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"Not a lot of people know how great Houston is, and we're more than happy to keep it that way." That's what an UberX driver said as she leaned back turned around and smiled. We were driving from The Menil Collection to Sid & Ann Mashburn's Houston outpost and I looked out the window passing beautiful homes with gardens wrapping around them in Montrose, rolling past barbecue joints and antique stores. "Is Houston the most underrated city in the country?" It might be. There's a hot restaurant and cocktail scene—hello Mezcal!—and enough traditional Tex-Mex and BBQ joints to keep you going for miles, there's a strong art scene including a stand-alone Dan Flavin installation and a Mark Rothko chapel, plus a somewhat crazy architectural landscape (there are no zoning laws anywhere in Houston, so you'll see a Philip Johnson-designed pair of skyscrapers on the same block as a Victorian speakeasy), and a bourgeoning independent shopping scene. Houston, it seems, combines the friendliness of its midwestern neighbors to the north, the charm of its southern neighbors to the east and a fierce independence that can only be described as Texan. Here are our picks to get a punch of flavor in The Bayou City with a few items from the shop to pack for the trip. 

Click here for the Houston map which is loaded with even more spots than what's below (Houston isn't immune to the Everything Is Bigger In Texas adage).

P.S. If you happen to be arriving by car, turn the radio dial to 97.1 if you want to up the Texas twang while taking in the city. 

 

 [Guide created June 2015]