Houston: A Collection of Culinary Delights

“What hashtag are you? #deepthoughts, #nom –“

Before I can even hear the other options on the Buzzfeed quiz that my suitemate is reading out loud, I immediately respond “#nom.” I happen to love food: eating it, talking about it, (attempting) to make it, watching others successfully cook it. Houston, Texas has more than readily gratified my love for food. I have spent nearly my entire life in Houston, and if there is one thing I absolutely and wholeheartedly love about this city, it’s the dining options.

With delicious year-round flavors and fun seasonal flavors, Fat Cat Creamery in the Heights has my go-to ice cream, with warm chocolate chip cookies and crisp brownie bites.

With delicious year-round flavors and fun seasonal flavors, Fat Cat Creamery in the Heights has my go-to ice cream, with warm chocolate chip cookies and crisp brownie bites.

Rice itself takes pride in its close proximity to various restaurants, many of which are located in nearby areas like West U, Montrose, and the Museum District. However, Houston has so much more to offer “beyond the hedges” (a term used at Rice to refer to what lies beyond the outer loop of the campus). There are constantly new restaurants opening up, beloved chains constructing new locations, and food trucks changing up their sites to meet customer demand. I have recently found myself following blogs and social media accounts dedicated solely to eating out in Houston, as I am always wanting to discover and try new places. I even have various restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries saved on my Google Maps app. When you live in a city like Houston, there is always more to do, more to try, more to explore. Diverse dining options are definitely abundant and accessible (by car, Metro, Uber, etc.). And while it is easy to eat at the places I know and love and trust, I make it a point to try eating at new places as often as I can.

Tried and tested: tater tots, eggs, and tacos make for a marvelous combo at Velvet Taco on Washington Ave.

Tried and tested: tater tots, eggs, and tacos make for a marvelous combo at Velvet Taco on Washington Ave.

As a Rice student and a native Houstonian, I can’t imagine spending four years here without attempting to explore all of the city’s cool neighborhoods — and their respective dining options. Perhaps you did not consider location as an important factor in your decision to apply to Rice. But the university’s location in Houston is a big part of our college experience. And I can confidently say that the diversity and extent of eating options in Houston are on par with (if not better than) cities all over the world. This city has a variety of culinary delights, and they are all yours once you call Rice your home.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Outside of your Comfort Zone

Rice has a bunch of students that all come from different places— from neighboring towns in Houston to foreign countries across the globe. Nevertheless, we all amalgamate together on campus and bring special diversity to the undergraduate student population. In my case, I hail from the state of New Jersey, just a meager 1,607 miles away from Rice. Whenever I mention that I’m from New Jersey, people never hesitate to ask the token follow-up question: “So why did you decide to come to Rice and live in Texas?” As much as I understand why they ask me, over time I’ve realized that the question implies that most people don’t choose to attend a university far away from home without an explicitly good reason.

My token answer to the token question? I wanted to go to Rice because of the amazing community they have with the residential colleges, its proximity to the largest medical center in the world, and its unique social and cultural environment. Additionally, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country, with a myriad of great opportunities (academic and non-academic) for college and beyond. I feel like that answer very much justifies itself, but many people still ask me why I wanted to move so far away. Yes, I don’t get to see my friends and family as often, but I do not regret exploring and going out of my comfort zone in a new environment. From my perspective, I’ve had some of the most unique experiences living in Houston, whether that be cultural experiences from living in Texas to academic experiences from interning at special organizations here. I’m someone who can struggle with change, but lately I’ve become more open to saying yes to new things because they are usually the most rewarding. And going to Rice is a prime example of its benefits.

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Houston has so many cool attractions to visit with friends! This is Discovery Green, and they had a cool interactive exhibit this past March.

I’m not saying that it’s better to go farther away from home, but you shouldn’t limit your options. There are many factors to consider (like finances and family), but I think that I made the right choice going to school here. At Rice, I’ve been exposed to such a unique culture within the diverse campus and beyond. Even though Texas is a new environment for me, Rice makes me feel like I very much belong here. Besides, I’m not the only New Jerseyian or Northeasterner here. I’ve befriended many other students who come from the same area as me. There are still internship and job opportunities connected to Rice that are located throughout the country (including where I’m from), so my college experience is not limited to Houston.

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The MFA (Museum of Fine Arts) is super close to Rice. And the best part is that Rice students get in for free!

To any student who lives far away from Texas and is considering Rice: keep in mind that going beyond what you’re comfortable with can yield some of the most worthwhile experiences. And the best part about living far away from school? The trip back home is 100 times more special.

What I Miss the Most about Houston while Abroad

Houston is home. For me, this huge, flat, humid city is not just one of the largest in the nation; it’s a welcoming and comfortable place to live. Whenever I go abroad, I am usually fully immersed in everything happening there. International adventures make life exciting and fun for the time being, but there are always a few things about Houston that I miss while I am away.

