Where to Eat & Drink
Captain Benny’s Seafood
Whenever I set foot in Captain Benny’s oyster boat–cum–restaurant docked in the middle of a scruffy parking lot, my well-being soars. That’s because I know I’m about to enjoy some of the Gulf’s freshest raw oysters, gorgeous (and remarkably greaseless) fried shrimp, and the world’s coldest beer.
8506 S. Main St.; captbennys.com
El Real Tex-Mex Café
Set on reviving authentic Tex-Mex traditions and flavors, award-winning chef Bryan Caswell of REEF and longtime business partner Bill Floyd teamed up with food writer Robb Walsh to open El Real. The menu includes traditional puffy tacos, old-school enchilada plates topped with homemade sauces, and of course, killer margaritas.
1201 West-heimer Rd.; elrealtexmex.com
This popular spot began life thirty years ago in a former corner store and has since expanded to include a patio and doors that open at 7 a.m. Start the day with huevos rancheros and a $4 “rita” (happy hour is from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and again in the afternoon). Famous for its beef tip fajitas, La Mexicana also has the best enchiladas with green sauce in town.
1018 Fairview St.; lamexicanarestaurant.com
After a stint on L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard, Elouise (“Ouisie”) Adams Jones came home to Houston and brought her enormous charm and great Gulf South cooking with her. Breakfast includes biscuits with pepper-milk gravy, lunch features a crab Cobb salad, and at dinner there are to-die-for brandied oysters—all in a homey atmosphere incorporating an herb garden and communal table.
3939 San Felipe Rd.; ouisiestable.com
Philippe Restaurant + Lounge
This glam two-story space is the latest creation of equally glam chef Philippe Schmit, the city’s self-appointed French Cowboy. The lounge has a drink of the same name (Bulleit bourbon, Lillet, and agave syrup) along with excellent tapas, and the dinner menu reflects a similar cultural mix in the form of duck confit tamales but also a classic roast duck with clementine-cognac sauce.
1800 Post Oak Blvd.; philippehouston.com
RDG + Bar Annie
When Robert Del Grande took over operation of Café Annie in 1980, he changed the face of Houston fine dining—and Texas cooking—forever. A San Francisco native with a PhD in biochemistry, Del Grande created a temple of sophisticated Southwestern cuisine, including a crabmeat tostada that became a local institution. These days the place to be is RDG + Bar Annie, a less clubby version of the original in a great new space (think red cedar and green onyx instead of mahogany).
1800 Post Oak Blvd.; rdgbarannie.com
The driving force behind the Mid-town Farmer’s Market, Monica Pope extends her ethos to t’afia’s restaurant and bar. Tasty fortified wine drinks called ratafias are augmented with seasonal produce, as are divine champagne cocktails. Equally divine bar snacks include “redneck” pimento mac and cheese and cremini mushroom sliders.
3701 Travis St.; tafia.com
Where to Sleep
The Houstonian Hotel
For a time, this resort hotel on eighteen magically secluded acres in the heart of the city was best known for being the permanent address of President George H. W. and Barbara Bush. But a renovation in 2008 gave it added grandeur and a lodgelike vibe. In addition to the discreet service, the main attraction is the luxe spa and health club, complete with rock-climbing wall, boxing ring, three heated pools, and tennis, racquetball, and squash courts.
111 N. Post Oak Lane; houstonian.com
La Colombe d’Or
The Fondren mansion, built in 1923 for the founder of Humble Oil, is now a luxury hotel with five one-bedroom suites, a great restaurant, and adjacent villas for long-term stays. You’re minutes away from the Menil Collection, the Texas Medical Center, and Hermann Park, but you’ll feel a bit like you’ve landed in the South of France, where the owner has a house.
3410 Montrose Blvd.; lacolombedor.com
The St. Regis was built by Caroline Rose Hunt as a follow-up to Dallas’s Mansion on Turtle Creek in 1982 and originally called the Remington. Tucked away on a wooded lot between River Oaks and the Galleria, it’s an insulated shrine to great service and sumptuous decor. The clubby bar now bears the Remington name—as well as an actual Remington sculpture.
