Intro to Midtown
“I just want to party all the time!” “Psh. Hangover shmangover.” “I miss college.”
Do you find yourself saying these phrases often? Well, allow me to welcome you to your favorite new Houston neighborhood – Midtown.
Located just southwest of downtown, Midtown Houston has been undergoing a revitalization over the last 15-ish years. It’s home to Houston’s most concentrated nightlife scene, where you can actually walk from bar to bar — proper bar-hopping — which is a rarity in this city fueled by vehicular transport and pedestrian laziness. Also, the dining scene is starting to come into its own, which is a welcome amenity for soaking up those booze-filled evenings with quality options.
If we rewind a bit to the 1970’s, Midtown was the primary neighborhood where Vietnamese immigrants landed in Houston. By the 1980’s, the area was bursting with Viet restaurants, salons, used car dealerships, and other businesses, and became known as Little Saigon. Though, as rents increased in the mid 2000’s, many of these residents and businesses were pushed out to the Bellaire area (Houston’s Asiatown) and redevelopment of the area began and continues to this day.
Midtown is full of mid-rise apartment options and a couple of newly open high rises which offer some pretty solid deals to attract residents to a neighborhood which still has some growing and cleaning up left to do.
Let’s jump in to see if Midtown Houston is a good fit for you.
In this neighborhood, you’ll find a mix of folks of a more social demographic – early career professionals as well as people working in service industries. Given that it’s got a vibrant nightlife scene, it’s no surprise that the more mature crowd opts for other, quieter areas of town.
By no means does this imply that you’ll never find a 40+ couple trying to retain their youth, it’s just a lot more rare than in other nearby neighborhoods.
Another big demographic? Homeless and transients. Midtown is still pretty shady in a lot of ways and cleaning up the area is tougher than it may seem. This is a perfect segway into our next section…
Midtown is weird. There are pockets of heavily populated blocks that have poppin’ bars, restaurants, and nice apartments, and then you can make one left turn and it doesn’t even seem like the same neighborhood.
As I stated above, homelessness is a problem in this area and I attribute this mainly to one important factor: the Greyhound Bus Station. This station has been a draw for shady characters for years, and you’ll legit find like 40 homeless people sitting and sleeping around the two-block area at any time of the day/night. Actually, there is a fast food location located just next door to it, which has lovingly been dubbed “Murder McDonald’s” due to the sheer amount of drug deals and parking lot fights that take place on the property.
Also, there are several homeless shelters scattered throughout Midtown that attract people down on their luck and desperate just to survive.
When you factor this in, its no surprise that vehicle break-in’s and petty theft are commonplace in Midtown. Also, it doesn’t help that the majority of car parking is streetside and easy targets for people trying to score some items to take to the pawn shop.
FUN FACT: The inner-loop’s only BMW dealership is located on 9 square blocks of property in Midtown, and is surrounded by the most dense population of homeless people in the area. It’s an intense juxtaposition to see these fine German automobiles parked in lots adorning barbwire and 10-foot tall gates, just to combat any temptations of those passing by.
This one is easy. Midtown has pretty bad roads for the most part, so it’s not a great area to ride your bike. The city is installing some bike-only lanes to change this, but progress is slow and limited to the streets directly bordering downtown.
As for walking, given the safety issues I mentioned above, I wouldn’t recommend walking around the majority of the area. The only exceptions come when you’re in one of the heavily trafficked, entertainment-heavy areas near the intersection of Gray and Bagby.
Also, I don’t think it super fun to walk around Midtown. It’s still pretty spread out for the most part, so it seems like you’re strolling through some deserted, shady part of Houston.
Midtown in Three Words: Nightlife, Developing, Weird
“I come alive in the nighttime.” Yeah, that lyric from The Weeknd kind of sums it all up.
During the day, Midtown doesn’t have much to offer outside of a few neighborhood parks and some lunch spots frequented by the downtown office crews. But, most nights out of the week, the bars and other nightlife destinations light up and can get quite raucous. People from all over Houston know that Midtown is THE destination for a diverse selection of nightlife options. From wine bars and chill pubs, to college football watch parties and bottle service-wielding clubs.
