Photo courtesy of The Woodlands Arts Council

Residents living in Baytown and The Woodlands have some of the best attractions in the state, offering some of the most unique experiences that every traveler should see for themselves. That's according to the 2023 Texas Travel Awards.

The Texas Travel Awards were created by Austin Monthly, San Antonio Magazine, and Texas Music publishers, and the winners are decided by a panel of industry professional judges, travel journalists, and a musician. 60 categories were chosen and split between statewide best attractions, and best attractions by population into three groups: small market, mid market, and big market.

In all, the Houston area won a total of five awards this year, which highlights just how positively travelers perceive the region.

The coastal city of Baytown, which is just 20 miles east of Houston, earned three accolades in this year’s awards. The Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom, which will take place from 5-10 pm on June 17, won the Best "Mid Market" Community Event. "Welcome 2 Houston" rapper Slim Thug is expected to perform at this year's festivities.

The winner of the Best "Mid Market" Under the Radar Activity is the Birding Boat Tour, and the Baytown Visitor Information Center won the Best "Mid Market" Visitor Center.

The Woodlands took home one award each in the by population and statewide categories. The city's annual Waterway Arts Festivalwas deemed the Best "Big Market" Art Festival or Event, and Market Street was named the Best Shopping District in the state.

For the second consecutive year, the Texas Travel Awards created People's Choice awards for the public to vote on the best destinations in four categories: arts and culture, families, foodies, and outdoor adventures.

Unfortunately for Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth-area cities swept in the People's Choice category. Dallas won the award for Best Destination for Arts and Culture, and Grapevine won the Best Destination for Families award. The outlying towns of Granbury and Mineral Wells took home the awards for Best Destinations for Foodies and Outdoor Adventures, respectively.

Elsewhere in Texas, the Hill Country city of New Braunfels just outside San Antonio took home 12 awards, the most out of any Texas city in this year's rankings.

The full list of winners in the 2023 Texas Travel Awards can be found on their website.
Photo courtesy of Theatre Under The Stars

Theatre Under The Stars presents 2023 Tommy Tune Awards

The Tommy Tune Awards offers an opportunity for students and educators to share their creative accomplishments while instilling in young people the value of engaging in the performing arts as a lifelong pursuit.

Every year, Houston-area high schools produce a full-length musical in order to compete in 17 categories: Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Lead, Outstanding Supporting, Outstanding Singer, Outstanding Actor, Outstanding Dancer, Honorable Mention, Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Technical Achievement, Outstanding Scenic Designer, Outstanding Costume Designer, Outstanding Lighting Designer, Outstanding Stage Manager, Outstanding Musical Director, Outstanding Orchestra, Outstanding Choreographer, and Outstanding Director.

Photo by Julie Soefer

Here are the winners of best restaurant, chef, and more in CultureMap's 2023 Tastemaker Awards

Your attention please...

On Thursday, April 13, CultureMap held the awards ceremony for the 2023 Tastemaker Awards. Below are the winners in all 11 categories.

A panel of judges made up of local restaurant industry experts selected 10 of them, and CultureMap readers picked the winner of Best New Restaurant via a bracket-style, head-to-head tournament.

Most of these awards have “of the year” appended to them to acknowledge that they recognize the best of what’s happening in Houston right now. Even as we celebrate the winners’ achievements, we recognize that all of them have more to do. We admire their dedication to their craft, their grace under pressure, and their desire to improve. In a city with thousands of restaurants and bars, these are the best of the best.

Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year - Craft Pita
Certainly, much of Craft Pita’s success can be attributed to its high quality Lebanese cuisine that mixes locally-sourced ingredients with a few tastes of Lebanon, including olive oil sourced from relatives of owner Rafael Nasr. Despite the fast casual service model, diners receive a high level of service throughout their meal. Craft Pita’s employees genuinely seem happy to work there, which makes customers’ experiences a little more pleasant. No wonder it has already grown to two locations — with the distinct possibility of more to come.

