Intersections: Canal & Navigation

Diving into the East End neighborhood that’s a hub for tamales, tree-shaded parks and viral t-shirts.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen January 5, 2016 Published in the January 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Image: Michael Byers

Separated from downtown by the intrusion of Highway 59 decades ago, the northwest edge of the Second Ward—where it meets EaDo—has served as a hub for Houston’s Latino community, a place of opportunity for artists and, more recently, a magnet for new residents of the hipster (or at least hipster-friendly) persuasion. There’s much to see here, so we started at the corner of Canal and Navigation and explored the surrounding blocks. 

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Image: Alamo Tamale

1. Alamo Tamale & Taco (2310 Navigation Blvd.)

In a tamale-rich city like Houston, when people wait in lines that stretch around the block on Christmas Eve, you know the place is doing something right. There are offshoots around town, but this no-frills (and cash-only) corner building is the original, lovingly constructing handmade tamales and tacos since 1960. Call ahead if you want those handmade tamales in bulk, however; it's the best way to guarantee those two dozen pork tamales will be on your table at dinner.

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Image: Andes Cafe

2. Andes Café (2311 Canal St. #104)

The colorful murals adorning this South American café match the vibrant spirit of the food. Chef David Guerrero gets raves for his Argentinean skirt steak with chimichurri; his Peruvian-style ceviche and cuy, or guinea pig; and his breakfast dishes from Venezuela, Colombia and Chile.

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Image: BWC Studio

3. BWC Studio (2315 Commerce St. #1)

Interior designer Bradford Collier moved to Houston from Memphis in 2009, and since then he’s put his elegant, eclectic touch on residential projects all over town. With the launch of BWC Studio inside Art Square Studios on Commerce Street, Collier now sells a curated collection of furnishings, accessories and art designed in-house.

4. Catacomb HTX (2315 Commerce St. #7)

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Image: Catacomb HTX

Tucked in a back corner of the Art Square Studios on Commerce Street, this hybrid art gallery/shop–the creation of Ashley Cid, connoisseur of all things vintage, and graphic designer Blake Jones—focuses on playful, unconventional works from local makers who don’t have an established retail presence. (Ed. note: Sadly, Catacomb closed its doors in March 2016 after a year in operation.)

5. Donkey Paw Screen Print and Design (2102 Commerce St.)

When Randy Wharton’s not printing collateral goods for local nonprofits, restaurants and bands, he’s creating viral T-shirt sensations—remember BeardMode?—and hosting art and music events at his warehouse space.

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Image: Donkey Paw

“There’s a lot of newcomers and before that a lot of artists, a lot of creative people over here,” he says. “It’s always been a tight-knit community.”

6. Guadalupe Plaza Park (2311 Runnels St.) 

Originally envisioned as a performance venue for the long-gone Mercado Del Sol, this formerly forlorn park is in the middle of a $2 million makeover into a modern greenspace, offering open lawns, tree-shaded promenades, access to the adjacent Buffalo Bayou, a splash pad and a B-Cycle station.

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Image: Merida

7. Merida (2509 Navigation Blvd.)

Often overlooked among a murderer’s row of Tex-Mex institutions that includes the Original Ninfa’s, El Tiempo and Villa Arcos, Merida stands out for Yucatecan dishes like cochinita pibil and an all-day breakfast menu. While the building has certainly seen better days, its colorful, kitschy aesthetic is charming.


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8. Navigation Esplanade (2600 Navigation Blvd.) 

A soon-to-be-iconic iron archway designed to mimic papél picado marks the entrance to this esplanade, whose three-block park area includes solar-powered LED streetlights, faux-bois benches and bike racks that spell out Spanglish phrases. Visit on a Sunday from 10 to 2, when vendors and performers descend for a weekly street market.

9. St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery (2400 Navigation Blvd.)

This historical burial ground—the first Catholic cemetery in Houston, established in 1853—demonstrates that the city has always been a melting pot, with gravestones bearing German, Italian, Irish and French surnames.

10. Sugar & Cloth (2001 Commerce St. #210) 

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Ashley Rose started her blog, Sugar & Cloth, after taking a break from college to move to Houston. Little did she know that her super-cute site, full of simple style and décor projects, would become her full-time gig. In 2014, Rose opened her own crisp-white studio space, where she hosts events and DIY workshops for like-minded makers. 

11. Talento Bilingüe de Houston (333 S. Jensen Dr.)

What started in 1977 as a small theater troupe has grown into a cultural touchstone for Houston, offering year-round performing arts programming and exhibitions, hosting educational programs, and collaborating with other organizations to expose Houston-area audiences to Latino cultural arts. 

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Image: Tout Suite

12. Tout Suite (2001 Commerce St.)

Whatever your needs, this coffee shop has you covered. The 7,000-square-foot, minimal-yet-modern warehouse space is great for picking up an afternoon pastry (try the macarons), brunching with a friend, getting some coffee-fueled work done, or people-watching over a light lunch or dinner.

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