Ethnic Market Tour Houston – Mexican Markets
A year or so back, I had the pleasure to put together a little tour of my favorite places for Mexico related food and shopping here in Houston for my friend, Mely Martinez.
Mely and her husband and son had decided to come down to Houston for a few days of vacation. Now, Houston is not really a tourist destination in my opinion; compared to, say, Austin or San Antonio. We do have some wonderful museums and some outsider art venues that are world class. But, Houston is kind of a business and industry kind of place.
However, Houstonians have found that the best way to socialize with friends is over food and this, plus the incredible multi-culturalism of Houston has led to a city with amazing selections of places to dine, of every ethnicity and of every price range.
Whole areas of our town have sprung up around dining:
Bellaire Boulevard – Chinese and Vietnamese (incorporating Beechnut and Bissonnet now)
Hillcroft Street – Indian and Pakistani primarily, but also Persian and Middle Eastern
Long Point Road – Korean and Central American
Airline Drive – Mexican
Harrisburg – Mexican
Scott / Cullen / OST – African-American
But on this particular meet-up with Mely (Facebook friends for several years, first physical meeting), we focused on Mexico!
Our tour began on Airline Drive, and this is the route that I am mapping out for you today:
El Bolillo Bakery (2518 Airline Drive) (www.elbolillo.com) - The person that started El Bolillo had a doughnut shop or two, originally in Galveston. His workers were from Mexico and one day they suggested to him that if he opened a Mexican bakery, they would join him and make all of the types of breads of Mexico. This is the default bakery for Mexican breads and your jaw will drop when you see the selection here. It is a beautiful venue and very pleasing to just hang out.
And then, a walk across the street to the former Canino’s Farmer’s Market complex (2520 Airline Drive). Canino’s had been Houston’s market since 1958. The Farmer’s Marketing Association was a private corporation whose shareholders are the original farmers or their descendants. As you walked through the complex, you could discover all things Mexican: dry goods like molcajetes, masa grinders, toys, piñatas, and more; food products associated with Mexico like dried chiles, huazontle, flor de calabaza, chepil, cilantro, tropical fruits and more. However, the complex was purchased in 2019 with the intention of converting the area into a new venue with restaurants or food courts. The good news is, many of the small merchants, the fruit and vegetable vendors are still there. And as of January 2020, I still shop there with my favorite vendors.
Next, cross back over the street to now renamed Granel Spices (formerly Flores Spices and still owned by the same family) (1299 Gibbs at Airline). Recently remodeled, the place looks fantastic. Here, you will find any spice you could think of and much more, in the way of specialty products. Special note: the Houston location of Penzey’s Spices is also located in the Heights at 516 W 19th Street.
And now, across the street again the El Rey Carniceria and Mercado (formerly Carniceria Teloloapan for shopping or something to eat (2430 Airline Drive). I've got to know the butchers recently when I went in for the meats needed to make an authentic posole and, discovered their fantastic made in house chorizo. Family recipe. Highly recommended.And then, next door to Reyes Produce (2426 Airline Drive) for a look see at their extensive collection of cookware, candies, dried chiles, and more.
Finishing up, we now head south on Airline for a stop at the local cheese purveyors: Houston Dairy Maids (2201 Airline Drive) (www.houstondairymaids.com)
And then, across the street to Tampico Seafood (2115 Airline Drive) (www.tampicoseafood.com) for a huachinango. You will pick your fish from their market section, which will then be grilled a la plancha style and served on a bed of grilled onions and bell peppers with a side of fries or fried rice (a Tampico tradition from the large Chinese population there). They have a full bar and other food choices too.
We continue south on Airline Drive crossing Cavalcade (just to the west on Cavalcade is the Asia Grocers, featuring Thai, Lao, Cambodian goods and serving food as well) and come to the best candy store, Delicias Mexicanas (1777 Airline Drive) (www.lasdeliciasmexicanas.com), your one stop shop for traditional Mexican candies including glorias, dulce de leche, cajeta, hard candies, candied fruits and more. Reyes Produce also carries sweets, so you can cost compare at both places if you wish.
Further south, where Airline Drive dead-ends into North Main, three recommended restaurants: Spanish Flowers Mexican Restaurant, Teotihuacan Mexican Restaurant, and Pinkerton’s Barbecue (quickly turning into one of the top five places for barbecue in Houston)
The tour is finished. Turning west on North Main will take you to the Heights via 20th and turning east will take you to I-45. Both of which will have even more interesting places to shop and eat. But we will save those for another time.