  1. The food. Houston has so many options when it comes to eating out. If you haven’t already heard, we have the most diverse selection of restaurants in the nation. In the neighborhoods surrounding Rice alone, there are multiple options for tacos, Thai, and Turkish cuisine. The Tex-Mex options in the city can’t be beat, and it’s becoming harder and harder for me to find and enjoy its equivalent in restaurants abroad.
  2. The green. Although Houston is a large, urban city, it has several parks, picnic grounds, and tree-lined running trails. Rice Blvd and the Outer Loop alone have some of the most beautiful pathways in the city, lined with a dense canopy of trees. I have yet to see these picturesque sites in the middle of another major city while abroad, and I find myself missing the green scene around Rice the most.
  3. The sunsets. Okay, I know this last one is cliché, but bear with me. I have never seen a sunset more beautiful than the ones I have seen in Houston – anywhere in Houston. For me, there’s something incredibly soothing about ending the day under cotton candy-hued skies. At Rice, I am fortunate enough to witness some of the most vivid sunsets. These, paired with its already appealing architecture, makes Rice’s campus one of the most enchanting places to be in Houston on a daily basis.

    A typical sunset I see every day from my room on campus at Wiess College.

    A typical sunset I see from my room on campus at Wiess College.

Notice a pattern here? Each of the above categories mentions Rice, and, needless to say, I miss my school while I am thousands of miles away. However, it’s not just Rice that I miss, but Houston as a whole. Houston is lucky to have a school like Rice at the heart of the city, and Rice is fortunate to have a city like Houston outside of its hedges. And I’m pretty lucky to call both my home.

Exploring Houston Around Rice: What to Do?

As a freshman from Jacksonville, Florida, the city of Houston and the state of Texas are completely new places to me.  In the beginning, I had no idea what grocery stores people shopped at, which places had the best food, or where I could grab the tastiest coffee to brighten my morning. Not to mention, I don’t have a car at Rice — but that doesn’t keep me confined to the Rice campus, and over the fall semester, I have scouted out the best bikeable and walkable places near Rice’s campus.

 

  1. Hermann Medical Plaza:This area is a great place to go to if you need quick necessities from a Walgreens, or a cup of coffee from Starbucks.  Located right across from the South colleges, Hermann Medical Plaza is full of different stores and food chains to satisfy a college student.  And if you walk a block farther, you could easily grab a meal at Chipotle or a smoothie from my personal favorite place, The Fresh Factor.

 

  1. Hermann Parkis the perfect place to take a chill day and enjoy the natural wonders of Houston.  On a warm, sunny day, there are so many fun, cheap activities to do in Hermann Park; you could never get bored. Like to work out? There are plenty of running trails and bike routes, for every fitness level. Or visit the zoo! Every Rice student gets free admission. Also, on any given weekend, you could spend a day paddle boating on the lake and grab a scrumptious grilled cheese from the grilled cheese shack afterwards.

 

  1. Rice Village!Every prospective student should know about Rice Village and its wonderful stores and restaurants. Only a 10-15 minute walk from the North and South colleges, Rice Village has every type of store a college student needs to survive. Craving some French pastries? Rice Village has not one, but two wonderful crepe restaurants with both savory and sweet delights to brighten anyone’s day. Want a nice off-campus place to study? Go to the Starbucks of Boba Tea House in Rice Village to assuage a stressful study day. What aboutSaturday nights, when you need an off-campus meal? Fear not: there are plenty of restaurants to make even the pickiest of eaters happy.  Also, there are numerous stores and boutiques for shopping if you are focused on that. Urban Outfitters or Gap, among many other stores, will provide all the latest trends you need for college life.

 

Overall, it is easy to be connected to the areas of Houston around Rice! As we Rice students know, there is no need to worry about branching out of campus life and exploring the wonderful city we live in.

Food Trucks: The Hidden Gem of Rice University Public Dining

Last week, as I was browsing the Rice dining website, I stumbled upon the food trucks section. As a non-engineering major, I never wandered over by Mudd Labs or the OEDK (Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen), which is where the food trucks park from 5:30 PM until 9:00 PM.

Since I had never tried the food trucks, I challenged myself to eat at one everyday of the week (most likely at a detriment to my health). So, here’s where I ate:

Monday: Anna’s Gourmet Greek: I was daring and I ordered the chicken souvlaki. For those of you who have never had Greek food before, the chicken souvlaki is an excellent place to start. There are four to five pieces of chicken, topped with lettuce and tomatoes, and wrapped in pita bread. There’s also an indescribable sauce that coats the chicken. For the wallet-conscious, this item was on the higher end of food truck cuisine, costing $10.

