The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Tacolandia & More

There are lots of choices for entertainment this weekend. With the expected mild weather, we've got a couple of  outside events among our top picks. And with the holidays quickly approaching, we've got an early Christmas show for you. Oh, and a Barbarian Invasion. 

Our choice for Friday is “European Train Writing and Beyond.” “We are trying to give you like a sneak peek of this whole underground culture,” says Zoltán Kárpáti from Epik Ink of the exhibit.  Collaborating with War’Hous Visual Studios to bring the show to Houston, Epik Ink has put together a collection of some 200 photographs, videos and installations created by 25 European artists and urban explorers who illegally creep through underground tunnels and subways to create and capture works of art. Works created in a total of 20 European cities including Berlin, London, Paris, Stockholm and Oslo are seen in the exhibit.

“You can’t just walk up; there are cameras, sensors, security guards,” says Kárpáti. “For ten minutes [of graffiti painting, the artists] are traveling hundreds of miles and [staying] months on the road, trying to figure out the ways to get into the different kinds of subway systems; it’s not easy.”

The artists face real risks in their clandestine efforts to paint the trains, Kárpáti tells us. There’s heightened security by the transport police, threats of jail, the danger of death from an ignited spark or electrocution. All of that in an effort to create and then photograph their art. The photographs are the most important part of the exercise, the proof of their hidden work that will most likely never be seen but which will hopefully inspire the question “How in the hell did you do that?”

6 to 10 p.m. Friday; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday. SafeHouse, 912 Saint Charles. For information, call 978-727-5868 or visit facebook.com/epikantibuff. Free. 

Enjoy unlimited taco tastings at the first annual Tacolandia, being presented on Saturday by the Houston Press…oh, hey, that’s us! Twenty restaurants are competing for awards and bragging rights at the outdoor festival. Several of the biggest names in town are participating, including Sylvia’s, Hugo’s and Rustika Cafe and Bakery.

“We’ll have everything from taco trucks to fine dining,” Phaedra Cook, lead food critic for the Houston Press and a Tacolandia judge, tells us. “We’re not going to see just Tex-Mex. Tacos lend themselves to amazing creativity.” Translation: Along with classic food truck and street tacos, expect some contemporary funky and fusion creations.

Restaurateur and author Robb Walsh, with multiple James Beard Award wins and nominations, curated the lineup of restaurants. The judges, a group of Texas food writers and authors, pick the top taco in eight categories: traditional, New School, fajita, seafood, barbacoa, most interesting, best salsa and a People’s Choice.

Judges include Cook; Jay Rascoe, founder of the Guns and Tacos website and contributor to the Houston Chronicle, Texas Monthly and Playboy; and Mando Rayo, author of Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day and the upcoming The Tacos of Texas; Paul Galvani, the man behind Houston’s Top 10 Food Trucks; and Marco Torres, a photographer/reporter for the Houston Press, Rolling Stone and Billboard. Festival-goers also get to vote (each restaurant station has a voting jar).

The festival has more than just unlimited taco samples. Beer and cocktails, including specials from El Jimador tequila, are available, and there’s lots of live entertainment. You can catch lucha libre battles, roaming mariachis and performances by John Curry, DJ Ukemi and Gio Chamba.

We suggest opting for the VIP ticketing option. Along with unlimited taco samples (including exclusives), you get early entry, live entertainment and a private bar with drink samples. Of course, general admission is pretty good, too. Unlimited taco samples, live entertainment with beer and cocktails available for purchase. You must be 21 years and older to attend Tacolandia.

3 p.m. VIP entry; 4 p.m. general admission entry Saturday. The Water Works at Buffalo Bayou Park, 105 Sabine. For information, visit tacolandiahouston.com. $25 to $80.

Twenty larger-than-life tops dot the lawns of Discovery Green — ready to be pushed, spun, ridden and admired in the installation “Los Trompos (The Spinning Tops).” The interactive exhibit opens on Saturday. The internationally acclaimed Mexican design team of Héctor Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena first created the interactive exhibit in Atlanta. The duo then partnered with Discovery Green to fabricate a customized second iteration of the outdoor display for Houston.

