Skip to main content
By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How to spend a secular Christmas in Houston

What to do on Christmas Day in Houston if you don’t celebrate Christmas

James Turrell's “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace at the Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion in Houston. (Mark Felix for The Washington Post)

This is the fourth installment in By The Way’s secular Christmas series. Read more about D.C., New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.

I was one of those Chinese American kids who really looked forward to Lunar New Year, so Christmas marked the beginning of a festive season that would stretch for months. When I was growing up in Houston, Christmas was always a low-key holiday for my family. After opening gifts, eating hot pot was a way to celebrate. The meal is more fun with a large group because you cook your thinly sliced beef, shrimp and fish balls together in a communal pot of simmering broth.

These days it can be easier to go out to Chinatown, also known as Asiatown in Houston, to eat either hot pot, dim sum or more traditional Chinese food. Over the years, Asiatown has grown exponentially, and food lovers have their pick of Vietnamese and Korean, too.

Houston will be affected by an Arctic blast this week, but there are several ways to get outside for those who want to brave the cold.

A local's guide to Houston

Restaurants open in Houston on Christmas Day

FuFu Cafe for soup dumplings

My favorite restaurant is FuFu Cafe in Chinatown because they make these incredible, savory soup dumplings known as xiao long bao. Eating them in a deep soup spoon is the best way to make sure you don’t let any of the broth from the pork dumpling go to waste.

Ocean Palace or Crown Seafood for Cantonese banquets

If you prefer the larger, more banquet-style restaurants, check out Ocean Palace or Crown Seafood, each on the west side of Beltway 8. Both places also serve dim sum if you prefer to eat earlier in the day around brunch time. They also serve traditional Chinese entrees that include Dungeness crab, lobster and striped bass.

Confucius Seafood Restaurant for Peking duck

If you’re craving meat, crispy Peking duck is always a good option. At Confucius Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown, you can eat crispy, roasted duck with some fresh lobster and noodles for a relatively inexpensive meal.

Shabu Zone for shabu-shabu

For shabu-shabu, the Japanese version of hot pot, go to Shabu Zone. Options for all-you-can-eat meals include a variety paper-thin slices of red meat — even rib-eye and Wagyu beef — along with pork, lamb and seafood such as shrimp, oysters, octopus, scallops and mussels. The broths used for shabu-shabu are often lighter than hot pot, including a variation of miso soup. Shabu Zone allows you to order different broths and dipping sauces such as ponzu, kimchi and black sesame.

Hamdam BBQ

Aside from the traditional Korean barbecue, fried rice topped with a runny egg is a must-order at Hamdam BBQ. The banchan is excellent, and the restaurant is one of the few places in Chinatown to have a patio because of space constraints.

Pho Saigon Noodle House

You can fill your craving for rich Vietnamese soup at Pho Saigon Noodle House, which has five locations in the area, including downtown, Katy and Sugar Land.

The search for America's best food cities: Houston

Where to see a movie in Houston on Christmas Day

IPIC Houston

Until the River Oaks theater reopens with its iconic art deco signs, you can splurge at the local location of luxury-minded IPIC theaters, where you can recline in a leather seat while you sip cocktails and watch “Avatar: The Way of Water.

Star Cinema Grill

Another small chain, Star Cinema Grill, has locations in suburbs such as Missouri City, Katy and Friendswood with leather seats and good food options. Popcorn lovers will appreciate that the melted butter comes in a separate container, so you can dip kernels or pour as you eat. The nachos and pizza are better than your standard fare. There is a good variety of beer, including local favorites from Saint Arnold and Karbach.

Where to go sightseeing in Houston on Christmas Day

Drive in River Oaks and Tanglewood for Christmas lights

If you like the pageantry of Christmas decorations, check out the River Oaks or Tanglewood neighborhoods. Expect a long line of cars to view the large homes and yards with elaborate Texas-sized setups and sparkling lights. Bring a carafe of hot chocolate or hot tea such as oolong from a Chinese restaurant, and buy a box of chocolates infused with liqueurs such as Cointreau, Courvoisier, rum or Kahlua from British Isles in Rice Village to make the viewing more decadent.

Luminous architecture, fine art and urban gardens are among Houston’s new attractions

McGovern Centennial Gardens

You can also walk around the McGovern Centennial Gardens, which has a lovely array of flowers, especially roses. You can rent a bike from the BCycle stations and check out the rest of Hermann Park, including the Japanese Garden and Miller Outdoor Theatre.

Twilight Epiphany

Afterward you can head across the street to Rice University and catch “Twilight Epiphany,” the James Turrell Skyspace at the Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, a light-filled architectural space that’s an iconic piece of public artwork.