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What to do in Houston? (not the obvious?)

Eaterlover May 20, 2008 12:06 PM

Dear Patient Readers of Texas,

As a Chicago chowhounder, I am excited to visit fair city of Houston from Wednesday through next Tuesday and I wanted to see what the foodie community recommends for a six day visit outside the normal recommendations. I've seen most of the museums on my previous visits, tried the excellent Tex-Mex food, savored the sales at the Galleria, and gaped at the sheer size of the shops on Bellaire. But what else do you recommend for fun?

To give everyone ideas:
- I love the unusual
- I also love open-air markets (a la the Eastern market in DC or Union Square in NYC)
- Music + Food = Good
- Ethnic food is always welcomed
- I'd like to see something that is uniquely Houston that I can't get anywhere else?

Thank you ahead of time!

  1. danhole May 21, 2008 12:30 PM

    If you truly like the unusual I would go to the Art Car Museum on Heights and then go to Cosmos Cafe for some good food.

    http://www.cosmoshouston.com/

    Of course that whole area has become the new trendy spot for dining, so if you turn on Washington and go down the street you will find a multitude of interesting, and very good places.

    If you are looking for a lesson in Texas history go to the Steamboat House off of Sam Houston Parkway, close to the horse racing tracks. It is an incredible collection of Texas history, worthy of a museum. And even if you don't want to eat there, the bar is gorgeous and worth a visit.

    http://www.steamboathousetx.com/

    6 Replies
    1. re: danhole
      m
      maryanntex May 21, 2008 02:09 PM

      Cosmos Cafe closed awhile back.

      1. re: maryanntex
        neverfull May 21, 2008 02:36 PM

        yup, cosmos is now porch swing pub which is owned by the front porch pub people in midtown.

        they do have a pretty large menu for a bar, but the food is mediocre. i think they are doing boiled crawfish right now on sundays.

        1. re: maryanntex
          danhole May 21, 2008 02:37 PM

          Are you sure? Their website is still up to date. I hope they haven't closed.

          1. re: danhole
            neverfull May 21, 2008 02:39 PM

            yup, i've been to porch swing twice now. i remember the layout of cosmos which is still reminiscent in the new place.

            1. re: neverfull
              danhole May 21, 2008 02:44 PM

              That sucks!

            2. re: danhole
              neverfull May 21, 2008 02:43 PM

              b4-u-eat lists it as closed too.
              http://www.b4-u-eat.com/houston/resta...

              oh well, i guess it's not expensive to keep the website up.

        2. Sahel578 May 21, 2008 06:55 AM

          I have to second the Phoenician Market on Westheimer.. but also dont miss our HUGE Chinatown area, out west on Bellaire. You could have dim sum at Fung's Kitchen (off the SW Fwy), hot pot at Sinh-Sinh, Taiwanese Beef Noodle at Shandong Noodle Snack, Bubble Tea at Star Snow Ice... amazing french style desserts at Jungle Cafe, cheap duck noodle soup at Hong Kong Cafe.

          (I'm sorry, I'm biased towards the chinese food)

          10 Replies
          1. re: Sahel578
            neverfull May 21, 2008 02:34 PM

            sahel, we should plan a chinatown food tour together. we could pick 6-10 places and pick just one or a couple things at each place for everyone to try. i know a few people who would definitely be interested in participating. let's talk about this more at the chowdown @ feast.

            1. re: neverfull
              h
              Herithoth May 22, 2008 09:51 PM

              Sounds good to me! It's a progressive dinner.
              I heard about a place in Chinatown that does soup dumplings Fu Fu Cafe 9889 Bellaire Blvd., 713-981-8818 that was reviewed in Houston Press http://www.houstonpress.com/2007-05-2...

              At Phoenicia Foods you must try the various types of feta cheese and get the Turkish roasted pistachios. Their lamb shank is my idea of a grocery store prepared dinner.

              1. re: Herithoth
                neverfull May 24, 2008 09:40 PM

                the soup dumplings are okay at fu fu cafe. i'm convinced there must be better in houston somewhere. would anyone like to join me in my quest? i'm going to go down there one saturday or sunday lunch and just hop around chinatown door to door. (yes, this will be a daunting task.) i'm chinese so i can ask for them in chinese. they are never listed on menus as soup dumplings which is why i'm convinced a better version has not been found yet.

                i made the trek out to the san gabriel valley today outside LA for dim sum and soup dumplings. i went to din tang fung in arcadia which is the most popular place for soup dumplings (it's a chain based out of taiwan). the skins were so paper thin they were almost transparent. they have a version stuffed with pork and crabmeat. it was delicious, far better than anything i've had in houston, but not as good as joe's shanghai in NY. i'm killing myself b/c i didn't take any photos. my camera was dead.

                1. re: neverfull
                  Eaterlover May 25, 2008 12:34 PM

                  I was so happy to find Joe's Shanghai in NYC, it was delicious but definitely more porky than I expected. The waitresses told us that it was wise to come in Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday nights but after Thursday the place is completely mobbed with hours of wait. Still, I think the wait is worth it.

                  1. re: neverfull
                    Sahel578 May 27, 2008 05:00 AM

                    the dumplings at sichuan cusine are far better than those at fu fu.

