Ever since moving back to Texas, I've been determined to showcase all that this complex, expansive land has to offer as a travel destination. Though Austin is the city that gets the most national attention—and I love Austin, so like, I get it—there's so much more to see and more importantly, to eat in the Lone Star state. Today I want to start with its biggest city, Houston.

I used to travel to Houston once a year in high school for art competitions, but due to set itineraries and the watchful eye of chaperones, I never felt like I really got to experience the city. Now that I'm grown and with my own set of wheels, we decided to spend the last weekend before Julius started his new job driving down there for a long weekend.

In the spirit of one of my favorite posts that I've published on here, a two-perspectives-for-the-price-of-one guide to Busan, I hit up my friend and Houston native/enthusiast Emmad for some recommendations. How this works is you'll get Emmad's recommendations and perspectives as a local mixed in with my commentary and discoveries as a traveler.

"I think, truly and deeply, that Houston is the most underrated city in all of these United States. Much of this is biased by me being from Houston, I'll admit, but I do know that I've come around to loving Houston after much ambivalence, dislike, and impatience (in that order). In any case, here is my view on why Houston is so great:

Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America - this isn't just true racially but also culturally, economically, socially, and on dozens of other dimensions. This truth stands at the foundation of what makes Houston so unique and lovable. Houston has always had a historically large black population and in the mid 20th century it also started receiving many large immigrant communities, particularly Vietnamese, Pakistani, Indian, and Nigerian. The low cost of living allowed each of these communities to thrive and grow without having to make compromises on their identity and spaces. Because of this you see amazing music (Beyonce AND Solange?), food, fashion, art, etc. coming from Houston that is often rooted in unique and preserved cultural identities that many cities find hard to maintain and hold on to." —Emmad

Where to Stay

"Storehouse Studio"   Starting at $58/Night

Photo by Airbnb

A friend of mine stayed here during the Grace Hopper conference in Houston, and it's such a great find! The studio apartment is perfect for a solo-traveler, with an affordable price point and a lot of privacy. It's also centrally located and even has a little built-in workspace.

Kitchen and bathroom access is separated from the bedroom by two steps.

"Small Modern Airbnb"   Starting at $56/Night

Photos via Airbnb

If you subscribe to our newsletter you probably saw that we recently wrote about this very space. Although this Airbnb is not centrally located, it is one of the more unique architectural gems you'll find in Houston. The tiny home is filled with interesting nooks and crannies to explore, and would be perfectly cozy for a couple or two friends traveling together.

This Airbnb has lofted areas that may be inaccessible to anyone with impaired mobility.

Montrose Guesthouse Suites   Starting at $125/Night

Photos via Booking.com

This guesthouse is extremely centrally located in a great neighborhood that is filled with tons of good restaurants and nightlife, while also being super close to downtown. There are a variety of different room sizes available, all of which are modern and inoffensively decorated. There's also a shared rooftop lounge for the whole space (which is also bookable for large groups).

Please inquire directly with the host for more accessibility information.

Hotel Alessandra   Starting at $166/Night

Photos via Booking.com

I'll be honest, the hotel game in Houston leaves a lot to be desired and seems mostly catered towards business travelers. However, if there was one hotel I would stay at it would be the Alessandra. The hotel has modern facilities and tasteful decor with a just enough personality in a central downtown location.

Hotel Alessandra is wheelchair accessible with and also features braille and auditory guidance for the vision impaired.

What To Do

Breakfast Klub

Photos via The Innbox

Emmad: Some of the best Chicken and Waffles I've ever had in my life were at the Breakfast Klub in Houston. The place is only open from breakfast to lunch and its always a line-outside-the-door type of packed (though I promise you they move quickly!). Definitely a spot to get breakfast.

Sabrina: The waffles were absolutely amazing and this place is bumpin' for brunch. Luckily on the weekends they open up their additional cafe space next door and the staff are pretty good at routing people towards the shortest line!

Menil Museum

Photos via The Innbox

Emmad: I think the Menil is an amazing museum - not only is it free and always will be but it also actively works to include and champion the types of art that many other institutions never do. I also personally think the space is lovely and beautiful. A testament to all of this is that Solange debuted "Scales" the concert/performance art piece for A Seat At The Table at Menil.

Sabrina: As someone that enjoys art musuems but can also get museum fatigue pretty easily, I loved the intimate size of the Menil and the experience of walkind around the grounds to different galleries. My favorite of which was the Cy Twombly gallery.

Photos via The Innbox

Rothko Chapel

Emmad: Right next to the Menil Collection is a non-denominational chapel called the Rothko Chapel. Not only is the space supposed to serve as a space for many, it is also an art installation of fourteen Rothko paintings!

Sabrina: Unfortuantely the Rothko Chapel is currently closed for renovations until the end of 2019, but it's definitely at the top of my list for the next time I visit Houston!


Photos via The Innbox

Emmad: An incredibly good and modern spin on Indian street food. This place is also very vegetarian friendly!

Sabrina: Vegetarian is definitely the way to go here! While the meat thali platter was fairly standard but still good, the vegetable thali (listed as the "Vishnu" on the menu) was full of inventive dishes like asparagus in a mango puree and beetroot dosa. I also noticed that almost everyone at the tables around me was ordering the Vishnu too!

Photos via The Innbox

James Turrell's "Twilight Epiphany" Skyspace

Photos via The Innbox

Emmad: I'm sure I don't need to tell you much about James Turrell other than like the rest of his work the skyspace located in Houston is as lovely and awe-inspiring as you would hope it would be. The piece has an aperture in the top that floods the space with light and color - particularly at sunrise and sunset. It really is incredible.

