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Houston vs Austin

We may be relocating to Texas from NYC. I am wondering which city has more sophisticated food culture?

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  1. Houston definitely, without any doubt whatsoever, has a far more sophisticated food culture. In fact, Houston is one of the top food cities in the entire country. The New York Times (I'll bet you've heard of them) recently ranked Houston seventh on their list of top places to visit - in the entire world. Houston was the only US city to make the top ten.


    But Austin has a great many other charms.

    It's been my experience, when chatting with other Texans about where in Texas they would live, if they could live anywhere, a pretty clear majority would choose Austin.

    I sure would.

    And when I wanted to partake of world-class art, museums, diverse ethnic culture, cuisine, etc., I'd visit Houston.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Jaymes

      so then why would most Texans choose Austin over Houston if the city offers so much.

      1. re: Monica

        Lots of reasons, many of them hard to put into words, but I'll try.

        Austin is a lot prettier. It's sort of where the Texas Hill Country begins, so parts of town are hilly. There's a terrific lake right in the middle of town, and several more adjacent, as you head west. So if you're a "view" kinda gal, Austin is full of them. You'll have a hard time finding one in Houston. Austin is much smaller and easier to get around. It's where the University of Texas is located, and I read somewhere that UT Austin is the largest university in the nation, so all of the kinds of fun and interesting things that come along with being a college town are there. The weather is much better. The crime rate is much lower. It's a great music town, even billed as "The Live Music Capital of the World," with more live music venues (over 200) than anywhere else in the nation. It's got SXSW - music and film festivals. It's got Austin City Limits music festival. It's got Eeyore's Birthday Party. It's got Halloween on Sixth Street. It's got Barton Springs. It's got the Congress Bridge bats.

        It's frequently been called one of the hippest cities in the nation: http://austin.culturemap.com/news/lif...

        And it's not like there's nothing to eat there. It's where the original Whole Foods is located. It's got Central Market, one of the best food purveyors in the nation. It's got Uchi and Paul Qui, and Franklin's barbecue and Fonda San Miguel and Austin Food Carts http://austinfoodcarts.com/.

        You won't starve.

        Austin is a mood. A feeling. A state of mind. It's funky and cool and weird and damn proud of it.

        It's hard to describe. You just have to come visit Austin in order to "get it."

        But, hey... Don't let me talk you into it. Austinites would just as soon nobody else shows up.


        1. re: Jaymes

          Thank you, I think I am getting some senses..I should really visit these two cities and experience them. Mainly, I am looking for a nice suburb with excellent school for my two little ones. No matter what, I don't think I can live anywhere that doesn't have good food...which makes me think I should just pack up and move to France.

          1. re: Monica

            Mais oui, if that's an option. You could try Paris....Texas.

            Actually, there are several suburbs of Houston with low crime, beautiful homes, gated communities, excellent schools. Katy, Sugar Land, The Woodlands come immediately to mind.

            As for Austin, the most important thing is to get in a good neighborhood, rather than looking for a suburb. Although there are suburbs, the main reasons to live in Austin are really pretty-much found right in Austin. Not so much in the suburbs.

            1. re: Monica

              Westwood Highschool is the fifth best public enrollment highschool in the nation. Grisham Middle school has an international bacalurrate program with two elem. schools that are IB feeding into it.

            2. re: Monica

              For all the reasons Jaymes said, but also….the traffic is horrible in both places, but particularly horrible in humid Houston. Yes, they have more diversity in food, but it could take over an hour to get to it!

              I used to live in Galveston and I got sick of hurricanes coming our way. It's the same with Houston. No hurricanes in Austin! That's a big plus for me!

          2. I've been thinking a bit more about you, Monica, and your question. If we take your concern literally, in that you don't think you "can live anywhere that doesn't have good food," should you move to Austin, even if you fall in love with its other charms (as so many do), I'd bet you'd be bored with its food scene in only a matter of a few months. There is "good food" in Austin, but not enough of it to be the reason why anyone would move there, or stay there.

            Even though the city of Austin has grown enough that "The University" (as Texans call it) is no longer its only defining identity, Austin is still, at its heart, a college town. And its tens of thousands of students are, like most college kids, not so much in search of excellent cuisine as they are in search of cheap fast food and easy libation. College kids are pretty big fans of the "if it ain't broke" theory. If they find a joint with good pizza and 99-cent draft beer, they're not going to say, "Let's try something new tonight." They're going to say, "Awesome, dude!" Even though there are plenty of grownups in Austin, the overall mood there is not so much, "Let's take a couple hundred bucks and go to a celeb-chef-driven restaurant for a tasting menu and wine flights," as it is, "Let's grab some soft tacos and a six-pack of Shiner and go find a free outdoor concert somewhere, and afterwards, say around midnight, or 1, or 2, or whatever, we can hit Trudy's for some migas."