Midtown still has a ways to go. Cleaning up the neighborhood has been a challenge and will easily take another 5-10 years to establish a safe, family-friendly reputation. One big development for this area that will really help catapult it is the newly-formed Houston Innovation Corridor. This Rice University-led initiative is targeting Midtown to become home to the city’s up-and-coming tech/startup community and will be based along the south edge of the area, where it borders the Museum District.
As I so eloquently mentioned above, Midtown is weird. It’s somewhere in-between unsafe and the best place to brunch it up with your girls on the weekend. Most everyone in Houston knows this part of town is tops for getting schwastey, which isn’t a great way to be remembered if you’re trying to class it up and attract a more refined demographic. Yeah, it’s like Midtown is in it’s puberty phase.
If you’re planning on living in this neighborhood and working in Downtown Houston or the Texas Medical Center, one huge benefit is access to the METRO Rail. This section of the light rail runs directly through downtown, into Midtown and onwards into Museum District and Medical Center, and further to NRG Stadium, where the annual Houston Rodeo is hosted, as well as the home of the Texans (football). Just beware, the METRO Rail stop in Midtown can be pretty sketch due to the transient population. Be careful: carry pepper spray, just in case.
As for METRO bus service, there are stops all throughout Midtown, so you shouldn’t be more than 3-4 blocks removed from a pick-up/drop-off point.
Looking for a Lyft or Uber? Shouldn’t be an issue. Given your proximity to downtown, hailing a ride during the day will take around 5 minutes. At night, no issue at all. The ride-share drivers know how many people leave the bar tipsy and looking for a ride – two minute wait, at max.
Again, I do not recommend walking around Midtown at night or biking ever.
PRO TIP: Obey the street parking signs. If you fu*k up, the meter maids will find you, and fine/tow you.
Free Things To Do
Located right along the METRO Rail, this neighborhood park is good for what it is – a neighborhood park. Spanning a comfortable six acres, you’ll have access to a dog park, chill areas with benches, and a small playground for the kids. Now, you’re probably going to ask, “Zain, is this in the shady part of Midtown or the safe part?” Good question – you’re learning that there are two versions of Midtown! This one is in the safer part of the area. Btw, I do recommend walking here, as the only nearby parking is in their paid parking lot.
Home of the iconic large MIDTOWN letters (a great photo opp for when you move into the area) and bordering the aforementioned bustling restaurant/nightlife district, Bagby Park has an awesome open lawn with a superb view of the downtown skyline. Also, there’s a collection of picnic tables, so you can grab a to-go order from one of the eateries across the block and do a lil picnic situation in the park. Just like Midtown Park, there is a dog park. And yes, it’s in the safest part of Midtown, off of Gray and Bagby.
Given that it’s a city park, it’s actually one of the smaller ones in Houston, at a compact 5 acres. But, what it lacks in size it makes up for in substance. It’s the only park in Midtown with jogging trail, which is essentially a six-block loop. Also, there are some grand old Oak trees, a kiddies playground, and a couple of gazebos to chill back under. Is it safe? That’s where I get a little iffy. For the most part, yes. But, Baldwin Park is known to have some homeless people sleeping on benches during the evening hours. FYI.
Midtown Houston’s restaurant scene has definitely come into its own over the last decade, transforming into a primarily evening dining destination. Though, there are a few great lunch spots that have stood the test of time. Here’s a quick bite.
$ – Lankford’s Grocery and Market
Being one of the most-revered burger spots inside the 610 loop comes with great responsibility and Lankford’s lives up to it every time. Every. Time. Their only open from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., so make sure you block out some time on your calendar to hop through. What I love about this place is the limited menu – back to basics. Typical breakfast plates like migas, breakfast tacos, and egg/bacon combos in the morning, and burgers/sandwiches in the afternoon. There are no more than 10 burgers to choose from and only one of them is priced above $10 (triple meat hamburger). And yes, Guy Fieri has been there. Don’t hold that against them, though.
