Montrose. Where do I start?
Oh, I know — let’s begin by taking it back to early 2017. This neighborhood took my heart from the moment I moved to Houston. An eclectic street art culture hidden around almost every corner, folks in tie-dye and dressed like they walked out of a scene from ‘The Breakfast Club’ strolling along Westheimer Road, the late night tipsy crew and club-goers funneling into diners into the wee hours of the morning.
The overall chillness and non-judgement of the area that made this neighborhood one of the most unique in the city. Coming from a smaller Texas city (aka, San Antonio), this environment was something you’d expect to see in Austin, but definitely not Houston. Did I mention the restaurant scene? Some of the top up-and-coming chefs were getting their start in converted houses (Houston has essentially ZERO zoning laws) serving at a maximum, like 5-7 tables at a time. It was very homey.
Now, let’s jump to present day 2020. The mainstays of the neighborhood have been overtaken by the much-feared gentrification. Old restaurant properties have been bought out by low-quality, high marketing budget chains. Bleh. The main hard corner of the neighborhood (intersection of Montrose and Westheimer) which housed a storied Half Price Books, Chinese take-out restaurant, and the beloved Spec’s has been bought out by a property conglomerate, making way for, you guessed it, another mid-rise residential building with ground floor retail. The soul is lost, but is it all bad?
Montrose, like much of inner-loop (inside Loop 610) Houston is home to the city’s homeless population. Will this ‘progress’ and change help clean up the area’s act? Maybe. It’s still safer than going a mile east to Midtown.
FUN FACT: Back in the early 1960’s, Montrose was home to the largest gay community in a single zip code the US. San Francisco took that title later in the decade, but that kind of shows you what this area was all about. Super open, extremely artsy, and laid back. Like, really laid back. Now, you can barely feel that.
St. Thomas University is located in Montrose, so there is a small population of 18-22-year-olds that live on campus. Rice University is a mile away, so you’ll see those kids being shuttled to the grocery store daily or walking around. But, they mainly stay in their Rice Village bubble. More on that in an upcoming guide.
Culturally, Montrose is a big mix. It’s not unusual to hear 5 different languages while making your weekly run to Kroger. It’s cool – almost as if you’re traveling the world within your neighborhood of 25,000~ people.
Let’s just get this straight: Houston is not the safest city. Car jackings, robberies and shootings exist in the fourth largest city in America. There’s seven million people here. Shit happens. All you can do is be cautious like you would in any other city.
The majority of the neighborhood homeless population hangs around the Montrose/Westheimer corner. There’s a bus stop at each of the four corners at that intersection, so you can imagine how many transients are in and out of the area on the daily. As you wait at a red light, they will approach you asking for change.
Many will move along if you don’t look them in the eye, but there are also the regulars (you’ll definitely get to know them) who will spend like 10 seconds just staring at you through your 1/4 inch thick see-through shield until you get weirded out and just hand them a buck or two. I find it easier to just give them ‘I got nothing, bro’ hand gesture early in the encounter and move along.
Even in the safest parts of the neighborhood, midnight window smash-and-grabs are relatively common. Maybe not every night, but it if happens, it’s not a surprising occurrence. Lock your cars. Take your valuables. Give me $5 for that advice.
Montrose has been given a pretty high walk score of 85 by the big walking sites. I’d have to agree. This area is pretty walking-friendly. There are sidewalks up and down all streets, but many have cracks and have been unevenly raised due to tree root growth, or have dips due to previous flooding. So, watch your step.
There’s a scattering of small neighborhood parks all around the zip code, so you’re usually within a 10-15 minute walk of some greenery.
Houston has A LOT of cars. When you are walking down Montrose Blvd (which connects Montrose to The Medical Center), you’ll be inhaling quite a bit of fumes, so walk through the smaller side streets when safe to do so, just to avoid premature lung damage.
But yeah, do you want to know if you can walk from your apartment to get a double macchiato within 10 minutes? Yes, you can. There are also many coffee shops around the area.
Montrose in Three Words: Art, Dining, Open-Minded
Being the version of the free-spirited, college dropout kid of a neighborhood in Houston, Montrose really knows how to live life to the fullest.
The art scene is legit. You’ll find small handmade art shops dotting the veins of the area. From custom rugs and beaded curtains, to the largest art supply store in the city. Also, as I mentioned before, tons of street art that rotates pretty regularly. If a business is coming up in the neighborhood and wants to act like it really cares about the locals, they’ll hire a Houston artist to paint a cool mural on the side of the building. Looking at you, Shake Shack.
If you’re into dining out at non-chain restaurants, this is your scene. James Beard Award winner Chris Shepherd has four restaurants just in Montrose. When a chef from NYC moves to Houston, they’re looking to open their first restaurant in Montrose. People that live in this part of town have seen a lot of the world or at least are down to try new and exciting things, so it just works. More suggestions for munching below.
