The East End: Then & Now
In June 1837, a steamboat named The Constitution was the first to traverse Buffalo Bayou. The ship and its 150 passengers made the landmark voyage through what is now considered one of the most profitable trading ports in the world. The Constitution validated the idea of Houston becoming an economic trading hub capable of competing on the world stage. The Port of Houston is now the busiest in the United States, seeing approximately 215 million tons of cargo passing through it every each year. After The Constitution’s historic voyage, more ships sailed to East Houston, greatly increasing trade, commerce, and culture. Houston witnessed a massive expansion to the east city’s limits, inducing a boom to the construction industry with both new businesses and housing with new business and housing construction and an extension of the city’s limits. The great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 decimated the port of Galveston, leading President Woodrow Wilson to open the World Port of Houston. This consequential event led to the creation of thousands of new jobs, primarily in East Houston.
With grand-scale economic expansion came massive immigration to east Houston. By 1910, Houston saw a wave of Asian immigrants arriving from the port. These early immigrants settled in parts of East Downtown and the East End. The 1920s made Houston a veritable melting pot of new residents. Caused by a mix of social turmoil in Mexico, coupled with the labor-hungry economy, Houston accepted thousands of Hispanic immigrants. This influx of immigration began to shape much of east Houston with the construction of many new neighborhoods. Magnolia Park, Idylwood, and Eastwood all owed their existence to the settling of these new residents, and would eventually become what is now known as the East End.
The East End provided a wide array of industrialized work. Ship channel maintenance and expansion, cement manufacturing, cotton compresses and textile plants flourished. The rise in industrial work promoted the growth of a bustling business district, with drugstores, bakeries, restaurants and various shopping centers. People would continue to immigrate to the East End until the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the surge in foreign immigration experienced during the last 30 years would stagnate.
Though the Great Depression did not leave Houston unscathed, the city would fare better than most cities at the time. The industrialized East Houston served as a beacon for immigration from southern states to the East End. Many African Americans from Louisiana traveled to East Houston in search of jobs. Although most of them found work, the Great Depression took its toll, and jobs in Houston began to dwindle. Houstonians still did not suffer as much as most Americans at the time. The community pulled together and produced plays and musicals, with proceeds going to charities that worked to assuage the needs of the impoverished created by the depression. When the United States entered World War II in December of 1941, East Houston’s industrial sector was rejuvenated. Demand for production skyrocketed, leading to a dramatic increase in labor needs. Houston prospered once again, and the East End housed the ever-growing labor community.
By 1943, the Houston School Board began to focus on educational institutions in the East End. The Texas State University for Negroes, now known as Texas Southern University, was a direct result of the separate but equal doctrine. The University of Houston served only white students, and TSU provided a new opportunity for African Americans in the East End. Funding for both colleges increased, helping to expand the campuses, and allowing more students to pursue their education. The East End saw a rise in college students attending both universities. By 1947, Texas Southern University had 2,300 students enrolled.
Until the 1950’s the East End had a vastly multicultural landscape, with whites, Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans interspersed throughout the area. The East End, compared to the rest of Houston, had an extremely high level of local diversity. However, in 1950, the Chinese Merchants’ Association relocated to the edge of southeastern downtown, outside of the East End. Many Asian businesses and residents moved closer to the downtown area as a direct result. The Asian community maintained a presence in the East End for another 20 years, until the vast majority of Asian Americans from the East End migrated to the southwest area of Houston around Bellaire. Meanwhile, “white flight” caused another migration from the East End of white people moving to the west areas of Houston. This shifting around of racial groups left the East End with a population predominantly composed of Hispanics and African Americans.
