It’s four days before the Super Bowl and I’m feeling a bit prideful of my hometown city — H-TOWN! Our place on the global stage this week will bring its fair share of analysis and possibly misunderstood reviews. But it’s on, as they say, and Houston is now abuzz with tons of excitement, poised and ready to take on the HEAT. (No pun intended.)
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be great is to be misunderstood,” and native Houstonians know this to be true. Houston, if nothing else, is a paradox. We rank at the top of lists each year as one of the fastest growing cities nationwide, boast the largest diverse population in the United States and are home to one of the most dynamic and productive economies in the U.S. — including a booming medical center, the largest, most centralized oil and gas industry, an innovative technology and space center, and not to mention a thriving arts and cultural scene.
However, most people just don’t get us. We are often maligned, misunderstood and unappreciated.
Houston’s unpredictability, grittiness and renegade outlook create a sense of unease in most people, yet it’s exactly these qualities that make me fall back in love with this city over and over again. As I grew up and started to frame my own opinions about my home town city, I began to take pride in how ignorant the world was about us.
I lived in New York for almost six years and as much as I loved it, I never felt like I came up from the minor leagues to visit the big city. I was the Big City. And now that I am wiser, more experienced and have been blessed to have traveled to many beautiful, well-groomed cities across the U.S., none are Houston. As enticing as they are, I slowly come to realize, there’s something missing. There’s no mystery. It’s all too perfect. It’s not messy enough. Houston is messy and beautiful. It’s a beautiful mess. Maybe our power lies in this contradiction.
SO, let’s get real — It’s hot as sh*t here. Or as Drake would say, “Like H-Town in the summertime, I keep it 100.”
The traffic sucks. Potholes, anyone?
Can you say cockroaches? Or are they actually mammals? Help.
I sometimes ponder the fact that this ginormous city rose from sprawling, marshy swamp lands that my late grandpa would say are “flatter than piss on a plate” and are for all practical purposes devoid of any inherent natural beauty. Yet there is no doubt that Houston is making its mark on the nation and the rest of the world. Put simply, we matter.
And, if the image of the conservative gunslinger comes to mind when you think of this city, you are in for a pleasant surprise. Truth be told, there’s still some of that of course and to put it nicely, our weather in the summer can be a bit challenging. But my city is so much more than stereotypes and a little humidity.
I come from a family of die-hard Houstonians. They are rare, bold and brazen entrepreneurs who truly believed anything is possible. As I grew up, my father in particular talked to me a lot about Houston and its inherent contradictions. He would often say, “E, it might not look pretty, but it’s given you the life you live and I’d say that’s been pretty damn good, don’t you?” And now that I too am a business owner, I know for a fact Houston is pro-business, pro-jobs and pro-entrepreneurship. I live and breathe it everyday. And, know this: our spirit, Houstonians’ and Texans’ for that matter, is strong and fiercely independent. This is just how we roll. Houston has survived a crippling oil bust back in the ’80s and multiple catastrophic storms yet we to continue rise up and face the pain no matter what comes our way.
We learn. We grow. We adapt. We move on. That’s Houston.
Houston values its racial diversity, too. (Just count the number of languages spoken as you shop the Galleria.) We have been a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees that, just to be fair, many other cities turned away. Not Houston. Not our town. We are progressive, big-hearted and often under appreciated. (Hmm … that almost sounds like the role a mother might have.)
As early benefactors endowed the city with a world-class arts scene in our museum district and downtown theatre district, we all benefitted. (Thank you, Mrs. De Menil.) And, of course you have heard of the Texas Medical Center, practically another downtown in itself, and we are home to multiple, highly regarded universities. And, it goes without saying, the food and dining out scene is thriving. Our food is awesome — a beef enchilada doused in melted cheese — come on people — what more can you ask for?
With all this cheerleading, there is actually one attribute Houston has that surpasses all the others — the people. For a city as large, as diverse and as complex as Houston, we have somehow managed to keep a warmth of spirit. We love visitors! A “Howdy, y’all!” will surely come your way as you visit us, and as long as you bring a good attitude and possibly a six-pack, Houston will welcome you with open arms.
So with that said, here are my favorite must-eats, must-sees, and must-dos in H-Town. Whether you are a visitor or born-and-bred, we are glad to know you!
Let’s start with one of my stand-bys, just down from my very first retail location in Rice Village.El Meson is Cuban but offers traditional Tex-Mex plates plus Spanish favorites, like paella. It’s the kind of place where you can get a great margie with your enchiladas or a lovely Albariño with your paella. There’s lots of shopping and dining in this area near Rice University, called “the Village” by locals, so get out and explore.
Hankering for a big steak and luscious cab? Head over to the hot, hot Washington area and check out B&B Butchers & Restaurant, but first enjoy a cocktail at the rooftop bar with skyline views of downtown.
For those who enjoy their beef in burger form, my favorite burger in Houston is … Houston’s.
In fun, funky Montrose, try indy coffee shop Blacksmith. (Go in the morning and order the amaze-balls egg, cheese, and bacon biscuit.)
If Italian is what you are craving, for dinner check out Poscol, just down the street. I love the house made pastas and salumi, the farro-arugula salad, and the baked cod mantecato.