medical Center denizens require a sugar rush to slam through their difficult days, the Village offers a high concentration of pastries, crêpes, cakes, and candy in only 16 blocks. Between Chocolate Bar, Sweet Paris, Fellini Caffè, Croissant Brioche, and the gelato at D’Amico’s Italian Market and Cafe, it’s like Willy Wonka’s factory if it was run by She-Hulk: Attorney at Law legend Madisynn (only with significantly less child endangerment, it should be noted).
Even for individuals who need to keep their sweet tooth in check, it’s still possible to support local vendors in Rice Village. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first and third Sundays of the month, the Rice Village Farmers Market features a variety of Houston-area entrepreneurs and agriculturists. Anglophiles browse the British Isles for Doctor Who and Downton Abbey collectables alongside expats shopping for their favorite imported teas and frozen meat pies. Dromgoole’s keeps a love for fine writing instruments alive and hosts meetups for Space City Pen Club.
Curiosity and character can be found all throughout Rice Village, from the “girls-just-want-to-have-fun” crowd to the unrepentant chocoholics to the calligraphy enthusiasts. No matter how many chains infiltrate the storefronts, Houstonians continue to assert themselves in the neighborhood and stake claims to ensure it doesn’t completely lose its sense of self—just like a true upspeaking wine-drunk bathroom buddy who always has your back.
The Best of Rice Village
Drink Like a Local
This Rice Village mainstay has been serving up Latin American- and European-inspired fare for more than 15 years. However, their main attraction remains a stellar wine menu and shop, so you can take home full bottles of the best glasses you try during your trip. “Drinking like a local” doesn’t always have to involve alcohol, of course: They also proudly offer excellent coffee and tea selections.
Named after the venerable Rice mascot, this friendly neighborhood watering hole provides free popcorn and jukebox selections to accompany a game of darts or shuffleboard. On Tuesdays they also offer tango classes, and Geeks Who Drink stops by on Thursdays for trivia night. Of course, true to the unofficial grape-soaked Rice Village ethos, Wednesday features $6 wine specials.
This chain is basically the grackle of bars, considering a Little Woodrow’s pops up everywhere there’s space to be found in Texas. But we forgive it anyway. It’s the sort of place most people won’t outright reject or complain about when organizing a spontaneous post-work drink hangout—especially if there’s a big game playing on one of the numerous HDTVs.
Eat Like a Local
Although open for lunch and dinner as well, Hungry’s takes particular pride in its Sunday brunch menu, which features a selection of classic benedicts and breakfast plates. Best of all, it’s a spot where omnivores can share a meal with their vegan friends and the latter can enjoy options other than salad and french fries. It also continues the time-honored Rice Village tradition of lots and lots and lots and lots of wine.
Helen’s menu of delectable Greek food and wine would make Dionysus himself descend from Olympus for party time. What they accomplish with simple roasted and grilled vegetables is true art. Also, try the sparkling orange wine! It should be noted that Helen’s isn’t exactly the place to stop in for a quick bite. Dishes are served as they are finished in the kitchen, rather than all at once, making it an ideal dining experience for sharing over separating orders.
For more than 30 years, Prego has focused on fresh Italian food made with local ingredients sourced daily. The menu you find online may not be the one you get at the restaurant itself because of this. We especially recommend any of their dishes featuring Gulf seafood. Of course, where there’s Italian food, there’s also Italian wi… look, don’t make us say it again.
Shop Like a Local
Whether you’re an immigrant looking for a taste of home (literally and figuratively speaking), a shopper seeking unique gifts for loved ones, or a collector of British pop culture memorabilia, no trip to Rice Village is complete without stopping at this lovely import shop. Hours could be lost on browsing their tea section alone. Luckily, if you’re pressed for time, their stock can also be ordered online, though any frozen items must be purchased in-store.
Maybe one of the only spaces in Rice Village where you won’t find wine! The well-loved FUNdamentally Toys specializes in tactile children’s entertainment with a focus on the educational. Handy kids and teens will especially love the selection of science-minded kits allowing them to build simple trebuchets, robot hands, and planetary models. However, there’s quite literally something here to appeal to curious, imaginative minds of all ages. Yes, even adults.
If you fancy a fine writing instrument or stationary, Dromgoole’s is a must. If you don’t, well, Dromgoole’s can make you a believer. This charming store promotes a love for the art of penmanship and keeping calligraphy alive through pop-up shops, Space City Pen Club meetings, pen convention appearances (in-person and virtual), and more. Even if you’re looking for a simple ballpoint that won’t stick when you jot down notes instead of an heirloom fountain pen, Dromgoole’s has your back.
The Rice Village Farmers Market happens on the first and third Sundays of the month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. As with most farmers markets, the vendors can change from event to event, so you may want to ask your favorites when they’ll be headed to Rice Village next.