If you want to live in this area, you have to let go. People dress the way they want to dress, not the way you want them to dress. You’ll see people all over the neighborhood that could have easily been the focus of a shroom-fueled author’s fantasy novel. It’s an experience. The LGBTQ+ crowd still exists, but they’re mainly focused along Fairview Street, where the majority of the gay-friendly bars and restaurants are centered. People from all walks of live are accepted in our little community. Open yourself up to meeting new people and you’ll learn something new. These people have seen a lot.
For being a huge city, public transportation in Houston is a relative joke. In Montrose, you’re only option is the bus system, the Metro. That’s it. It’ll take you to all corners of the city, but just know you’ll be investing some time. Considerable time. Traffic is a huge impediment in the Bayou City.
Houston does also have a rail system, the MetroRail, but you don’t get that convenience in Montrose. The nearest MetroRail stop is in the Medical Center, .5 miles south of the Montrose border. On a sweltering summer day, we call that normally short distance walk a solid sweat session.
Buy a car. Drive a car. Park your car conveniently in places. You could buy a scooter to save on gas, but beware – there are quite a few SUVs and trucks, and Houston drivers are notoriously selfish on the roads.
You’re right off of I-59, 15 minutes from Loop 610, and a 5-10 minute drive to downtown on city roads. Don’t take the highway from Montrose just to get to downtown. That’s a mistake.
Free Things To Do
The Menil Collection is probably my favorite free thing to do in the neighborhood. Dominique De Menil was a French-born heiress to an oil fortune, thus why she moved to Houston (major oil city, duh) and pursued her passion of the collection of eclectic art pieces. The clean white walls and may we say, weird as hell art collection is such a Houston thing. Out of place, but makes it’s own space. Usually you picture a small, dinky museum if they offer free admission, but this spot is definitely somewhere you go show off to your friends as your museum. Bonus: The Menil Park surrounding the museum is expansive green space which is the perfect spot for a picnic or just getting away from the hustle of city life.
The recently-completed $30 million renovation has brought this Montrose gem back to the people. The Rothko Chapel is a multifaith sanctuary a.k.a. a great place to meditate and attend a seminar that’ll help you expand your horizons. With it’s black walls and minimalistic design, you’ll wonder what the heck they spent a fortune on, but hey… it’s cool, free to enter, and definitely will bring value to your life, if looking inwards is up your alley.
Free Museum Days
Living in Montrose definitely has its perks. One of the biggest being that your just a few minutes from The Museum District and their 20+ museums. Each of these museums offer free admission days, where you can bail out from work early and take advantage of living in the most cultured area of the city. I definitely recommend starting with the Museum of Fine Art Houston and The Contemporary Arts museum across the street. Then, you can start branching out and become a real pretentious museum person.
Ervan Chew Dog Park
The largest dog park in the area is in south Montrose and borders the Dunlavy Bridge that passes over I-59. For those of y’all with pups, you’ll definitely want to find digs close to this 9,000 square foot space. It’s also got a softball field, so go make some friends and stay active while you’re at it.
One of the biggest selling points of living in Montrose has to be the restaurant scene. Hands down, its the best neighborhood for foodies in Houston. Want some quick suggestions? Gotchu’. Here’s a selection of the more ‘every night’, weekend celebration, and special occasion eateries in the area:
The Burger Joint — $
Open until midnight on the weekdays and 4am on the weekends, The Burger Joint is that ‘always around’ burger spot when you need it. I mean, they aren’t the best burgers ever, but they are available basically any time you need a big, juicy piece of meat between two pieces of bread. This restaurant is the epitome of excess. Extra-fried French fries, 20 oz. milkshakes with whipped cream and a cherry on top, and large cocktails. I mean, sometimes you just need to do the most, right?
Aladdin — $
If you’ve never had Mediterranean food before, you’ll love Aladdin. It’s a solid intro to the cuisine and ‘every night’ kind of place. There’s like 20 tables inside, surrounded by an L-shaped counter which is basically like a buffet, except for that the employees fill up your plate or to-go box. I will say, their location is ideal, right in the middle of Montrose and their complimentary bread is damn delicious. Like, little pillow of middle eastern happiness. Their grilled meats are okay, but definitely a new experience for those who have never had anything outside of a burger or fried chicken. Welcome to the dark side.
Candente — $$
Just because we’re in the largest Texas city, don’t think we have amazing Tex-Mex inside the loop. There are like 2-3 REALLY good spots to satisfy your enchilada or nachos craving inside Loop 610 and Candente is one of them. It’s right at the edge of south Montrose, as your about to enter the Museum District, and they have that cheesy goodness you’re looking for. It’s owned by the same people as the BBQ spot next door, Pit Room, so their meats are smoked and super tender/flavorful. Imagine if a cattle farmer married the best hispanic home cook, and they opened a restaurant. Tons of covered (!) outdoor seating. Once you move here, you’ll realize why a covered patio is basically the Houston equivalent of an oasis in the dessert.
