August 19, 2010

Houston, our Houston

After almost 10 years in Houston, I've come to the conclusion that Houston is a far cooler city than most people realize. Houston is not easily accessible, immediately appreciated, or instantly beautiful: you have to do some digging and some work before the city yields its charm. But over the past 9 years, we have explored the city and made it our own -- I discovered the majestic live oak trees, the azaleas that bloom for 2 weeks in April, the peaceful Japanese garden in Hermann Park and the beautiful tree-lined walkway just a short stroll down our old street. I learned to tolerate the heat and humidity and discovered that we get a surprising amount of lovely days in spring and fall, as well as incredible lightning and thunder storms in summer. I found that I could get super authentic Sichuan food, chaat, pho, dim sum, mole and almost anything else my little stomach might desire, all within a relatively small radius. And, most importantly, we have made lifelong friends here, got married here, and started our life together here. I'd say it's been a fantastic 9 years.

We will truly miss Houston! Thanks to everyone who made the last 9 years so great. You know who you are.

I've been promising people that I would put together a list of our favorite spots and restaurants before we left, so here it is (I write this on one of our last nights in the great state of Texas). It is not exhaustive, but that's part of the fun of living here -- you have to explore! My only advice is to be adventurous and keep an open mind, because that is what made this city so fun to us.

North Boulevard -- our beloved hood for the past 3 years:

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Reckling Park -- watching Rice baseball on a sunny spring day
The Menil, with Rothko chapel and the Byzantine chapel -- visit them in the same day, the contrast is striking
The Houston Symphony
David Adicke's SculpturWorx -- the artist responsible for the Presidents' Heads, the Sam Houston statue, and Mount Rush Hour on I-45, his warehouse is indescribably cool and weird
Buchanan's Native Plants -- my favorite plant shop in the Heights
The Pavilion aka the Pav at Rice -- we brought lunch and ate together here most days
Japanese gardens in Hermann Park -- feeding the koi is a sight (I'm not sure if it's technically allowed but my friend Ari and I did it, shh!)
The Rice chapel and Gremilion art gallery -- for personal reasons: we celebrated our wedding here!
The Guild Shop -- a trove of junk and treasures
Kuhl-Linscomb -- home and beauty stuff, ranging from affordable (my favorite placemats) to outrageously outrageous. this is a good place to look for interesting gifts.
Central Market -- sob, I will really, really miss Central Market.
On to the food and drink:

Tiny Boxwood's -- favorite fancy buffalo burger, fries, and chocolate chip cookies
Bubba's -- favorite casual buffalo burger in a shack under Westpark Tollway
Little Big's -- beef sliders on delicious buns, great fries, but beware the birds who stalk the patio
Feast - Houston's nose-to-tail destination. We love their tasting menu and weekend lunch.
Thien Thanh-- hole in the wall restaurant with very good banh cuon.
Huynh -- friendliest family-run Viet restaurant in Houston
Weekend dim sum at Fung's Kitchen or Kim Son on Bellaire
Shiv Sagar -- we'll miss our South Indian place! dahi puri, masala dosas, uppama, pav bhaji.
Banh mi -- Thiem Hung or Les Givrals in midtown or one of the sandwich places in Hong Kong City Mall
Himalaya -- I have issues with the service, but the fact remains that I've never eaten a better biryani in Houston.
Pho Binh trailer on Beamer -- you have to drive to Pearland to get the best pho in Houston metroplex. In midtown, Pho Saigon is our standard.
Original Ninfa's on Navigation
-- favorite fajitas, carnitas and frozen margaritas in town. Only the Original Ninfa's will do.
Vieng Thai -- especially the panang curry, e-sarn sausage, kee mao noodles, som tum. spicy and complex.
Hugo's -- the best Mexican. the duck mole is fantastic. really, everything here is good.
Sichuan Cuisine -- spicy baby bamboo shoots, sweet tofu skins, spicy beef and dan dan noodles!
Taqueria Laredo on Snover -- our breakfast taco place. Mark loves the barbacoa and egg-chorizo and I am partial to the spicy potato.
Spec's downtown -- a wonderland of wine and liquor.
24 hour Shipley's on Ella -- if you've never gotten freshly fried glazed doughnuts at midnight, you haven't lived. ask for whatever is freshest. the fresh glazed are indescribably good when fresh; the sugared cake doughnuts are perfect with coffee the next morning.
House of Pies on Kirby -- the food isn't incredible but it's perfect for a late night pie craving. Mark, Jyoti, and I would always come for very healthful late night grilled cheese and onion toasties, topped off with a piece of pie.
The Gingerman and Valhalla -- favorite places to drink beer
Block 7 -- a recent favorite place to find interesting wine
Barbecue Inn -- the restaurant that time forgot. Retro, but fun. The fried chicken thigh plate is amazing, which is why we go.
100% Taquitos -- a favorite place for a quick weekday lunch. We always get 53G, tacos al pastor taquitos with charred pineapple and a shower of minced onion and cilantro. add a lime squeeze and some tomatillo salsa and it's pretty much the perfect bite.
Kata Robata - it is pricey but the sushi is very, very good. it is kind of a scene, unfortunately.
Pappas steak house -- I am not a big steak house person, but Pappas is everything a celebratory old school steak dinner should be. Excellent service and the best steaks.

Next adventure: a meandering road trip through the West, last stop California!