By the 1960s, the civil rights movement observed in Houston was uniquely peaceful. Many cities were marred with violence and massive protests, yet Houston’s civil rights leaders operated in a completely different manner. The East End housed the community leaders who fought for desegregation, emerging as a de facto base of operations. Young black students from Texas Southern University orchestrated sit-ins at various segregated facilities. Many of their sit-ins were successful, because they were often not denied service. Although the Mayor at the time was unwilling to desegregate public facilities, the students found support from the Houston City Council, with members advocating for desegregation. After one particular sit-in at the City Hall cafeteria, the Retail Merchants Association, an organization of white business owners, started a campaign to desegregate private businesses throughout Houston. The Retail Merchants Association contacted local Houston businesses with literature outlining not only how it was both economically healthier to desegregate, but how and doing so would prevent future violence from developing. The campaign, along with protests from the TSU students was successful in desegregating most Houston businesses long before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
By the late 1970s and through the 1980s, the East End began a slow economic downturn. The Asian population had migrated to the southwestern area of Houston, taking long-standing businesses with them. Many of the industrial plants in the East End outlived their usefulness and the city focused new development efforts westward. It wasn’t until the economic boom of the 1990s that the East End reemerged as an economic power. With more and more skilled labor jobs, and a revitalization of the port, the East End continues surging stronger than at any other point in its history.
The last ten years has seen a dramatic increase in transportation in the East End. With I-45 crossing to the south and Highway 90 wrapping around to the north, the East End has great access to the transportation artery lines of Houston. With an increase in the Houston transit budget, the streets within the East End are also seeing a move towards renovation. Many of the potholes and faded lane markings are being repaved and repainted. Harrisburg Boulevard is seeing many improvements, including wide sidewalks, street trees, additional street lighting benches and bike racks. Sampson, York, Canal and Navigation are also adding pedestrian lights as well as artwork along the road. South Wayside Underpass is obtaining more street lights and painting over the fading lane markers. By 2016, 65 miles of new sidewalks will be built, 700 new tree planted, and 170 new pedestrian lights added. In addition, new bike trails and bikeways have been added. All of these improvements connect pedestrians and cyclists to bus routes, Light Rail and other community destinations.
Aside from the structural improvements, the East End has an extensive public bus system. Metro buses run throughout most of the East End, with major routes on Navigation, Canal, Lawndale, Polk and Clinton, with crossing stops along Hirsch, Lockwood, Telephone Rd., and Wayside, as well as the Eastwood Transit Center and the Magnolia Transit Center. Harrisburg Route #50 will soon give way to the new East End light rail, and along with local buses, will provide unparalleled access to the rest of the city, with many routes acting as direct lines to all areas of town. Local bus service also travels from the Magnolia Transit Center on Harrisburg Blvd. to Hobby Airport, located just a few miles south of the East End. Metro’s Reimagine plan, expected to be implemented in 2015, redesigns bus ridership by creating an integrated network of bus and light rail service. Routes will operate 7 days a week, with more frequent trips, with a move toward simpler but more direct routes that better match where people live, work, learn, and recreate. Along with the extensive Metro bus lines, the East End is also in close proximity to the Greyhound bus station downtown, which provides affordable travel around the state.
The East End also functions as the hub for international bus connections to Mexico and Central America, with a new international terminal located immediately across Harrisburg from the Magnolia Transit Station.
The MetroRAIL is also present in the East End. The planned East End Line, also known as the Green Line, will be almost four miles in length and will travel from downtown to Harrisburg, to the historic Magnolia Transit Center. The Green Line will split from Dynamo Stadium and become the 6 mile long Purple Line, which provides access to the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, schools historically serving the East End. Although mass transit and transportation plans are still unfolding all around Houston, the Greater East End Line of the METRO Rail has already marked the beginning of many ambitious urban development in the area. Houstonia Magazine noted on March 3, 2014 that the Greater East End District’s efforts to transform the area through urban renewal projects are “transforming the Greater East End into one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the city, with a mix of restaurants, shops, apartment complexes, and a network of hike and bike trails currently under construction.”
Biking is an increasingly popular and practical way for one to both explore the East End and commute to work and school. Blue Line Bike Labs, originating in the Heights, has expanded to the East End and is continuing to build the biking community in the area. Their goal is to make biking in Houston safe and accessible by organizing rides with the community. B-Cycle, the organization bringing hourly rentals to Houston, is moving its office to the East End. It currently has one station near the Dynamo Stadium and another near Guadalupe Plaza Park; plans are underway to bring more to the area when the Light Rail opens.