                    1. re: Sahel578
                      neverfull May 27, 2008 11:50 AM

                      thank for the post sahel. it's time for another visit to sichuan cuisine anyway. i read a post somewhere that they had soup dumplings/XLB, i didn't notice them on the menu the last time i was there. sahel, is sichuan cuisine you and your husband's favorite place in houston for sichuan? there is another place in the shopping center behind sinh sinh, but i haven't been in there yet.

                      are there XLB at sandong or lai lai too? i think the very first time i had XLB was at lai lai when i was a kid. i haven't been there in decades.

                      1. re: neverfull
                        j
                        jscarbor May 27, 2008 11:57 AM

                        I don't think Sandong has them. If they do it is a "hidden" item?

                        1. re: jscarbor
                          neverfull May 27, 2008 12:28 PM

                          you are right, sandong doesn't have them. i just called and asked.

                          1. re: jscarbor
                            neverfull May 27, 2008 12:34 PM

                            jscarbor, you are right. i just called sandong and they do not serve them. while i was at it, i called lai lai too. lai lai does have XLB. i've heard from numerous people that lai lai just isn't as good as it used to be, but it's still worth checking out.

                            1. re: neverfull
                              Bhutani May 27, 2008 01:37 PM

                              If you are after XLB, I would pass on lai lai. Overall, I can't say I liked the dumplings I had on a fairly recent visit to Lai Lai. You mention above that you liked paper thin skins. One consistent feature of Lai Lai is that their dumplings were incredibly doughy, esp. the XLB (which I believe they call soup dumplings). I was eager to try Fu Fu on my next journey down to Houston, but the XLB there, too, seem disappointing.

              2. m
                maryanntex May 20, 2008 09:29 PM

                Spec's Warehouse is a must. I take all my out-of-town visitors there. If you're looking for something non-food to do, check out www.artshound.com. It has everything that is going on as far as performing and visual arts.

                1 Reply
                1. re: maryanntex
                  Eaterlover May 20, 2008 11:10 PM

                  The last time I was in Houston and I swung by Specs, it was closing time :(. I'll be sure to check it out this time.

                  Btw, artshound.com is a great website, thanks for the link!

                2. neverfull May 20, 2008 03:56 PM

                  i have a few ideas:

                  go to big woodrow's on chimney rock during the day and eat spicy boiled crawfish and wash it down with cold beer for a few hours.

                  go to super h-mart, a brand spanking new korean grocery store on blalock just a couple blocks north of 1-10. eat in the awesome food court. don't skip the korean fried chicken franchise there. get the #6. HOT sweet & spicy korean fried chicken. the lady at the counter warned me 3 times that it was hot and would make me cry. walk around the impressive store. see live abalone in the tanks in the seafood dept.

                  read robb walsh's taco truck gourmet blog and go to every taco truck on his list. http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/...

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: neverfull
                    t
                    tlegray May 20, 2008 04:40 PM

                    I am not a native Texan/Houstonian. My favorite place to take other foodies that come to visit is the Spec's on Smith. I don't necessarily go to the liquor side of the house though the beer frig alone is impressive. I go to the market side of the store. I can spend a couple of hours just on that side of the house.

                    1. re: tlegray
                      Cheflambo May 20, 2008 05:17 PM

                      Spec's is amazing, (the largest liquor store in the country) and along that line, don't miss Central Market 3815 Westheimer (www.centralmarket.com) or Phoenicia 12141 Westheimer (ww.phoeniciafoods.com) . You'll need to drive to both places, but each offers its own specialties.

                      And if you're downtown looking for music and want a nice meal before the theater in that neighborhood, try Cava Bistro. (301 Main). Metro stops right across the street. It might even be cool enough next week to eat on their patio. I had dinner there last Friday night and was pleasantly surprised by the delicious food and excellent service. Even my companion, a notorious stingy tipper, left 20% for our server!

                      1. re: Cheflambo
                        o
                        orthorunner May 21, 2008 09:23 PM

                        If you go to Central Market, try to go in the afternoon on the weekend; they have bands that play there on the front patio. There are various styles of music but it's generally a good time! You can get prepared foods, sandwiches, or just some good bread and cheese and enjoy the afternoon.
                        A place with unique/ethnic food and I believe still has music is Saffron, a Moroccan restaurant which shares a courtyard with it's sister restaurant, Mia Bella, an Italian restaurant. They have had dancers and music when I've been there in the past. Enjoy your trip!

                  2. j
                    jscarbor May 20, 2008 02:17 PM

                    The farmers market on Airline is pretty big. Not as cool as say the market on weekends in chicago in, is it Pilsen area??? There is a taco truck in the back on the right side of the market called tacambaro I believe and there sweetbread tacos are outrageously good.
                    You could dine at say Reef then catch the light rail a little south on main street to continental club for live music. Tafia is right behind continental club and many people love it so that wouldbe a good choice as well.
                    Armadillo Palace has good country music and good bar food. The venison chili is good but your breath will be hell for 12 hours. The seafood cocktail they have is pretty good as well.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jscarbor
                      Eaterlover May 20, 2008 11:09 PM

                      Thanks for the recommendations! You mean Maxwell street market? It is absolutely awesome, and we have another one in Chicago in the posh side of town called Green City Market.

                      1. re: Eaterlover
                        j
                        jscarbor May 23, 2008 06:45 AM

                        Maxwell is what I meant. Awesome market.

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