Photos via The Innbox

Sabrina: I've been lucky to have experienced a few of James Turrell's work in various places I've traveled to. We have one of his skyspaces here in Dallas and I've seen many of his colored lightboxes in indoor galleries. However, this was the first time I've seen these two separate concepts of his combined. We arrived about an hour before sunset and were able to snag a good seat, and also enjoy listening to music students from Rice University rehearsing in the space, which created an almost spiritual atmosphere for the whole experience.

Photos via The Innbox

Lua Kitchen

Photos via The Innbox

Sabrina: Lua is a fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant located just a few blocks away from the Menil Museum. While I feel a little silly putting what is essentially the Vietnamese version of a Chipotle in a travel guide, good food is good food. The restaurant markets itself as a health-conscious vendor of Vietnamese food, but this is no Lucky Lee's— the owners are actually of Vietnamese descent and vegetarians will find themselves more than satisfied with the Shaken Tofu, one of Lua's most popular dishes that consists of fluffy fried tofu and fresh vegetables served with a simple salt & pepper dressing. You can find Shaken Tofu (sometimes called Shaking Tofu or Salt Fried Tofu) at most Vietnamese restaurants in Houston's but Lua's version was my favorite.

Mai's Restaurant

Photos via The Innbox

Emmad: There are so many good Vietnamese restaurants in Houston and I think for the most part any of them will be amazing. But my personal favorite is Mai, a long standing Vietnamese restaurant near downtown - also a great late night spot that stays open till 4!

Sabrina: The late night vibe in here is amazing, and I think it may have been the most diverse restaurant I've ever eaten in. There are seriously so many people from all walks of life packed in here at 1am on a Saturday. I ordered the same salt-fried tofu dish that I got at Lua's but Mai's version is definitely more drunk food fare, and exactly what you need after a night out.

Photos via The Innbox

Vintage Shopping on Westheimer

Photos via The Innbox

Sabrina: Even though Austin has a stronger reputation for vintage clothes, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the stores I found in Houston. I've always found Austin's offerings to be either too overpriced or too dated (I know, the irony...) but in Houston there's a stretch of stores on Westheimer Road with really affordable and well curated pieces. I got a 90s style baggy denim Levi's jacket for $35 from a store called Petty Cash and then found an oversized anorak for $5 next door at Pavement.

88 Boiling

Photos via The Innbox

Emmad: Crawfish is a staple food of the Gulf but viet cajun crawfish is a staple of Houston Texas. A unique blend of New Orleans & Vietnamese cuisine, the viet cajun crawfish is like southern crawfish cooked in Vietnamese spices and flavors. It's hard to find anywhere else in the US and certainly nowhere is it as good.

Sabrina: 88 boiling is a little out of the way but it's worth the drive for the 88 sauce alone. It's a combination of spicy, garlicky, and lemony flavors that's slathered all over the crawfish. Be prepared to get messy!

Killen's BBQ

Emmad: Look no list of Houston can be complete with mentioning Barbecue. In the interest of time I'll only mention one (though there are easily half a dozen worth visiting). Killen's is a no frills straightforward BBQ joint where the meat is the star and the sides are incredible backups!

Sabrina: Since I stopped eating meat I had to pass on this (even though barbecue is what I miss the most!). Omnivores of the world, if you stop by Killen's let me know what you think!

Gerald D. Hines Waterfall Park

Photos via The Innbox

Sabrina: There's not too much to say about this place other than that it's where you go to do-it-for-the-gram. The structure itself is pretty dope, but there's not much to do in the surrounding area besides a mall. It's a great photoshoot backdrop but I'd recommend getting there early on a weekday. While it wasn't packed when we went in the afternoon, we still had to work our way around both a graduation and engagement shoot to get some photos in!

Photos via The Innbox

Present Company & Montrose Nightlife

Photos via The Innbox

Sabrina: Speaking of Instagrammable places, Present Company is a very aesthetically stimulating and expansive indoor/outdoor bar in Houston's Montrose neighborhood. The bar serves LaCroix cocktails and has a pretty cool collection of neon lights. This place is pretty popular so if you're looking for a more chill experience go during off hours. There are also a lot of other great cocktail bars in Montrose. Anvil was a spot we hit up twice because of the friendly bartenders and great drinks.

Tacos Tierra Caliente

Emmad: A food truck tucked away on Alabama Street in a strip mall parking lot, I think Tierra Calienta has some of the best (and cheapest!) tacos in the city. They're exactly what you expect and need tacos to be, especially as a late night snack.

Donuts at Morningstar

Photos via The Innbox

Sabrina: Another friend recommended Morningstar to me as a great place to pick up some donuts. We stopped by on our way out of Houston and back to Dallas. Though they usually have Vietnamese-inspired flavors when I went the options were pretty standard but still delicious. The space was also well designed and looks like a great place to get some work done!

The Original Ninfa's on Navigation

Photos via The Innbox

Emmad: I'll close this list out with a dish that I think only Houston can do well: Tex-mex. Many credit the original Ninfas with creating if not at the least popularizing what we now call Fajitas (which should also be what you order when you go here!).

Sabrina: We went for brunch on Sunday and were pleasantly surprised that we didn't have to wait for a table. It was also cool to see them making fresh tortillas (which tasted amazing). The portions were extremely generous and the pozole was spicy — a little too spicy for Julius, but even so he felt that Ninfa's was his favorite meal we had in Houston.

Photos via The Innbox

About Emmad

Emmad is a designer out in San Francisco but a Houston and Texas evangelist at heart (in that order). He's a big fan of too many house plants, film photos that you take months to develop, and saying dumb things on his Twitter which you can find here!