What makes the East End unique in its transportation are the many various methods of getting around town. From comprehensive bus routes and biking trails, to close proximity to highways and an airport, the East End has unparallelled access to many points of interest throughout Houston. And the future looks even better; new metro light rails will soon provide even more accessibility to the entire East End. New renovations and beautification projects serve to enhance the transit in the East End by adding a flair of modernity to this historic district. This ever-growing, ever-changing nook in our beloved city will continue to evolve and change as time marches on.
Neighborhoods and Families
Culture, education, and advocacy are common themes for the Greater East End community. With its many schools and parks, civically engaged residents, and with cultural preservation as a high priority, Greater East End could be described as not only family-friendly but family-focused. A history of cultural preservation and activism shows that the Greater East End is home to many who wish to shape their environment and have a voice in their community.
The Greater East End is home to Super Neighborhoods: #63, representing Second Ward, Oak Lawn, and Fullerton; #64-88, representing Eastwood, Idylwood, Country Club Estates, Lawndale/Wayside, and East Lawndale; #82 Magnolia Park, #65 Harrisburg Manchester, #70 Pecan Park, and Neighborhood #56 Denver Harbor/Port Houston. Another popular section of Greater East End is East Downtown, commonly referred to by Houstonians as “EaDo.” The neighborhoods that comprise the area each have their own unique history, and yet they all share in the rich cultural tapestry of the Greater East End and City of Houston. Below are a few neighborhood glances and highlights.
Ranked by the Houston Press in 2010, Idylwood was listed as one of “The Five Most Underrated Neighborhoods In Houston.” Trees are a mainstay of the neighborhood, and the homes are said to be affordable and range from “…wood frame bungalows to stately mansions, to a variety of apartments, townhomes and condominiums” (Idylwood Civic Club).
Eastwood was designed and developed in 1913 by William A. Wilson, the same developer of Eastwood’s sister neighborhood, Woodland Heights. According to the City of Houston, Eastwood’s first residents were young entrepreneurs, business owners and management, and the first lots went on sale in June 1912, with the rest of the master-planned subdivision officially opening in September of 1913. The homes in this neighborhood were custom built homes with specific architectural styles, reflecting the early 20th fondness for “Craftsman, Arts & Crafts, Foursquare and Mission architecture.”
One of Houston’s four original neighborhoods, Second Ward was an important site in Houston’s twentieth century industrial expansion. Although Second Ward has maintained a strong Hispanic identity for much of the 20th Century, the neighborhood was settled by a variety of ethnic groups, including Asians, Germans, Italians, and Anglos, and then by Hispanics beginning in the 1920’s and gaining in numbers by the 1940’s.
By 1929, marked by industrial plants, factories, and refineries, Magnolia Park was the largest Mexican settlement in Houston and while political organizations developed, Magnolia Park eventually became an office hub for Papel Chicano, a Chicano movement newspaper that reported on area activism in the 1970s. Throughout history, the Greater East End neighborhoods remained committed to their common threads of connectivity: education, action, and faith.
Greater East End families are no strangers to school choice. While residents of Greater East End are zoned to the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the Greater East End is home to a variety of education options, ranging from public and private schools to a variety of magnet programs and charter schools. Approximately 40 schools in the area serve as centers of community gathering and bonding for Greater East End; below is just a sampling of some of the schools available to residents.
Our Lady of Guadalupe School, is a Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade Catholic school. With its small class sizes and Extended Day Program, this school has served the Second Ward community for over 100 years.
Among Greater East End’s charter school options is KIPP Explore Academy, a campus of over 800 elementary students and driven to prepare kids for college beginning in their early years of education. KIPP Explore Academy, like other KIPP campuses, features extended school hours and academic years, with the school day beginning at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. on weekdays, in addition to two Saturdays a month and three weeks in the summer.
YES Prep East End is a charter school that serves 6th-12th grade students. Founded in 2006, the school has a Texas Education Agency (TEA) Rating of Exemplary. Just southeast of downtown, is another college preparatory charter high school Eastwood Academy. Eastwood Academy’s small (approximately 400 students) and diverse student body enroll in college-preparatory curriculum and must complete 80 hours of community volunteer work prior to graduation.