$ – Le Givral
Introducing the O.G. of Midtown’s bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwich) culture. Now that you know that this part of town used to be Little Saigon, you can imagine how authentic Le Givral is and it never changed for anyone. Their buttery baguettes filled with your choice of protein and pickled vegetables salad are the perfect lunch or early dinner. So much flavor. Damn. I’m so hungry now. Grab one of their sandwiches (nothing over $8) and walk one block down to Baldwin Park to enjoy your haul. Oh, cash-only. ::heart emoji::
$$ – The Breakfast Klub
Arguably one of the most popular restaurants in all of Houston, The Breakfast Klub is like the Supreme (streetwear brand) of the local dining scene. I say that because I don’t get the hype. I’ve never waited in one of the two-hour long lines on the weekends, but if I had, damn that would have been a disappointment. I came through on a weekday morning when there was no line, ordered their famous chicken wings and waffles and honestly, they were fine. Just… fine. Typical fried chicken and waffles. Lol, I just don’t get it! But, I think going here is like on the ‘Houston Bucket List’ of things to do, so go try it out and tell me I’m wrong. Their coffee bar is legit though – it’s just four varieties of black coffee, but the different blends are fun.
$$ – Wanna Bao
Without a doubt, Wanna Bao is my favorite restaurant in Midtown. This Chinese/Schezwan spot serves up the spiciest dishes (when requested), most flavorful dumplings, and fluffiest white rice. Just what you need when in the mood for comfort food. Their Pepper Pepper Chicken Cube (yes, two ‘pepper’) is filled with schezwan pepper corns for that spicy/numbing effect and quality pieces of chicken. Way different than what you get at your local Chinese takeout joint. Another favorite: Crispy Pepper Chicken – its like Asian popcorn chicken – so delish. Another awesome thing about this place? A free parking lot! A rare sighting in Midtown.
$$$ – Damian’s Cucina
Another long-time Midtown restaurant, Damian’s is that fancy, old school Italian joint that makes you feel like you’re an extra in Goodfellas or The Godfather. The menu is full of recognizable favorites that I don’t have to introduce you to, but the service is what really sets this place apart. Many of the waiters have been working there for 20+ years and you can tell they are all about maintaining their long-standing reputation for being the go-to for a special occasion in a v nice environment and solid wine list.
What have we learned about Midtown? It’s all about the nightlife. I’ll highlight one super party-mode spot, a more relaxed watering hole, and one where you are your own entertainment.
This spot is wild. Weekend nights are all about showing some skin and making sure everyone sees you’re the one that got bottle service. Similar to Spire, which I highlighted in the Downtown Neighborhood Guide, Cle is often the official after-party for big hip-hop concerts being held at nearby Toyota Center. Oh, and Sunday Funday is a different level here. They have a large pool area in their courtyard, full of unicorn floaties, a bar on each side, and the serving staff clad in bikinis. Super classy.
If super-douchey isn’t your scene, Axelrad is definitely more up your alley. Perfect for those who are wanting to explore Houston’s craft beer scene, Axelrad has a huge local selection on tap and hosts a sizable beer garden filled with neon decor, swings, and picnic tables to enjoy the balmy Bayou City evenings. In the mood for a bite? Lucky for you, my favorite Midtown pizza joint shares the outdoor space with them! Luigi’s Pizzeria supplies the cheesy goodness you need after a pint of your favorite St. Arnold brew. This place is all about chill vibes and your best bet to find me on a Tuesday night. No autographs, please.
Looking to let loose and sing a classic break-up ballad dedicated to that asshole of a boyfriend that just said your best friend was kind of cute? Glitter Karaoke, baby. Even if you didn’t overreact to your significant other’s harmless comment, this karaoke bar is the bee’s knees. It’s a lounge-y vibes and also has private rooms you can reserve for up to 10 of your closest friends. I personally love this place, because you feel like you’re in your home living room and feel comfortable belting out your best impersonation of P. Diddy without fear. Their regulars will probably hate that I’m letting the secret out because this is where all of the service industry peeps go to unwind. I’m not going to tell you what night they usually go though.
Taco Street – Midtown
By no means is Midtown a great neighborhood for tacos, but there are definitely some diamonds in the rough.
The Best: Tacos la Creación
Located in a rather shady area of Midtown, it’s no wonder why the best taco truck in the area closes by 9 p.m – can’t blame them. But, I can blame you if you don’t take the time to venture out to La Creación for a couple of their al pastor and barbacoa tacos. No frills, cash only and closed Sunday. Aren’t all the greatest taco spots closed on Sunday? Damn. Oh, and their red salsa is FIRE – such a great compliment to the tender barbacoa – just soaks it all up. Yum.