Hang Out Like a Local
D’Amico’s Italian Market and Cafe
The perfect stop if you’re the type to eat one huge meal and snack the rest of the day, considering you can chow down on some incredible Italian-American staples and pick up some imported snacks on your way out. Consider making room at the end of your meal for a tasty gelato and coffee pick-me-up on their patio.
Fellini Caffè offers a great atmosphere for studying or working when you need caffeine jolts, (they serve Lavazza coffee from Italy) and a hearty breakfast or lunch to get you past the challenges ahead. Then, of course, reward yourself for a job well done with a scoop or two of gelato or sorbetto in a number of classic Italian flavors. We especially love the pistachio and stracciatella.
Contrary to popular assumption, Rice Village is capable of offering European food that isn’t Italian or Italian-adjacent. Croissant Brioche serves sandwiches, soups, and quiche, but the star attraction here is its generous selection of French pastries. If you love all things fruity, chocolatey, and/or almondy—or even if you’re just in the mood for a really excellent croissant—Croissant Brioche belongs on your bakery visit rotation.
For Outdoor Enthusiasts
This three-mile loop surrounds both Rice Village and Rice University, providing just as much of an aesthetic experience as it does an exercise one. Just try not to run into one of the many photographers frequently chronicling the magnificent oaks lining the path.
If pets are the new children, then plants are the new pets. Though known primarily as a florist designing classic and contemporary date night and wedding bouquets outside the Village, River Oaks Plant House also offers a lush selection of topiaries (the hanging monkey is a delight), succulents, orchids, and other gorgeous flora. They even sell packages with flowers and an appropriate wine selection because of course they do.
Walking Rice Village itself
Rice Village spans 16 blocks. You’re going to get quite a workout on just the exploring side alone.
For Art Lovers
OK, technically it calls Rice’s campus home and not Rice Village itself, but we’re still counting it. James Turrell Skyspace is an icon of Houston arts, a gorgeous geometric pavilion that changes colors dramatically every day at sunrise and sunset. Rice’s Shepherd School of music, as well as local dance and performance companies, often use it as a masterful space to showcase their skills.
Since 1975, Main Street Theater—which makes its home in both Rice Village as well as the MATCH in Midtown—has featured the best of the best Houston playwrights, directors, and actors in daring, challenging productions. These days, it provides fellowships to ensure that underrepresented BIPOC creators receive equal opportunities in the theater arts.
Space City mural by Michael C. Rodriguez
If you’ve seen a mural featuring gorgeous women in a midcentury comic book style redolent of Jack Kirby, that’s the colorful work of Houston’s own Michael C. Rodriguez. Located behind Shake Shack at the corner of Kirby and Amherst, this lovely piece pays retro-futuristic homage to the city’s integral role in the nation’s space program.
For Date Night
Houston’s original Sweet Paris has since expanded to locations across Texas, as well as Miami, Twin Cities, and Mexico City. This adorable (and, let’s be honest, infinitely Instagrammable) crêperie serves rich sweet and savory delights. We recommend showing up hungry and ordering one “meal” crêpe and another for dessert. They’re big enough to share, and of course there’s plenty of wine for pairing. Alternately, the Mayan hot chocolate makes for a perfectly creamy, spicy conclusion to a wonderful rendezvous.
Cakes and pies and ice creams, oh my! This chocoholic’s paradise has it all… and you may even discover a few not-chocolate gems among the veritable fountain of all things cocoa-y goodness, like the smooth, sweet vanilla tres leches. Hint: If you stop in before closing, you may be able to snag some discounts on fresh chocolate-dipped fruit. Nothing’s more impressive to the right date than finding great deals, after all!
The inside is a real blast from the past, but in a fun, campy way. Decked out in finery at once redolent of both art deco and the 1980s, Ovations Night Club’s excellent acoustics host amazing musical acts for a night of song and dance, typically of the jazzier, cabaret, and standards variety. Make sure to eat beforehand, though, they don’t serve food, only drinks.
Pasha has graced Rice Village for almost 20 years and deserves a spot among the best of the best Houston restaurants alongside its venerable neighbor Istanbul Grill & Deli. This is a place where you need to get appetizers and desserts, too. Everything served within Pasha’s cozy, welcoming walls delights. There are also plenty of vegetarian options for your plant-based pals to enjoy.
For coin, watch, rare metal, and sports memorabilia enthusiasts, Houston Numismatic Exchange is the place to go for both appraisals as well as finding some exciting new items for your collection. They also sell antique jewelry. This shop doesn’t offer online sales or services, so you’ll have to stop by in person to see what’s currently available.
Like we said, we’re not going to pit Pasha against its fellow Rice Village Turkish hotspot. They’re not competitors, they’re both amazing additions to Houston’s food scene. While you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu here, Istanbul receives the most raves for its pide and sandwiches. Even if you’re wanting something light, a lentil soup, an appetizer (we love the leeks), and a Turkish coffee that hits like a truck (in the best possible sense of the phrase) is all you need to feel happy here.
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