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Where I Live: Houston has all the tastes

Known as the most diverse city in the nation, this Texas city has 10,000 restaurants to satisfy all kinds of tastes. Buckeye alumni share their favorites.

In a restaurant with stainless steel counters, tables with red chairs and a gray concrete floor, three Buckeyes sit together. The woman on the left talks with her hands folded; the woman next to her laughs while looking up, and the man laughs while holding a bottle of beer.

From left, Tori Hostetter Hoperich, Corunda Pruitt and John Hart of the Alumni Club of Houston get together at POST Houston, a popular food and entertainment venue. (Photo by Elizabeth G. Conley)

When it comes to dining out, Houston, we have no problem.

“Oh, my goodness. I tell people all the time, you have to have a good relationship with the gym here because you are going to eat,” says Demondre Peak ’17, ’21 MSW. “If nothing else, we’re going to eat.”

Corunda Pruitt ’05 PhD won’t argue with that. “The restaurant options just kind of blow you away. Your palate can’t get bored here in Houston,” says Pruitt, a self-proclaimed foodie with the credentials to back up the title. She has a doctorate in food science and nutrition and works in the food space lab at Johnson Space Center to test and prepare astronauts’ meals for missions.

With 2.37 million residents, more than 4,400 of them Ohio State graduates, Houston is the country’s fourth-largest city. That could explain its 10,000 restaurants. And according to the website WalletHub, Houston is the most diverse city in the nation.

“Coming from San Francisco, I found the restaurant scene there very high-end,” says Michael Lee ’06. “While you can get that here, there’s also a wide variety of restaurants and cuisines from around the world at various price points.” 

Houston is the county seat of Harris County, which has the third-most Vietnamese immigrants in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute. “A lot of the Vietnamese cuisine is crossed with Cajun food, and you get these really interesting dishes,” Lee says.

Tori Hostetter Hoperich ’17 and her husband, Clay, discovered their favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Huynh, the day they closed on their house — and they’ve been back for many celebrations since.

“It’s just kind of special to us,” she says of the locally owned spot popular in EaDo (East Downtown). Hoperich has foodie cred, too, in the form of an Instagram account (@tastingswithtori) dedicated to “recipes, restaurants and bars to give you the scoop on what to try.”

Fusion is a theme at some of Peak’s favorite restaurants, including Trinity Street Food. “It’s a Thai place, but you can get different kinds of Indian food. It’s kind of a conglomerate of different types of street food, which is really cool.” 

Another fave is BB’s Tex-Orleans for barbecue with a Cajun flare. Peak recommends the Boudin Balls, an appetizer with Creole-style dirty rice and chipotle-infused mayo, and the French Quarter Plate of red beans, crawfish etouffee and garlic smoked sausage.

Hoperich appreciates how “super diverse” Nancy’s Hustle is. “You get multiple plates for the table just so you can try a bit of everything. And they’re really unique dishes,” she says. “It’s kind of a fusion of a bunch of cultures.”

No place in Houston can deliver more culinary combos under one roof (or on one) than POST Houston, a 550,000-square-foot food hall and entertainment venue in the historic Barbara Jordan Post Office. POST Houston features a nearly 5-acre rooftop, Skylawn, that includes an urban garden, gathering and event spaces, and two restaurant pavilions. Inside, more than 20 restaurants offer Nigerian, Filipino, Japanese, Norwegian and Mediterranean cuisines, to mention a few.

Peak is a Skylawn fan who describes the gathering space as diverse and family-friendly. “When I went, it was a Saturday, and they had a DJ up there playing really cool house techno music,” he says. “It’s probably one of the best views of the skyline downtown.”

In Houston, you might be able to savor all the variety you crave in a single family of restaurants. The Pappas brothers started with one local coffee shop and now own around 100 restaurants, many in the Houston area. Their menus range from Tex-Mex (Pappasito’s Cantina) to barbecue (Pappas Bar-B-Q) to New Orleans seafood (Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen) to steak (Pappas Bros. Steakhouse).

“They’re all full all the time, and the food’s always very good,” says John Hart ’83, president of the Alumni Club of Houston.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen is Pruitt’s favorite Houston restaurant. “You go in and just always feel like a good time,” she says. “Depending on the location, they may have some live music. They have great food specials, great drink specials, something that has a Cajun-Creole New Orleans inspiration.”

Pruitt’s choice for Tex-Mex is Cyclone Anaya’s, named for its founder, a professional wrestler.

For diners with a Texas-sized appetite, Hart recommends B&B Butchers and Restaurant, known for its “over-the-top servings and sizes and flavors,” and Perry’s Steakhouse and Grille, featuring “this monstrous pork chop that’s actually four or five pork chops in one.”

A woman in a cowboy hat rides a horse looping so fast around a barrel, it’s leaning at a 45-degree angle. They’re on dirt in a stadium and the crowd in the stands in the background is vague but huge.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is renowned for its traditional events, food and music. (Photo from Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo) 

Can’t miss this rodeo

The basic recipe for rodeo is a mix of bull riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing and tie-down roping. But if you’re going to be in H-Town between February 28 and March 19, 2023, you’d better buckle up your chaps, because you’re in for a wilder ride at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

“If you think about the mantra how everything gets bigger in Texas, I found that to be my experience with the rodeo,” says Demondre Peak. 

He means everything — from amusement rides to funnel cakes to nightly concerts. At last year’s rodeo, Peak saw musicians as different from one another as Chance the Rapper and country superstar Blake Shelton. With 2.5 million visitors, “it’s this electric environment of people everywhere.”

One of the big draws for John Hart is the barbecue competition. For the three days leading up to the rodeo at NRG Park, more than 250 teams compete in the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. Most team tents are invitation only, but public venues also offer music, beverages and brisket.

Tori Hostetter Hoperich experienced her first Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo last year.

“On a random weeknight I saw one of my favorite country artists, Sam Hunt. Then, right before the music starts, they have typical rodeo events right there in the arena, so bull riding and lassoing. Just a bunch of cool things I’ve never seen before.”

Houston in a nutshell 

Houston was the first word heard from the moon. On the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong’s full phrase was, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

More than 145 languages are spoken in Houston. Besides English and Spanish, you can hear Vietnamese, German, Hindi, Chinese, Urdu, Arabic, Welsh, Tagalog and many other languages, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Twenty feet below Houston streets lies a series of pedestrian tunnels connecting 95 city blocks. The original tunnel was created to link two movie theatres. Today, the tunnels stretch 6 miles and feature more than a mall’s worth of stores and restaurants.

The world’s widest highway lies just west of Houston. The Katy Freeway, aka Interstate 10, boasts 26 lanes.

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