Boheme — $$
Looking to get a taste of old Montrose? Head to Boheme on Fairview Street. With a weekly drag karaoke brunch, over-the-top menu items like the Vietnamese Fries and four-person sharable margaritas, and large patio space this is your go-to for entertaining your friends on the weekend. Being that it’s located in the densely populated LGBTQ+ section of the neighborhood, be ready for loud music, tons of people from different walks of life, and an experience you won’t forget soon. BELIEVE THAT. Like, for real. Don’t say I didn’t prepare you. Tons of gay bars all around the location for after hours debauchery.
Paulie’s — $$
This family-owned European-style sidewalk cafe is that perfect blend of great quality food and friendly service. Located on Westheimer in west Montrose, Paulie’s serves up the best pasta in the city. Yeah, I said it – the best, and many folks will easily agree with that. Pair that with 20+ bottles of wine to choose from and an entire bakery case stocked with desserts, and you’re ready for a great weekday night out close to home. Oh, did we mention that they also have the best desserts in the area? Yup. Cheesecake brownies, large chocolate chip cookies, creamy lemon bars, etc. Damn, I miss Europe.
Hugo’s — $$$
If you ask ten people in Houston what their favorite restaurant for a special occasion is, at least four of them will say it’s Hugo’s, located in the heart of Montrose. The restaurant has won multiple national awards and focuses on bringing the taste of Oaxaca, Mexico to Houston. The owner, Hugo Ortega, started as dishwasher at a nearby restaurant, ended up becoming a cook there, marrying the owner, and opening four other restaurants over the next 20 years. The American dream. The restaurant space is cool. Dark walls, polished wood tables, chairs with large backrests, so each table feels like your own personal rail car. The crowd is mostly the educated, well-traveled type. A dinner for two will run you around $120, with drinks and dessert, so I say you start out by checking their happy hour, as its a great way to try out the popular items without breaking the bank. Get the Hugo’s Margarita. Do it.
Georgia James — $$$
Another option is Georgia James, one of the most popular steakhouses in the city. Opened by another super well-known chef, Chris Shepherd, this is where you’ll find all the finance and oil bros after work and into the late evening. Want to show off on a first date or take your partner out for an anniversary? This is where you go to say fu*k it and blow the budget. The Baller Board is a four foot wooden plank, stacked with the restaurant’s finest butter-basted cuts of meat and starts at $100/person. Don’t be a cheap-o, dude
Being out late at night in Montrose is weird AF. Let’s just start with that. It used to be weirder, but the mix of college kids, trust fund babies, panhandlers and street side rappers waiting at the Metro stop make it must-do. Here are some of my favorite places to take it all in:
Looking to grab a beer with some friends? This is the OG beer bar of Montrose. The interior of the restaurant is lined with old arcade games and a typical bar atmosphere, with more tables for entertaining friends. If you’re looking to catch a Texans or Rockets game, you’ll probably find your way here. As far as food goes, its pretty normal, even though its owned by that Chris Shepherd guy that we mentioned above. Don’t just think because his name is on something, that it’ll be something wow-ing. Sometimes it’s just basic, like this spot. Semi-large patio right off of Westheimer and great for people-watching and just kicking it.
Anvil Bar and Refuge
You know those cocktail bars that everyone talks about as ‘the best’ and brags that they are regulars at? In Houston, that’s Anvil Bar and Refuge. With a line wrapping around the corner most nights, it’s one of the most hyped places in the city. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they have solid cocktails and have won all the awards and all that, but it’s the hype that kills a place. So, I’ll tell you this. It’s a cool living room-like space, with big windows and good drinks. I mean, what more is there to a cocktail bar? There’s 20 places like it in Austin, but what makes it special is that it’s in Houston, I guess?
Now, Hop Heads is as chill as it gets. Located just across the street from St. Thomas University, this outdoor beer garden is nothing more and nothing less than it claims to be. Built in a 15 foot shipping container, the bar slings beer on draft, 100+ bottles of wine and some normal snacks like flatbread pizza and burgers. But, that’s the thing – it doesn’t say its the best, or that they do the most – it just exists and does it’s thing. I don’t know if it gets more Montrose than that. A great place to sit outside, take in the vibe and be surrounded by a diverse group of people, ranging from coworkers out after a long day, some college kids, and chicks doing a girl’s night out.
