Justine's City Guide: Houston, Texas

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Last week my husband Scott and I visited Houston, Texas for the first time.

Everyone kept asking, “why Houston?”

To which I replied:

  1. We looked up where the Milwaukee Bucks were playing that week to see if it was anywhere warmer than Wisconsin.  Not that hard to find in January… ;-)

  2. Southwest points, thank youuuu.

  3. No one ever thinks, “let me go visit Milwaukee…” But hey, if you DID visit my town for 3 nights you’d have a blast, and see there is SO much to do.  I think there are so many cities that are total “hidden gems” in the U.S., and this year I’m visiting more of them!

We spent 70 hours in Houston- from a Wednesday afternoon to Saturday morning and we ate, drank and conquered.  (Well, the Bucks beat the Rockets, so that kind of felt like “conquering…”)

TWO things I learned about Houston:

  1. The food is UNREAL!  I am a such a foodie, and this place won my heart.  In 1998, USA Today referred to Houston as “the dining-out capital of the United States.”  There are more than 10,000 restaurants in the Houston area with culinary choices from over 70 countries and regions.  Sign me up!  The cuisine is so diverse because Houston is a port city, and because of the proximity to Latin America and the Cajun areas of Louisiana.  Also I learned that when Hurricane Katrina hit many evacuees moved to Houston, bringing their restaurants and culture with them, while shifting Houston’s identity.  Whatever the reasons, I was very impressed, and my tastebuds were oh-so happy.

  2. Houston has no zoning laws making for some, err, interesting scenery.  Scott and I love to walk and sometimes we’d be walking to check out a trendy bar, or a posh breakfast spot, and on the same block we’d run into some seedy, unsavory areas.  Also some of the restaurants were mixed right into residential neighborhoods.  Like I said, interesting… and something to be aware of if you do walk. 

Okay now the really good stuff.  We visited 19 establishments in 70 hours, (yes, you’re welcome, I’m a sucker for “research”) and I’d say 13 of them are “winners” and worth a shout-out in my book! 

Here’s my Lucky 13:

1. Tout Suite- We went here twice because, macarons.  If I lived here I would SO set up shop and work here all day… it is super cute. 

They have a full coffee bar and great food, ranging from breakfast food, to giant salads (their chop salad really hit the spot!), sandwiches, smoothies & juices, etc.  They also have Topo Chico, which is common everywhere in Texas, but still always gets brownie points in my book! 

And then there are the macarons.  More flavors than I’ve ever gotten to choose from… and if I go to Houston I would go back here every time just to enjoy another S’Mores macaron. YUM.

Chopped Salad at    Tout Suite

Chopped Salad at Tout Suite

S’Mores Macaron at    Tout Suite

S’Mores Macaron at Tout Suite

2. Irma’s Southwest- Upscale, delicious Mexican food and strong, delicious margaritas.  I had their top shelf marg, fresh guacamole, and (don’t judge here!) an Axis deer enchilada, and an Axis deer tamale.  Scott thought me eating deer prior to the Bucks game might bring some bad juju, but, apparently not, as our team crushed it.  Back to Irma’s… SO good.  The guac was possibly the best I’ve ever had, and my meal was spectacular.

Best guacamole EVER at  Irma’s Southwest

Best guacamole EVER at Irma’s Southwest

Strong and delicious margarita at  Irma’s Southwest

Strong and delicious margarita at Irma’s Southwest

3. The Rustic- We checked this place out post-game, walking from the Toyota Center.  It just opened two months prior to our visit, but this seems like a super fun place to hang out.  They have live music, a great cocktail menu, and over 40 beers on tap- most of them served in giant goblets.  I enjoyed a goblet of a local IPA myself.

4. The Pastry War- This place is a Mezcalaria, which I didn’t know was even a thing, but since I love mezcal you know we had to go.  I had their classic mezcal margarita and it was a smoky, tasty delight.  The ambiance was also pretty cool.

The bar at    The Pastry War

The bar at The Pastry War

The entrance of    The Pastry War

The entrance of The Pastry War

5. Okra Charity Saloon- This bar is a co-op of like-minded restaurant and bar owners in Houston who donate all proceeds to local charities.  How awesome is that?  Their current giving total is over 1.1 million dollars to date!!  The bartender was extremely friendly and made me my first-ever Diablo drink, a cocktail made with Reposado Tequila, Creme de Cassis, lime and ginger beer.  It’s a little tart, a little spicy, and completely delicious.