            Austin's food scene is improving, true, but Austin is still not a great food town. Austin is a great music town. And a great student town. And a great artist town. And none of those groups are famous for having a whole lot of money to spend on fine dining.

            Houston, on the other hand, is a great food town. And Houston is full of monied grownups that do have a whole lot of disposable income to spend on amusing themselves with things like fine dining. And Houston is also full of grownups from all over the world, so the food scene here is incredible, and limitless. I doubt there is a single world cuisine that is not represented here. There are embassies here from many countries and their staffers have to eat somewhere. (For example, the Indonesian Consulate ladies sponsor a potluck every Saturday.) And, if Houston proper doesn't offer enough, New Orleans is only a five-hour drive. Perhaps you've heard that the food there is pretty good? You can leave work early on a Friday and be in New Orleans in time for dinner, as many Houstonians will tell you. And while Galveston is certainly no New Orleans, by a long shot, it is on the Gulf, and they do have some fine seafood there.

            If food is your main criterion, it's no contest.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Jaymes

              Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for the detailed and thorough response. I think Austin is more like Brooklyn, NY...where there are a lot of young artists and hippies who moved out of Manhattan..though a lot of riches from Manhattan have moved into Brooklyn..but the way you describe reminds me of Brooklyn...artsy..rustic..laid back.

              Yes, Houston sounds like a great city...and probably fits my criteria better; great food(and when I say great food, it definitely includes fine dining), great suburbs with great schools...more jobs..,etc..
              and yes, I've heard about New Orleans...I'd love to visit there just to try out chef John Besh's food.

              The only thing that concerns me about Houston is weather...as I can't stand hummid hot weather.

              1. re: Monica

                There's no question that the summers in Houston are hot and humid. You can do what many of us do...stay indoors in the air conditioning until late September.

                Or, head for the hills...of Colorado or Montana or South Dakota or something, until autumn works its merry and slow way down here.

                It's not just Houston that gets hot. All of Texas is hot in the summer. Really hot. Although the humidity level definitely varies.

                Still, if you hate hot, humid weather, and if this transfer is voluntary, I'd suggest you consider someplace other than Texas. Like maybe San Francisco. Or Seattle. Or Chicago. Or even L.A. All great food towns, and considerably less hot and humid than Houston. Even the Dallas/Ft. Worth "Metroplex," while still hot in the summer, is less humid. It's not a "great" food town, but it's pretty good, and getting better.

                1. re: Jaymes

                  Yes, those are some great cities but being from NYC and having experienced the west coast, i really can't see myself living there. My husband's company has offices in both Houton and Austin...a good thing is, I can't stand cold weather even more so I am sure I can deal with hot humid weather. Chicago...while it is a big city, it just sounds boring...and it's not near any ocean.

                  1. re: Monica

                    Visit Austin, move to Houston. The wifeacita is hungry and chomping at the bit while I sit here lollygagging. We're driving to Galveston for lunch and some Gulf scenery. Maybe pick up some fresh seafood on the way home. If you or the husband are outdoor types I can turn you on to some fine saltwater fishing a mere hour from Houston.

                    1. re: James Cristinian

                      Yeah, I've heard a lot about Glaveston...my husband is a big beach/ocean person and we love fresh seafood(Though not a fan of gulf shrimps). Well, we'd love to try out saltwater fishing if we get a chance..

                        1. re: girloftheworld

                          Umm. What's Lake Jackson have to do with anything?

                          1. re: TroyTempest

                            it is close to Huston and is not toooo horrid if you have to have a place to live..

                            1. re: girloftheworld

                              Lake Jackson is a bit less than 20 minutes from Surfside Beach, not too shabby. Before people start trashing Upper Texas Coast beaches, I'll suggest they haven't spent much time down there. All I know is that when I used to frequently visit Austin/San Marcos all the college ages kids wanted to do is get to the coast.


                    2. re: Monica

                      Chicago is not boring. It's beautiful and fun and sophisticated, with lots going on. And don't tell them it's "not near any ocean." Texans have been trying to tell them that for years, but they don't believe it. Texans think we have the "third coast," but Chicagoans are absolutely convinced they do.

                      It does get cold there, however. Really, really, cold. Wind-blowing, nose-running, cheek-numbing, frostbite-fingertips-tingling cold.