Channeling maritime opportunities for students in the community, Stephen F. Austin High School offers a unique program called the Port of Houston Maritime Academy. According to the Houston East End Chamber of Commerce, in 2009, the Port of Houston Authority, the Houston Pilots, HISD and Austin High School created the Maritime Academy to increase student awareness of the maritime industry and its thousands of profitable careers. Celebrating its first graduating class in 2013, Maritime Academy offers real life experiences with vocational and professional opportunities, and students are prepared for pursuing licensed jobs upon graduation or continuing their education at community or maritime universities.
An area of growth and development, HISD received funding to reimagine and redevelop Charles H. Milby High School, a project tasked with preserving the architecturally significant building structure to accommodate 1,800-2,000 students. According to HISD, the redesign will preserve the historical facade portion of the 1926 building, as well as connect to newly built spaces to include an auditorium with a black box, a large student union commons area, courtyard. Home to HISD’s Science Institute Magnet Program, Milby’s academic wings will include science and engineering labs and spaces for welding and culinary arts, in addition to a student-run cafe and print shop to provide students with technical job experience.
The Houston Community College System (HCCS) Southeast College can also be found in the Greater East End, and other universities, such as the University of Houston (both Main and Downtown campuses) and Texas Southern University are just beyond the borders of the area, ready to serve students who are looking for affordable higher education opportunities.
The Greater East End has a rich history of civic engagement, political action, and collaboration to resolve issues ranging from transportation to artistic expression. Comprised of seven Super Neighborhoods, the area has undergone many changes in landscape and livability, with super neighborhoods functioning as designated areas where residents, institutions, civic organizations, and businesses can work together to identify, plan, and set priorities to address the needs and concerns of their community. In addition to Super Neighborhoods groups, the Greater East End is served by various civic associations, such as the East End Collaborative, Idylwood Civic Club, Eastwood Civic Association, East Lawndale Civic Association, each in their respective neighborhoods. Nonprofit organizations also serve as hubs of resident collaboration. Community Family Centers/Centros Familiares de la Comunidad (CFC) provides adult education, family support services, early childhood education, and youth services to community residents in need and serves as both a place to give and receive assistance. The Houston Institute for Culture (HIFC) East End Studio Gallery is a community based, non-profit organization whose mission is to provide a platform for artistic expression and exhibition of community works in all media through promotion of artists through shows, gallery talks, and outreach, in addition to art services such as after-school programs, digital artwork, and mural art installations. Talento Bilingüe de Houston is a nonprofit organization that has expanded to become the Latino Cultural Arts Center for the area and offers multicultural arts experiences and bilingual theatre to Houstonians along with year-long exhibitions and programming.
Neighborhood Centers Inc. – Ripley House, a prominent nonprofit organization in the area, offers a safe meeting space for residents to meet with their neighbors and participate in the community. Felix Fraga served as the Center Manager over Ripley House Community Center from 1977-1990; today, he is still actively involved in Neighborhood Centers – Ripley House, where he is Vice President of External Relations. Ripley House Community Developer and community leader Bolivar “Bo” Fraga followed in his father’s footsteps to continue to serve the East End. Neighborhood Center’s Ripley House serves the community through recognized elementary and middle school charter schools in three locations in Greater East End, in addition to Head Start programs, a comprehensive child development and family support program for families with children 3 to 5 years of age.
Founded in 2010, Barrio Dogs, Inc. is a nonprofit and all-volunteer group that aims to provide community education and outreach to change cultural and generational attitudes toward companion animals in largely Hispanic, low-income areas. This dedicated group also helps to facilitate rescues for animals in need and provides resources to those already with pets, and their youth program, Youth and Paws (YAP) programs, brings outreach and education to area schools or community centers– and they may even bring along a therapy dog.
