Sunday, November 1, 2015

Where to Travel: Houston

Recently, for the first time ever, I headed to the hometown of Beyoncé. The city that Drake shows copious amounts of love for. Home of the Rockets. Space City. The one and only H-town.

I visited Houston.

My good friend “S” and I had needed a break from L.A., so we took an extended weekend to stay with our other good friend “J,” who’s also from L.A. but has been living in Houston for several years.

To our utter delight and surprise, J had extensively prepared for our arrival. Stocked with a wealth of activities for us to do, she whipped us around town, from neighborhood to neighborhood, attraction to attraction. She showed us her favorite spots, and also revealed some of the most popular and best places Houston has to offer.

Thanks to J’s outstanding tour guide capabilities, I had a blast in Houston. And that in turn, inspired me to write my #WilsonsGuide Top 12 List of Houston.

From BBQ to paddleboarding, Pappadeux and frozen sangrias, here’s my favorite highlights from my trip. I can’t wait to get back, and experience even more.

Check out the list below, and don’t forget to leave your favorite Houston destinations in the comments below!

the breakfast klub is a casual dining spot in Midtown where the atmosphere is relaxed, the servers are down-to-earth and the portions are monstrously large. It’s a chill, no-frills kind of place, where you order at the cashier, pick your own table and wait until your food is brought to you. I ordered one of the two most popular dishes, recommended by our hostess, the katfish & grits: a catfish fillet with potatoes, two eggs and a side of Texas toast (pictured below). I also tried their grits, which aren’t to be missed. I don’t even like grits and I couldn’t stop eating these. They’re absolutely delicious – buttery, creamy and all kinds of goodness. Come here when you’re famished, want to eat well and don’t want to be hungry for the next five days. I also have to show some love, as owner Marcus Davis is a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. #SkeeYo


11) Where to Be Merry: Outdoor Activities @ Discovery Green

Discovery Green is a massive urban park, sprawling 12+ acres, right in the heart of downtown Houston. There’s a ton of activities to get into here, for all ages, budgets and fitness levels. Free concerts, community exercise groups, dog parks, art installations and water activities are just the tip of the iceberg of things to do. But best of all, the park’s Kinder Lake offers “kayaking” and “paddleboarding.” For $5 (cash only), select your water transport of preference and take a leisurely ride (or a wildly competitive one) in the lake for about an hour. Note: you will get extremely wet and may even fall into the water if you’re paddle boarding, so pack a change of clothes or a towel. Or if you don’t, just be prepared to have a very uncomfortable post-lake experience, like we did.


10) Where to Drink: 50 Beers and 3 Frozen Drinks @ D&T Drive Inn

Located on a quiet residential street in The Heights, D&T Drive Inn is a neighborhood bar, with a very cool, understated look. The earthy, minimalist décor is accented by blonde wood throughout the indoor and outdoor spaces, which effortlessly flow into each another. According to its website, D&T has previously been everything from a convenience store to an ice house. Now, it’s just a local hangout spot. No hard alcohol here — just 50+ beers — and an intriguing specialty: spiked frozen drinks. Choose from the Frozen Shandy (beer and lemonade), the Frozen Sangria (pictured below) or The Half and Half, which is exactly what it sounds like: half sangria, half shandy. D&T has an even more curiously intriguing food menu, with items such as pulled pork nachos and a Frito Pie. We didn’t order any food, though, because we were all about getting our drank on. Next time, I’ll try that Frito Pie.


When you think of Texas BBQ, Jackson Street BBQ is exactly what you should think of. Let me tell you exactly how good this downtown BBQ joint is. I was supposed to only order a “small snack,” to hold me over until dinnertime. Well, this “small snack” turned into a meal, and then some. Three baby back ribs, potato salad, a taste of pulled pork and countless slices of buttery white bread to sop it all up. And I can’t forget to mention that I literally had cups of the BBQ sauce — it’s amazing. It has a faint kick of spice and is served warm! Jackson's atmosphere is very laidback, with a pool table, concrete floors and a large, open floor plan. There’s also an onsite smoker, pictured below.


I’m a slight sushi snob and in my ignorance, assumed that Houston had nothing to offer in this category, especially when compared to California’s superior sushi options. Fortunately, my friend J convinced me to leave all of my ill-conceived assumptions on the plane, and to instead venture out to try some rolls at Midtown’s Kata Robata. Tucked in a busy strip mall, this Japanese restaurant has a modest exterior and an urbanely sleek lounge-like interior filled with naturalistic hues of browns, olive greens, oranges and beiges. The restaurant’s extensive wine list compliments an assortment of creatively constructed signature sushi rolls, such as the Rising Sun (pictured above), with yellowtail, avocado, tuna and truffle vinaigrette. While typically on the higher price point spectrum, Kabata Robata offers a killer happy hour where prices are slashed tremendously. You can’t beat getting top grade quality sushi and wines at such a steal.


7.) Where to Be Merry: Clubbing @ The Hudson

Looking to hit the club during the weekend? Try The Hudson, in the downtown region, on a Saturday night. What I liked most about this lounge/nightclub is that there’s literally something for everyone. It’s spread out over three spaces that include an outdoor patio, that’s wedged in between two indoor bar/dance floor areas. There’s ample seating to relax and sit, to hold a conversation, sip a cocktail or smoke hookah, and then there’s also areas to let loose on the dance floor. R&B, rap and hip-hop hits that span a range of decades blast through the speakers, all night long.

