By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
As Buffalo Bayou developed, the city wisely took advantage of this natural attraction, building an observation deck alongside the bridge for visitors to watch as the tiny, mosquito-eating badasses take wing all at once. Standing silently on the bridge — bats don't like loud noises — you can hear the rush of wings as they fly off. I've never been there when they return in the morning, but it must be equally fascinating. For a closer look, ride or walk under the bridge during the day, but watch out for guano.
Attend the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (and Carnival)
Visiting the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in all its grand spectacle is a sensory experience, somehow blending an amusement park (so tantalizingly close to where a real one used to be), a live concert, a food festival, a zoo and, well, a rodeo. It engages all the senses. See people crazy enough to strap themselves to the backs of pissed-off bulls. Smell the mix of barbecue, funnel cakes and manure. Listen to the booming bass of country bands rumbling behind thin vinyl tent walls. Taste a fried candy bar — twice if you decide to eat it before getting on a carnival ride that spins you in circles. Feel the warm fur of a baby animal in a petting zoo.
In all honesty, the concerts most nights are anticlimactic. The real action is along the midway, inside the livestock portion of the show or during the, you know, actual rodeo. This is the place where, at least for a few days out of the year, you can let your inner cowpoke out for a mosey. Strap on your Ropers and stroll around in a big felt hat. No one will blink twice.
From its very beginnings, it was a controversial topic. So many failed fits and starts just to get a single 7.5-mile track laid between downtown and the Texas Medical Center. And when light rail finally came to a city with some of the least helpful mass transit in the country, the complaints continued: The construction killed business; cars were running into the trains with regularity. Yet it is still one of the most heavily patronized sections of light rail in the country, and after even more gnashing of teeth, it's expanding north, east and south into underserved areas that will no doubt use it like crazy.
It's fascinating that a city the size of Houston has shunned usable mass transit for so long. We all love our cars, but does anyone actually love the traffic? At every turn we shoot down referendums, sue the city and demand that our elected officials pull funding from this boondoggle. Still, people keep on riding, and more will follow suit when the new lines open next year. Look, if Dallas can build and maintain a light-rail system, Houston sure as hell can.
Take in an Astros Game from the Crawford Boxes
The Astros suck. Let's just get that out of the way right up front. No one thinks they are good. Whether or not they're on the right path is debatable. But this isn't about the team. It's about their stadium. Despite whatever you might think about the 'Stros, Minute Maid Park is as fine a ballpark as you will find in Major League Baseball. It was the first in Houston's renaissance of stadiums and remains the most classic and stylish of the entire group.
Which is exactly why a trip to Minute Maid, even if the team playing there is awful, should be on your list of things to do, and if you are going to do it, you may as well sit in the Crawford Boxes. Referred to as a "short porch" because they're only 315 feet from home plate — one of the shortest distances for a home run in the majors — the boxes are elevated bleachers that provide one of the best views of the entire stadium. And because the distance is so short, there's a decent chance a home run will end up in your lap...or the lap of a neighbor. If the roof is open, it feels as if you're watching an old-school baseball game. And even if the Astros are no good, the other team might be, so there's that.
Enjoy Some Tex-Mex at the Original Ninfa's on Navigation
If Houstonians were to vote on the city's official cuisine, my money would be on Tex-Mex. As I told a friend a few years ago, it seems there is a taqueria opening every week on virtually every block. I'm fairly certain there's a grand opening for a new one in my bathroom this weekend. And yes, there are a ton of worthy choices for where to spend your hard-earned cash on fajitas, queso, guacamole and margaritas (never forget the margaritas), but none can match the experience and the food of the Original Ninfa's on Navigation.
In 2010, Robb Walsh, the former Houston Press food critic and author who's now part owner of a Tex-Mex restaurant himself, ranked Ninfa's fajitas No. 2 on his list of favorite dishes in Houston, which makes sense given the fact that this is the place that made fajitas famous. Despite a poorly conceived franchise venture that has left a handful of "Ninfa's" restaurants open in Texas and Louisiana, the original on Navigation is the only one worth visiting and the best place in town to get truly authentic Tex-Mex...the unofficial food of Houston.