Imagine a metropolitan-sized Epcot.
Culture, art, and food from all corners of the world are packed into one place. The city is so uniquely international that Anthony Bourdain once called it “a wonderland of the strange and diverse.”
This is Houston, Texas.
Houston is ranked the most diverse city in the U.S.
While the south Texas city often gets a bad rap for its genuinely awful hyper-humid weather, we shouldn’t forget that it’s also home to some of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the south.
Houston has a travel superpower: to show you the globe without hopping a single continent.
Here are seven reasons why Houston is one of the top cultural destinations in the country:
The Best Banh Mi Outside Of Vietnam
In the decade following 1975, tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants came to the southern shores of Texas, fleeing the destruction of war while seeking a familiar climate and fishing jobs.
Now, Houston’s Bellaire Boulevard west of Beltway 8 boasts a bustling “Little Saigon,” packed with restaurants to transport you to Southeast Asia, specialty supermarkets, and cultural hubs.
The Vietnamese-Houstonian community has infused the city with life, color, and flavor. Nowhere is this more evident than the city’s Bahn Mi obsession.
This classic Vietnamese sandwich is made on stout, crispy baguettes spread with mayo and paté, then stuffed with a variety of juicy meats and pickled vegetables.
Visitors can chow down at:
- Don Cafe & Sandwich for a cash-only neighborhood institution
- Cafe Th for a modern specialty Porter’s Balls banh mi
- Nguyễn Ngọ for the shredded chicken special from a hole-in-the wall in the heart of Little Saigon
- Cali Sandwich & Pho for the best of both worlds
- Thiem Hung Bakery for the lemongrass pork sandwich and a pork bun for the road
- Hong Kong Market in Scarsdale for a controversial well-kept secret (if you can stand store’s the strong seafood smell)
The Best Of All Worlds In Houston Fusion
Have you heard of Viet-Cajun crawfish? Didn’t think so.
Of the 250,000 people who fled to Houston after Katrina, 40,000 made Houston their permanent home. Little bits of New Orleans can be found all around the city, from fusion Cajun food at Crawfish & Noodles to Creole beats on local R&B radio stations.
The blending of cultures and cuisines doesn’t stop there. Posters plastered all over Houston proclaim “Welcome” in 32 languages – and they mean it.
The LA Times’ Brittny Mejia described the Houstonian melting pot best: “Sweet Factory, which sells pastries from the Middle East, edges up to a store that helps immigrants ship boxes home to relatives in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea shop at a flea market where the vendors primarily speak Spanish.”
Visitors to Houston can take advantage of the cultural fusion to celebrate far-flung parts of the world.
A Whirlwind Tour Of South Asia On Hillcroft Ave
Officially a cultural heritage neighborhood since 2010, the Mahatma Gandhi district has been the cultural and community hub of a thriving South Asian community since the late 1980s.
Visitors to Houston’s “Little India” shouldn’t miss the breathtaking BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir temple.
This Hindu temple’s nearly 40,000 square foot grounds feature delicately carved white stone arches, imposing domes, and lush fountain-studded gardens. The “Understanding Hinduism” exhibit inside gives travelers a true cultural experience.
Indian and Pakistani families melt into a diverse South Asian community in this district, mingling and mixing peacefully – until it comes to cricket.
Visitors can take in a fiercely competitive international game of cricket in Tom Bass Regional Park, where chicken tandoori replaces the usual packaged chips and popcorn at the snack stand.
It’s no surprise that the real star of Mahatma Gandhi district is the food.
Tuck into a chicken karhai at Himalaya Restaurant, have a pint with your spiced lamb chops at the Indo-British London Sizzler, or bite into the crispiest flavor-packed dosas in town at Shiv Sagar.
For dessert, head to Kwality Ice Creams for adventurous flavors like Meetha Pan (rose petals, beetle leaves, cardamom, and tutti frutti) and Rajbhog (nuts and saffron with Indian cottage cheese).
A China Town Unlike Any Other
Houston’s Chinatown spans a whopping six square miles full of mouth-watering pan-Asian eats, quirky karaoke bars, and cultural events that you simply can’t find anywhere else.
Visitors can sip their way through a tea-tasting tour, socialize over dim sum at crowd-favorite Golden Dumpling House, or let soju call the shots at Ohn Korean Eatrey.
Other popular Chinatown activities are bargain shopping on Harwin Drive, channeling some zen at Teo Chew Temple, and taking on a “boba crawl” that ping-pongs between as many of the district’s 80+ bubble tea shops as you can manage.
A West African Experience
Take an African tour of Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya all within Houston’s city and suburbs.
Visitors can time their Houston trips to coincide with cultural events like AfriFest, an African Fashion Week, and a Nigerian Culture parade every year.
If the time isn’t right for these events, activities like West African dance classes and ‘A Taste of African Heritage’ cooking classes are waiting for you year-round.
From crowd-pleasers like jollof rice to more unique eats like goat soup, Houston’s West African culinary scene has it all. Start here:
- ChòpnBlọk – a trendy modern pop-up with hot takes on everyday favorites
- Komchop – there’s a soup for everybody in this well-loved restaurant
- Cafe Abuja – known for spicy smoked goat meat that’s worth the burn
- Trinity – a true Houston institution with a descriptive menu for beginners
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com