                      So maybe you'd best start practicing saying "Y'all."

                      1. re: Jaymes

                        I know Chicago is not boring...but it's in the middle of the continent..and...i don't know..i just don't find the city appealing in any ways. It's not close to anything!

                        Y'all....learned that from watching Paula Deena already..

              2. I have lived in both Austin and Lufkin, which has the same oppressive humid summer heat as Houston. I drove to Houston frequently for business and pleasure. Austin has much drier air and is more comfortable. Those were both back in my running days. Austin is much more compact and you will learn it all quickly. Houston is about the size of Rhode Island and you will never cross town. The "keep Austin Weird" mantra is infectious, in a fun way.

                1. We have a guiy down here named DoobiWwah that went to TU in Austin and moved here. Maybe he got tired of the Horns losing games they should win, given all the money they pay their players. First class fellow, wifeacita and I met him and lived to talk about it. Come on Doobs, we really need your opinion, it is trusted and valued.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: James Cristinian

                    You're right...we need Doobs to weigh in on this.

                    But (and I'm just guessing) I think that there are two main reasons why he's in Houston and not Austin:

                    First, his family is here.

                    And second: He needs to earn a living. I think practically everybody in Texas would move to Austin in a heartbeat if they thought they could earn a living there.

                    1. re: Jaymes

                      Or afford it. Austin is much pricier than Houston.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        Right. And because everybody wants to live there, wages are often lower for the same jobs.

                        When you can find one, that is.

                        I'd still be in Austin, but my son-in-law needs to work. And Houston is where he can do that and be paid very well for it. He and my daughter (a teacher) have four really small children and need a babysitter. That's me. So even though I no longer would have to live in Houston for my work reasons, the job opportunity differences between Austin and Houston are affecting where I live.

                        I'll just sum up by saying that, while everybody's priorities differ when it comes to choosing where they prefer to live, nobody I knew when I lived in Austin wanted to move to Houston.

                        But at least half of the people that I've met in Houston speak wistfully about the possibility of moving to Austin someday.

                        1. re: Jaymes

                          Heck Jaymes, you live in Katy, a suburb of Austin, a ten minute drive to the fabulous City Market in Luling. We just got back from gorging on seafood in Galveston and Surfside, something you unwashed flea bitten Austin hippies can't pull off in an afternoon, leaving the big city at noon, back by 7:30, including lounging over the breakers in the Gulf for a couple of hours with some cheap wine at Murdoch's. The sounds and smells of the sea were a symphony, a hypnotic one.


                            1. re: Veggo

                              Wrong Veggo Katy is Katy and Austin can keep it. Just some joking here I know Jaymes and kinda sticking it to her. Yes, Jaymes is a chick. There is an ongoing joke in the Houston Chronicle about evacuating Katy at the mere whiff of a tropical system. Apparently Katy folks helped clog the freeways before Rita, as hundreds of thousands left Houston a ghost town, future wifeacita included, leaving myself, best friend, and a nice Asian liquor store owner in the Heights as the only three people left in town. Thank you nice lady. By the way, Katy is a shortened name for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad, the Katy which the city in it's infinite wisdom bought and paved over for a giant freeway pretty much always in gridlock to Katy which I avoid.

                              1. re: James Cristinian

                                Amusing. I did not know Jaymes is a woman, thanks. She replies to me below about my hubby's driving distance, and I don't have a hubby. I have testicles.

                                1. re: Veggo

                                  Dang Veggo, I thought you were a chick as well. How about your cat? What's going on down under? I had some great male cats and most were "fixed."

                                  1. re: James Cristinian

                                    little veggo in Mexico is a father. And he stays current with his kitten support payments, with scorpions and geckos.

                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                      Oh man, you guys are too funny..well, that's a good sign..

                                    2. re: Veggo

                                      Actually, I thought I was commenting on Monica's "hubby" and his driving distance, in reference to where in Austin she might decide to live. I knew you, Veggo, were a dude. (Of course, these days, dare I point out that that does not in any way preclude you from having a "hubby"?)

                                      But, speaking of living in Austin, Monica, you mention something about living in Austin being amazing, "minus price of house."

                                      It's true that Austin is, in general, more expensive than other Texas cities. But you are coming from NYC. I feel pretty sure that nothing in Texas will strike you as being overly expensive.

