Houston’s own dynamic duo—West University Place and nearby Rice Village—are tucked between Highway 59 and the 610 Loop. Originally conceived as a community of country homes, West U (as it is now affectionately known) was named for its proximity to neighbor Rice Institute. The development got off to a rocky start due to its swampy conditions and the expense of supplying water and electricity to its few residents. Safe to say it rebounded.
Charmingly, most street names in West University Place are references to universities, colleges, and poets. Firmly entrenched as one of Houston’s ‘it’ neighborhoods, the area is home to families and working professionals. And the shopping? With 300 shops in 16 blocks, the Rice Village Shopping Center has got you covered.
“West University Place has such a distinctive appeal,” said realtor Becky Davis. “If you’re looking for a smaller town feel near the big city or just want a memorable evening out, this area delivers.”
Exercise and engage the senses with a tour of Rice University’s public art. They make it easy to find the permanent and temporary exhibits with their online art map. One of the most famous installations at Rice is James Turrell's Twilight Epiphany skyspace (the Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion adjacent to the Shepherd School of Music), which uses natural and LED light to utterly transform the environment. Reservations are free but necessary for sunset light sequences. Early birds don’t have to reserve space at the sunrise viewing.
A dying breed in the land of Amazon, the area boasts two great independent bookstores: Brazos Bookstore (2421 Bissonnet St.) and Murder By The Book (2342 Bissonnet). Brazos is something to see with its carefully selected books, and MBTB has a vast stock of over 25,000 books; both stores offer impressive author readings and great browsing, but buy something, too. We want them to stick around.
The Big Easy (5731 Kirby Dr.) serves up Blues and Zydeco. A lockup for The Houston Press’ People’s Choice Award for Best Blues Venue, The Big Easy features local and national acts. For six nights a week, enjoy live blues and on Sunday, Zydeco.
Chamber Music Houston (Rice University MS-532, 6100 Main St.) is not a secret—it’s been around for 46 years—but it is an intimate concert experience in Alice Pratt Brown Hall. Hablas español? Gente de Teatro is a seven-member troupe that performs theater for the Hispanic community, mostly in Hamman Hall at Rice University.
Main Street Theater (2540 Times Blvd.) has been a major player on the theatre scene since 1975. The company produces thought-provoking plays for both adults and children. Their Times Blvd. location was beautifully renovated a few years ago. They also have performance space as part of the MATCH (Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston) on Main Street.
No matter what pace you take it, the Rice University Running Trail (6100 Main St.) will help you put everything in perspective with its beautiful live oaks. Just don’t trip over the roots. For some pampering, Silva’s Day Spa (5535 Weslayan St., Ste 18) is an option for facials and reflexology. Locals say you get big time indulgences, for very reasonable prices.
Benjy Levit's Local Foods (2424 Dunstan Rd.) in Rice Village is about to get bigger, incorporating the former benjy's restaurant space next door. This will allow it to build on the farmer’s market concept and add patio seating. Another Buddha bowl, stat!
At the Raven Grill (1916 Bissonnet St.), diners cannot get enough of the wood-fired steaks and salad with salmon. Co-owner Rob Cromie says they owe their success in part to their wood fire grill and great wine list. Seafood in a railroad car? Roll with it at Goode Company Seafood (2621 Westpark Dr.) where Levi Goode’s dad Jim wanted to create an atmosphere that felt like you were sitting in an old-school diner somewhere along the coast. Goode says the menu focuses on simple Gulf Coast fare—“mesquite-grilled dishes with no heavy sauces or breading.” The campechana is so popular that they sell more of it than they do iced tea.
If you ever get a case of the midnight munchies make a beeline to the Oh My Gogi! Food Truck (2504 Amherst St.) Open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, the food truck’s Oh My Gogi! Fries will be your new addiction. FYI, Gogi is meat in Korean. Helen Greek Food & Wine (2429 Rice Blvd.) will satisfy all your Mediterranean cravings. Try the octopus. Really.
At Sweet Paris Crêperie & Café (2420 Rice Blvd.) co-Founder Allison Chavez says they are on a mission to revive the art of eating crêpes. Join the revolution with concoctions both sweet and savory. Who is in for happy hour at Under the Volcano (2349 Bissonnet St.)? Whether you are there for the Day of the Dead themed décor or the fresh juice cocktails, it is a guaranteed good time. Come to Salento Bistrot (2407 Rice Blvd.) for the wine, pizzetas and empanadas, in an atmosphere that somehow manages to be both lively and relaxed.
Hometown design hero Chloe Dao (6127 Kirby Dr.) opened her Houston boutique before her season two Project Runway win. Here, you’re always welcome to the red carpet treatment with a team of stylists who will tailor a garment to fit you. At Piermarini (2427 Rice Blvd.), a family owned specialty clothing store for women and men, you will be able to peruse goods from a range of high end designers. A neighborhood fave since 1983, Raspberry Rose (2434 Rice Blvd.) offers contemporary, affordable clothing and accessories – and most important, personal service.
For the kids, Purple Mango (2410 Rice Blvd.) has classic and fashion-forward clothing, shoes, accessories, and décor. Owner Melody Ma says they carry baby toys you can’t find anywhere else. Twentysomethings will no doubt find something for their liking at Altar'd State (2530 University Blvd.). Think tie-dye lounge tops and lots of animal prints.
Come to La Taste (2417 Rice Blvd.) for bath and body products, as well as dishwasher-safe French pottery pretty enough for your wall.
Want to throw a party that makes you look like a Pinterest queen without all the work? Visit Emerson Sloan (2438 Rice Blvd.), a sophisticated alternative to Party City with killer hostess gifts.
Homesick Brits and Royal Family obsessives know where to get their fix. Look no further than British Isles (2366 Rice Blvd. Ste B), which carries a wealth of goods, from tea (of course), to the Potters (both Harry and Beatrix). Family-owned Surroundings (1708 Sunset Blvd.) has been around for 40 years. See why with their imported hand crafted items, one-of-a-kind art, and furniture from Houston’s own David Marsh, which goes like hotcakes.