Esrawe and Cadena’s tops, fashioned after the children’s toy, include a lower bench, a central pole and a canopy. Colorful cords are spun around these elements in decorative twists or are woven into beautiful structural supports. The tops’ bright colors create surprising optical effects when the structure is spun. (The tops require the teamwork of at least two people to activate their spinning motion.)

Discovery Green Conservancy Programming Director Susanne Theis notes that Esrawe and Cadena are “trying to create a playscape” and that “they’re really…focused on what people do with ‘Los Trompos,’” rather than simple aesthetic appeal. The tops are set to be featured as an element in some of the park’s other events that have been specifically designed to interact with the installation and include appearances by creative locals Cirque La Vie and Aerosol Warfare.

Opening celebration activities are scheduled for November 14. Regular viewing hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Through March 22, 2016. 1500 Mc-Kinney. For information, visit discoverygreen.com. Free.

The 41st Annual Texas Renaissance Festival is starting to wind down but a couple of themed weekends remain - including the Barbarian Invasion set for Saturday and Sunday.

“You get the Vikings, you get anything from samurai warriors to almost Neanderthal-looking people, as far as barbarians are concerned,” says general manager Terre Albert. “[There is] a lot of leather, a lot of animal skins. We have barbarian queens and barbarian kings, and they don’t wear that much. That will also spill over into the After Dark party. We have these troupes that come out here every year that build these elaborate battering rams, it takes about 20 of them to carry them, they go around through the whole park. They’re patrons, not actors.”

If you’re not the dressing-up type, there’s lots to see and do…and eat!…at the festival. “We have more than 200 daily performances on 25 different stages,” says Albert. “We have over 1,000 different types of foods: everything from vegetarian to gluten-free to sausage on a stick.”

New to the festival is a Florentine market. “[It has] all of the handcrafted items, jewelry, clothes, lean-tos, tents. We have a brand-new music gazebo in the Florence market area. [It’s] the largest expansion in festival history.”

The party doesn’t stop at sundown when most festival-goers go home. The festival’s 200-acre campground houses between 3,000 and 5,000 campers every weekend. “That’s an after-party all on its own,” says Albert. “We have groups, clans and troupes that have formed their own little circle, clan, camping circles. They have celebrations, fire dancing, drum circles, bagpipes, and they go around our bonfire and they sing all night long.”

A fireworks show is held every night at 8 o’clock, which also is the start time for TRF After Dark, a 21-and-older themed evening of debauchery and responsible drink with separate $22 ticketing. 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and Friday, November 27. Through November 29. 21778 FM 1774, Plantersville. For information, call 800-458-3435 or visit texrenfest.com. Free to $29.

And as promised, we've got a holiday show for you. Stepp Stewart’s A Soulful Christmas is all about coming together, says the show’s musical director, Carlton Leake. We suggest a Sunday visit. 

“There’s a lot of music people will know in this show,” he says. “The Temptations’ ‘Silent Night,’ Boyz 2 Men doing ‘Let It Snow.’ These are songs about love, peace, building strong relationships. And within the show, we get to see a lot of how the black community approaches music through the decades.”

First arriving on the Ensemble stage last year, A Soulful Christmas is the story of two children who are given a magical watch by their grandfather. The watch takes them back in time, starting in Harlem in the 1940s and ending in the present day at a church Christmas service. Along the way, they learn about African-American history, their family story and how the joy of the Christmas season touches us all. At its heart is the music — a series of contemporary and traditional Christmas songs that represent each of the decades depicted through the children’s journey.

Leake says he designed his arrangements to evoke the emotions of his own Christmas pasts. He enthusiastically admits that holiday music is a favorite genre of his. A Soulful Christmas is a chance not only to incorporate it into the family-friendly story, but also to place classic Motown, doo-wop and hip-hop in context.

“So much of this music still works,” he said. “I mean, Nat King Cole singing ‘The Christmas Song.’ In a hundred years — that’s still going to be effective.”

Varied schedule includes 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays. Through December 30. The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main. For information, call 713-520-0055 or visit ensemblehouston.com. $42 to $50.

Susie Tommaney, Alexandra Irrera and Holly Beretto contributed to this post. 

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