                                      Also, coming from NYC, I think I understand why you mentioned living in a suburb. NYC is one of the densest urban areas in the entire nation. I suspect that all of Austin will feel to you like a suburb. You will be amazed at how small it will feel to you. And when folks in Austin (and everywhere else in Texas, for that matter) talk about "neighborhoods," they're talking about the actual sorts of neighborhoods that have houses, tree-lined streets, sidewalks, etc. Not a bunch of blocks of high-rise apartments, condos, co-ops, etc. For example, there are neighborhoods with houses, etc., within walking distance of downtown Austin. Here in Texas, we've got land, lots of land, under starry skies above, and when our towns and cities grow, they grow out, not up.

                                      Houston has also grown out, but it's huge - the fourth-largest city in the nation. If you decide to come to Houston, you most-likely will want to live in a suburb. Everywhere in the city, even including the toniest neighborhood, River Oaks, has problems with crime.

                                      Has anyone mentioned that I live in a very nice suburb? Katy? And that it's only a mere three hours from Austin????

                          1. re: Jaymes

                            Sorry for the delay but for future reference, you need to invoke my name three times, (a la Beetlejuice), if you need me to appear immediately!

                            I'm flattered you guys thought of me, but I'm probably the least biased person to ask.

                            I LOVE living in Houston.

                            Yeah, I went to Texas but that was a long time ago. Recent enough that the football losses still sting, (was that really necessary, JC?), but my favorite restaurants from those days are long gone.

                            Houston beats Austin food-wise overall, but Austin has its gems. As mentioned, the food truck scene is awesome, the bbq is worlds better, (I like Mueller's over Franklin, but it's a sentimental thing), etc.

                            But even my die hard Austin-is-the-center-of-the-Universe friends will admit that overall, Houston wins. And that's why they come here to eat.

                            My $0.02 and I'm certain it surprised no one.

                        2. Oops, met Jaymes too. That Katy Cajun place sounds nice, but I'm with brucesw, it must get seriously cooler. Off to Galveston.

                          1. so there is no 'suburb' in Austin that has good school, blahh blahh..living in Austin is all about livig in Austin, huh...if that's the case, do most people live in houses or condo/duplex types?

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: Monica

                              Round Rock school district is ok suburban America. Westlake Hills is closer in and sexier. Cool to live among the "cedar choppers" with no lawn, beautiful wild habitat, and a pool.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                And depending upon how far your hubby would have to drive to work, there are other nice places surrounding Austin, as well. Lakeway (on one of the lakes) is nice, and even Lago Vista or Georgetown, if your husband's office is in far north Austin; heading south there's Circle C, Shady Hollow, Dripping Springs, Driftwood, etc.

                                Westlake Hills (mentioned above) is one of the very nicest, and its schools are really top drawer. If you're looking into a private school, St. Stephens is one of the best in the nation, even hosting a great many international boarding students.

                                Almost everyone in the Austin area that has a family with school-age children lives in a house.

                                So certainly there are suburbs, and outlying neighborhoods, etc. But when I think of what's cool about living in Austin, I think of one of the older neighborhoods in town, Tarrytown, Hyde Park, Clarksville, close and convenient to everything that makes Austin so wonderful and unique.

                                I wasn't trying to say that there are no nice suburbs around Austin. I guess what I was thinking is that, in so many ways, a suburb is a suburb is a suburb.

                                And if you're going to live in one, you might as well live in one right outside a great big city, if a sophisticated food, culture, museum, shopping, etc., scene is one of your top goals.

                                Honestly, as you said above, you just need to come visit each city before you decide for sure. They are completely different in mood and feel and amenities...everything, in fact.

                                You just need to see for yourself.

                                1. re: Jaymes

                                  I love old towns in US. Sounds like it will be amazing to live in Austin city itself...minus the price of house.

                                  1. re: Jaymes

                                    Monica, I would look at Spring Branch just west of the 610 loop. Close to town, it's own school district with lots of new schools. There's affordable housing with diverse foods from Korean, Mexican, Tex-Mex, Thai, Chinese all on the same street Long Point. Long Point is a bit run down but diverse, don't let it scare you and there are great neighborhoods surrounding it, and a great American restaurant, Hollister Grill.


                                      1. re: Veggo

                                        I have a summer place in River Oaks, I think I do that is. So many properties, fewer brain cells.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            If you have family in River Oaks, they can afford to take the wifeacita and me to El Tiempo for a 75 dollar parradila and bottomless premium margaritas. You of course are invited, my new best friend.


                                            1. re: James Cristinian

                                              Looks like $600k -$750k doesn't buy much in city of Austin..but buys a lot of ugly large big cookiecutter Mcmansions in suburbs.

