Intro to Rice Village
Nestled between Rice University and affluent West University Place (West U), you’ll find Houston’s Rice Village neighborhood. This convenient little area is all about shopping, dining, and taking the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Comprising less than 15 square city blocks, you could walk from one end of Rice Village to the other in about 20 minutes. No matter how small the neighborhood may seem, it plays a pretty vital role in Houston’s inner-loop lifestyle.
No matter what part of the city I’ve lived in, I’ve always found myself in Rice Village once every couple of weeks. Whether for just hanging out at one of the many relaxed restaurants (Hopdoddy, Istanbul Grill, Prego, etc.) within walking distance, or for a specific errand, like picking up some fresh salmon from the best seafood market in the city – Blue Horizon.
Given how unwalkable most of Houston is, being in Rice Village for a few hours helps me feel like it’s closer to the vibe of New York City or Chicago. You can legit walk everywhere and for someone that doesn’t want the hassle of having to jump in the car to go half a mile, this is a real treasure.
Alright, that gives you a good lay of the land right? Let’s dive in.
Rice Village is pretty diverse. I’ll attribute this mainly to the fact that its western edge borders Rice University, a.k.a. The Harvard of the South, which has a high population of international students and is a well-established research campus that attracts educational types from all over the world.
On the other side, Rice Village shares its western border with aforementioned West University Place, Texas. This 99% residential neighborhood is home to some of Houston’s top professionals, and ranks as one of the wealthiest zip codes in all of Texas. Bankroll City. Also, since West U is located within close proximity to Greenway Plaza (a mini-downtown of office buildings), there are many big-paycheck-getting corporate employees that splurge on a house in this area – plus, the schools are great.
But, West U is also super vanilla, so you can expect to see large SUVs to and from the nearby private schools.
I almost forgot – if you drive like two minutes south of Rice Village, you’re smack dab in the middle of the Texas Medical Center. As you can imagine, this also adds to the area’s diversity and desirable location.
All this to say, this part of Houston is highly-educated and influential. Which leads me to my next point…
Rice Village is pretty freaking safe. Not only do you have Houston PD and the Harris County Sheriff, but this area is common patrolling ground for the Rice University PD, West University PD, anddd also Texas Medical Center PD.
Yes, Rice Village is perfectly positioned to benefit from five different police departments keeping a presence in the area, and this doesn’t even take into account the 24/7 private security company that is hired by the district’s management company.
Do I even need to say that this part of Houston has no homeless population? That’s a huge plus, especially when most of inner-loop Houston has to deal with some level of transients tenting up along major highway intersections.
Remember how I mentioned that Rice Village borders West University Place? Well, West U just installed a high-tech, big brother-esque camera system throughout the area. The system detects and logs licence plates that enter and exit, to ensure any shady activity is scoped out in short order. It’s kinda creepy but I guess it’s helpful in quickly solving any crimes that may occur. And this benefits Rice Village… at least a little bit.
If you’ve read our other guides, you know that car break-ins in Houston are commonplace. But not in Rice Village. The huge police/security presence and nosy-ass neighbors are pretty good at scaring off most of the middle-of-the-night crime.
Since Rice Village is a self-contained entertainment/shopping district, it was designed to be super walkable. With the streets lined with shops, well-maintained sidewalks, and crosswalks every 200 feet, this part of Space City is ideal for strolling and chilling about.
Though, I would not recommend biking in this area. There are surprisingly no bike lanes, the road’s are pretty worn/riddled with potholes, and there is a heavy flow of traffic from 6am-8pm.
If you’re looking to hit the road with your bike, I’d recommend taking a spin around the Rice University campus or at Hermann Park, which is about 7 minutes away by car.
Rice Village in Three Words: Safe, Clean, Smart
For all the reasons we’ve discussed above, Rice Village is a great place to live for those who: don’t want to have to worry about their safety, appreciate a clean and well-kept neighborhood, and enjoy having neighbors that know a thing or two about the world.
Rice Village is pretty centrally-located just a mile away from I-59, and about a 15 minute drive from downtown, as well as The Galleria area (non-rush hour traffic conditions).
The main arteries of the area are Kirby Drive (runs north to south) and Bissonnet Street (run east to west), which give you easy access to Upper Kirby/River Oaks and the Museum District. Kirby is wayyy busy as it leads to the highway and is lined with tons of businesses. Bissonnet is much less trafficked, as its main purpose is to connect Rice University to the rest of the city.