6. The Kitchen At The Dunlavy- This place was bougie and adorable.  42 glittering chandeliers deck out the ceilings, and the outside patio is super cute and offers picturesque views of Buffalo Bayou Park.  The menu is fantastic, and I settled on the seasonal avocado toast plus 2 poached eggs, and a side of cauliflower tabouleh.  Prettiest brunch I’ve ever had!  Fun fact: I amused myself by showing up here a bit hungover, looking slightly homeless, which was a stark contrast to most of the ‘Gram-worthy brunch goers.  Still amused. ;-)

Seasonal avocado toast, poached eggs, seasonal fruit and cauliflower tabouleh at    The Kitchen at the Dunlavy.

Seasonal avocado toast, poached eggs, seasonal fruit and cauliflower tabouleh at The Kitchen at the Dunlavy.

7. CycleBar Sawyer Heights- While eating and drinking to my heart’s content I felt the need to balance it with some activity.  (You know, the “crunches” part of Crunches Then Cocktails!!) Scott and I love taking classes at the CycleBar back home, so we decided to check one out during our trip.  The Sawyer Heights location was so awesome to host us, and the staff made us feel so very welcome.  (While also giving us the butt kicking ride that we wanted!)

8. Coltivare- Someone recommended this the week we were traveling to Houston and all I can say is THANK GOODNESS.  This would definitely rank in my Top 5 Meals Ever, In Life.  They serve seasonal rustic Italian cuisine and awesome craft cocktails, sourcing some ingredients right from the garden they have on-site.  Scott and I shared ciabatta and burrata, seasonal ravioli, balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts, and the most fantastic exotic mushroom pizza ever.  So good, y’all.  So good.  Side note: this place gets super crowded (obvi, because its amazing) and does not take reservations- but we were lucky enough to score the last 2 spots at the bar.

Drool-worthy: Ciabtta and Burrata at    Coltivare

Drool-worthy: Ciabtta and Burrata at Coltivare

Still daydreaming about this mushroom pizza at    Coltivare

Still daydreaming about this mushroom pizza at Coltivare

9. HandleBar- A bar that pays tribute to the gloriousness of mustaches.  This self-proclaimed “adult wonderland” has great atmosphere, a huge cocktail menu, a great draft beer selection and lots of mustache decor, including a life-sized mural of Burt Reynolds’ 1970’s Playgirl spread. We were sad we were in a carb coma when we visited (see previous, shout out, Coltivare) or we would have definitely partied here all night!

Burt Reynolds Portrait in    HandleBar Houston

Burt Reynolds Portrait in HandleBar Houston

10. Present Company- The most Instagram-able bar I’ve ever been to.  This place was pretty packed on a late Friday afternoon, and the upstairs was closed for a private party, so we only stayed for one cocktail… and to make Scott perform his duties as an Instagram Husband and take some pictures of me.  Two of their cocktails are made with Lacroix and served out of LaCroix cans.  Be still, my basic heart.

The “Principal Kisses Alligator” drink in a LaCroix can at    Present Company.

The “Principal Kisses Alligator” drink in a LaCroix can at Present Company.

Present Company Houston   . Super Instagram-worthy!

Present Company Houston. Super Instagram-worthy!

11. The Hay Merchant- Another last minute tip that I was grateful to get!  This place had 80 taps and the best deal we got all week- 2 beers and a shot for $10 during Happy Hour!  I chose an awesome local IPA, as usual.

12. El Tiempo- I was told this was THE place for Tex-Mex, and I fully agree!  There are multiple locations in the city, but we check out the one on Westheimer and had awesome food, yummy margaritas and great service.  I got seared Ahi tuna fajitas and it still makes my mouth water thinking about them.  They also serve a great “skinny margarita” that isn’t any less delicious but doesn’t have all the agave or sweetness- which I appreciate.  I showed my appreciation by pounding two of those bad boys.

Posing by the Texas sign at    Present Company

Posing by the Texas sign at Present Company

Delicious Ahi Tuna Fajitas + Skinny Marg at    El Tiempo    Westheimer

Delicious Ahi Tuna Fajitas + Skinny Marg at El Tiempo Westheimer

13. Truck Yard- Finally the Truck Yard, a cool bar close to where we stayed that has a Ferris wheel and rides- and dangerously delish slushy booze drinks.  I had a boozy concrete mix of tequila and cold brew… two of my most favorite things combined into one irresistible cocktail.  It was the perfect nightcap to end quite a week!

Thank you, Houston, for a whirlwind of cocktails, food and fun.  I’m a fan!