I have a love-hate relationship when it comes to eating out. I love to cook, but Houston – and the Heights area in particular – has no lack of wonderful places to grab a bite to eat. It’s always so tempting to swing by neighborhood establishments when you’re so embedded in the community, and Betsy Denson’s column a few weeks back got me thinking about the places that first come to mind when I think of the Heights and its business community.
To me, the things that celebrate Houston’s identity embrace not only the unique melting pot of cultures and nationalities but also its bayou-infused location. There’s an interesting mix of rustic with soulful, the kind of gritty feeling of paddling down some of the more natural Buffalo Bayou locations mixed with Southern hospitality and a dash of typical Texmex and creole hidden in different corners.
In a moment of complete bias, one of my go-to places in the Heights will always be Pappa Geno’s, which is probably one of the only places in the city that I can ask for something “with whiz” and not look like I just spoke in Klingon. It’s a like a little piece of driftwood from the Philly end of the Delaware floated out and into the Atlantic and somehow found its way to the Bayou City.
Another one of my more frequent spots is the Heights Asian Cafe, yet another business I was first attracted to when I moved here following personal recommendations and an intimidatingly high Yelp and Google Review score average. I also enjoy that they know my name and my usual lunch order. (Yes, I’m aware that it’s connected to me by my phone number in a computer, please don’t shatter the illusion I have.)
It was because of that location that I first discovered other businesses like Alabama Furniture (now on North Shepherd) and my current eye doctor Richard Ullman at the Yale Eye Center. On a personal recommendation, I also ventured to Dino Dental on West 43rd Street where I was admittedly a little jealous of some of the kids and the office’s big play area with TVs and games.
(Seriously, where were dentist offices like this when I was a kid? My dentist office in Jersey had months-old Better Homes & Garden magazines and my orthodontist only had a crusty Game Boy with a single, awful Terminator 2 cartridge that seemed permanently glued into it.)
Tucked away in the Heights are gems like La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant off of West 26th Street, the ever-popular Hubcap Grill, Blue Line Bicycle Laboratory, Big Blue Whale (which I’m going to be returning to more and more for new things for my nephew) and so many others. At The Leader in particular, we’ve highlighted establishments like Bungalow Revival which offers a unique blend of modern and historical home design that continues to define many areas of the Heights and give it a unique flavor.
I understand that places should be able to celebrate where they’re from and stay true to their roots. The point made by Cedar Creek Bar & Grill about representing what is at the core of their identity beyond the boundaries Houston is a good one. I would argue that the identity of the Heights and Houston as a whole is one that embraces a melting pot image, although one that continues to wax and wane between embracing the old and the new before finally settling on a mix.
It’s easy to get caught up in what is and isn’t the Heights, Oak Forest, Garden Oaks, Timbergrove, etc. but taken as a whole our area has more to offer than many other parts of the city and one with an identity that continues to shape itself as, from what I can see in an anecdotal sense, diversity continues on its upward trend within our communities.
Its’ exciting in so many ways. Not only do residents enjoy the products, services and great food so many businesses moving into the area bring but also the runoff from the success of these establishments. More people venture into our neighborhoods, bringing their money with them of course, and (hopefully and theoretically) leave with plenty of good word of mouth.
Embracing the culture and identity of another region, town or country and being an entrenched part of the community and part of the fabric of Houston are not mutually exclusive, and it’s important to remember this as we continue to invest in local businesses and offering our patronage in so many new and established places. In my mind, having such a broad image with so many pieces from other parts of the country is exactly what Houston should embrace as it continues to evolve.
Particularly if that means bringing more Philly cheesesteaks into the area.