The Greater East End is not only civically active but also physically active. If you love exercise and being outdoors, the City of Houston offers 128 miles of hike and bike trails, with normal operating hours of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Some of these trails can be found in Denver Harbor (6402 Market), Eastwood Park (5000 Harrisburg), and Mason Park (541 75th St.), each offering a path to suit the needs of nearby residents. Greater East End also contains many beautiful and historic city parks:
Settegast Park, Eastwood Park, Tony Marron Park, Hidalgo Park, Magnolia Park, Mason Park, and Gus Wortham Park. East End Little League Park (1700 Dumble) has remained mainstay of little league baseball for the area for over 60 years. Gus Wortham Golf Course (7000 Capitol) is said to be the oldest golf course in Houston and remains attractive to city golfers of all levels.
If you must stay indoors to work up a sweat, CAN DO Houston, a nonprofit dedicated to decreasing childhood obesity, provides a free, community operated Zumba class called Let’s Move in Magnolia, offered four nights a week at two gyms in Magnolia Park. Most accessible to residents in the East Downtown area are next-door neighbors EaDo CrossFit and Yoga EADO; two prime locales for intense physical fitness. On the far edge of Greater East End is YMCA Cossaboom, which offers year-round and seasonal youth programming like basketball, swimming, and other sports, and just outside of EaDo is the Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA in downtown Houston. Adding to the neighborhood’s fitness roster are two martial arts practices: Houston Martial Arts Academy, specializing in Filipino Martial Arts, Bahala Na Martial Arts, Giron Arnis Escrima, Chung Do Kwan TKD, Self Defense and the Galleon Clan System of Escrima, and Houston’s Backyard Wing Tsun Kung Fu, which teaches a combat system that can be applied as a system of self-defense.
Religion plays a large role in tradition and culture in the Greater East End. Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church (Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe) is a Roman Catholic church located in the Second Ward. One month after the church’s first mass, Our Lady of Guadalupe School opened its doors on September 8, 1912. The historic Villa de Matel Convent is home to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. The building is used as a place of worship, a place of central gathering, and a retreat space. To serve the many Spanish-speaking residents in the community, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church (7539 Avenue K) provides many masses in Spanish on weeknights. Established in 1887, St. Nicholas Catholic Church (2500 Clay) this church is on the Texas Register of Historical sites.
In East Downtown, the Teen How Taoist Temple (1507 Delano St.) serves as a place of meditation and contemplation in the Taoists tradition. Texas Guandi Temple CHÙA QUAN THÁNH’s mission is to promote traditional Asian culture and values, while enhancing mutual understanding, friendship, and common prosperity of people around the world.
Art and Attractions
The most recognizable artform in the East End are its vast array of murals and urban art. Local artists of the area have dedicated their time to artistic expression, ranging from cultural traditions to political observations. These graffiti styled public art installations range greatly in representing their themes. The art can be seen painted on the side of bus stops, fences along the road, and community centers as they are dispersed around the East End. A walk down Harrisburg Boulevard or Navigation Boulevard will expose pedestrians to unique works of public art. The artists are a mix of professionals looking to express their work, to armatures and students looking for professional experience. This urban art is colorful and lively, illuminating the East End as an artistic hub of creativity.
Along with outdoor art, the East End features a wide collection of galleries. Canal Street Gallery features local artists, displaying everything from traditional style paintings, to esoteric photography. In contrast, Box 13 Artspace displays installations and performance artists along with textured paintings. If you want to take a piece of art with you, the Texas Art Asylum sells local artist’s work, along with craft supplies and an extensive salvage yard for artists to utilize. If you’re afraid you may have missed an exhibit after it has closed, the Houston Institute for Culture operates as a digital archive, saving recordings and images of artwork from the East End and the rest of Houston. The Institute for Culture also provides workshops and educational tools such as a computer lab, an accessible art centric archive, digital storytelling programs, writing and media literacy programs, and education in regional traditions, all of which are always open to the public.
The concept of cohabitated workspaces, designed to encourage collaboration, has reached East Downtown. ChaiOne, a new mobile application development and design agency, is located in a repurposed building in East Downtown, along with START.
