We’re leaving Houston in four days. Ah, nostalgia.
I’ll be honest; I was not crazy about Houston before I moved here. Isn’t that the place with the hurricanes? and the humidity? and the highways? Two years later, I realize those things didn’t disappear. If anything, they’re worse than I thought possible, but- and 2011 Jevhon will cringe when I say this- I think I love Houston and here’s why:
Cost of Living
Houston is CHEAP. Houston is ranked as the #1 city where ‘a paycheck stretches the farthest’ with the highest average wage adjusted for cost of living. So, even though the average person makes more money in places like New York or Silicon Valley, they also shell out way more money to pay for the sky-high prices of housing, transportation, utilities, and (most importantly, to me) eating and drinking out. In Houston, we could live where we wanted with plenty of space, go out where and whenever we wanted for the most part, not feel bad about splurging and STILL be saving a ton of money for this soon-to-begin extended trip.
Houston’s food scene is becoming a destination all its own and it’s literally weighing on me. The New York Times and the Wasington Post have raved about the city’s amazing food. The best thing about this burgeoning food scene is that it’s unpretentious,innovative yet simple food presented in a thoughtful way.
We categorized our favorites by how pricey a meal is, but all of these places serve, literally, some of the best food we’ve had anywhere.
Foine Dining (About $35/ person)
To me, seafood was always something to be tolerated. Some was better, some worse, but I wasn’t going to go crazy for some scallops or perch. And now, thanks to Reef, I’ve actually woken up in the middle of the night yearning for them.
I’m particularly fond of the local raw oysters, the slow baked Salmon with lemon risotto, and, for desert, the “no minors milkshake”, for obvious reasons.
Uchi is another restaurant that haunts my now aquatic-themed dreams. This contemporary Japanese restaurant and sushi bar serves tapas-style plates and is perfect for group outings. It’s been nationally acclaimed a million times over and has Top Chef contestant Paul Qui as its former Chef de Cuisine (now Executive Chef at its Austin branch, Uchiko). For an affordable version of this ridiculously good and ridiculously expensive dinner, go to the happy hour from 5-6pm on weeknights (which is actually, the only time we’ve ever been).
Solid Go-Tos (About $15-$20/person)
This contemporary Indian restaurant is as chic as it gets and relies heavily on traditional elements, though certainly more fusion-y than what we’ll be eating in India next year. We always get the thalis, a traditional Indian method of serving a variety of different dishes on one tray, and in this case, catered to a theme like ‘Yogi’ or ‘Ocean’.
Roost is a farm-to-market restaurant, with seasonal produce presented rustically. They are so hip I could die, but I genuinely love it. Their bread service, with assorted butters (pimento cheese butter, vietnamese coffee butter, sriracha butter!), mason jars filled with seasonal vegetables, and blue cheese and honey ice cream are so wholesome, edgy, and all-around hipsteresque that if it weren’t amazing, I’d hate them for the audacity. One of our favorite dishes is their cauliflower, which is fried and covered in cream sauce . It is a tiny restaurant that could probably seat no more than 35 people at a time, which gives the kind of intimacy that lends to their slogan: “food & drink amongst friends.”
A Montrose staple, this diner in the city’s most colorful neighborhood has character for days. It’s most popular meal is brunch, served in the adjoining building called Baby Barnaby’s, but we also frequent it for dinner where you can get unexpectedly Texas-sized meals for such a small, quaint diner. For a true Barnaby’s experience, the Fairview branch is the only place to go.
Cheap Eats (less than $10/person)
Little Bigs is a go-to late night snack. It’s known for its sliders, which put Houston burgers on the map, but I go there for ‘the Dude’, a white russian milkshake named for the favorite drink of its namesake in the Big Lebowski.
This Midtown cafe, serves the best pho and bahn mi we’ve ever had (although we’ll have to revisit that after we’ve been to Vietnam). The best part about this place is its price. $2.50 for a sandwich means that your meal will probably be less than $5.
Maybe you think I forgot Tex-Mex in this post about Houston food. Truth is, we find the whole trend a bit played out. While the occasional heart attack of an enchilada and liver-failure in a margarita are okay, we’ve found something we like better: an authentic Mexican taco joint that fits in with Midtown’s edgy vibe. With fresh food, weird decor, and cheap eats, Tacos a Go Go is a restaurant after my own heart. I particularly enjoy their grilled fish tacos.
This Korean/Mexican fusion food truck haunts the Rice village bar scene every weekend and, without fail, has a 45 minute+ line. Its ability to keep a bunch of drunk college students focused on one thing for an indefinite amount of time is a testament to the bold flavors and carb/cheese combinations that has made many a weak dietess fall to her knees. By far, our favorite thing is the Oh My Gogi fries which features fries with onions, cilantro, a secret cheese sauce, and sriracha.
A note: obesity is a serious problem in the United States and particularly in Texas and Houston. Sixty six percent of Houstonians are overweight or obese.That said, if you’re going to get your chub on- do it here!
There are jobs (I know, right?)
Houston never had a recession. It is the number one city for job creation. Houston enjoyed 2.6% job growth last year and nearly 50,000 Americans came here in response — particularly young professionals. In fact, the average age of a Houston resident is a fairly young 33.
Let me qualify all this by saying that I think ‘loving’ any place is less about the place itself, but rather the community that you build there. I think I liked Houston really because I met great people and built a lot of strong relationships, BUT cheap living, and amazing and inventive food also helps (and yes, it really is all about the food).
Featured photo courtesy of University of Houston Baeur College of Business