Left/back arrow
Right/next arrow
Celia Sin-Tien Cheng


January 28, 2013
Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

Happy 2013! This feature on Houston is long overdue, as I took my third trip to this underrated city in November last year. On my first two visits, I had the pleasure of meeting two of Houston’s most highly regarded food lovers: Alison Cook, the Houston Chronicle food critic, and Misha Govshteyn of the website Tasty Bits. They have introduced me to diverse, authentic and innovative eateries of every genre — from Modern Indian to Vietnamese, Mexican, Tex-Mex and Gulf Coast cuisines. People often laugh when I say I go to Houston to eat, but they don’t know what they’re missing out on. I guarantee that you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you give the city a try.

The city satiates my cultural as well as gastronomic cravings. Houston is a treasure trove of museums. There are many great museums to explore, but the Menil Collection has a special place in my heart, especially for its Rothko Chapel and Cy Twombly Gallery. I could visit the Menil Collection daily and never tire of it.

This comprehensive overview includes recommendations from my most recent trip in addition to past cravings. New this time is the remarkable Oxheart, featuring Gulf Coast cuisine (check out the video for some much needed food porn); Laredo Taqueria, the beloved hole-in-the-wall breakfast taco joint; the exquisite new Asia Society Texas Center; El Tiempo, a Tex-Mex cantina that I finally kind of “get”; and the ornately comfortable Hotel Icon.

I truly hope you will fall in love with Houston as I have.

Accommodations A. Hotel Icon

If you are looking for a boutique hotel in Houston, I recommend Hotel Icon. Located downtown in the business district, it’s convenient for business travelers and also ideal because the neighborhood is considerably quiet at night and on the weekends, ensuring restful nights of sleep — an aspect I always judge a hotel on. The building was... full article

Art B. Rothko Chapel

Mark Rothko is one of my favorite contemporary artists. I can stand in front of his paintings for hours at a time, the varying bodies of color both soothing and inspiring the mind. So it’s not surprising that the Rothko Chapel has always been on my list of museums to visit. A spiritual temple commissioned by philanthropists John and Dominique de... full article

Art C. The Menil Collection

Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil are my heroes. As a modern art lover, visiting each part of the Menil Collection, including the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, Twombly Gallery and Dan Flavin Installation, made me wish I lived in Houston. Each of these museum collections is intimate, easily digestible and perfectly exquisite. Of course,... full article

Art D. Cy Twombly Gallery

There’s a certain levity and child-like beauty to Cy Twombly’s work. I particularly love his chalkboard paintings from the ’60s, reminiscent of cursive e’s repeated on school chalkboards. Sadly, Twombly passed away this July (2011), but the Gallery, which opened in 1995, is a wonderful celebration of his life and work.

Art E. 4411 Montrose

For contemporary art, 4411 Montrose is a complex that houses top-tier art galleries, including Peel Gallery and Shop, Anya Tish Gallery, and Barbara David Gallery. It’s a pleasure to browse, shop and chat with the gallery staff and owners.

Architecture F. Asia Society Texas Center

The Asia Society Texas Center was established in 1979 as an organization to help educate and forge closer ties between Houston and Asian cultures and institutions. More than three decades later, in April 2012, the Center opened its new headquarters, a 40,000-square-foot, two-story Center designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi (who... full article

Pho G. Pho Binh Trailer

Of the three Pho Binh restaurants in Houston, this trailer is the original. While it was a little out of the way, this was my favorite meal of the trip. I’ve never had pho this fresh and good! The broth is so pure, light and flavorful — authentic. The restaurant was packed when I arrived for breakfast. They also serve lunch and dinner. The combo... full article

Morning Thali H. Pondicheri

A breakfast thali of beef keema, steel cut oats, potato curry, house made saffron yogurt, fruit, paratha and fried egg. I can’t think of a more balanced meal that is so satisfying and savory. I love thalis because you get to taste a little of everything in just the right amounts. This morning thali packs in spice, protein, fruit,... full article

Tacos I. Laredo Taqueria

Craving breakfast tacos, I was recommended Laredo Taqueria. I was expecting good tacos, but I didn’t know what a fun adventure it would be. On a Sunday morning, the Snover Street location was closed, so we headed over to Cavalcade Street. This Laredo is inside a former convenience store, and all types of colorful Mexican decorations hang on the... full article

Shrimp Sauteed in Lime J. Hugo's

Hugo’s authentic Mexican cuisine is beloved by Houstonians. Indeed, the food is delicious, prepared and served with care. For an appetizer, do not miss the lechón — achiote rubbed tender suckling pig served with habanero salsa and tortillas. The red snapper ceviche is refreshing and fresh as can be, as are the shrimp sautéed in lime garlic oil and served with arroz blanco and cactus salad.

Crepes K. Melange Creperie

An unassuming food cart on the corner of Taft and Westheimer, Melange Creperie serves a variety of delicious crepes true to its name, sometimes surprising but never disappointing. “Buffalo” Sean Carroll stands behind his cart churning out crepe after crepe in good humor until he’s sold out around 1 or 2 pm. There are classics like ham, egg... full article

Beef Fajitas L. El Tiempo Cantina

I have fond memories of loving fajitas as a kid — the thrill of the dish arriving a la plancha, and the fun of eating DIY. So it was with great enthusiasm that I tried fajitas again on my first visit to Houston at the place where they were popularized, The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. (Ninfa Rodríguez Laurenzo built the restaurant from... full article

Tasting Menu M. Oxheart

Oxheart, the long awaited and highly anticipated restaurant by chef Justin Yu, opened in March last year, and has not disappointed the legions of Yu fans. Located in the underground art enclave that is downtown Houston’s Warehouse District, Oxheart seats 30, including the counter seats, which is where you want to sit for a view of the... full article

Nose To Tail N. Feast

Feast is a remarkable restaurant that promotes head-to-toe eating — similar to Fergus Henderson’s St. John’s in London — but Feast is gaining a lot of acclaim for its own innovative and delicious cuisine.

The menu is divided into two halves: regular favorites and daily specials. One of the favorites is the Bath chaps — pork jowl rolled... full article

Creamed Corn O. Killen's Steakhouse

While the menu at Killen’s Steakhouse may seem like standard steakhouse fare, don’t be fooled. Chef Ronnie Killen’s cuisine is intricately considered, delicious and fun. Take the creamed corn for example. This modern twist on creamed corn makes it a cross between a must-have side and dessert. Fresh corncobs are soaked in milk and cream... full article

Charcuterie P. Revival Market

Revival Market in Houston is a charming gem of a gourmet foods store with top-notch home-cured meats, prepared foods, locally sourced produce and breads and more. If I lived in Houston, I would frequent Revival Market as it reminds me of Bklyn Larder in Park Slope with its exquisite selection of goods and great sandwiches. I picked up... full article