Bar of the Year - Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar and Spirit Lodge
At a time when almost all of the other bars that opened on Main Street in 2013 and 2014 have changed hands, Bad News Bar (as it’s commonly known) endures. Houstonians keep walking through the unmarked door and climbing the narrow staircase for lots of reasons — great drinks, obviously, but also an incredibly deep, well-priced selection of spirits and bartenders who take their craft seriously. Whether popping in for happy hour during the week or coming in during a busy Saturday night, customers will find Houston’s best Old Fashioned and lots of other great drinks to lift their spirits.

Bartender of the Year - Kristine Nguyen, Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar
Speaking of long overdue recognition, our judges have selected this Houston hospitality veteran who has been previously nominated for her work at Nancy’s Hustle. As Nguyen shared in the Bartender of the Year article, she sees her role as facilitating her customers’ good times. She has suggestions about what people should drink, but only if they ask — which people definitely should, since the next cocktail or spirit someone tries at Bad News Bar could be their new favorite.

Wine Program of the Year - Nancy’s Hustle
As CultureMap wine columnist Chris Shepherd explained, Nancy’s Hustle’s wine list has been precisely curated by sommelier Justin Vann to pair well with its eclectic menu of butter-drenched comfort food. “Fun and funky, from sherry to orange wines to cider, the focus here is natural for sure,” he wrote. That focus, and the joy the restaurant’s entire front of house staff takes in sharing their favorite selections with customers, helped them secure this year’s award. Hopefully, it also earns Nancy’s the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program.

Pastry Chef of the Year - Shawn Gawle, Goodnight Hospitality
On a recent episode of CultureMap’s What’s Eric Eating podcast, Goodnight Partners Felipe Riccio and June Rodil shared what makes Gawle, the group’s executive pastry chef, so special. Here are their (lightly edited) replies:

Felipe Riccio: I don’t think we’d be where we’re at if Shawn weren’t part of the team. He really has pushed everyone to create more and to be attentive. His attention to detail is incredible. We are very lucky that June had a relationship with him, and that he was willing to come to Houston. I’ve relied on him a ton.

June Rodil: I met Shawn when he was working with my best friend at Robuchon in New York. This is the second time we’ve worked together. I’ve never seen so much growth in somebody in the almost five years we’ve been working together. He’s done the work, both at our place of our business and within himself. It’s been awesome to see.

Best Burger - Burger Bodega
It seems very 2023 that Houston’s most talked about new burger joint would be developed by one of the city’s most prominent food influencers. Abbas Dhanani, known for his houstoneatz accounts, rigorously researched every aspect of a classic smash burger, carefully developing the right size patty, properly tart pickles, appropriately tangy sauce, and, most importantly, the best smash technique for developing the crispy edges that add texture. Add in the restaurant's chopped cheese sandwich, craveable milkshakes, and a stylish, photo-worthy design, and it’s no wonder Burger Bodega regularly has a line out the door.

Best Pop-Up - Khói Barbecue
Pitmaster Don Nguyen’s Vietnamese-influenced barbecue concept has come a long way since he started serving beef rib nigiri under a tent at local breweries. Now, Nguyen, who reached the finals of season three of the Food Network show BBQ Brawl, draws crowds of smoked meat obsessives for signature items such as brisket pho and beef rib curry. He's achieved enough success that his curry barbecue sauce is bottled for use at home.

Khói acquired property north of downtown where its hosted pop-ups with two of Austin’s top barbecue joints — LeRoy & Lewis and Interstellar BBQ. Could it become the home of a permanent restaurant? Only time will tell.

Best New Restaurant - Aiko
In the end, our Best New Restaurant tournament came down to a battle of Washington Avenue — Aiko vs Burger Bodega. Readers preferred the casual sushi restaurant known for its affordable omakase to the smash hit smash burger concept. We suggest celebrating the victory by visiting Aiko during its new happy hour, which features $25 and $45 omakase menus that are served daily from 5-6:30 pm.

