Wednesday 20 September 2017

Houston Calling: Why you should visit America's most diverse city

American Holidays

Cultural hub: Houston, Texas
Cultural hub: Houston, Texas
Frozen Margarita
Fusion: kimson.com

Emily Westbrooks

2017's Super Bowl city has transformed into a cultural and culinary hub, says Emily Westbrooks.

Set the mood

Houston is in the spotlight as host city to the NFL's Super Bowl this Sunday, but there's a lot more to it than football... and NASA.

Approach from any direction and the skyline sparkles, day and night, either with towering skyscrapers or daytime heat reflecting off the mirrored windows. With over four million people, this is one of the fastest growing cities (and the most diverse) in America; a glittery centre surrounded by sprawling suburbs.

It's also an underdog of a city, best known as Beyoncé's hometown, the home of Johnson Space Center, and the hub of an increasingly wealthy oil and gas industry, rather than for diverse cuisine and culture.

But make no mistake - foodie discoveries abound. Here's a shortlist to attract even the least sporty among us...

Guilty Pleasure

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Fusion: kimson.com

There's one rule when visiting Houston: come hungry. Really hungry.

Texas's biggest city surpassed New York last year as the most diverse in America - with fully one quarter of its residents having been born outside of the United States. We all get to benefit from that cultural melting pot, crossing culinary continents between breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sometimes even in the same meal.

Fusion takes on new combinations with Vietnamese beef fajitas at Kim Son (kimson.com; above), for example, or chicken-fried lobster tail at Max's Wine Dive (maxswinedive.com).

Cheap kicks

On Thursdays, the Museum District provides big cultural bang for your buck. My favourite museum, the Menil Collection (menil.org), is always free and has a great restaurant, the Menil Bistro, on site.

The Museum of Contemporary Arts Houston (camh.org) is also free, as is the Museum of Fine Arts (mfah.org) during Thursday happy hours. A different food truck is parked outside each week, with beer and wine available too. It's a great way to get a fix of the city's art in a lovely, inexpensive afternoon.

Top Tip

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Frozen Margarita

Don't leave the city without trying a frozen margarita. My previous experiences were disappointing at best - gritty slurpees with lemon-lime chemical flavours sucked out in two sips. Houston margaritas? Creamy, strong, and typically made with freshly-squeezed lime juice. And definitely worth the Uber home!

Insider Intel

While you're wandering Houston's Museum Quarter, you might spot Hotel Zaza's (hotelzaza.com) courtesy cars cruising by - blacked-out SUVs with a stag horn mounted to the front.

Inside, the boutique hotel is less overtly Texan, and the rooftop pool offers a stylish escape from the heat and humidity. An 'Eat, Sleep, Spa' package has rooms with $150/€140 spa and $50/€46 food/drink credit from $379/€353.

Glitches

Sitting in traffic jams is unfortunately par for the course in Houston. Downtown streets typically move fairly smoothly, but keep in mind that at any time of day you can find stopped traffic on one of the city's freeways.

Get me there

Easily accessible by major airlines into George HW Bush International, or William P Hobby Airport, Houston is a hub for United Airlines (united.com), which often connects with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) transatlantic flights.

If you're staying downtown, you can likely manage without renting a car. Make sure to download the Uber app for your phone, as it's the easiest way to hitch a ride around the city. See visithoustontexas.com for more info.

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