Category Archives: Eat

Houston = Cultural Culinary Adventure

Houston’s dining scene is getting some major national attention. With 8,000 restaurants representing more than 35 cuisines, what’s not to love? But don’t take our word for it. This month’s issue of Bon Appetit asks “Is Houston’s multicultural dining scene the country’s best-kept food secret?” We challenge all AAM attendees to seek out the answer.

Houston boasts numerous diverse neighborhoods, many of which are anchored by ethnic restaurants and groceries. Explore key destinations that have transformed the city into a multicultural microsphere. Visit the palatial food court and grocery store inside Hong Kong Market inside Hong Kong City Mall—one of the largest Asian superstores in the region—on Bellaire Boulevard. Venture into west Houston-set Phoenicia (the downtown location opens summer 2011) for 55,000 square feet of international delicacies. Among the outpost’s more than 6,000 exotic offerings are freshly-baked pita breads, flakey baklava and tempting tabouli. Sample delicious, house-made pierogies at Polonia, the city’s only Polish grocery/restaurant and dive into a spicy plate of house-made som tum at Asia Market, a converted Thai grocery store. Don’t miss H-Mart, a massive Korean grocery store, which is just down the street from Chinese grocery 99 Ranch Market.

Prefer an expert to show you the ropes? The same culinary geniuses that have topped endless ‘Best Of’ lists, graced the covers of Food & Wine and Bon Appetit and helped put H-Town on the national map are now making it their mission to show residents and visitors the underbelly of the city’s food scene with the ‘Where the Chefs Eat’ Houston Culinary Tours.

Forget the upscale restaurants, for once—they aren’t the only things setting Houston apart from major epicurean cities like Chicago and San Francisco. This time around, the city’s top chefs—including The Next Iron Chef‘s Bryan Caswell and Top Chef Masters‘ Monica Pope—are teaming up to shift the spotlight to the small, independent, ethnic spots—whose recipes have been passed down from generation to generation.

With only 16 guests per chef-led tour, participants will gain intimate knowledge about the city: unexplored neighborhoods; undiscovered restaurants; and markets that contribute to the locally-driven menus of each chef.  Details at

We encourage our Houston AAM members to post your favorite ethnic dive restaurants and groceries in the city!

Attendees – flex the adventurous side of your palette and sample a dish you’ve never tried before!

–Laurette Canizares and Natalie Bogan Morgan,
Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau



Last time we told you all about Houston’s fabulous dining scene. But with more than 8,000 restaurants (representing 35 cuisines) to choose from, where do you begin? We’ve spotlighted 15 local eateries that offer an iconic taste of Houston, each an essential flavor in our big urban stew.

 AAM attendees have fun eating your way through the city one iconic dish at a time when you’re here in May!  Be sure to tell us about your favorite dishes while you are here by leaving a comment below. 

Locals – what are your favorite dishes? Comment below, let us know what we might have missed and give our AAM friends some ideas of other places to check out while they are in Houston.

Petaluma Salad
Okay, any giant, tasty Barnaby’s salad will do. You know they’re good when people willingly pass on the famous ribs or meatloaf to eat rabbit food.

Buffalo Grille
Pancakes and Bacon
In a city that takes brunch seriously, the can’t-be-replaced pancakes and amazing, crunchy, pecan-smoked peppered bacon has made Buffalo Grille a favorite neighborhood spot for 25 years.

Captain Benny’s
This old-school oyster bar serves an awful lot of oysters, so you know they’re always fresh. Stop in for a couple dozen and a cold beer.

In the beginning (of the Cordua restaurant empire, that is), there was grilled meat. The namesake churrascos are still as addictive as the free plantain chips and chimichurri.

El Rey Taqueria
Breakfast Tacos
Perfect, never greasy breakfast tacos for under $2 a pop (mostly) provide the best reason in town to get up before 10:30am. Our favorite: the Cuban taco with fajitas, black beans, ripe plantain and a swipe of crema.

Frenchy’s Chicken
Fried Chicken
Long lines and an aversion to credit cards do nothing to dissuade fans of this legendary chicken shack. Plan to take out.

Fung’s Kitchen
Dim Sum
Weekend crowds don’t lie: This Hong Kong-style dim sum menu has everything from steamed shrimp dumplings for the uninitiated to more esoteric selections for seasoned dim sum enthusiasts.

Goode Co. Texas Bar-B-Q
Chopped Beef Sandwich on Jalapeno Cheese Bread
You can’t argue with 30-plus years of barbecue. Plus, you know the ‘cue is good when West U yupsters line up to sit on picnic benches. We like to dress our sandwich with a few pickles and onions and plenty of sauce.

Lankford Grocery
A thick, juicy, delightfully non-round (read: hand-rolled and smushed) patty and plentiful toppings are served up at this red and white shack with the saggy floors. Hit Lankford on the right day, and there’s nothing finer.

Les Givral’s
Vietnamese Sandwich
Those in the know stop at Les Givral’s for fabulous banh mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwiches) at freakishly low prices. Vegetarians love the tofu (add a dash of sriracha), but the barbecue pork also pleases.

Ninfa’s on Navigation
Sure, there are plenty of great places to get fajitas in town, but only Ninfa’s can claim credit for launching this original Tex-Mex concoction as a national craze back in 1973.

Ragin’ Cajun
For the past 35 years, during crawfish season there’s no better place to be sucking heads.

Star Pizza
Joe’s Pizza
There’s a bunch of new thin-crust, classic Italian-style pizzerias in town, which is great. But our first pizza crush will always be Star’s deep-dish spinach-and-garlic pie on the signature wheat crust.

Taqueria la Tapatia
Chicken Burrito
These huge burritos could feed you for days, and we prefer them at their least healthful: packed with shredded chicken, sour cream, avocado, cheese and refried beans, and smothered in queso.