Rising Star Chef of the Year - Emmanuel Chavez, Tatemó
Chavez might be the Larry David of Houston’s food scene. Not because he’s grouchy or self-centered — he’s actually very self-deprecating and quick to give both his team and partner Megan Maul credit for their roles in Tatemó’s success. Rather, just like Curb Your Enthusiasm makes Seinfeld seem a little less interesting, eating Chavez’s nixtamal creations makes everyone else’s tortillas seem a little bland by comparison. How does he get so much corn flavor and essence into every bite? Whatever sorcery is involved, we hope he follows this award with the James Beard Award for America’s Best New Restaurant.

Chef of the Year - Mark Clayton, Squable
Editor’s note: We asked Squable partner Justin Yu to explain what impresses him about Clayton's work. His (lightly edited) response is as follows:

Mark modernizes classics based on his history of cooking in fine dining in three cities — New Orleans, Portland, and Houston — and travels in Europe. His attention to detail on those very normal, overlooked flavors and textures on dishes that most diners take for granted that makes his food sing: adding pickle backs pulled from his kitchen larder to raw oysters; adding a cheesy, queso-y spread of raclette to Squable’s famous French Cheeseburger; and crisping his meticulously-built lasagna on the griddle so that all the bites can taste like the corner piece,

Mark leads by example, with a calm intensity and reverence for excellent technique. You’ll find him expediting on the line as much as he’ll also be cooking alongside his cooks at brunch and helping the dishwasher get out of a bind when it gets busy. Mark is a chef’s chef, the hardest worker and an example that people look up to.

Restaurant of the Year - Bludorn
If the only thing chef Aaron Bludorn, his wife Victoria Pappas Bludorn, and their business partner/operations director Cherif Mbodji accomplished at their Montrose-area restaurant consisted of discovering Houstonians’ limitless appetite for lobster pot pie, smart wines, and warm hospitality, it would have been enough to earn citywide recognition. Instead of only focusing on their own success, they’ve gone above and beyond by hosting collaboration dinners with chefs from across the country, raising money for nonprofits such as the Southern Smoke Foundation and World Central Kitchen, and generally using Bludorn’s growing national reputation to shine a spotlight on Houston. Taken together, they’re setting a high standard for community involvement and raising the bar for what a Houston restaurant is capable of. That’s why Bludorn is the Restaurant of the Year.

Bludorn exterior
Photo by Julie Soefer

Restaurant of the Year, Bludorn.

Photo by Daniel Ortiz

CultureMap Tastemaker Awards

The CultureMap Tastemaker Awards is the annual celebration of Houston's top restaurant and bar talent, as selected by their peers. The mission is to shine a spotlight on the people making the local restaurant scene special and honor their innovation, energy, and creativity.

The Tastemaker Awards features a signature tasting event and awards ceremony. Guests can celebrate all of the nominees while sampling bites and sipping specialty drinks along the way.

Courtesy of Street to Kitchen

3 Houston chefs and restaurants named James Beard Award finalists

James Beard Finalists 2023

Three Houston chefs and restaurants are in the running for one of the food world’s most prestigious prizes. The James Beard Foundation has selected them as finalists for their annual Restaurant and Chef Awards.

Considered the Oscars of the food world, the awards recognize chefs and other culinary professionals in a wide range of categories ranging from Outstanding Chef to Best New Restaurant. Texas is considered its own region and one person will earn Best Chef: Texas.

The Houstonians in the running for national awards are:

  • Best New Restaurant: Tatemó
  • Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program: Nancy’s Hustle

Six other Texan restaurants and chefs are in the running for national awards:

  • Outstanding Bar: Las Ramblas, Brownsville
  • Outstanding Bakery: Kuluntu Bakery, Dallas
  • Outstanding Bakery: La Casita Bakeshop, Dallas
  • Best New Restaurant: Restaurant Beatrice, Dallas
  • Best New Restaurant: Don Artemio Mexican Heritage, Fort Worth
  • Outstanding Restaurant: Lucia, Dallas

The finalists for Best Chef: Texas are:

  • Reyna Duong, Sandwich Hag, Dallas
  • Benchawan Jabthong Painter, Street to Kitchen, Houston
  • Emiliano Marentes, ELEMI, El Paso
  • John Russ, Clementine, San Antonio, TX
  • Ernest Servantes and David Kirkland, Burnt Bean Co., Seguin, TX

Notably, all of this year’s finalists for both the national categories and Best Chef: Texas are new. None of them received nominations in 2022.