Remember what I said about doing the most? Yeah, that’s Present Company. This place is the definition of extra AF and basic. But, I digress. It’s a bar setup on a huge two-story patio, with disco balls, a year-round Christmas tree, LED lights all over, tons of backdrops for the Instagram crowd, lines spilling onto busy Westheimer, and the spot where all the kids go to get wasted and forget where they parked mommy’s car. A total mess on the weekends. Literally, they serve drinks in empty La Croix cans and the food is whack, even for a bar. So, yeah it’s pretty popular with the kids. And, there’s a McDonalds next door. If you go, tag us in the pics.
Taco Street – Montrose
Did you really think we weren’t gonna give you the low-down on the neighborhood taco scene? C’mon.
The Best: Tacos Tierra Caliente
Now, when I say TTC is ’the best’, I don’t mean the best in the neighborhood. It’s the best inside Loop 610, and once you’re living inside the loop, you don’t leave the loop. So, essentially it’s the best in the city. This taco truck is located in east Montrose, next to one of the more popular biker beer bars West Alabama Ice House. Tacos start at $1 and they are literally the most delicious. Tender carne asada, moist trompo, vegetarian tacos, and flaky flour tortillas. No frills, cash-only, parked in a shady c-store lot, and they barely speak English. But, that’s when you know it’s legit.
Breakfast: Pit Room
It might sound weird, but the best breakfast tacos in the area are at a BBQ spot. You put their brisket, egg, and cheese taco against any other in the state and I guarantee you that it’ll be a good fight. The place does get pretty packed, just because they are one of the few that do breakfast tacos in Montrose, so be prepared to wait in a line that can go out of the door. At lunch time, this place gets overrun by corporate types that don’t realize they are going to smell like BBQ the rest of the day, so leave before that crowd takes over.
Throwdown: Chapultepec Luptia
I mean, it’s open 24/7. It’s very OK and they charge too much, i.e. $4 Sysco tacos. But, they have tacos and they are open. Need I say more?
A Day in the Life
Montrose is technically classified as walkable, but I wouldn’t say that’s the most efficient way to go about your day-to-day. There’s a pretty small HEB on West Alabama (west Montrose) that’s pretty busy almost all the time, a decent size Trader Joe’s just a bit further west, and a Whole Foods in north Montrose, and that’s really your only options for groceries in the area. I mean, it’s enough for the neighborhood, but one-two more would make it a lot more convenient. Welcome to Houston, it’s almost great.
If you’re looking to support local, the Montrose Morning Market takes place on Sunday’s off Fairview Street, and has most of your basic farmers market items, but only holds about 15 vendors at a time.
You have all the necessities in Montrose i.e. gas stations, laundromats, dry cleaners, etc. You could easily go 3-4 weeks without even leaving the two mile radius around your home. And, that’s what makes Montrose great – it’s like its own self-contained city, full of culture, diversity, and things to make your life more fulfilling. Do we recommend getting out of the area and exploring? Of course. Just saying, you could and we have stayed in the area and not even missed the rest of the city.
If you prefer being a bit more social and know how to ride a bike, Houston’s Critical Mass rides through the neighborhood a couple of times a week. Picture 100-200 bikes lit with LEDS, bumping hip-hop, and taking over Montrose Blvd. It’s a pretty cool vibe. Just be safe! People be crazy on deez streets.
The Verdict on Montrose
Close to Everything
Close to Museums
Being able to say “I live in Montrose.”
Potholes and bad roads like a MF
Homelessness/Crime/Close to Midtown
Losing its authenticity
College kids running a muck late at night
Montrose is under siege from gentrification, and purists will hate it. Those of us who love convenience and doing the same thing everyday will enjoy it. But, life is all about balance. Can I guarantee that the area won’t totally turn into a HQ for corporate restaurant locations? Nope, but I can tell you that the area has its own vibe and no CEO can take that away. Living in Montrose affords you the ability to be close to Downtown Houston, the Heights and the Galleria area, and still lets you retain your individuality and not just doing what everyone else is doing cause it’s the norm.
It’s obviously not perfect – the roads are comparable to the nice parts of a third-world country, traffic and getting on/off the highway can be a pain, and homelessness is running rampant. You just have to weigh what your top needs are and make a decision for 6-13 months. If you don’t love it, try out another area. Ah, the glories of renting and not buying.
Here’s an easy way to make a decision: get six pieces of paper, write down your top six neighborhoods (one on each piece of paper), rate the neighborhoods on specific categories and assign values by placing beans on the neighborhoods that win each category. More beans = better choice. Or, just give us a call and let’s set up some time to chat about what you love and need.
For those of who are really into dining out and getting some culture every now and then, there’s not a better neighborhood you could pick in Houston. If you prefer to go clubbing every night, then look at The Galleria. If you want a quieter pace, check out The Museum District or The Heights. If you want to be close to your corporate oil/finance job, check out downtown.
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