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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
Eric Faro and Carolina Trevino sit with one another in Buffalo Bayou Park.
Eric Faro and Carolina Trevino sit with one another in Buffalo Bayou Park.

A local’s guide to Houston

Eric Faro and Carolina Trevino sit with one another in Buffalo Bayou Park.
Eric Faro and Carolina Trevino sit with one another in Buffalo Bayou Park.
  • By Drew Jones
  • Photos by Brandon Thibodeaux

Hunter S. Thompson once said: “Houston is a cruel, crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money and violence.” And although many notable quotes about the Bayou City aren’t much kinder, Houstonians embrace the lore of this sprawling swamp metropolis with an unrivaled pride.

The city is home to margaritas, Beyoncé and Mission Control, and despite the year-round summer there’s much to love in this wild boomtown on the bayou. You can get Vietnamese, Mediterranean and Tex-Mex on the same street, and because of that lack of zoning, they’re probably right next to one another.

It not only reflects Texas’s anything-goes history, but the innovation and open-mindedness that made this city into one of the largest in America. It’s paradoxical, like Houston itself.

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Museum District
This bustling stretch of land with connections to all the major areas inside Interstate 610 — better known as the Loop — was dreamed up in the ’70s as a way for Houstonians to easily access the most prominent museums in the area. Nineteen museums sit within a mile of the historical Hermann Park, so there’s more to see here than just about anywhere else. There’s no shortage of hotels and Airbnbs in the area, but if you want to get off the beaten path, take in a bit of Houston history with a stay at the Houston Towers Inn bed-and-breakfast. Find this neighborhood.
East End
Once the seat of the Republic of Texas in the mid-19th century, the East End has embodied the growth and change of Houston for decades. When industrialization was on the rise, immigrants of all backgrounds settled into this area, creating a true melting pot. With some of Houston’s first neighborhoods — Second Ward and Magnolia Park — there’s a rich history of food, culture and art to take in. These days, it’s home to artists and entrepreneurs looking to stay true to the city’s roots. Numerous spots line the Green Line MetroRail toward downtown, and a stay in one of the area’s historical bungalows will add a degree of style to your trip. Find this neighborhood.

