Whether you're traveling to Houston for a much-needed getaway, or stopping by for the Super Bowl LI, here's a brief guide to eating, drinking, and exploring your way through Houston.
This week, the Super Bowl returns to Houston for the first time since 2004, when the New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers in dramatic fashion (and Janet Jackson’s wardrobe famously malfunctioned). Other than the returning Patriots—who will take on the Atlanta Falcons on February 5—it’s a whole new ballgame in the Bayou City, which looks very different from 13 years ago, with everything from beautiful new parks and green spaces to a transformed downtown that is now a thriving work-live-play metropolis.
With the exception of NRG Stadium, the majority of action this week, from the parties and concerts to the fan experiences, will happen in Avenida Houston, the dining and entertainment district anchored by the newly renovated George R. Brown Convention Center, the 12-acre Discovery Green, Hilton Americas-Houston, and the just-completed Marriott Marquis, the largest hotel in the city.
If you’re planning on coming to Houston to watch the game or take in the spectacle and surrounding entertainment—or if you need a reason for a road trip over the next few months—here’s what new and hot in H-Town. Just make sure to call before heading out to the buzziest restaurants and bars—many have been booked for private parties.
The stunning bar at State of Grace.
Dozens of new restaurants have opened over the past few months, including some highly anticipated spots from celebrated chefs. Opening in January alone were: Innovative chef Hugo Ortega’s Xochi (Marriott Marquis, 1777 Walker St., 713-400-3330), a celebration of Oaxacan cuisine; Riel (1927 Fairview St., 832-831-9109), Ryan LaChaine's globally inspired bistro in Montrose; One Fifth (1658 Westheimer Road, 713-955-1024), the changing concept by Underbelly’s Chris Shepherd, which until July will focus on steak; Brasserie du Parc (1440 McKinney St.), the intimate restaurant and walk-up creperie (the "parc" in this case is the bustling Discovery Green) by Etoile Cuisine et Bar’s charming chef-owners Philippe Verpiand and Monica Bui; and Richard Sandoval’s Bayou & Bottle, the lobby restaurant and bar in the newly renovated Four Seasons Houston (1300 Lamar St., 713-650-1300), with an elegant menu and focus on brown spirits—fun features include an alcove of bourbon lockers available for rent or purchase and the country’s first Topgolf simulation experience (tucked privately in the back).
In addition to the new eateries, a couple of the city’s hot spots that opened last year are gearing up for big crowds and private parties this week. An upscale steak and seafood restaurant River Oaks, Steak 48 (4444 Westheimer Road, A-100, 713-322-7448) has dazzled Houston with luxe private dining rooms and intimate corners that attract everyone from pro athletes to millionaire philanthropist Lynn Wyatt. State of Grace (3258 Westheimer Road, 832-942-5080), the Houston debut from chef Ford Fry on his return after building his Atlanta empire, boasts one of the most elegant rooms in town.
For more casual yet delicious fare near all of the fan activity, a few suggestions include downtown’s enticing Phoenicia Specialty Foods market and deli (1001 Austin St., 832-360-2222), which will feature a hot wing and meatball bar for Super Bowl fans, and La Fisheria, (213 Milam St., 713-802-1712), the vibrant coastal Mexican eatery that moved downtown last year with the charming Latin American celebrity chef Vidal Elias Murillo at the helm (don’t miss the chocolate cake, made with the chocolate from his family’s cacao farm and chocolate factory in Tabasco).
Fun & Games
A rendering of Club Nomadic.
In addition to the many exclusive, private parties filled with celebrities, cocktails, and decadence happening all over town, the center of the action for football and music fans is the convention center/Discovery Green area. The NFL Experience is one big interactive playground for sports fans at convention center, and if you were inspired by the movie Hidden Figures, you'll find NASA’s Future Flight virtual reality attraction at Discovery Green to be irresistible. The NASA ride is one of the many highlights of Super Bowl Live, a nine-day fan fest whose highlights include free concerts from Texas musical greats like Solange, ZZ Top, Leon Bridges, Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll, Gary Clark Jr., and Shakey Graves. With a crowd capacity of 9,000, the traveling nightclub Club Nomadic has rolled into town and set up at the Sawyers Yard art district; this temporary venue will be the site of big corporate parties and concerts this week, including Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars.
Break for Culture
You can't come to Houston without soaking in its world-class museums and parks. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which is undergoing a $450 million renovation, is free all week through Super Bowl Sunday. Other favorites: The Menil Collection/Rothko Chapel/Cy Twombly Gallery area; McGovern Centennial Gardens at Hermann Park, and Buffalo Bayou Park.