1919 Briar Oaks Lane; starwoodhotels.com
Where to Shop
One of the country’s last great independents and a mecca for touring authors, Brazos is so beloved that when hard times threatened to shut it down in 2006, a group of fourteen loyal customers and private investors banded together to keep it open. Now its deep inventory also includes a rare book gallery, and an annual Poets and Writers Ball raises money for Brazos-sponsored scholarships to the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program.
2421 Bissonnet St.; brazosbookstore.com
Found is full of everything from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antiques to repurposed industrial pieces. Designers love the juxtaposition of, say, a vintage theater spotlight or a modern resin table against a faux bois garden bench or a crusty gilt mirror. 2
422 Bartlett St.; foundforthehome.com
Still owned by the family that started the business in 1883, Hamilton specializes in beautiful bespoke shirts. Hand cut from Italian and Swiss fabrics, the shirts are made at the Richmond Avenue store by tailors whom you can watch work through a picture window.
5700 Richmond Ave.; hamiltonshirts.com
Susan Silverman has created by far the chicest and best-edited boutique in town, including shoes, bags, clothes, and jewelry from hard-to-find designers like Orla Kiely, Isabel Marant, Vena Cava, and edgy Italian brand ReSet.
2314 Bissonnet St.; 713-526-4580
Since 1980, Robert and Cynthia Cage McClain have focused on the acquisition and exhibition of museum-quality contemporary and twentieth-century art. Greats like James Rosenquist, Donald Baechler, and John Alexander are included in their stable, but the McClains are also committed to a younger generation of primarily Texas-based artists.
2242 Richmond Ave.; mcclaingallery.com
Spec’s began life in 1962 when Spec and Carolynn Jackson opened a small store selling pints and half pints. Now the flagship carries more than 40,000 labels over 80,000 square feet and may well be the only destination liquor store in the world. There’s also a walk-in humidor, an enormous gourmet food selection, barware and glassware, and daily lunch specials with yummy stuff like chicken pot pie and crawfish burgers. Most days, vendors crowd the floor, offering enough samples to get a buzz on.
2410 Smith St.; specsonline.com
When Mickey Rosmarin opened Tootsies some thirty-five years ago, it instantly became Houston’s most talked-about women’s specialty store. Now he’s reinvigorated his brand with a move to a dazzling 35,000-square-foot location bathed in natural light and accented with his own art and furniture. New designers joining the store’s already haute stable include Givenchy, Celine, Rick Owens, and Nina Ricci.
2601 Westheimer Rd.; tootsies.com
What to See & Do
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
The museum was founded in 1948
by seven locals who wanted to present new art and document its role in modern life. Early exhibitions included the work of Van Gogh and Miró, as well as the great African-American Houston artist John Biggers. In 1972, it moved into its current home, designed by Gunnar Birkets, where it has continued to stage Houston’s most avant-garde exhibitions.
5216 Montrose Blvd.; camh.org
The Menil Collection
Dominique de Menil was an heir to the Schlumberger oil-drilling fortune, and her husband John was a Schlumberger exec. Together they amassed one of the most important private twentieth-century art collections in the world (including works by Magritte, Ernst, Picasso, and Rauschenberg), as well as collections of antiquities and Byzantine and tribal art. Housed in Renzo Piano’s first American building, the collections rotate through in ever-changing incarnations in accordance with Dominique’s belief that “habit blunts vision.” Included on “campus” are the Cy Twombly Gallery, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, and the Rothko Chapel.
1515 Sul Ross St.; menil.org
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
One of the country’s most respected museums, Houston’s largest cultural institution has a collection that is spread between two stunning buildings—one by Mies van der Rohe, the other by Rafael Moneo—as well as an Isamu Noguchi–designed sculpture garden. When beloved longtime director Peter Marzio died, in 2010, the international art world mourned. Since then, Gary Tinterow, a Houston native and Metropolitan Museum Art veteran, has taken the reins.
1001 Bissonnet St.; mfah.org