East Downtown is also home to a variety of hacker and maker spaces that have come about with the rise of DIY culture, and combined with East Downtown’s accessible industrial real estate pricing. These spaces offer affordable monthly memberships that offer rapid prototyping lab, woodshop, machine shop, electronics lab, laser cutters and a wide variety of other tools, as well as workshops and trainings to the broader Houston community.
The East End is also notable for its various performance art venues. The Frenetic Theater is home to a large assortment of live artists. The theater’s experimental shows are known for its intricate choreography positioned between vivid film editing and multimedia adaptations. A converted rice mill, The Silo is another alternative theater, featuring artists dancing around colorful light shows and pyrotechnics. The Barn – Dance Source Performing Arts Space, once a black-box theater, is now rental space for any dancers looking for an area to perfect their technique or put on a show.
For live music, the East End is home to numerous venues highlighting many forms of music. Warehouse Live, a converted warehouse built in the 1920s, can house up to 1500 concert goers. Musical acts include Grammy winning internationally known artists, as well as local acts rising to fame and notoriety. The Blue Box Theater is another music venue in the East End well known for smooth jazz and sultry singers in addition to exhilarating saxophone soloists who know how to work a room.
For larger events, sitting just outside the East End is the George R. Brown Convention Center. The 1.8 million square foot is center is one of the ten largest convention centers in the United States, and hosts a variety of attractions. From massive art exhibitions to comic book conventions, the George R. Brown Convention Center is one of the biggest social hubs in all of Houston. Not to be outdone, the BBVA Compass Stadium sits on 30 acres of land and is home to the Houston Dynamo, the Houston Dash, and the Texas Southern Tigers of Texas Southern University. Since the stadium is owned by the city, ticket prices are always affordable, giving any sports enthusiast the opportunity to attend a game.
Dining Out in East End
Indicative of its history and immigrant population, food options in the Greater East End are as diverse as the settlers of the area from years past. From authentic Mexican restaurants to fusion food trucks that cross-pollinate the city, each one hauling its own specific style of cuisine to add to the burgeoning Houston food scene, the Greater East End’s palette is a refreshing mix of ethnic flavor and variety, price, and atmosphere. In a similar spirit to those who first settled in the area, entrepreneurs are exploring the use of these industrialized neighborhoods and spaces and these food businesses continue to reflect this diverse community through a surprising contrast of innovation and preservation of its traditions and culture, and most of all, the importance of family. Though there are many more businesses in Greater East End, the following are dining options that have received acclaim and are highly rated on the business review site Yelp.
“And then, of course, the fajita era was born,” wrote the Houston Chronicle in a 2014 Mother’s Day feature honoring Ninfa Laurenzo and her accomplishments for revolutionizing the Houston’s food scene. Upon opening the doors of her historic and original restaurant, Ninfa’s, Mama Ninfa (as residents called her) made it clear that this was not like other Tex-Mex restaurants in town.
Upon her passing in 2001, the Houston Chronicle wrote:
“When Laurenzo opened the original Ninfa’s restaurant on Navigation in 1973, the taste of her food differed from the usual Tex-Mex combination plates around town. Instead of the typical tacos, Ninfa’s served chopped char-grilled beef filet folded into soft, handmade flour tortillas. It was a novelty, and it was good. Word quickly spread about the East End restaurant with good, cheap food and an outgoing Mexican Mama who greeted diners with open arms.”
Although she did not invent fajitas, many say that she broadened Houston’s food horizons by introducing the taco al carbon, which was later repositioned as fajitas. Ninfa’s, also known as The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, was ranked #55 in Houston Chronicle’s Top 100 Restaurants in 2013, and has become a tourist hot spot, visited by celebrities and politicians from around the country.
Mama Ninfa’s legacy is thriving today through her family; eldest son Roland Laurenzo and his wife, Blanca, established El Tiempo Cantina. In 2013, El Tiempo opened grand restaurant on Navigation, a stone’s throw away from Ninfa’s. Domenic Laurenzo, co-owner and executive chef of the El Tiempo restaurants, continues Mama Ninfa’s culinary legacy.
