Upcoming Events: The Year of the Snake and Mardi Gras in Galveston

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Chinese New Year is fast approaching, and Houston has no shortage of places to celebrate.

Straits Asian Bistro in CityCentre is offering special menu items this weekend (February 8 through 10), including Singapore Yu Sheng Hamachi with avocado spun radish and spicy yuzu dressing; Braised Pork Belly & Long Life Noodles with fresh clams, Asian herbs and pickled turnips; and Asian Pesto Steamed Red Snapper with sticky rice and sea scallop tomato salsa ($28). In keeping with Chinese New Year tradition, patrons will also receive customary red envelopes -- symbols of good luck and prosperity -- with a special gift inside.

For an even larger party, head west to Chinatown where the two biggest festivals will be held on back-to-back weekends. The Chinese Community Center will be ringing in the Year of the Snake on Saturday, February 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will feature traditional lion and dragon dances, demonstrations by the Shaolin Kung Fu martial artists, origami and calligraphy stations and - of course - a huge spread of Asian fare from street vendors all day long. The festival normally draws 15,000 visitors, so come early to snag a parking space.

The next weekend, the Lunar New Year Celebration at the Viet Hoa Center will take place both Saturday and Sunday from noon to dusk each day. What sets this New Year's festival apart? Fireworks. And if you wear a traditional outfit from your home country (home Asian country; don't show up in lederhosen), you'll be invited onstage to show off your attire. The best dressed folks will even win prizes. And come hungry, because as with the celebration at the Chinese Community Center, there's always plenty of good food.

With beautiful weather hitting Houston early this year, the inviting patio at The Refinery - with a terrific view of the downtown skyline - is gearing up to host a full slate of events. Coming up first is the latest in its ongoing Food Truck Fight series, this one on February 6 between Phamily Bites and NOLA's Creole 2 Geaux. The two trucks will be competing to see who makes the better batch of crawfish, so come out and suck some heads from 5 to 8 p.m. And don't forget - you can always bring the food truck fare into the restaurant; The Refinery doesn't mind.

Next up at The Refinery is a free Valentine's Day singles mixer on Thursday, February 14 from 7 p.m. to midnight. The icehouse will be offering food and drink specials all evening, including $4 Jack-and-Cokes as well as live music. The third event is coming up in March, but you'll want to plan ahead for this one: The inaugural Texas Independence Day Brew-Off is taking place from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 2. Eight Texas breweries will be competing for your vote, while food trucks will be supplementing the burgers and fries on offer from The Refinery's own kitchen.

Finally, if you're not planning a trip to New Orleans this year, then head south instead: Galveston Island is hosting Texas' largest Mardi Gras celebration starting today. The two-week carnival runs through February 12 and will be the biggest Mardi Gras! Galveston celebration yet with 38 concerts, 24 parades, 20 balcony parties and five masked balls.

This weekend's events will feature several concerts and parades, including the annual "Funky Uptown Umbrella Brigade" in which Mardi Gras! Galveston organizers earned a world record for the largest choreographed umbrella dance last year. Anyone who brings a decorated umbrella to participate in the brigade will receive free admission to the downtown Mardi Gras entertainment district -- but you have to register today.

On Saturday, Tonic (remember them?) will headline Mardi Gras performances starting at 7:30 p.m. in Saengerfest Park. The concert is free to attend with admission to the Mardi Gras entertainment district. For more information on the other upcoming Mardi Gras events, check out the schedule of parades and parties online.

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