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Cusetonian For A Weekend: A Visitors Guide for The Texas Bowl

Bob Levey

So you're coming to Houston to watch Syracuse take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. You've got tailgating, the game and then... what else are you going to do while in Space City?! If you don't know the answer to that question, hopefully this guide will help you out.

FOOD

You need to eat while in town and luckily for you Houston is full of fantastic food. Let's run down the highlights.

Barbecue

Let's get this out of the way first: if you really want the best barbecue Texas has to offer, get thee to Luling or Austin the weekend after the bowl game. The quality at places like Franklin's, John Mueller's or City Market is unmatched. But if you can't make the extra trip, Houston has some good choices.

Gatlin's - So far this is the only place in Houston I've found that compares to the Central Texas joints. Really great brisket, ribs sausage, and sides. There isn't a ton of seating, but there is covered outdoor seating if the weather is good enough. If you want the best barbecue in Houston, this is your spot.

Demeris / Goode Company - These are both regional chains, but quite good all the same. In truth, I'm not sure that either one is actually any better than Dinosaur, but if you have to barbecue while in Texas and can't get to Gatlin's or Central Texas, these are both fine options.

Mexican & Tex-Mex

Tex-Mex tends to be considered a joke thanks to places like Taco Bell, but good Tex-Mex is no laughing matter. There are more options in Houston than other kind of food, but some are more worth your time than others.

El Tiempo - This is my go-to spot for all things Tex-Mex. You name it and they do it in a great way. Personally I love to start with a margarita, some queso and then dive into an order of carnitas.

El Real - Old school is the best way to describe this spot. Old school staples, cooking style, preparation (they use lard) and ambiance (old Westerns constantly play on the wall of two story space). The menu isn't huge, so choosing is a little easier here than at other places. The enchiladas (any of them) are my personal favorite.

The Original Ninfa's on Navigaton - Full disclosure: I've never eaten here, but it's so consistently rated highly that I figure I should include it. It's been a standby in Houston for quite a while and no one every has a bad word to say about it.

Pappasito's - The Pappas restaurants are everywhere in Houston and as far as Tex-Mex goes, Pappasito's is worthy member of the chain. Good margarita's, good queso and good fajita's.

100% Taquito - It's easy to miss this Mexican street food spot since it sits in a strip mall next to a highway, but you shouldn't miss it if you like tacos, tortas, and sopes. The prices are super affordable, the food comes out quick, and it's delicious. My only gripe is that I wish they had a larger selection of meats (lengua would be nice) but they do have chicken mole, so I can't complain too much.

Hugo's - This is widely considered the best Mexican food in the city, but it'll cost you. The chef here has been nominated for a James Beard award and the restaurant is decidedly upscale, but it's worth every penny if you can afford it.

Taco Trucks & Joints - It's difficult to recommend just one place when it comes to tacos, so I will leave you with this list from the Houston Press.

Burgers

Houston has a lot of great burgers (this list is a solid run-down of good ones) but these are some of my personal favorites.

Bernie's Burger Bus - This started as a food truck, turned into a fleet and is opening a brick-and-mortar location in 2014.The burgers are really, really good and I definitely recommend scoping out one of the bus locations. Don't forget to order the parmesan truffle fries; it's worth finding a bus just for them.

Bubba's Texas Burger Shack - Nestled between a multi-lane surface road and a highway, the setting for this burger joint doesn't get much more Houston in some ways. The burgers are great and all the varieties can be ordered as beef or bison.

Little Big's - Technically these are sliders, but that still counts right? Whitecastle has nothing on this place, and that's coming from someone who loves him some Whitecastle. The same restaurateur that runs El Real runs Little Bigs and the same delicious quality is evident.

Misc

I could go on and on and on about food in Houston, but for your sake and mine I will finish by going over a few random places that I think need to be on your radar.

Reef - The raw bar is awesome, but what really sets this place apart is the fish. Crispy. Skin. Snapper. Everything here is so good, but seriously, I drool thinking about that snapper. Also fun here: a block of fried mac & cheese on the side.

Pho - Some people who know a lot more about Vietnamese cuisine than I do claim that Houston has the best Pho in the world. Yes, the world. Now that might not be true, but I can say the Pho in Houston is damn good. The best is found outside the Beltway around Bellaire Blvd. Pho Dien is probably the best of the best, but good Pho can be had all over. If you want more specific examples by a certain neighborhood, hit me up in the comments.

Uchi / Kata Robata - These two places represent the best Houston has to offer in sushi. Kata Robata offers a wide variety of raw seafood options done to perfection. Uchi puts out some of the most progressive and fantastic Japanese food in both the city and the state (its sister restaurant in Austin has long been considered among the best in the country).

