The Super Bowl last month gave Houston its moment in the global spotlight, but it doesn’t take a major sporting event to render the home of America’s space programme a destination worth landing on. The famous Texas hospitality makes for a fun-filled visit but Houston is also full of surprises — it can rightfully claim the most diverse community in the US, as the workforce that staffs the oil and gas industries is a proper melting pot of nationalities.
Luckily for visitors, nowhere is that clearer than on the restaurant scene, where top Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian chefs vie with home-grown barbecue and Tex-Mex culinary maestros. The Lone Star state also has a booming market in microbreweries, with scores of bars offering a local alternative to the multinational giants.
But Houston is not all about food and drink. It has a number of good museums, though they pale in comparison to the world-famous Nasa Space Center (001 281 244 2100; spacecenter.org).
In contrast, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (001 832 667 1080; rodeohouston.com), which runs from March 7-26 this year, is also a calendar highlight. Other than the cattle and wild mustangs, Alicia Keys and veteran country singer Willie Nelson are due to perform this year. Tickets start from $18 (£14).
Where to stay
The newly opened Marriott Marquis (001 713 654 1777; marriott.co.uk), in the centre of downtown, offers an ideal location. Another highlight is its rooftop “lazy river” in the shape of Texas. The hotel has six bars and restaurants, including Mexican and tapas joints, while the rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city skyline. If you want to explore, the MetroRail system runs a short walk from the hotel’s front door. Doubles from $195 (£160), room only.
Where to eat and drink
To get a taste of Houston’s fusion culture, try Vietnamese-ish restaurant Crawfish and Noodles (001 281 988 8098; facebook.com/crawfishandnoodles), which mixes Asian and Cajun dishes. Go for the lau de (goat hotpot), fried catfish and Cajun fries, and cua rang muoi (fresh blue crab stir-fried with salt and butter). And every diner should try the local delicacy of crawfish caught in the local rivers. It is served with spicy house Cajun sauce and butter and garlic. Dinner should cost between $11-$30 (£10-£25).
Then there’s that American institution, brunch. At South African restaurant Peli Peli (001 281 257 9500; pelipeli.com) the food — roasted red potatoes with crispy bacon, boerewors sausages and fruit, schnitzel and waffles with bacon, sunny-side-up eggs and syrup — is hearty enough to cope with a day in the bush, never mind shopping for Stetsons or cowboy boots. Mains cost around $21 (£17), and the brunch drink of choice is the Peli Peli Peach Bellini, a potent mix of mango peach purée, American fizz, white rum and a red-wine swirl. During brunch, which is served until 4pm, cocktails cost just $6 (£5).
Brunch aside, Houstonians do enjoy a drink, and a sundowner in the city is not to be missed. Nowhere is better than sitting on the patio of the Kona Grill (001 713 877 9191; konagrill.com) and people-watching. Go for a classic martini or a Sake Bomber, which blends Kirin Ichiban beer with sake. Both cocktails cost $7.75 (£6). A dish of smoked Gouda fondue, which comes with salted pretzels and Granny Smith apple bites, is recommended to soak up the alcohol. It costs a reasonable $6.75 (£5.50).
Where to shop
There is only one destination for the dedicated shopper in Houston. The gigantic Galleria Mall (001 713 966 3500; simon.com/mall/the-galleria) comprises 375 stores, from high-end boutiques such as Trina Turk and Stuart Weitzman, through to chains such as Macy’s and Neiman Marcus, down to vendors selling make-up from their stalls to passing shoppers. The Galleria also manages to combine fashion with stores that sell curios and souvenirs. And if the retail frenzy gets too much, there are a suitable number of bars and coffee shops in which to take a break.
What to do and see
A visit to one of Houston’s several museums is a good way of restoring the equilibrium. The contemporary sculptures in the Ron Mueck Exhibition at The Museum of Fine Arts (001 713 639 7300; mfah.org) provide a fascinating variety of realistic figures, and the gallery of American Still Life Painting is also worth a visit. Entrance is $15 (£12), or free on Thursdays. Back at the Nasa Space Center, a tram tour whisks you through displays and simulators and past astronauts preparing for missions. Tickets from $29.95 (£24).
British Airways has daily flights from Heathrow to Houston starting at around £467 return (ba.com).