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EggHaus Gourmet
With a sleek exterior and an Instagrammable-everything interior, Egghaus is proof that simplicity doesn’t have to mean low quality. With the main menu consisting of just breakfast tacos, egg sandwiches and kolaches, owner Philipp Sitter takes these breakfast staples to a whole new level at the counter-service spot just inside the north edge of the Loop. Ordering the steak-and-egg sandwich or El Jefe taco will get you a “nice choice!” and the espresso drinks along with the vibrant pastries are an easy way to liven up your breakfast.
BTW: If you’ve never heard of a kolache, it’s a Czech-style pastry usually filled with fruit or cheese, and, since this is Texas, meat like bratwurst and sausage.
EggHaus Gourmet, 2042 East T C Jester Blvd., Houston, Tex. 77008
The Breakfast Klub
Locals are used to seeing this soul-food joint led by chief steward Marcus Davis on a lot of “best of” lists, and for good reason. On weekends, there’s a line around the block just to get in. The Wings & Waffle and Katfish & Grits are hands down the best the city has to offer. Texas-size portions and decent prices should be enough to get anyone in the door, but if you need another seal of approval, it’s reportedly Beyoncé’s favorite spot.
BTW: The once-breakfast-only restaurant has lunch specials, too, if breakfast isn’t your thing.
The Breakfast Klub, 3711 Travis St., Houston, Tex. 77002
Truth BBQ
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a brisket better than Truth’s. Over the past five years, Brenham native Leonard Botello IV has earned a name for himself — and a place for Truth BBQ on Texas Monthly’s list of best barbecue places in the state. Meats like brisket, beef ribs (Saturdays only) and sausage are served by the pound, which make the cafeteria-style plates easy to share among a group with a bevy of flavor-rich sides.
BTW: The hours for this location are listed as 11 a.m. until “sold out”; don’t expect to beat the crowd by waiting until later in the day to go.
Truth BBQ, 110 S. Heights Blvd., Houston, Tex. 77007
The Rice Box
Not many food trucks are able to make the leap to bricks-and-mortar establishments, but owner John Peterson has taken his much-beloved Chinese-American fusion to new heights. At the edge of the River Oaks neighborhood, this “new-wave Chinatown” spot has a futuristic atmosphere with a twist on some Chinese American favorites like General Tso chicken and Mongolian beef. If you’re into movies, screens hanging over the bar play a rotating mix of familiar cult classics like “Alien,” “12 Monkeys” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
BTW: The Rice Box serves all of its rice and noodle options in a takeout-style box that staff members will deconstruct if you’re partial to diving in on a flat surface.
The Rice Box, 1111 S. Shepherd Dr., Houston, Tex. 77019
Nancy’s Hustle
It’s no coincidence that Nancy’s Hustle landed in the fast-growing EaDo neighborhood. Not only did it collect a glowing review from two-time James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic Alison Cook, the stylish, Jason Vaughan-led creation also earned a spot on Esquire’s list of best restaurants in America in 2018. The menu is broken into savory and sweet categories, with items like the Nancy cakes — seriously, get these — and an array of delicious cocktails with names like Nutty by Nature.
BTW: The dining room fills up quickly and service runs only from 5 p.m.-midnight, so definitely get a reservation. And skip Mondays, it’s closed.
Nancy’s Hustle, 2704 Polk St., Ste. A, Houston, Tex. 77003
The Original Ninfa’s
Nestled squarely in the East End on Navigation Boulevard, Ninfa’s has been a staple of Houston’s dining scene for decades. Run by chef Alex Padilla, the James Beard Award semifinalist Ninfa’s has ridden a wave of success to national acclaim, and a second location near Houston’s ritzy Post Oak Plaza. The Tex-Mex offerings feature favorites like fajitas, tamales and enchiladas, and the Ninfarita consistently ranks as one of the best in town. There’s also the East End farmers market that happens right outside every Sunday.
BTW: Legend has it Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo, or Mama Ninfa, was responsible for popularizing the fajita across the country, so you can never go wrong ordering them.
The Original Ninfa’s, 2704 Navigation Blvd., Houston, Tex. 77003
Ninja Ramen
“We put crack in it,” reads the fifth secret on the menu of how the Asahikawa-style ramen here gets made. This low-key, hole-in-the-wall joint off Washington Avenue brings quality to Houston’s admittedly small ramen scene — the Austin chain Ramen Tatsu-ya is the other power player. Ninja serves bowls that are shoyu-style — a light pork bone broth, soy sauce, long spiral noodles, green onions, pickled bamboo, pork slices and a soft-boiled egg — alongside a fun cocktail menu, and that’s about it. Open until 3 a.m. on weekends — and located across the street from a strip of bars — Ninja Ramen is an almost too-perfect late-night option.
BTW: Ninja boasts one of the largest selections of Japanese whisky in the country. When you ask a bartender about ordering one, they ask, “How much do you want to spend?”
Ninja Ramen, 4219 Washington Ave., Houston, Tex. 77007
Mai’s Restaurant
A large community of Vietnamese immigrants has given Houston a claim on the title of having the best Vietnamese food in the country. Started in 1978 by Phin and Phac Nguyen as a way to provide for their family of eight children, Mai’s has evolved into a hot spot for clubgoers exiting Midtown after closing time. Although casual, fast-paced dining is their forte, the eight-page menu — with 127 items — has seemingly all the bases covered, with nhung dam (rare beef platters cooked tableside) for seasoned eaters and pho and goi cuon (spring rolls) for the late-night crowd looking to get in and out.
BTW: With a close time of 3 a.m. on weekends, this quickly becomes the only non-drive-through serving the post-bar crowd. Call in an order and skip the line if you don’t like waits or crowds.
Mai’s Restaurant, 3403 Milam St., Houston, Tex. 77002
(Houston illustrator Paulina Papke for The Washington Post)
  1. If someone says “inside the Loop,” they don’t mean in-the-know. They literally mean inside Interstate 610 — a 38-mile freeway within the city limits.
  2. The weather is such a notable aspect of life here that when Houston Rockets point guard Russell Westbrook was asked his first impressions, he responded: “It’s hot as hell.”
  3. Houston’s past is as interesting as the city itself. Follow the Houstorian on Twitter for cool historical facts.
(Houston illustrator Paulina Papke for The Washington Post)


