Like a Houston woman heading out for a night on the town, the Bayou City seems always to be adding one more jewel. OK, dozens more. Even though it has long been a haven for culture and cuisine, Houston just can’t resist sprinkling the landscape with more spots for feasting, soaking up culture and unwinding in the great outdoors.
CULTURE AND COUNTRYSIDE
Houston’s vastness — 669 square miles — means expansion of everything is easy. New buildings can spring up without sacrificing lush green spaces.
In the art world, the renowned private Menil Collection recently added a sleek fifth building, Menil Drawing Institute (1412 W. Main St., not far from the main Menil Collection, menil.org/drawing-institute), dedicated solely to modern and contemporary drawings. These galleries hold works you probably haven’t seen before. A show featuring French draftsman and architect Jean-Jacques Lequeu opens Oct. 4.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1001 Bissonnet St., mfah.org) is in the midst of an expansion that has already added an amphitheater, dancing fountain plaza and a new building for its Glassell School of Art. It will eventually add gallery space and gardens as well. This fall and winter, the MFAH will feature Jasper Johns and Impressionist and Post-impressionist works from Monet to Picasso.
Don’t forget Houston’s performing arts. Wortham Theater Center (501 Texas Ave.), home of the Houston Grand Opera (houstongrandopera.org) and Houston Ballet (houstonballet.org), reopened last fall after a $100 million restoration after Hurricane Harvey flooded it. Or take in a play at the 70-year-old nationally recognized Alley Theatre (alleytheatre.org).
Then you’ll want to spend some time outdoors, and it’s easy to do with Houston’s devotion to improving and expanding its parks. Downtown’s Discovery Green, for example, is enlarging its children’s play area.
But the biggest project is taking place in the 1,500-acre Memorial Park (memorialparkconservancy.org), one of the largest and most heavily-forested urban parks in America. Regardless of the weather, the paths in this park — currently about three miles — are always filled with joggers, including professional athletes and, during the past year, Lady Gaga.
The park has recently added more native trees, flowers and grasses, along with two all-important restrooms. It’s in the process of adding more jogging and bike trails, and a new sports complex and redesigned golf course are on the way.
The park is bisected by six-lane Memorial Drive, but by 2020 the halves will be joined by a land bridge — a 30-foot-high, 100-acre mound where the native prairie wilderness will be restored. Cars will drive through a tunnel, and, people and wildlife will be able to move through the entire park easily. A big win for nature over concrete.
At River Oaks District (4444 Westheimer Road, riveroaksdistrict.com), everybody’s mad about MAD. The name references Madrid airport, but the “modern tapas” are delightful madness: What appears to be a tomato is actually gel-encased parmesan mousse with pesto, served on pumpernickel “dirt.” A tiny ice cream cone is … foie gras. Nearby at the District, Ouzo Bay’s seafood is so fresh and tender you’ll swear you can smell salt water.
More new eats: At 1801 N. Shepherd Drive in The Heights, La Lucha (laluchatx.com) standouts include juicy fried chicken and bubbly parmesan-garlic roasted oysters.
Louisiana-born chef Drake Leonards serves flavors of home at Eunice (3737 Buffalo Speedway, eunicerestaurant.com) with an enticing raw bar and crunchy fried quail.
Mendocino Farms in Rice Village (5510 Morningside Drive, mendocinofarms.com) focuses on hearty sandwiches, while at the Galleria, Fig & Olive (figandolive.com) packs the flavors of both into crostini and salads.
Opulence and service reign at the year-old Post Oak Hotel (1600 West Loop South; thepostoakhotel.com), the latest from the Landry’s empire. From the poolscape behind the check-in desk to the elegant marble and dark wood room interiors, this hotel trumpets luxury. The spa offers facial technology you won’t find elsewhere in Texas. If you need new wheels, there are Rolls Royce and Bentley dealerships on property. The hotel’s five restaurants include the popular Willie G’s seafood and the award-winning Mastro’s Steakhouse.
The newest hotel is C. Baldwin (400 Dallas St., tiny.cc/zkj08y) — a former Doubletree that is now a chic boutique — part of Hilton’s upscale Curio Collection. Named for pioneering businesswoman Charlotte Baldwin Allen, it offers lovely views of the soaring skyline.
And north of the Galleria, the Omni Houston (4 Riverway, omnihotels.com/hotels/Houston) has bounced back from Hurricane Harvey with a makeover that immediately drew a flurry of wedding bookings.
Don’t leave without playing Houston’s most popular sport: shopping. At the Galleria, Saks has moved farther west, making room for new arrivals Paige, Maje and Sandro, along with restaurants Nobu, Blanco Tacos, Musaafer and aforementioned Fig & Olive.
Nearby, 136-year-old men’s bespoke shirt mainstay Hamilton has, at last, added women’s shirts. Drop in at 5700 Richmond Ave. for a fitting.
DID YOU KNOW?
Census data reveal that 145 different languages are spoken in Houston. That number is higher only in New York and Los Angeles. After English, the top five, in order of popularity, are Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic and French.