Around the World in Houston: Discover the Balkans

around-the-world-in-houston-the-balkans
Photo courtesy of Houston Slavic Heritage Festival

With a labyrinth of cultures represented in every nook and cranny of town, Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. To celebrate this world-class melting pot, we’ll be exploring a new region of the globe through a Houston lens each week, from annual festivals and museums to restaurants and cultural experiences. Join the journey with our Around the World in Houston series.

Also referred to as the Balkans, the countries in the Balkan Peninsula include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia, plus portions of Greece and Turkey. From Croatian, Greek, and Turkish festivals to restaurants rocking real deal Bosnian cuisine, here’s how to explore the various cultures of the Balkans in Houston.

Note: Some Balkan countries have a large presence in Houston. For an even deeper look, check out our guides to discovering Greece and Turkey.

Annual Festivals & Cultural Events

Cultural Organizations

  • Albanian-American Association of Greater Houston – Connect with the Albanian community of Houston and the surrounding area.
  • American Turkish Association Houston – This local nonprofit was founded in 1979, offering a variety of social, educational, cultural, and charitable activities and aiming to provide assistance to Turkish citizens living in Houston.
  • Hellenic Cultural Center of the Southwest – The Hellenic Cultural Center of the Southwest strives to promote the rich history and legacy that Hellenes have given to civilization, focusing on contributions to language, government, arts, architecture, athletics, science, medicine, and philosophy. Look out for educational and cultural programs; film presentations; lectures, exhibitions and classes; and celebration dinners, movie screenings, and meet-ups.
  • Raindrop Turkish House – Founded by Turkish-Americans in Houston in 2000, this nonprofit women’s association now operates in six states: Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and New Mexico. The foundation aims to cultivate friendship and promote understanding of diverse cultures, establishing bridges between the Turkish and American cultures and communities by providing easily accessible educational, social, and cultural services. Register for cooking and language classes, coffee nights and more.

Balkan Food & Drink

Restaurants & Cafes

  • Agora – This Greek-inspired coffee shop and wine bar is the perfect place to unwind with an espresso or glass of Greek wine alongside fresh pastries and imported snacks, chocolates, and Ports.
  • Alexander the Great Greek Restaurant – This Galleria/Uptown-area eatery focuses on traditional Greek flavors, with dishes including Greek-style hummus, tarama (red caviar), avgolemono soup, shrimp saganaki, and oven-baked katsikaki (goat). On Friday and Saturday nights, guests can enjoy ballroom and belly-dancing.
  • Café Adel – Head to Northwest Houston and you’ll find this Bosnian café, which offers authentic and homestyle classics from ćevapi (sausage) and pljeskavica (spiced meat patties typical in Bosnian and Serbian cuisine), ajvar (roasted red pepper dip), and japrak (stuffed leaves).
  • Cafe Pita – With locations on Richmond and Westheimer, this local favorite offers authentic Bosnian cuisine. The cevap sandwich (housemade sausage on lepinja bread) is a house specialty, and you’ll also find dishes like pljeskavica, Bosnian-style musaka, pirjan (stewed lamb shank), and goulash.
  • Empire Turkish Grill – This elegant Memorial restaurant offers a bouquet of Turkish flavors, with entrees from lamb sis kebab and filet mignon adana to erista Turkish pasta with kremali tavuk (chicken with cream), plus an $11.95 lunch special.
  • Helen Greek Food & Wine/Helen in the Heights – With locations in Rice Village and the Heights, these sister establishments dish out what many consider to be the best Greek food in the city. Star sommelier Evan Turner makes sure the Hellenic wine offerings are top-notch, while Chef William Wright aims to please with dishes like lemon-and-herb stuffed whole fish, feta-brined chicken and mussels and shrimp saganaki. The restaurants each have different menus and vibes, so be sure to check out both.
  • Istanbul Grill & Deli – Transport yourself straight to Istanbul at this charming Rice Village haunt, which offers dishes like mercimek (red lentil soup) and kelle paça (beef stew), döner and köfte sandwiches and kebab, lahmacun and pide (like Turkish pizza and calzone), and baklava and fιrιn sütlaç (rice pudding).
  • Nazif’s – This Galleria-area Turkish haunt is a choice spot for Sunday brunch where you’ll find live music, strong teas and coffees, and an impressive, buffet-style spread of traditional Turkish breakfast items. Lunch and dinner brings a la carte dishes like Turkish sausage pide, adana kebap, and mixed grill.
  • Pasha – Pasha has been serving locals Turkish and Mediterranean fare since 2004, with dishes including traditional Turkish red lentil soup, imam bayildi (stuffed eggplant), sigara börek (fried cheese pastry), doner and kofte kebab, alinazik (tender lamb over eggplant puree), manti (Turkish ravioli), menemen (an egg and vegetable dish), lahmacun (Turkish pizza), and kazandibi (a flan-like caramelized custard).
  • Turquoise Grill – Head to Sugar Land Town Square to find Turkish specialties like sigara boregi (fried cheese and phyllo rolls), haydari (yogurt dip), sujuk (dried beef sausage) shish kebab, and mini lahmajun (flatbread pizza).

Grocery Stores & Bakeries

  • K&V Bulgarian Market – This Bulgaria market offers a variety of grocery items, from deli meats and cheeses to snacks, condiments, baked goods and more.
  • Phoenicia Specialty Foods – Started over 30 years ago by Bob and Arpi Tcholakian (formerly of Lebanon and of Armenian descent), this bustling international market now hosts two locations. Both offer fresh produce, spices, meats and specialty items traditionally found in Balkan and Mediterranean cuisine, plus imports from Bulgarian feta to Romanian and Croatian wines.
  • Golden Grain – This Russian food emporium carries a host of delicacies from across Europe, carrying over 5,000 products from 25 countries. Shop for gourmet foods, including Bosnian and Bulgarian deli meats, Romanian feta, and European beer and wines.
  • Russian General Store – As the name suggests, this Hillcroft shop carries largely Russian goods, but you’ll also find a host of delicacies from all over Europe, including deli meats and cheeses, teas and coffees, gourmet snacks, and specialties like Romanian wine.

Language Classes, Education Centers, Groups & Meet-Ups

  • Berlitz – This language learning center offers flexible programs for adults and children, with languages from Croatian to Serbian.
  • The Annunciation Greek Language and Culture School – Founded in 1918, this “after-school” program strives to teach the Greek language, history, and culture to children of pre-elementary, elementary and middle school age. The School is especially (but not exclusively) geared towards American children of Greek ancestry and also offers classes for teens and adults.
  • Bulgarian School in Houston – The Elin Pelin Foundation promotes Bulgarian cultural traditions and national heritage, uniting the Bulgarian community in the greater Houston area, including its unique natural customs and native language. The nonprofit provides educational classes to children and adults as wells as other social and networking events.
  • Croatian School of Houston – This nonprofit school educates children in the Houston area about Croatian culture and language, preserving Croatian cultural traditions like traditional folklore song and dance.
  • Turks in Houston – This Facebook group connects Turks living in and around the Houston area.
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Brooke Viggiano is a food and lifestyle writer residing in Houston. When she's not contributing to publications like 365 Things to Do in Houston, Thrillist Houston and the Houston Press, she's on the hunt for the coolest happenings in the city. You can follow her musings on Twitter @BrookeViggiano .