The Menil Collection
Owned by the Menil family and opened in 1987, the once-private collection is housed in a museum space that’s always free to the public. The 30-acre campus includes the Rothko Chapel, Menil Drawing Institute and Cy Twombly Pavilion, but take your time getting around — this museum is meant to be explored at a leisurely pace. Menil Park, located next to the museum, is a great picnic spot, so be sure to bring a blanket and a bottle of wine, and a bistro and bookstore on the grounds add a bit of whimsy for museumgoers who travel to see this tucked-away marvel.
BTW: The beloved Montrose institution caused a fuss in town last year when it closed for about eight months because of renovations, but since reopening, it has become a favorite weekend destination for locals.
The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross St., Houston, Tex. 77006
Discovery Green
In the early 2000s, a public-private partnership joined together with the goal of converting a series of unused parking lots into an urban park. Discovery Green opened in 2008 and has since become a welcome getaway in the heart of downtown. At 12 acres, it isn’t the largest space in town, but the free public park offers countless things to do year-round. It’s not uncommon to see groups practicing yoga on the lawns or people kayaking on the lake. Artists display interactive installations during different parts of the year; in the summer, outdoor movies play on the lawn as the last rays of light fade behind the surrounding buildings.
BTW: Restaurants and shops abound in the neighboring GreenStreet outdoor mall, and the strip of hangouts that line Main Street near Preston Street is about a 15-minute walk from the park.
Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney St., Houston, Tex. 77010
‘Cloud Column’ sculpture
The arrival of this piece at the Museum of Fine Arts caused such a stir in town in 2018 that columnists from the Houston Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune openly beefed in the pages of their respective papers. Anish Kapoor, the artwork’s creator, also made Chicago’s famous Bean (formally titled “Cloud Gate”), and the installation of the similar sculpture here had Chi-Town calling copycat. The mirror-like object stands two stories tall in the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, which visitors can wander before entering the museum.
BTW: “Cloud Column” was the original, started in London in 1998. Chicago’s “Cloud Gate” was unveiled in the United States in 2004.
5101 Montrose Blvd., Houston, Tex. 77006
Buffalo Bayou Park
Houston isn’t a city known for its dedication to parks and recreation, but the green spaces here were curated using millions of dollars of investment and feature a lot of attractions. The 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park has gardens, hike and bike trails, a dog park and countless open spaces for visitors to picnic or relax. Spots like Eleanor Tinsley Park, a main live-music space; the Waugh Drive Bat Colony, which is home to the largest number of nonmigratory bats in Texas; and the underground Cistern make this park a special place for residents inside the city.
BTW: Also in the park is Allen’s Landing, the spot where brothers Augustus Chapman and John Kirby Allen were said to have founded the city along Buffalo Bayou in 1836.
Buffalo Bayou Park, 1800 Allen Pkwy. & Memorial Drive, Houston, Tex. 77019
Saint Arnold Brewing
Co-founded in 1994 by brew master Brock Wagner, Saint Arnold has represented Texas brewing on the national stage with medals at the Great American Beer Festival, and directly spurred the creation of a few breweries led by former employees. Houston isn’t known for its microbrewery scene; we don’t number in the dozens like some West Coast towns. But the past few years have brought a higher demand for them. Beers like Saint Arnold’s Art Car and the brewery’s sprawling beer garden have raised the expectations for the kinds of brews and environments locals can expect from the new watering holes in town.
BTW: Brewery tours of the original building are given daily throughout the afternoon and take about an hour, so plan to spend a solid amount of time here.
Saint Arnold Brewing, 2000 Lyons Ave., Houston, Tex. 77020
Hermann Park
Nearly 6 million people visit the 445-acre park every year, yet it somehow still feels like Houston’s best-kept secret. Situated in the lower Museum District, Hermann Park is home to some of the city’s main attractions, like the Houston Zoo and Museum of Natural Science, but also some of its most overlooked. Miller Outdoor Theatre is a free public performing-arts space; the McGovern Centennial Gardens are a great excuse to get some fresh air; and the Sam Houston Monument is filled with historical significance and offers some memorable ops for photos.
BTW: The Red MetroRail line runs right next to the area. Take advantage of it so you don’t have to worry about parking or traffic during the trip.
Hermann Park, 6001 Fannin St., Houston, Tex. 77030
Drew Jones
Brandon Thibodeaux
Brandon Thibodeaux is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Houston. In addition to his assignment work and creative commissions, he explores life in the American South.