Houston’s hospitality savant Chris Cusack might just have the midas touch. Five years after opening his first, award-winning restaurant, Down House, his rapidly expanding empire has grown to include five additional concepts, a quarterly magazine, and a fish distribution company, with at least more joint—Bernadine’s—already on the way. Arguably, this Houston native knows the city’s rhythms better than anyone. Fresh off opening his latest farm-to-table Thai venture, Foreign Correspondents, today, the restaurateur shares some of his best local tips.
What neighborhood are you from, and how long have you lived there? I'm originally from the Heights in north-central Houston. When I moved home to Houston after attending the University of Texas at Austin, I was immediately drawn back to the neighborhood, and I opened all of my restaurants and bars there. I currently live in Old Sixth Ward, which is right between the Heights and Montrose.
Where would you put up friends visiting town? The Modern B&B (4003 Hazard St.; 832-279-6367; modernbb.com). It boasts a great location and interesting design while being completely comfortable and spacious. I highly recommend it. If you want to go fancy, try Hotel Granduca in Uptown Park (1080 Uptown Park Blvd.; 713-418-1000; granducahouston.com).
Where is the best place to find your hometown’s signature dish? Beef fajitas and a margarita, no question about it. My favorite place to get them is at El Tiempo Cantina. There are several locations, but my go-to is on Washington Ave (5602 Washington Ave.; 713-681-3645; eltiempocantina.com).
What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? Pax Americana (4319 Montrose Blvd.; 713-239-0228; paxamericanahtx.com). Chef Adam Dorris is doing great things. His food utilizes the best regional ingredients and deftly pushes the boundaries of flavor and execution found in the best restaurants in the country. Another one of my favorites for visitors is Coltivare, a seasonal Italian kitchen by my friends Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera (3320 White Oak Dr.; 713-637-4095; coltivarehouston.com).
Where can you find the best cocktails? For an amazing cocktail go see my friend Alba Huerta at Julep. Try the Old Pepper—for a cocktail made with hot sauce, it's surprisingly refreshing (1919 Washington Ave.; 713-869-4383; julephouston.com).
Beer list? My D&T Drive Inn is one of my favorite places to drink a beer. It's also the oldest icehouse in Houston. Go for a Yellow Rose by Lone Pint Brewery. I think it's the best beer brewed in Texas (1307 Enid St.; 713-868-6165; treadsack.com).
Wine list? Chris Shepherd's Underbelly has an amazing wine list. General manager Matthew Pridgen has done a phenomenal job there. Treat yourself to the 2002 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Demi-Sec from the Loire Valley (1100 Westheimer Rd.; 713-528-9800; underbellyhouston.com).
Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? The Pass. Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan are two of the most talented chefs in Houston, and The Pass is where you can really see them push the envelope. From the "secret" entrance, to the champagne cart, to the seasonally rotating coursed menu, it's a completely unique experience that everyone should try (807 Taft St.; 713-628-9020; passandprovisions.com).
What is your go-to after-hours bar? When we close the restaurants for service, we head over to Big Star Bar in the Heights. For the record, alcohol is only served in bars legally in Texas until 2 a.m. (1005 W 19th St.; 281-501-9560; bigstarbar.com).
What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon in town? Start your early afternoon at the Urban Harvest Eastside Farmers’ Market (3000 Richmond Ave.; 713-880-5540; urbanharvest.org). From there, you're only a few short blocks away from the Menil Collection (1533 Sul Ross St.; 713-525-9400; menil.org). It's one of the greatest private art collections in the world. Make sure to check out the Cy Twombly exhibit. Since you're in the neighborhood you can stop over at the Contemporary Arts Museum, which is always free and fascinating (5216 Montrose Blvd.; 713-284-8250; camh.org). To round out the afternoon, catch a game and a couple of beers at The Hay Merchant (1100 Westheimer Rd.; 713-528-9805; haymerchant.com). When Houston teams are winning, Houston beers are half price!
What is your Sunday morning routine in your neighborhood? I love living in Old Sixth Ward. It's a historic neighborhood close to downtown, the Heights, and Montrose. On Sunday morning I like to walk along Buffalo Bayou to downtown for a coffee, a bloody mary, and a snack at The Honeymoon Café & Bar (300 Main St.; 281-846-6995; thehoneymoonhtx.com). It's a great cafe/bar that reminds me of the comfortable, genuine hospitality of New Orleans.
Where is the best brunch? Hugo's. They serve an amazing Interior-Mexican brunch buffet that rotates weekly. Don't forget to pair it with some incredible drinks from their beverage director Sean Beck. I like the mezcal margarita (1600 Westheimer Rd.; 713-524-7744; hugosrestaurant.net).
Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? Blacksmith. David Buehrer is kind of the founding father of coffee in Houston, and he was one of the first people to welcome me to the dining scene here in Houston. He's wildly passionate about coffee, and it shows in every drink produced at his shop. Blacksmith serves coffee from Greenway Coffee and Tea, the roasting company he owns with his partner Ecky Prabanto (1018 Westheimer Rd.; 832-360-7470).
What’s your favorite view in town (that tourists might not know about)? The banks of Buffalo Bayou facing downtown offers the best view in the city. There's a gorgeous downtown backdrop with the well-maintained natural beauty provided by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. It's Houston's version of Central Park, and it makes me really happy to see more and more people learning about it and taking advantage of all that it has to offer.
What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? See above! I also love the Heights Boulevard trail on a weekday afternoon.
What are your favorite offbeat cultural attractions? The Orange Show does some great things, including Beer Can House and the Art Car Parade (2402 Munger St.; 713-926-6368; orangeshow.org). I also recommend anything my friend Brad Moore does at his Grand Prize Bar (1010 Banks St .; 713-526-4565). and Big Star Bar, including cat weddings, Urban Cowboy/Gilley's revival, Second New Year's... the list goes on.
What’s your favorite shop or boutique? What’s a favorite item you’ve found there? Reserve Supply Co. (2205 Washington Ave.; 713-750-9582; reservesupplycompany.com). My favorite item I've found there is my Red Wing Heritage boots. I've had them for years, and I'm sure they'll last my whole life. The store is on a great little block with Catalina Coffee (2201 Washington Ave.; 713-861-8448; catalinacoffeeshop.com) and Cutthroat Barbers (2203 Washington Ave.; 713-864-7000; cutthroatbarbers.com). I try to hit up all three every time I go.
What’s the ultimate souvenir from your town—something you can only get there? Easy. A diamond grill from Johnny Dang & Co., aka TV Johnny. Galleria, third floor. You can get grills from other jewelers, but you can only get a TV Johnny grill from TV Johnny (PlazAmericas Shopping Centre, 253 Sharpstown Center; 713-777-2026; tvjohnny.net).
What’s the best-kept local secret? Truth be told, the best-kept local secret is Houston itself. It's an amazing city, but the rest of the country is still learning that. In some ways I'm happy to keep it that way, but I highly recommend coming to see it for yourself.
In our Hometown Guides series, we're seeking the best restaurants, bars, vistas, and things to do in a given place from the people who know best—the artists, designers, chefs, and store-owners who live there. See more Hometown Guides »
Photo Credits: Julie Soefer Photography