6.) Where to Drink: Happy Hour @ benjy's

Heading to benjy’s for happy hour is a must. This high end, stylishly mod restaurant in Rice Village dramatically drops its prices on fare and libations every day, 4 – 7 p.m., offering up $3 craft beers, $5 wines, $6 cocktails and $6 - $8 appetizers. Another big selling point: you can make your own cocktails with a respectable selection of spirits, including Jack Daniels, vanilla vodka, Don Q rum, El Jimador Tequila and more. I was highly impressed with benjy’s bar selections, such as the Jasmine Sour with whiskey, sweet & sour and jasmine; and the Elderflower Elixir with champagne, elderflower and pineapple, was also a delight. Ingredients are tastefully and seasonally fresh and there’s enough variance — from light and sweet to bold and distinct — on the menu to please most palates. And to top it off, the 1960s retro chic décor here is just so fun and well done.


While downtown’s Tout Suite offers a plethora of food options, coffees and teas, we specifically came here for one thing and one thing alone: the sweets. My mouth literally dropped to the floor when I walked into this industrial café, awestruck by the sight of so many delectable desserts. Towers of colorful macaroons, glossy tarts and cupcake selections including vanilla, strawberry and lemon blueberry are on proud display behind glass bakery displays. And, Tout Suite even serves up macaroon ice cream sandwiches(!). But most importantly, these confections taste as good as they look. My lemon blueberry cupcake was so buttery and fluffy, and the frosting literally melted in my mouth. Take your goodies to go, or enjoy them in the cozy, split-level space.


On a bright, bustling Monday around lunchtime, Common Bond seemed to be quite the destination. For my friend J and I, it was the perfect place to fight our hangovers with bold, aromatic coffee and tantalizing pastries. For the rest of the patrons who clearly seemed to be doing more productive things with their lives, Common Bond appeared to be a popular spot to grab eclectic sandwiches and mile high salads during the workday lunch break. Regardless of why you go, Common Bond has the beverages, fare and ambience that invite you to linger and unwind. Soaring ceilings and ceiling-to-floor windows create an open, inviting space where time seems to simply slip by. Attention to detail is in everything, from the dapper uniform of the baristas to the intricate designs on the coffees and the touching quotes on the napkins. If available, try the lavender coffee. With subtle hints of its namesake, it’s not too sweet and is subtly fragrant. You also can’t skip out on a croissant. Buttery, and simultaneously flaky and doughy. Dare I say, it’s one of the best croissants I’ve tried in my entire life.


Owned by the Pappas family, Pappadeaux is part of a conglomerate of eight chain restaurants located in several states and Mexico. Pappadeaux is actually based in Houston and has numerous locations scattered throughout the city. Serving up seafood and Louisiana-inspired classics, it has a respectable evening happy hour that features exceptional options, including Crispy Orange Chicken, Catfish Beignets and a Mini Fondeaux with blackened shrimp, crawfish and layers upon layers upon layers of oozing cheese (pictured below). I can’t fail to mention that the Petite Po Boy, also pictured below, is a great menu selection. Astronomically proportioned, there’s nothing “petite” about it. A good option for those with a very large appetite. If you have the time during your stay, try some of the other “Pappas” restaurants, too, including Pappasito’s Cantina for Mexican food and Pappas Bar-B-Q for BBQ.


**BONUS: Where to Be Merry: The Waterwall @ Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park**

As a native Angeleno who’s home state of California is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts ever, I can’t lie — I slightly cringed at the sight of 11,000 gallons of water per minute rushing down not one but two sides of a 64-foot wall. However, The Waterwall at Gerald Hines Waterwall Park is truly a sight worth seeing for the sheer incredulousness of it all. It’s loud, it’s wet and it’s breathtaking. Plus, it’s adjacent to The Galleria, a mall so big that it even has an ice skating rink (pictured below) and not one but two hotels located in it.

The Flat in Montrose is probably my second favorite bar in Houston, even in spite of me being attacked on its patio by the largest flying bugs (tree cockroaches) I’ve ever seen in my life. The Flat has this amazing feeling of familiarity and comfort, as if you’ve just stepped into an old friend’s house party in his basement. Lovingly worn furniture, a DJ spinning killer old school R&B and hip-hop hits and films of the Black Diaspora — like Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) — projected onto the side of a brick wall are elements that all nicely complement one another, making a pleasingly soulful ambiance. And the best part: an all-day happy hour on Monday, featuring rum-based cocktails, such as the Frozen Piña Colada, pictured below.


I leave my favorite Houston haunt of my trip for last: Marfreless. I’m not sure which I love more – the bar itself, or its very mysterious, slightly controversial rumored history. Apparently, it used to be a place where people went to have a rendezvous. Originally opening in the 1970s, it was allegedly a make-out bar that had beds, for those who didn't want to wait to take the action back to their own respective bedrooms. But now, Marfreless has been under new management for several years. Still in the same location, it's in a suburban retail area and marked by a mere blue door underneath a stairwell and no other sign. While we didn’t find any beds or swinging couples, what we did find was even better. Marfreless is an amazing two-level space drenched in darkness, with muted burgundy reds and rich wooden fixtures. It has a backlit bar that provides light for the space, save for a few candles on tables. There are tons of shadowy nooks and crannies to hold a private conversation, although a seat right at the bar works well, too. There’s a great selection of hand-crafted libations, including incredible Old Fashions. Marfreless' rumored past and hard-to-find location adds to its character. Definitely a must for a proper bar experience!



  1. Great list, you have listed the best restaurant, clubs, parks of Houston in a one post. Great, seems a directory for the tourist who are visiting Houston for first time.

  2. Great post! I've been to Houston, but never for enough time to really explore it. When I do get to spend some time there, I'll be sure to check some of these places out.

    All the Best,
    Allison Jones |