As far as public transport goes: there are no METRO Rail stops in Rice Village; though, there are a ton of METRO bus stops, due to how many Rice University students use that as their primary mode of transport.
Free Things To Do
This is definitely an upper class part of town that wants you spending money and generating tax dollars for the economy, so free things to do are few and far between, and most of it is on the Rice University campus.
Rice University Running Trail
This shaded three-mile long loop is perfect for walking, jogging, and hiking. It’s one of the more popular trails inside the 610 loop, so the weekend brings out a bunch of people. The trail takes you around Rice University and through the fancy residential neighborhood of Southampton – basically River Oaks junior.
Public Art on the Rice University Campus
Just like most of Houston, the Rice University campus is full of public art for everyone to enjoy. Some of my favorites:
- The campus architecture is super European. It feels like you’re at Cambridge and not in the middle of Houston. The first time I visited, I walked around for at least two hours and still didn’t see all of the buildings on the property. Also, the campus definitely values greenery, as the landscaping is a total A+ and probably has a huge budget of its own, just for maintenance.
- Twilight Epiphany Skyspace
- Designed by uber popular artist and friend of Kanye West, James Turrell, Twilight Epiphany is easily one of my top three favorite free things to show people in the whole city. The structure is super sleek and reminds me of a modern day aztec pyramid. The best time to visit is an hour before sunrise or at sunset, as there is a lighting sequence that puts on a badass show and is truly an unmatched vibe. Total mood.
- Moody Center for the Arts
- When you approach the Moody Center for the first time, the contemporary design and geometric architecture make it an obvious art gallery. But, what you won’t realize until you walk in is that it is a mecca for all types of art disciplines and has regular programming that is totally free. It’s used by students to experiment and show off their works, and also has partnerships with the nearby museums and international artists to put on special exhibits.
Rice Village is all about being family-friendly and the dining options echo this for the most part. There are also a few establishments meant to remind the worldly travelers of the area of more far-off places.
Known as one of the few ‘cheap’ places to grab a bite in the area, Yoyo’s is a favorite of the night owls of Rice University. This evening/early morning staple sets up it’s food stand in Rice Village just before sunset and is open until 3 a.m., slinging quality hot dogs with simple yet delicious toppings like caramelized onions, homemade relish, jalapenos, and a special sauce that I’m still trying to figure out. Be ready to wait in line up to an hour to get your hands on one of their fancy dogs.
$$ Istanbul Grill and Deli
This spot is definitely my favorite Mediterranean restaurant inside loop 610. With delicious Turkish offerings, a sizable outdoor patio, and hookah, you’ll feel like you’re on a middle eastern adventure. My favorite things to order? You have to start with a cheese pide, which is basically a cheese pizza on a super fluffy and soft bread, kind of like cheesy naan. Then, get the Chicken Adana as your entree and finish it all off in traditional style with a cup of Turkish tea. They also have some solid wraps if you’re looking for lunch on-the-go. Oh, and their garlic sauce is legit. Make sure to get some of that.
The quintessential chill Sunday Funday joint in Rice Village is a total old reliable. The downstairs is like a normal, casual restaurant, but I prefer the open-air second floor which also has its own bar. The clientele ranges from Rice U kids all the way up to retired residents living close by. The food is nothing to write home about and may be a bit overpriced, but it’s all about the vibe. There’s greenery all around the restaurant and mimosas being brought to almost every other table. It’s like Becky’s favorite brunchy-brunch.
$$$ El Meson
Looking to widen your culinary horizons? El Meson is a go-to for traditional Cuban fare. This quiet, upscale restaurant is located right in the middle of Rice Village and everything I’ve tried on the menu has been solid and tastes homemade. My top choices have to be the scallop tapas and the juicy Pallomia Sirloin Steak. And this may sound weird, but their sides of roasted plantains, rice, and beans could be a meal in itself. Quality ingredients and a thoughtful wine list make it one of the top places to try in the area. Oh, the outdoor patio is the perfect place to post up on a Saturday night and enjoy a spanish red.
$$$ Cafe Rabelais
If you can picture a quaint, old world French cafe, Cafe Rabelais is exactly what you’re thinking of. The washed stone and wine rack-lined walls, dark wood bar, and cozy atmosphere is the perfect setting for a splurge-worthy meal. The demographic skews 45+ but you’ll quickly realize why: 550+ wines to choose from and one of the few French restaurants in town that don’t attract the Instagram influencer crowd. I prefer to head over for lunch, as the sandwich options ($12-ish) are priced far more reasonable than the dinner entrees ($30-ish). “Help me, I’m poor.” lol. The bavette steak sandwich and a glass of Merlot is my happy place. Now you know what I want for my birthday: a bottle and a bavette baguette (BBB).