The finalists are drawn from a pool of semifinalists that included 10 nominations each for Houston and Dallas, seven for San Antonio, six for Austin, and two for Fort Worth.

Last year, Texans did well in the awards, with Houston cocktail bar Julep winning Outstanding Bar Program, Austin chef Edgar Rico (Nixta Taqueria) winning Emerging Chef, and Austin chef Iliana de la Vega (El Naranjo) winning the first ever Best Chef: Texas. In addition, two Texans won media awards — Austin chef Jesse Griffiths (Dai Due) for his cookbook, The Hog Book: A Chef’s Guide to Hunting, Butchering and Cooking Wild Pigs and Texas Monthly taco editor Jose Ralat for his Tex-Mexplainer columns.

The Foundation will reveal its Restaurant and Chef Award winners at an awards ceremony on Monday, June 5, 2023, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Media Award winners will be announced on June 3.

Benchawan Painter
Courtesy of Street to Kitchen

Benchawan Jabthong Painter, Street to Kitchen.

Photo courtesy of Frisco Bar & Grill

From piano bars to speakeasy stages, where to find live music in Frisco

Turn It Up

On May 11, 2023, country music's top stars are taking over Ford Center at The Star in Frisco for the Academy of Country Music Awards. This is the awards show's grand return to Texas, having last been hosted here eight years ago in Arlington.

This new pairing of Frisco and the ACM Awards makes a lot of sense, as Frisco is recognized as a Music Friendly Community by the Texas Music Office — meaning Frisco is serious about attracting and developing the growth of the music industry.

If you’re headed to town for the ACMs or just want to know where you can find live music on your next trip to Frisco, check out the hot spots below.

At The Star in Frisco

Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar(music Thursday-Saturday): The recently opened Frisco location of this beloved bar (now with food) features a high-spirited show with talented players performing all the greatest hits. Attendees are encouraged to sing and dance their hearts out to rock classics, pop chart-toppers, and karaoke standards.

Concrete Cowboy (Regular events and live music often, check website for schedule): This industrial-chic hangout at The Star in Frisco features live music and DJs. Attention, night owls: It’s one of the few nightlife spots in Frisco open until 2 am.

In the Rail District

Didi’s Downtown (music Wednesday-Sunday): Whether on the patio or inside, there’s always good food and great tunes served up at Didi’s. A bonus is the heated enclosed patio, making this destination an excellent choice year-round.

eight | 11 place (music Wednesday-Saturday): This locally owned wine bar and kitchen boasts cozy fire pits outside, live music, and wine flights. Sit for a spell if you want to be entertained by local, emerging artists who fit the vibe of the intimate and rustic setting.

Frisco Rail Yard (music Friday-Sunday): An open-air concept with food trucks, outdoor games, and a covered bar that's great for families and casual hang-outs with friends.

The Nack Theater (check website for schedule): This 200-seat theater hosts concerts featuring everything from local talents to world-renowned artists and bands.

All around town

The Revel Patio Grill (Weekly events and live music, check website for schedule): Turns up the volume with live party and rock bands, tribute bands, karaoke, and dueling piano duets in this large venue that has plenty of room for dancing.

The Frisco Bar & Grill (Karaoke Wednesday and Saturday; live music Friday): Don’t let the name "bar" fool you — there's excellent food to be found in this casual-yet-classy space, along with a variety of music.

Rare Books Bar (Weekly live music, check website for schedule): This secret speakeasy inside J. Theodore serves up rare whiskey, craft cocktails, and interesting reads. Check the social media pages before visiting so you know what book to ask the librarian for to gain entry.

Bottled in Bond Cocktail Parlour & Kitchen (Weekly live music, check website for schedule): Niche cocktail parlor and kitchen with a focus on bold cocktails, this is a great environment for casual dinner dates, small groups, and late-night imbibing.

