Visitors to Houston will quickly discover that the city is one of the most diverse in the country. With more than 100 languages spoken across its vast sprawl, thousands of ethnic restaurants celebrating world cuisine and a thriving arts scene that’s global in scope and subject, the Bayou City is a perpetual melting pot of cultural fusion.
While Houston has a terrific Chinatown and a bustling Little India, one of the best ways to become immersed in the city’s international offerings is with a trip to Rice Village. Just west of the Rice University campus, this established 10-block area is an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants, pubs and services that bring to south Texas some of the best the world has to offer. It’s easy to spend a few hours—even a whole day— rambling through the area, discovering new dishes and finding new items to add to your closet or home. Stop in for breakfast at Croissant Brioche French Bakery and Café, where the coffee is first-rate and the French-inspired pastries are exceptional. Multiple varieties of quiche, a delightfully fresh fruit tart and an almond croissant that wins raves dot the menu.
From there, pop down the street to British Isles, where the interior is crowded with food stuffs, chinaware, cards, toys, toiletries, magazines, newspapers, and gifts collected from across the United Kingdom. A Village staple for more than two decades, British Isles is Houston’s one-stop shop for all things Anglophile. “Houston is amazingly cosmopolitan,” says owner Guy Streatfield. “On weekends, it’s like the United Nations in here. Not just British expats, but Americans, Canadians, Jamaicans, South Africans – we recently started carrying foods from South Africa. It’s a wonderful mix.” Available to take home (or they’ll ship) are Dunoon bone china mugs, which Streatfield says are unique to the shop; handbags and scarves, English marmalades and what Streatfield calls “the mainstays of the British nursery,” which include Beatrix Potter books and toys, Paddington Bear sets and a host of Harry Potter items.
At local boutique Myth + Symbol, discover one-of-a- kind apparel and home goods from independent designers who hail from the U.S. and around the globe. Sisters Trang and Chau Nguyen are the dynamic duo behind the trendy shop, and they’ve made it their passion to not only know the designers whose cutting-edge works grace their space, but the unique stories hidden within each piece. Look for handcrafted dresses and tops, handbags, jewelry and beauty accessories.
Over at Savory Spice Shop, spice merchant Jim Hines is ready to take you on a world tour; the shop’s World Flavors wall offers a host of blends from around the globe. Look for blends from India, Asia, Europe and beyond—and don’t hesitate to ask how to cook with them.
“We have a terrific Jamaican Jerk; our owners went to Jamaica, and came back with this blend,” says Hines. “Vadouvan [a blend that includes shallot, onion and turmeric] is from India. It’s light, not overpowering, perfect for potatoes, rice, vegetables.” The shop sells by the jar, has several gift collections perfect for the home cook and will ship virtually anywhere.
As morning blends into afternoon, consider a side trip or brisk walk to the Rice University campus, half a mile to the east, and drop in to the Rice Gallery—the only university gallery in the U.S. dedicated to site-specific art installations. Or grab a leisurely lunch al fresco at D’Amico’s Italian Market Café, where you can sample wood-fired pizza, entrées featuring handmade pastas and abundant salads, as well as killer gelato. You’ll also find imported Italian foods to take home.
For children of all ages, FUNdamentally Toys promises to be a great addition to your global shopping trip in Rice Village, with an inventory of unique items from all over the world. Each toy nods to both entertainment and enrichment, with brands such as Hape (Germany), and Tegu (handcrafted in Honduras) and a host of high-quality U.S. makers.
Have dinner at Helen Greek Food and Wine (make a reservation in advance if you can). Opened in July 2015, it proceeded to make multiple ‘Top Restaurant’ lists in Houston and the rest of the country, as well as claiming a James Beard Semifinalist Award nomination. “It’s a 1,600 square-foot love letter to the food and wine of Greece,” says proprietor Evan Turner. The all-Greek wine list is the country’s second largest, with exquisite choices to complement Chef William Wright’s Gulf Coast-meets-Greece cuisine. Don’t miss the grilled octopus, offered with yellow split peas, or the stunningly simple but mouthwatering feta-brined chicken – and when the Greek Village Salad is in season, order it.
A few blocks over, El Meson fuses the flavors of Spain and Cuba in a charmingly graceful spot. Try the Champiñones Al Ajillo (mushrooms sautéed with serrano ham and garlic), or the Solomillo Empanizado (butterfly-cut filet of pork tenderloin breaded and pan-seared in olive oil with white rice, black beans and sweet plantains). In the evening, unwind with game-watching at local Irish-themed pub The Gorgeous Gael, take in a play at the fantastic Main Street Theater, or indulge in a well-earned nightcap from The Kelvin Arms.