Chef David Guerrero is also the owner of Andes Café, which states on its website that its name is “special in that it is named after a natural wonder that unites Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. In this same way, Andes Café hopes to provide the same sense of unity between these distinct cultures and the dynamic culture of Houston.”
Another family-run Mexican restaurant with personality is Dona Maria (located down the street from Ninfa’s), and both Taco Keto and Taco Palenque boast authenticity as part of their tacos’ appeal; Taco Keto will serve you from a food truck while Taco Palenque is happy to seat you.
A gathering site for food trucks across Houston, the Houston Food Park communicates its roster of food trucks to its fans via social media (Twitter handle: @HouFoodPark). Participating food Trucks post their hours of operation at the location and the lineup can change from day to day. An example of a posting by a food truck on the Houston Food Park’s page might look similar to this: “Good morning! We will be serving at East Downtown Houston @Houfoodpark | 1504 St Emmanuel St from 11:15am – 2pm today!” Expect that you will be surrounded by East End street art if you eat at the Houston Food Park.
The Foreign Policy Food Truck, which currently features explicitly Greek, Korean, and Mexican-American selections, also offers a Donut Bacon Cheese Burger, with photos of its epic sugary glaze and impressive height from bun to bun plastered all over social media. Other recent food truck visitors to the Houston Food Park are The Waffle Bus, a food truck that essentially replaces buns with waffles; RICCA Cookies, which features many sweets including cookies and ice cream sandwiches; NomMi Street, which states their truck serves “Vietnamese Fusion made with Love”; and Mom & Eddie’s mobile dessert bus with a rotating menu, sometimes including Banana Nut Cupcakes, Cherry Cheesecake, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Salted Caramel Brownies, Cookies, Peach Crumb Bars, Coconut Macaroons, Ice Pops, Banana Pudding Cups, Chocolate Dream Cake, and Cake Balls.
Beyond its deeply ingrained latin food roots, Houston, and the East End in particular, is also home to many successful Asian restaurants. With Gluten Free options, vegetarian options, and Washington Gym approved Paleo dishes, Café TH provides a unique Vietnamese menu with health in mind.
Another popular Vietnamese restaurant, Huynh, is located close by Dynamo stadium. As stated on Huynh’s Frequently Asked Questions page, the pronunciation is “similar to “win” “but start with an H-sound… “Hwin.” Family-owned and operated, Huynh serves authentic Vietnamese fare such as spring rolls & rice plates with BYOB (Bring Your Own Beer/Beverage) for a nominal fee. Huynh also notes on its website that their family once lived in Central Vietnam, in the city of Quang Ngai, until 1990.
Since 1967 Dot’s Coffee Shop, also referred to as Dot’s Diner, has been a community favorite for UH students and East End residents alike.
The inside of the quirky and fun Mandola’s Deli is wall-to-wall covered in University of Houston pride and traditions; its website says “Closed Sunday for church followed by golf.” Students of the University of Houston receive a 10% discount. Another East End family-owned and operated business, one will never be surprised to be greeted by the owner, Frank Mandola, at the counter.
Since 2006, Bohemeo’s Cafe & Bar proudly offers locally roasted coffee, a lunch and dinner menu of fresh, healthful, and reasonably priced fare (with many vegetarian options), and a small but carefully selected list of wine and craft beer. Located in the bustling Tlaquepaque Market Plaza, this popular location offers free wi-fi to customers, plentiful parking, occasional live music, and a large patio as part of the cafe’s magnetism in historic Eastwood, just outside downtown Houston.
Another bakery, coffee shop, and internet cafe is Tout Suite. Tout Suite explains the name choice on their Facebook page:
“(Pronounced “Toot Sweet” from French : “Tout de Suite”) Meaning: Right away; At once, immediately; with all haste. (Literal meaning: All in a Row)
The name serves as an idiomatic expression with the obvious direct meaning that you can get anything here right away, on the go. It’s also a play on the French word “tous” meaning “all” and “suite” which shares the same American pronunciation of “sweet” – so here, you can find ALL things SWEET.”