Taste of Texas
T-Bone Steak

Legendary in Houston, it’s all about the meat here, as evidenced by the popular option to walk over to the in-house butcher shop and pick your own steak.

Laurette Canizares, Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau
and Sarah Rufka,

Midtown’s Big Block Gets Bigger

 One might not think of Houston as the fashion capital of the South. That title usually gets associated with Dallas, our sister city to the north. However, in true Houston style, our fair city has its own version of funky and unique shops that help keep Houstonians both following and starting trends. Not far from the large retailers found at Houston’s Galleria area lie a few pockets of independent boutiques, accessory stores and specialty shops. Midtown, Montrose and Downtown all offer smaller options for popping in and out during a lunch break or after work. (and after a conference!)

 Smack dab in the middle of Houston’s Midtown neighborhood along the city’s METRORail one can find many of the city’s treasured music venues, restaurants and shops. A sure fire hit you won’t want to miss – what locals affectionately call the “Big Block,” located between West Alabama, Main Street and Travis.

 Well known as the home of popular dining hot spots like The Breakfast Klub, T’afia, Tacos-A-Go-Go and Julia’s, as well as live music fave The Continental Club, the “Big Block” continues to expand.  Since Harry Shattock, former travel editor for the Houston Chronicle, penned a very informative article about Midtown in Executive Travel back in October 2009, the “Big Block” has added three new boutiques, and tattoo/barber shop and coffee shop. (I encourage you to check out the article for more details on Houston’s midtown neighborhood.)

 AAM attendees, while in Houston, make some time for shopping!  From downtown, hop on the southbound METRORail “Red Line” until you reach the HCC /Ensemble Station, disembark, cross the street and you have arrived. 

 While there, check out the funky girly Chick & Chica for a selection of mix and match tops and bottoms, accessories and home goods. My Flaming Heart and Shop-o-Rama continues with the neighborhood’s kitchy vibe with unique offering vintage clothing, custom made and vintage jewelry, house wares, vinyl, bric, brac, and other oddities. Don’t forget to pop into the newly relocated (albeit by 20 feet) Sig’s Lagoon, who specializes in local, new and used vinyl, poster art and music books.

It’s a very exciting time to be shopping Houston!  Stay tuned for more Houston SHOPPING news in blog posts to come!

–Monica Danna, CoLab
AAM 2011 Hospitality Subcommittee member &
SHOP section editor

Eat: Foodies Beware!

Foodies beware! You may find it hard to focus on the AAM conference program in Houston while surrounded by all the delicious fare in this city. The fourth largest city in the nation touts an award-winning culinary scene getting the city some major national recognition. With more than 8,000 restaurants in the area, Houston is serving up culinary cre­ations from more than 35 countries and American regions. It’s no wonder Houston residents dine out an average of 4.2 times a week—more frequently than diners in any other city—according to a 2010 Zagat Survey.

Make time to eat your way through Houston. Here are some of our local favorites, but we encourage our Houston museum friends to post their picks!

Elbow your way past locals for a table at Ninfa’s on Navigation. The original location turns out crispy chips, oh-so-addicting green sauce and tart Ninfaritas. Another must-do is Irma’s Restaurant Downtown. Owner Irma Galvan, who won the 2008 James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics Award, whips up tasty breakfast and lunch grub. Say yes to the fruity lemonade.

Demeris Barbecue has been feeding Houstonians chopped beef for more than 40 years. Come hungry to Goode Company—another H-Town staple. Save room for the pecan pie. Head to Pizzitola’s along the popular Washington corridor, featuring Houston’s oldest BBQ pit.

The cherry blossom branches that drip from the ceilings make it easy to forget that Gigi’s Asian Bistro is in The Galleria. The dim sum here is a definite do. Kiran’s has perfected her Indian-French-American fare like the classic chicken tikka masala and creamy lamb saag. For more spice, Indika cooks up venison vindaloo as hot as the Montrose scene. Fans flock to Thai Sticks for fiery green curry with ground green Thai chilies and basil.

Mark’s American Cuisine, set inside a renovated 1920s church, has made Zagat’s No. 1 Food Spot in Houston for seven years running. Looking for the In Crowd? They’re at Tony’s. Expect a Texas-sized vino list—there are more than 1,000 wine choices—and upscale European-style Italian food. Set in a classic New Orleans style abode, Brennan’s of Houston serves a Texas creole-inspired menu.

Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler at Ragin Cajun. If you’re feeling adventurous (and want to live like a local) order a bucket of the crawfish. For a little less messy experience, Midtown’s Reef restaurant is well-versed in Gulf Coast seafood. The spot was recently named No. 1 Seafood Restaurant in America by Bon Appétit magazine.

Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the steak. For a hearty helping, hit west Houston’s Taste of Texas. The family-owned spot has an in-house butcher shop, a menu printed in 13 languages and a mean NY Strip. For a business lunch, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in The Galleria area is a safe bet, too. Date night do: Downtown’s Strip House. The all-red bordello-chic décor sets a sexy scene to take in the spot’s sinful 24-layer chocolate cake.

Think: Haute Dogs and Damn…Yankee Pot Roast at Max’s Wine Dive—offering a cheeky take on comfort food. Lance Fegan presents a constantly-changing, surf-inspired menu at the Glass Wall. Enjoy sweeping views of Downtown’s skyline from Sawyer Park rooftop bar. Nearby t’afia has an herbal cocktail to quench your thirst, too. But don’t stay out too late! The best part of waking up is Midtown’s breakfast klub, where the signature waffles and wings are well worth the wait.

AAM attendees – we look forward to sharing this culinary diversity when you’re here in May.

-Laurette Canizares and Natalie Bogan Morgan,
Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau