24 Hours in Houston, Texas

United Airlines recently added direct flights to Houston out of the Edmonton International Airport. A four hour and twenty minute flight has you at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Our flight left at midnight, getting us in to Houston at just after 5 a.m.  Word to the wise: don’t fly on United at midnight. The airplane is cramped making sleep impossible, and by 6 a.m., the customs lineup at the airport was about 800 people deep. It took us almost two hours to clear.

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And after we finally did clear customs, we waited for our six pieces of luggage, of which one decided not to join us.

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Impressive luggage carousel, but no luggage.

Those who have ever had to deal with lost luggage know the feeling. You’re hungry, tired and grouchy. You just want your luggage and you want to leave. You have to deal with airline staff — an experience that is rarely pleasant — and airline staff that have to work the lost luggage department are about as grouchy and tired as you are. It’s never a good thing.

We took our lost luggage claim and headed out into the Texas morning, hopeful that by the end of the day, we would be reunited with our luggage.

We needed food, and fast, but we also didn’t want to waste our few eating experiences in Houston. The Great Google led us to the Tel-Wink diner a mere 10 minute drive from the airport.

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It’s the kind of place where truck drivers come for coffee break, naughahyde stools at the counter are taken by elderly men who’ve been coming for the past 20 years, and where wayward tourists like us seem to be an anomaly with the occasional stare thrown in our direction. In reply to a question we had about chicken-fried steak, the waitress said, “Y’all ain’t from ’round here, are ya.” The servings are huge, the prices cheap, and the coffee is strong, hot and endless. It was perfect.

With bellies full of biscuits and gravy,  we made our way to the Westin at the Galleria Mall. Located on Houston’s west side, this Westin, for us, was in a good location for several reasons: 1) it’s attached to the Galleria Mall where you can shop till your heart’s content at any of the 375 stores,  2) Houston’s renowned Museum District is a 10 minute car drive away, 3) it’s a short drive to good restaurants, and 4) you avoid downtown congestion if you’re carrying on to Austin (as we were).

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Westin Galleria, Houston
Photo Courtesy of Westin Hotels & Resorts

After a few hours of sleep and some shopping, we had lunch at Luling City Market on Richmond Avenue.  It’s a bit divey, but they feature “central Texas-style barbecue”, cook all of their meat over Post Oak wood, and have received accolades for their food from several magazines.

Luling City Market
Luling City Market
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Luling Ribs and Brisket

The portions are fair, the prices pretty standard, and the setting is tacky, dark, and cozy — all indicators of a good barbecue joint. Overall, though, the experience was fair to middlin’. Out of 10, the sides rated a 4; the brisket and sausage a 5.5; the ribs a 7, and the chicken a solid 10: juicy, flavourful and worth going back for. It was a good (but not great) start to our barbecue blitz.

Revived by rest and food, we carried on to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, one of the biggest and best natural science museums I’ve visited.  If you’re going to be in Houston for a few days though, consider purchasing a CityPass; it gets you admission to five of Houston’s most popular attractions saving you nearly half off the regular ticket prices. You also get to skip ticket lines — worth the price right there.

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The Space Center Houston is a 40 minute drive to the southeast of the Galleria and time didn’t allow for us to take in this historic institution. If you go, plan to spend at least 4 hours there.

Tex Mex for breakfast, barbecue for lunch…we put a pretty good dent in our list of Texas food requirements. Next on the list: seafood. Houston’s close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico means good seafood is always close at hand. We found good – actually, great – seafood at the Goode Company on Westpark Drive, only five minutes from the hotel. The restaurant opened in 1986 by Jim Goode who grew up fishing and crabbing on the Gulf coast. He purchased a rail car, fired up the mesquite wood and soon customers lined up to eat oysters, crab, shrimp, and the fresh catch of the day. If it isn’t seasonal, they don’t serve it. I like that in a place.  The food was outstanding: packed with flavour and served with pride.  The rail car is still used but an addition has been built on to appease the hungry masses. If you go, order the Campechanas de Mariscos, a seafood cocktail full of plump shrimp, crab and avocado.

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Campechanas de Mariscos
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Catfish Po’ Boy

Breakfast next morning at Brasil on Dunlavy Street came at the recommendation of one of the servers at the Goode Company. Brasil is a trendy, brick-on-brick cafe that serves wicked fresh-baked goods and egg dishes with southern and/or Tex-Mex influences. It’s a little fancier than the Tel-Wink. Okay, a lot fancier, and you certainly pay for it. Artisan this, and artisan that… hipsters everywhere. Macchiatos. You get the idea.

Houston Recap: a fun city to explore and a relatively short plane ride from Edmonton, Alberta. Great art, theatre, music and food culture, lots of history, fantastic restaurants, loads of antique and vintage shops. Weather in December was a very pleasant 17 Celsius. Twenty-four hours was definitely not enough.  Visit Houston Tourism’s website for more info.

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Next stop, Austin.