                                2. re: Monica

                                  ROund ROck.. Cedar Park..Avery Ranch area.. you will be quite pleased what your NY housing dollars will buy here

                                3. Just to put my 2 cents in, I'm originally from Phila, lived in NYC for 3 years, then 15 in MT, moved to San Antonio 8 years ago.
                                  I would much rather live in Austin, both of our kids go to school there and it's a much hipper place to live.
                                  If I could move my practice to Austin, I would in a heartbeat. I think there's enough good food there to keep me interested, especially the food truck scene.
                                  I've only been in Houston once, stayed at the Four Season's DT, hated the DT area there. I suppose the suburbs are nice, but I couldn't deal with the high humidity. One of my partners is from China and did some of his training in Houston, he would agree about the diversity of food there, he said there's great authentic Chinese food available, very few places here in SA would qualify.

                                  1. Huston is a horrid place to live. Imagine Gotham city. Yucccky icccky. Austin is more like Green Gables.

                                    Okkkkkkk!! Weeeeee ALllllllll KNow I ammmm Biased. Unabashedly Biased.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: girloftheworld

                                      How long did you live in Houston, or Lake Jackson for that matter? Yuckky icky, really?

                                      1. re: James Cristinian

                                        ummm .. I refuse to answer on grounds that it may alter others belief in my ablity to render a valid opinion... but in my defense..I did freely admit I was biased. :)

                                    2. Lived in both - Houston has a much more sophisticated food culture. Both have really really really bad traffic!

                                      1. I've lived in both places about 15 years each. Austin wins hands down for me, but then food would not be a factor in where I live.

                                        Austin has great suburbs and some not far from downtown at all. I could get from Westlake hills on the opposite side of Lake Austin to downtown in 15 minutes. From The Woodlands it's 40 minutes with no traffic (think 8 a.m. Sunday morning), otherwise an hour or more.

                                        Houston may have great food, but it's suburbs are all chains. I like living in Houston for all the big city things it offers, but I loved living in Austin. Mainly because I love the outdoors there, more comfortable weather, and music scene. I feel my quality of life was better there.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: ARenko

                                          I agree with your final decision as to which place to visit. And am not suggesting in any way that the OP should relocate to Katy, a suburb of Houston.

                                          But I cannot let this remark slide: "Houston's...suburbs are all chains."

                                          That is definitely NOT true of Katy. I eat out several times a week in Katy. Have done so now for a couple of years. Haven't set foot in a chain in a very long time. I don't know exactly how many locally-owned, independent, family-run, "non-chain" restaurants there are in Katy but I'd bet everything I own that the number runs into the hundreds.


                                          1. re: Jaymes

                                            "Houston's suburbs are all chains." Jaymes, ARenko must have been an inner looper. Chinatown is in a suburb, much of it outside the Beltway, so that statement wipes out the literally scores of restaurants there, not one I believe to be a chain. As for the other suburbs, get off the freeways and scout around. I'd call Spring Branch a suburb. Heck, you, Doobs and I went to a good Polish place there. Long Point is incredible, good Thai next to authentic Mexican, Koreatown, Mandarin Chinese, Taco trucks and carnecerias everywhere.


                                            They're other suburban lists at the bottom of this link.

                                            1. re: James Cristinian

                                              Well of course I am exagerating. There are independents - and probably even a few gems - but I'm not the first to suggest that the OP will have to drive for her stated desire of sophisticated dining if she lives in the suburbs. But I'm sure we have different ideas of suburbs. I wasn't considering Spring Branch and Chinatown as suburbs - they are Houston neighborhoods. Their respective management districts say the same.

                                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                                  And kumbaya, y'all.

                                                  But Katy is definitely a suburb. In my view, sweeping generalities are never a good idea, particularly not negative, insulting ones. Katy attracts a great many new arrivals from all over the globe, and that has resulted in a very great many independently-owned 'ethnic' restaurants to cater to them. For example, there are so many Venezuelans here that the nickname is "Katyzuela."

                                                  In this case, your sweeping negative, insulting generality is just plain wrong.

                                        2. Definitely Houston. I lived for several years in both cities, and while Austin is greener,and can be really fun, it lacks diversity which gets old pretty fast, and the food isn't all that exciting. Houston is one of the most diverse and sophisticated food cities in America. Just try to live inside or close to the loop, as the suburbs sprawl out pretty far. To give you an idea of what's happening in Space City, the NYT wrote this piece earlier this year http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/din...

                                          1. Just in case, it wasn't clear. Houston, forever and always.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: veggiedoc

                                              That's an ambitious forecast, at least until our planet is consumed by our sun!

                                            2. Houston is world class and hugely diverse. Austin is funky and cool and one-note in that regard.