Tel-wink Grill has established itself as the place to go for breakfast and lunch in the area, serving up hearty steak and eggs dishes, along with omelets, belgian waffles and french toast. District 7 Grill touts a large outdoor patio BYOB (and wine) in addition to free Wi-Fi for customers.
Hot dog innovation at its finest has found a home in Second Ward. Moon Tower Inn serves a duck with apple brandy hot dog and balsamic glazed cherry tomatoes wrapped in bacon– just two examples of the unique flavor profiles of this hidden gem.
Last Concert Café serves Mexican food and a blend of atmospheres; from live music to beer tastings to weddings, the cafe can be what you need it to be. The music schedule is often loaded in advance with Americana, rock, country, and folk artists.
The Cajun Stop is a popular choice for po-boys and food reminiscent of Louisiana: Red Beans & Rice, Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee, Jambalaya, & Catfish Oscar; seasonally and during peak times, Louisiana Boiled Crawfish and Boiled Shrimp and Crab Legs are on the menu. The restaurant also offers a huge variety of alcoholic beverages, including New Orleans Big Shots and New Orleans Frozen Daiquiris, which can be consumed on location or provided for takeout. If you need something sweet, their homemade desserts are another mainstay: homemade bread pudding, pecan pies, and “LC’s Signature Bananas Foster.”
Nationally recognized Chef Justin Yu’s Oxheart lies just north of EaDo and was ranked the #1 restaurant in Houston Chronicle’s Top 100 Restaurants in 2013. Oxheart is among the upper echelon of fine dining experiences in the Houston area. Be prepared to call a month in advance to reserve up to six seats for this 30-seat warehouse district space. Open only during specific business hours (Thursday to Monday: 5:30 – 10pm and closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays), Oxheart offers a choice of three seasonally rotating menus nightly, starting at $49. From the person who tailor-makes their aprons and custom cutlery to locally sourced food providers and local art in washrooms, Oxheart features all of its “Friends” on its website, recognizing that it takes a village to run a successful restaurant and showing its gratitude.
Not your usual nightlife scene, Neil’s Bahr encourages its patrons to “stop by for a drink, read a comic book, play our free arcade games, and chill!”
Amid Houston’s growing craft beer community, 8th Wonder Brewery is more than just a drop in a bucket. According to their website, 8th Wonder Brewery is “applying [their] craft in a dome-like warehouse located in the shadow of the Houston skyline in East Downtown. Only blocks away from the Astros, Dynamo, and Rockets stadiums, 8th Wonder is THE craft beer for the home team.”
Shopping in East End
When it comes to groceries, residents of the Greater East End have the option of one-stop shopping or choosing to go on an all-out food adventure. Shoppers can interact with their community by going to the various bakeries, seafood and meat markets, fresh produce stands, and farmers markets available in the area. “Buying local” is not only supporting local businesses in the area; it is a way to continue the culture and traditions of an area that has been putting food on the table this way for decades.
According to East Downtown Management District’s database of grocers, Kim Hung Supermarket was awarded Best Asian SuperMarket by the Houston Press.
Listed below are just a few of the many markets and bakeries in the area:
Long Sing Supermarket
Luk’s Seafood Inc.
Majid Food Market
La Familia Meat Market “Big Red”
El Mante Mini Market
Bentke’s Food Market
La Reynera Panaderia – Bakery
La Imperial Bakery
Las Novias Bakery
Yen Huong Bakery
Cheri’s Food Store
For clothes and other essentials, Harrisburg Plaza (Harrisburg at Wayside) and Lawndale Shopping Center (Lawndale Ave at 75th St) and Gulf Gate Mall, also known as Gulfgate Shopping City or Gulfgate Center, is located at the intersection of the Gulf Freeway and Interstate 610. The outdoor mall area includes H-E-B, Best Buy, Old Navy, Marshalls, Ross, Staples, Lowe’s, Claire’s, and Ana’s Linens. Primarily found on Facebook, Memo’s Record Shop (Discos y Novedades Memo) is described as a “popular and quirky retailer known for its large assortment of Latin music CDs & more.”