The Green Gator (Weekly live music, check website for schedule): A Cajun-themed restaurant and bar located near Toyota Stadium, it's the perfect place to take in live music before a FC Dallas game.

The Westin Dallas Stonebriar Golf Resort & Spa (Music Friday and Saturday): Revel in the sounds of live music with plenty of eats and drinks on hand at Beans and Barrel, located inside The Westin Dallas Stonebriar Golf Resort and Spa.


Find more fun in Frisco by visiting here.

Musicians at Frisco Bar & Grill

Photo courtesy of Frisco Bar & Grill

Experience a variety of music at the casual-yet-classy Frisco Bar & Grill.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Disney's Little Mermaid remake goes swimmingly despite new so-so songs

Movie review

The biggest problem with the majority of the live-action updates to classic Disney animated films is that they haven’t been updates at all, choosing to merely regurgitate the moments audiences know and love from the original in a slightly repackaged form. That’s great for nostalgia, but if that’s all viewers wanted, they’d just go back and watch the original.

The Little Mermaid falls into much the same trap, although the filmmakers get at least a little credit for trying to offer something new. The story, of course, remains the same, as Ariel (Halle Bailey) has a fascination with everything above the surface of the ocean. Her rebellious nature, at odds with strict King Triton (Javier Bardem), leads her to spy on a ship with Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) and his crew, putting her in position to save Eric when the ship crashes into rocks.

Now totally enamored of Eric, Ariel is convinced by the sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) to give up her voice for a chance to live on land and make Eric fall in love with her. Trouble is, despite the help of Sebastian the crab (Daveed Diggs), Flounder the fish (Jacob Tremblay), and Scuttle the seabird (Awkwafina), Ursula has no plans to let Ariel succeed fair and square.

Directed by Rob Marshall and written by David Magee, the film clocks in at nearly one hour longer than the original, going from 83 minutes to 135. They accomplish this feat with the addition of several songs, including ones “sung” by Ariel while she is without voice, a relatively clever way to get into her thoughts during that long stretch. There are also additional scenes that give Prince Eric more of a backstory, making him more than just a pretty face on which to hang all of Ariel’s hopes and dreams.

The new songs are hit-and-miss; Ariel’s “For the First Time” is a fanciful number that fits in nicely, but “Wild Uncharted Waters,” a solo song for Prince Eric, feels unnecessary, and the less said about “The Scuttlebutt,” a rap performed by Scuttle and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the better. What most people want to see are how the original songs are done, and they come off well for the most part. The actors’ voices are uniformly good and the staging is engaging.

Other changes seem half-hearted, at best. A vague environmental theme broached at the beginning is quickly dropped. The cast is very multicultural, but haphazardly so. The film is obviously set on and around a Caribbean island, making it natural for The Queen (Noma Dumezweni), Eric’s adopted mother, and other islanders to be Black. But giving Ariel “sisters from the seven seas,” allowing for mermaids of several different races and ethnicities, feels odd and forced, and a little creepy given that King Triton is supposed to be the father of all of them.

The fact that Bailey herself is Black, while great for representation, is neither here nor there in the context of the film. Bailey has a voice that is equal to everything she is asked to sing, and her silent acting is excellent in the middle portion of the film. McCarthy makes for a great Ursula, bringing both humor and pathos to the role. Hauer-King, who bears a similarity to Ryan Gosling, plays Eric in a more well-rounded manner.

The live-action version of The Little Mermaid, like almost all of the Disney remakes, never truly establishes itself as its own unique thing. Still, it’s a thoroughly pleasant watch with some nice performances, which clears the bar for success for this era of Disney history.


The Little Mermaid opens in theaters on May 26.

Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid

Photo courtesy of Disney

Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid.

New Jersey-based Viet-Cajun seafood restaurant steams up first Houston location with crawfish, po-boys, and more

be nice to the crabs

A New Jersey seafood restaurant has debuted in West Houston. Nauti Crab is now open in the former Hank’s Cajun Grill space at 11660 Westheimer Rd.

Open since 2016 in Metuchen, New Jersey, Nauti Crab owner Ryan Mai has chosen Houston as the next outpost for his Viet-Cajun fare. The restaurant specializes in boiled seafood such as crawfish, shrimp, mussels, crab, and lobster paired with different sauces and spices.