Man, I will say though… Rice Village is not where you go for nightlife. Mostly because it’s a family/studious neighborhood, there are only a few options open past 10 p.m. the majority of nights and things tend to wind down quickly. Though, there is one place that is pretty interesting.
Under the Volcano
I’m still trying to figure out this divey spot. They list themselves as Spanish-themed, but it feels more like a tiki bar got mixed up with a carribean club. Whatever it is/tries to be works for me. With a solid amount of outdoor seating and approachable finger foods perfect for sharing, I’ll hit it up a couple of times a month as an undercover spot to unwind. The demographics are interesting – one night can be full of quiet 65 year olds and the next night it’ll be a bunch of 30-somethings getting turnt-ish. The beauty of the neighborhood bar.
Taco Street – Rice Village
If having authentic tacos near you is a must, look for a different neighborhood. This is not where you come for a plate of five asada tacos at 11pm. In Rice Village, the taco offerings and limited and… different.
Creative Tacos: Oh My Gogi
As one of the OG’s of the Korean food truck scene in Houston, Oh My Gogi knows how to stack up a line of hungry customers right as they open. How do they do it? They mashed up traditional korean offerings and tex-mex favorites. One of my top recommendations has to be their Beef Bulgogi Tacos. It’s a little spicy, a little sweet, and pretty decently sized. An order of two of these and you can call it dinner. Other options include their S+S Chicken Tacos and Kimchi Tacos, which sounds super interesting. Send pics when you try it.
Breakfast Tacos: Island Grill
When a neighborhood eatery bills itself as Mediterranean and then has breakfast tacos on the menu, you can almost exactly guess how it’s going to be. Passable at best. They are pretty basic: bacon, potato, egg, cheese and made with store-bought tortillas. I really don’t know what more to say. They are breakfast tacos and they are available for purchase. Again, Rice Village is not where you move to be close to a legit amount of tacos, friend.
A Day in the Life
Getting out for your weekly chores? Let’s see how Rice Village sizes up in terms of the day-to-day.
Grocery shopping is pretty convenient, though there is not one directly in Rice Village. Though, there are two Randalls and two Whole Foods within a mile. Also, easy access to many gas stations, laundromats, and dry cleaners.
Interestingly, there is a weirdly high number of specialty shops. Like, there are three musical instrument repair shops, five rug stores, and a handful of bookstores. Bookstores! People still go to bookstores, apparently.
All that sounds awesome, right? The only negative thing is that you should expect to pay a bit more than you would in some surrounding areas, like the Medical Center. Given that the average income in this area is relatively high, the retailers charge a premium for their products and services.
You won’t run into many (if any) panhandlers. Most of the customers at the places you’re going will have at least a bachelor’s degree and probably drive a Range Rover. People mainly keep to themselves in this area. I don’t know if it’s because they think they are better than everyone, or if they are just socially-awkward. The jury is still out on that one.
The Verdict on Rice Village
- Great for families
- Not an exciting dining scene
- Can get mundane
- Nightlife nonexistent
- A lot of traffic
All in all, Rice Village is very much a typical upper-class Americana neighborhood. Major retailers, locally-owned businesses, no restaurants pushing gastronomical limits, safe, and a desolate nightlife scene. I feel like those are the main points I’d want you to know before you consider a move here.
Though, also remember that you would be super centrally-located and 15 minutes from a lot more excitement. In terms of Houston drive-times, that’s nothing. And, if you’re working in Downtown Houston or The Galleria/Uptown area, finding a nice apartment in Rice Village may be your perfect blend of being close enough, but still a bit removed.
In this part of Houston, everything is convenient. You have all the daily necessities close by, won’t have to worry about going out of your way for a specialty need, and there are several places to stop to pick up a croissant. These things are important in life.
If I have to sum it up, Rice Village is not a ‘spicy’ neighborhood… in more than one way. It’s a great neighborhood if you want to stay away from nighttime noise and/or raise a family. Prefer a little more excitement in your next neighborhood? Check out our guide on The Galleria/Uptown. Do you want it to be even more quiet at night? The Heights might be your perfect place.