Food Trucks - Houston has a plethora of awesome food trucks. The aforementioned Bernie's Burger Bus, Pi Pizza, Oh My Gogi, Koagie Hots, Muiishi, H-Town Streats, and Phamily Bites are just a few of the options. A good way to get introduced to a few food truck options is the Houston Food Park where several different food trucks congregate daily.

Just Mac - All mac & cheese; all the time. It's so unnecessary and so good.

The Pass and Provisions - This is two restaurants in one location and boy is the food amazing. Describing everything is a bit difficult to do, so just visit the website to see if it's your style. I will say that The Pass is one of my favorite dining experiences ever, but it's not always easy to get in and it isn't cheap. The Provisions, however, is much more accessible.

Underbelly - What I love about this place is that the chef is attempting to take all the wonderful cuisines of Houston and represent them in his menu. It's no small feat in what is now the most diverse city in the United States. Pricy if you go all out, but oh so worth it.

There is so much more I could say about food in Houston, but I should move on. Just hit up the comments with any questions. Now on to libations!

DRINK

Beer Bars

Ginger Man - My personal go-to spot for a wide variety of beer in a laid-back setting. Drinking craft or imported beer is the name of the game here.

Hay Merchant - This bar-restaurant offers up lots of craft beer and good food. It's within walking distance of a number of Montrose restaurants including Underbelly, El Real, Little Bigs, and Uchi.

The Flying Saucer - Located downtown this spot has all the beers you could ever want and is easy to get to from Reliant via the light rail. It's also one of the more spacious beer bars in town (though it's usually crowded enough that it doesn't really matter).

Some other beer bars that get a lot of ink are Mongoose vs Cobra, Down House, and Petrol Station.

Going Out

Market Park - This area downtown has several bars worth checking out including the low-key La Carafe and the popular OKRA, where all proceeds go to charity.

Montrose - With all varieties of bars spread throughout this neighborhood you can easily find something to suit your style. Anvil Bar & Refuge is the cream of the crop if perfectly done cocktails is your thing.

Midtown - Midtown is the perfect bar-hopping area if that's what you're looking to do. You've got eclectic bars like Boheme and Nouveau Antique Art bar, beer-centric hang outs like Front Porch and Little Woodrow's, and party bars like Shot Bar and Midtown Drinkery; all within walking distance. Other worthy bars in this area include Dogwood, Front Porch Pub, and Bar Munich.

Galleria - There is a pretty good chance you are staying in this neighborhood given the number of hotels here and there are some pretty good bar choices if you want to stay within a short cab ride. The West End is my favorite. Decent beer and cocktail choices, solid bar food and plenty outdoor seating for nice weather. If you want to do some square-dancing and listen to country music, Wild Wild West is right up your alley. Richmond Arms is your standard British pub, but there's nothing wrong with that. For a speakeasy vibe and cocktails in focus, head to Prohibition which is located in the Galleria Mall. (Quick sidebar: the Galleria area is your hub for dancing naked ladies. Strip clubs aren't my cup of tea, but Houston has no shortage of them and the Galleria area must have most of them.)

ATTRACTIONS

Museum District

Houston's museum district is really quite good and you could easily spend all your spare time checking it all out. Everyone's taste in museums varies, so I'll leave the Museum District link here. I will say The Museum Of Natural Sciences is one of the best, the Museum of Fine Arts has a great free sculpture garden and the Menil Collection is a free collection housed in a very iconic building for lovers of architecture.

Astrodome

The 8th Wonder of the World has a very uncertain future right now, so while you are in Reliant Park make sure to stroll over and take a look (outside only as you cannot enter). Get any pictures you want, because who knows if it will be here the next time you are town. In some ways Syracuse owes the Astrodome a debt of gratitude for proving that domed stadiums would work, so pay your respects while in town.

Houston Zoo

If your in town with family the zoo can be a great way to spend a day or half-day.

Discovery Green

Located in the heart of downtown this park is awesome during the day for a stroll, flea market, ice-skating, and sculpture viewing. Look out for family-friendly movies on weekend nights.

NASA

The Houston Astros aren't called the Astros for nothing. If you want to see what gives Houston it's nickname (Space City) head south on I-45 and check out Johnson Space Center.

Excercise

If you are one to go out for a run, there are a few good options. Memorial Park, Hermann Park, Rice University Loop and Buffalo Bayou all offer scenic views along their running paths.

Well, hopefully these nearly two thousand words help you make your Houston visit complete. I'll be sure to keep my eye on the comment section, so ask any questions and I'll either expand my thoughts or provide the links you might need. Enjoy you time in H-Town and go Orange!

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