“Continuing our incredible journey started in New Jersey; we are excited to bring our unique flavors and unforgettable dining experience to seafood enthusiasts in Houston,” Mai said in a statement. “We chose Houston as a second location because Houston is one of the most diverse food cities in the United States. Houstonians are passionate about Cajun cuisine, just like we are! Houston is a perfect match to continue the Nauti Crab brand.”

Meals at Nauti Crab are built around boiled seafood. Diners may select different shellfish such as lobster, king crab legs, Dungeness crab clusters, blue crab, shrimp, and crawfish. From there, choose one of five flavors, including the signature Nauti Cajun that blends garlic butter, lemon pepper, and Cajun spices. Finally, select a spice level (ranging from mild to extra hot) and optional add-ons such as corn, potatoes, garlic noodles, or andouille sausage.

The menu also includes appetizers such as wings, fried calamari, and shrimp tacos. Nauti Crab offers sandwiches like the shrimp po’ boy and crab rolls as well as rice and noodle dishes including Dungeness crab over garlic noodles and shrimp fried rice.

Pair them with drinks from the full bar, including wine, beer, cocktails, and sodas. Sit at the bar to follow sports on the restaurant’s flatscreen TVs.

Nauti Crab comes to Houston after having been well received in New Jersey. The restaurant maintains a solid 4.7 stars on OpenTable and 4.5 stars on Yelp.

Nauti Crab food spread

Photo by Rebekah Flores

Nauti Crab offers different varieties of boiled seafood.

To celebrate its grand opening, Nauti Crab will be offering a 10-percent discount on Saturday, June 3. In addition, a DJ will play music and giveaways will take place throughout the day. After that, the restaurant will be open Monday-Friday from 3-10 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 am - 10 pm.

Houston scores surprise spot in new ranking of top summer travel destinations for 2023


We now know that Houston has seen one of the biggest gains in new residents in the U.S. But how high does the rest of the nation rank our fair city as a place to visit?

Perhaps not as high as we may think, per a new list of the best places to visit in the summer. Houston comes in at a surprising No. 38 out of 100 of the largest metro areas in America, according to the 2023 edition of WalletHub’s report.

The report compared the cities across 41 metrics, including number of attractions.

Taking the top spot in Texas San Antonio at No. 11, with Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown at No. 14. Behind Austin and San Antonio in the 2023 rankings is El Paso (No. 18), Houston (No. 38), Dallas-Fort Worth (No. 45), Corpus Christi (No. 62), and McAllen (No. 86).

Dr. Susan Weidmann, assistant professor in the department of recreational management and physical education at Appalachian State University, said in the report that summer 2023 is going to be a “good season for travel” despite recent economic downturns that have many worried about a recession.

“Coming out of Covid, I think many people have taken these last few years to really evaluate what they want out of life, and for those that love travel, I think they have probably put it at the top of their list of things to do,” she said. “As far as economics are concerned, many may have saved their traveling money from the last multiple years, so will have money to spend. That being said, after the airline chaos of last year, many people may be thinking about domestic travel over the long-haul, just to alleviate many of the concerns that airlines, especially in Europe, are still grappling with, such as reduced staffing leading to flight cancellations.”

Dr. Weidmann predicts the time period between July and early August will be the most popular season for National Parks, like Texas’ Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains.

Despite none of them being in Texas, the top 10 destinations in WalletHub’s report are all popular cities worth a glance in sun-friendly states like Hawaii, New York, and Florida.

The top 10 best summer destinations are:

  • No. 1 – Atlanta
  • No. 2 – Honolulu, Hawaii
  • No. 3 – Washington, D.C.
  • No. 4 – Wichita, Kansas
  • No. 5 – New York City
  • No. 6 – Chicago
  • No. 7 – Tampa, Florida
  • No. 8 – Orlando, Florida
  • No. 9 – Richmond, Virginia
  • No. 10 – Springfield, Missouri

The full report can be found on WalletHub’s website.