Late Night: Tacos A Go-Go
You’ll remember this local favorite from the Downtown Neighborhood Guide, but the Midtown location has way more personality than the other one in the dank downtown tunnel.
The only thing is, they lose the title of ‘best taco’ in Midtown, but the fact that they are open until midnight most nights is what helps them stay on my list. Oh, and the self-serve taco bar. Lemme get one of those smoked brisket tacos, a shrimp taco, grilled fish taco, and a few containers of that habanero salsa, and I’m a happy camper. Muy rico.
Fancy Tacos: Tres Tacos
When I first walked into this place, it was to get a couple of drinks on my way home, but what happened next blew my mind. As you enter, it’s definitely got a vibe of an uplit trendy cocktail bar, but once you see a server bring the dude next to you a couple of tacos, things change… for the better. With more refined Mediterranean/Mexican options like the lobster taco, beef kabob taco, and hummus a la mexicana, Tres Tacos was such a surprising find. And, the fact that everything tasted good AF, including the drinks had me like “wtf?”. Definitely, definitely a must-try. Just be ready to spend.
A Day in the Life
Woke up without a hangover and looking to get some proper adulting errands in? Let me walk you through what a normal day in Midtown would look like.
Given how many apartment complexes there are to choose from in this neighborhood, you would think there would be a ton of grocery stores to support the many residents. Think again. There are only two grocery stores in Midtown – an overpriced, low-selection Randalls in north Midtown and an overpriced, tough-to-park-at Whole Foods in south Midtown. Though, I will say the largest Spec’s in Houston is nestled in Midtown and it is sincerely my happy place. They have a selection of snacks and grocery items that are priced similar to a convenience store (v expensive), but their wine, spirits, and cheese selection is heavenly. I’ve easily spent an hour just browsing the aisles, and barely saw half of the store. So yeah, most like you’ll have to go to to Montrose to hit up the HEB or Kroger.
Want to get those stains that you can’t recognize out of your clubbing clothes? There are a couple of dry cleaners closer to downtown and just one laundromat in the area. This should be fine because most of the apartments have in-unit washer/dryers or a laundry room. NBD.
There are a few gas stations that are … you guessed it … overpriced, relative to the rest of the inner-loop. They’re convenient but also a hangout spot for the areas numerous homeless people. Maybe you’ll make new friends?
Now, when it comes to making Sunday Funday plans, that’s easy cakes in Midtown. There are tons of bars with patios, long tables, and tons of TVs to meet up with your buds and forget what you did. Total party scenes all over the area on the weekends.
Oh yeah, when you’re driving around you’ll need to be really careful because one inherent trait of Midtown is the number of Pedal Parties you’ll see roaming the streets. Yes, the tiny booze-slinging wagons that are rented out by obnoxious bachelorette parties, blasting gross Cardi B ballads and twerking up and down the road. Get used to it, you party animal.
The Verdict on Midtown
Cheaper to live than montrose/downtown
A decent amount of dining options
Public Green Spaces
That Spec’s is too legit.
Overpriced Grocery Stores
Nightlife Probs (loud, crime)
In Midtown, some days you’ll be thinking that you’ll never really have to grow up, as the neighborhood feels like university campus 2.0. What a life. Other days, you’ll be strolling along and looking around thinking you live in the bad part of town. But that’s what Midtown is. It still has a ways to go to clean up its act totally, but some pockets of the area provide a pretty balanced lifestyle. Especially if you have a pup that enjoys long walks, the public green spaces will be a solid benefit.
I really feel like it comes down to how social you are. If nightlife and large events are your happy place, then Midtown offers a social calendar unmatched by any other neighborhood in Houston. If you prefer a quieter pace, but still want to be close to the action – Downtown or The Heights might be more your scene.
Though, there is something to be said about value. Rents in this part of the city are definitely lower than Montrose and Upper Kirby for the most part, and your proximity to downtown can be a huge plus if that’s where you’re daily commute takes you.
If you’re on the fence, I say go for a drive around the neighborhood (in the daytime and at night) and if you’re getting good vibes, stay in Midtown for a year or two and then move on to something a mile further and tons more cultured, like Museum District/Montrose.
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