8 Cool Things to Do in Houston Now
Everyone knows Austin has hipster cred, but Houston, its neighbor to east, is quietly becoming the new definition of Texas cool. Neighborhoods once dominated by strip malls now house some of the country’s best restaurants and bars—not to mention award-winning micro-breweries, eclectic shopping, world-renowned art galleries and museums, and a vibe that’s far more welcoming than "too cool for school." Here’s a few can’t-miss spots.
1. Explore EaDo
EaDo, an affectionate term for Houston’s Eastern Downtown (the city’s former Chinatown), is fast becoming one of the city’s coolest neighborhoods. Start your tour in Graffiti Park, where you’ll find buildings covered in edgy murals and a bustling weekend street market, before wandering over to 8th Wonder Brewery—a massive converted warehouse complete with a courtyard ringed by vendors selling clothes, t-shirts, and other ephemera. After that boozing, you’re bound to work up an appetite; luckily, three standout sister restaurants occupy a single block nearby. Grab a signature slice of pepperoni at Vinny’s or pop into Indianola for more modern American flavors (crispy duck wings; wood-grilled cauliflower), then wash it all down with a classic cocktail at Miss Carousel, whose open space is lined with couches and reclaimed wood tables. Looking for even more room to spread out? Just across the street, you’ll find Truck Yard, a 19,000-square-foot hangout with food, drinks, live bands, and even a tiny Ferris wheel dating back to the 1970s (one ticket gets you a drink and a ride).
2. Visit Houston’s oldest brewery
Saint Arnold Brewing Co. beers are sold throughout the city, but their beer garden and restaurant warrants a visit. Founded in 1994, the city’s first brewery was built inside a 25,000-square-foot wooden chapel (which might be why it was named after the patron saint of brewing). Every one of Saint Arnold’s signature brews is on tap (including their popular Art Car IPA), and if you think that choice is tough to make, wait until you get a load of their Cellar List—a separate, extensive menu of limited-release beers that includes all manner of saisons and imperial stouts. (With the family? Kids can even get in on the game by trying the Hop2O, sparkling water infused with citra and Amarillo hops.) Order a pint and head straight to the covered open-air patio, where you’ll find corn hole and loads of picnic tables with views of the skyline.
3. Tour the Museum District
Seeking a cultural, air-conditioned retreat from Texas’s soaring summer temps? South of Houston’s hip Montrose neighborhood sits a handful of world-renowned art museums that could fill more than an afternoon. The Menil Collection is easily the biggest, with a collection of 17,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, rare books, and the like that range from mid-century masters like Max Earnst, Man Ray, and Marcel Dushamp to Byzantine and medieval antiquities. While you’re there, don’t miss the Cy Twombly Gallery, which contains the largest collection of his work in the world. Nearby, the octagonal Rothko Chapel was built in 1971 as a holy place for all religions and features 14 paintings from—you guessed it—famed artist Mark Rothko.
4. Wander Around Sawyer Yards
If Saint Arnold brewing reinforces the cliché that everything is bigger in Texas, Holler Brewing subverts that notion. Their modest tasting room and open-air patio sits next to Sawyer Yards, a sprawling network of warehouses turned art spaces including Silver Street Studios that often host some of the city’s best markets, festivals, and bi-annual art shows—not to mention the Houston Cocktail Fest. The area is always full of street murals and pop-up food stalls, but you’re going to want to time your visit for the second Saturday of the month, when all the artist work spaces are open to the public (including a handful housed in a former grain silo).
5. Check out the cocktail scene
Mixology wasn’t a thing in Houston until the Anvil Bar and Refuge opened in 2009, and it still serves some of the city’s best cocktails (we chalk it up to their home-grown recipes and house-made bitters). The scene is always buzzing thanks to the 100+ cocktail menu and curated beers on tap, but the energy really kicks up when one of the apprentice bartenders undergoes their final test—making every one of the cocktails on the menu, then selling them for $1 apiece. Speaking of the Anvil, one of the co-owners recently partnered with a James Beard award winner to open Better Luck Tomorrow in the Heights. The place takes on a party-like vibe most nights, and they also serve bar food and brunch along with a wide array of craft cocktails. After a night of imbibing, bed down at Hotel Alessandra, a sleek 21-story downtown sleep with a rooftop pool and full-service spa.
6. Eat Tex-Mex
When in Houston, sampling the city’s famed Texan-Mexican cuisine is nonnegotiable. No one does it better than The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation Boulevard, which has been in operation for more than 40 years. Their slogan “The Best Mexican Food in Texas Since Texas Was in Mexico” is no mere boast: expect bathtub-sized margaritas, spicy salsa, fresh ceviche, hand-made tamales, fajitas, enchiladas, and so much more. Hoping to quench your thirst after your meal? Arnoldo Richards’ Picos, run by a third-generation restaurateur, stocks one of the most expansive lists of tequilas in all of Houston. The food also delivers: the menu is organized according to Mexico’s seven distinct culinary regions, so you can get a sense of every nuance of the cuisine.
7. Hang in Montrose
A little bit rough-and-tumble than other parts of the city, Houston’s neighborhood of Montrose, west of downtown, was once a refuge for the city’s sizable LGBTQ community. Today, it’s one of the few spots in Houston whose attractions are within easy walking distance. Start with a few Lone Stars at Poison Girl, a local haunt with a narrow interior that leads to a nice back patio, before lunch or dinner at Riel—a down-home restaurant whose chef draws inspiration from local ingredients, his Ukrainian heritage, and his home in Manitoba (needless to say, dining here is always an adventure). Menu standouts include the spicy tempura cauliflower, seafood sourced from the Gulf Coast, and bone marrow served with pineapple tomatillo jam and house pickles—often followed by a gratis shot of whiskey with the chef. Afterwards, find your second wind and pop into Goodnight Charlie’s. In addition to its coveted tacos, the modern honky tonk features a cast of touring and local musicians that put on shows almost nightly.
8. Tap into the city’s Asian influences
It might come as a surprise, but Houston has the second-largest Asian population (after Los Angeles) in the U.S. You’ll find some of the most authentic Sichuan cuisine in the country at Mala Sichuan Bistro, a James Beard-nominated restaurant inside an unassuming strip mall in Little Asia where you can choose from a variety of dishes—almost all of them covered in spicy, tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The best intersection of Asian/Houston cuisine can be sampled in Viet-Cajun spots like Kau Ba Kitchen and Crawfish and Noodles, which merge traditional Southeast Asian ingredients like fish sauce, lemongrass, and hot peppers with Gulf Coast traditions. The latter is run by chef Trong Nguyen, who scored a James Beard nomination in 2018; visit during crawfish season and you could score six pounds for $60.
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