Tuesday: Yummy Dog: I didn’t know what to expect from Tuesday night’s food truck offering. According to the dining website, I thought that both the Bonjour Creperie and the Yummy Dog would have trucks present. As it turns out, they alternate Tuesday nights, so only the Yummy Dog was there. TBH, I was feeling like crepes, especially on Crepe Day, but I decided to try something new: a “Texan” hotdog. Most of the time, I am a hotdog purist, meaning that I only eat the hotdog on a bun, sans condiments. Occasionally, I will put chili on top (is my Texan-ness showing?). The Texan hotdog was a beef hotdog on a pretzel bun, topped with jalapenos, onions, and barbecue sauce. In terms of pricing, this item was average, weighing in at about $8.

Wednesday: Bubba Burger: I was a bit rushed this night because I didn’t have a ton of time between my Law and Economics class and Dance Team practice, but I still ran over to the food trucks regardless. The food truck specialized in buffalo burgers, but I ordered a plain burger with lettuce and tomato only (this combination will forever be known as “The Hailey”). The 1/3-pound of beef on a bready bun with an excellent lettuce/tomato/meat ratio was stellar. My wallet smiled since this was the cheapest item from a food truck all week, priced at $5 (before tax).

Thursday: Foreign Policy: “American food with an International Flavor.” This food truck specialized in Korean, Mexican, Greek, and American cuisine. I decided to go with the Korean burger, even though it seemed spicy. This burger was huge – I could only eat about half before filling up. However, that could have been my fault, as I also had to get one of their stuffed donuts. There’s a complex process associated with making these donuts, but here’s the gist of it: They fry a tortilla and cover it in caramel and stick it between a sweet, succulent donut. This burger cost $9, in the middle in terms of pricing. The donut was $5 (probably the best food truck item I had all week – would strongly recommend!).

Friday: Off-campus dinner with my parents: I don’t have class on Friday this semester, so I usually don’t come on campus. I’ll probably try The Waffle Bus later, as the name “Waffle Bus” is impossible to pass up.

 

Overall, there are so many dining options on-campus, and even more off-campus. So far, I have been at Rice 3 semesters and still continue to discover new places to eat.

Are you ready for the food truck challenge?

Beyond the Hedges, Summer Edition

When you think of potential places to spend your summer, does Houston cross your mind? If it doesn’t, it should.

This is a rather bold assertion coming from someone who will be spending two months working abroad this summer, but I firmly believe that Houston is entirely underrated for all that it has to offer. I could spend an entire blog post gushing about all the ways that Houston has secured its home in my heart. As someone who grew up here and now enjoys my relationship with the city as a Rice student, I will probably write an article about that soon (stay tuned!).

For now, let’s talk about summer in Houston. Classes are over at Rice! The weather has been wonderful! But what can Rice students do in Houston during these next few months?

La King's in Galveston

A trip to the Galveston Strand District isn’t complete without a visit to La King’s and its endless selection of sweets.

First, consider this: Houston is close to the coast. Galveston is a short (an hour at most, depending on traffic) road trip away. When you’re tired of meandering along the numerous beaches on Seawall Boulevard, treat yourself to one of the many local seafood restaurants on the island. Take a carriage tour in the Strand, explore Galveston’s historical downtown district, try the saltwater taffy – and ice cream, and candy, and chocolate, and just about anything – at La King’s Confectionery. Grab some friends, an open mind, and perhaps your ever-convenient Yelp app to explore Houston’s seaside neighbor.

Kemah Boardwalk is also a great summer destination. A personal favorite of mine, Kemah offers year-round opportunities for amusement park classics. Treat yourself to Dippin’ Dots ice cream, hit up the ferris wheel and the Aviator (one of my favorite rides), grab some funnel cake, steer some mini-sailboats, and end the day with dinner at the Aquarium. Do all of this while enjoying a nice boardwalk breeze.

FPSF Fireworks

The best music festivals feature a fireworks show as their final act.

There are also various events going on over the summer that make Houston an attraction for art-lovers, music-lovers, and an all around fun scene for anyone looking for something to do. Free Press Summer Fest takes over the first weekend of June. Big names and local acts offer a wide range of music, and in recent years, FPSF has reeled in the likes of Weezer, Vampire Weekend, Childish Gambino, Passion Pit, Macklemore, and Arctic Monkeys, among many others. Local bands such as Wild Moccasins are also frequenters of the FPSF lineup. Tickets are in high demand, and the festival has become a summer staple for many Houstonians.

Parks. There are so many parks in Houston. Sunny skies mean picnics and outdoor activities galore. Rice is right across from Hermann Park. Walk to the nearby Zoo for a fun, free (the perks of being a Rice student) day with animals – make sure you see the red pandas! Head over to Miller Outdoor Theatre for local performances of your favorite plays. Discovery Green, the Menil Park, Memorial Park, and Market Square Park are also popular parks in Houston, all within driving distance.

Houston is a city that I, a resident of nineteen years, have yet to fully explore.  All of the activities I have mentioned above form only a fragment of what Houston summers are all about. So when the weather warms up, take advantage of the diverse activities that this bustling city offers. Once you set aside the time to really step beyond the hedges (which is Rice lingo for going off campus), you will find reaffirmation in your decision to attend Rice.