What You’ll Need: Open mind, credit card
I know that the idea of a weekend getaway in Houston—in summer, no less—might strike some people as cuckoo. ( Oh, yeah? And how about Pittsburgh in February? ) To those folks I can only say I’m sorry—for their ignorance. I have long been a champion of my adopted hometown and remain so despite its many, too frequently repeated challenges. The truth is, Houston is one of the great international cities, with some of the most entertaining people on the planet. If you follow my plan, I promise that you too will become a convert.
Pull yourself away from your luxurious room at the Hotel Icon and head to the north side for a Mexican breakfast with hungover hipsters and Heights families at Teotihuacan Mexican Café (not to slight the hotel restaurant, Voice, which is one of the best in town). Then head for Hermann Park , which has undergone a spectacular face-lift, with a shimmering reflecting pool, shady pathways, and fanciful paddleboats. It’s a lot like Central Park, only the people, the dogs, and the ducks are nicer. Museums are abundant: next door to the Contemporary Arts Museum is the Jung Center , which has one of Houston’s quirkiest bookstores. Then walk a few blocks to North and South Boulevards, where some of Houston’s most glorious mansions reside beneath shady live oaks.
After all that culture it’s time for barbecue. I love Pizzitola’s, to the north, which on a Saturday provides not just great food but some down-home people-watching. The ancient River Oaks type who comes with his two nurses goes especially well with the brisket.
Then you can shop nearby on Nineteenth Street in the Heights or visit Westheimer Strip to the south—both funky and fun. But why miss a trip to the galleria? Even if you can’t buy, window-shopping in this grand, meta–air conditioned temple of excess is a blast, as is watching all the people, most of whom are from somewhere else but can actually afford Vuitton and Chanel.
By evening you will want a place to show off whatever you couldn’t resist buying. Head for reef, a stunning venue in a converted Pontiac dealership that serves a brilliant update on Gulf Coast specialties. It’s informal and friendly, but check out the women in jeans with their rocks and the men jumping out of their Bentleys. If you’d rather go ethnic, try kiran’s for authentic Indian food. Then, on to poison girl , a bar-bar with a patio that often hosts local writers reading their newest works.
Yes, you can get great deli in Houston. Start with an early breakfast at Kenny and Ziggy’s and then head south to the Windsor Village United Methodist Church to hear Kirbyjon Caldwell preach. There’s no more-welcoming spot in Houston. Then to Montrose for a long, lazy lunch at Dolce Vita , which serves the crispest pizza crust this side of Naples. That and a good glass of Italian red—really, could life get any better?
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250 or camh.org.
Dolce Vita 500 Westheimer Rd., 713-520-8222 or dolcevitahouston.com.
Galleria 5085 Westheimer Rd., 713-622-0663 or galleriahouston.com.
Hermann Park 713-524-5876 or hermannpark.org.
Hotel Icon 220 Main, 713-224-4266 or hotelicon.com. Rates start at $159 a night.
Jung Center 5200 Montrose Blvd., 713-524-8253 or junghouston.org.
Kenny And Ziggy’s 2327 Post Oak Blvd., 713-871-8883 or kennyandziggys.com.
Kiran’s 4100 Westheimer Rd., 713-960-8472 or kiranshouston.com.
Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Que 1703 Shepherd Dr., 713-227-2283 or pizzitolas.com.
Poison Girl 1641 Westheimer Rd., 713-527-9929.
Reef 2600 Travis, 713-526-8282 or reefhouston.com.
Teotihuacan Mexican Café 1511 Airline Dr., 713-426-4420.
Windsor Village United Methodist Church 6011 W. Orem Dr., 713-723-8187 or kingdombuilders.com.