Around the World in Houston: Discover the American Midwest

Photo courtesy of Chicago Italian Beef & Pizza

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.

From iconic Windy City classics to Midwest favorites like cheese curds, here’s how to experience a bit of America’s Heartland in Houston.

Arts & Culture

  • Cloud Column at MFAH Chicago may have its famous Cloud Gate (aka “the bean”) in Millennium Park, but did you know that its artist Sir Anish Kapoor also created a soaring structure dubbed Cloud Column. You can now find the two-story tall, stainless steel sculpture capturing its surrounding landscape at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston between the Glassell School of Art and the Cullen Sculpture Garden.
  • Houston Polish Festival With Polish heritage having a large presence in the Midwest, hit this family-friendly festival to celebrate Polish heritage and culture through food and drink (from pierogi and golabki to kielbasa and scratch-made desserts), traditional dress, music and dance and more. The festival takes place each spring, with a Polish Harvest Festival taking place in the fall.

Food & Drink

  • Barry’s PizzaThe deep dish pizza at Barry’s is fully Detroit-style, offering a rectangular pie with a thick, crisp crust and toppings from Italian sausage and mushrooms to salami and pepperoncini. Get it next to another Midwest favorite, toasted ravioli.
  • Chicago Italian Beef & PizzaTrue to its name, this family-owned Airline Drive spot serves up Chicago-style Italian beef and pizza. Get Italian beef sandwiches with sweet peppers and au jus, or go for deep-dish pies loaded with Italian sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, bell peppers and more.
  • Culver’s Get Butterburgers, fresh frozen custard, and Wisconsin cheese curds at this Midwest fast food chain, with locations in North Houston.
  • Falbo Bros PizzeriaHead to Sugar Land and you’ll find stuffed deep-dish pies at this pizzeria, which originally hails from Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers This Kansas-based chain has a number of Houston locations, offering Midwest classics like frozen custard, Chicago dogs, and fried cheese curds.
  • Gatlin’s Though its known for its Texas barbecue, you’ll find St. Louis-cut ribs at this Heights-area smokehouse.
  • GelazziGet a taste of the Windy City by way of the Houston at this Heights gelato shop, which serves deep-dish pizza pies from Chicago legend, Connie’s.
  • Good Dog Houston Both the Montrose and Heights locations offer a Chi-town hot dog, complete withfresh tomato slices, dill pickle slices, mustard, sweet relish, pickled Fresno peppers, and celery salt served on poppy seed bun. Tack on hand-cut fries, or if the weather permits, some Midwest-style beer cheese soup.
  • Houston Dairymaids Over in the Greater Heights, this local cheese purveyor offers a cherry-picked selection of cheese made in the U.S., with a focus on cheeses naturally made by hand and, when possible, from unpasteurized milk.
  • JCI Grill Hit this local chain to get Coney Island hot dogs, a Detroit specialty topped with a ground beef sauce, chopped onions and mustard. It also rocks Polish sausages and Chicago-style dogs.
  • King’s Biergarten/King’s BierHaus Locals can get their kielbasa on at both the Pearland biergarten or Heights bierhaus locations of this Bavarian-style bar and restaurant.
  • Little Bitty Burger Barn It’s not exactly the Minneapolis-born classic, but you’ll find a new take on the Jucy Lucy at this burger barn. The burger patty comes stuffed with blue cheese and jack cheese on the inside, giving it that signature Jucy Lucy ooze when you (carefully) go for a bite.
  • Midwest Coney Connection This local food truck promises the “Best Chili Cheese Coney in Houston.” Hit it to see why.
  • Pierogi Queen Eastern European cuisines, particularly Polish foods, are staples in Midwest cities like Cleveland and Detroit. At this League City spot, get pierogi
  • filled with potato and cheese, kraut and mushrooms, or meat; then choose your preparation, boiled with bacon, pan-fried with caramelized onion, or deep-fried and served with sauce. You’ll also find Polish specialties like kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, and crepes filled with Polish farmer’s cheese.
  • Pizaro’s PizzaYou’ll find crispy-crust, Detroit-style pan pizza at this Montrose pizza joint (alongside Neopolitan and New York styles, too).

Other Notables

  • Alumni Clubs and Meetups – Houston is a transplant city, so be sure to check out local meetup groups and college alumni clubs, with groups from Ohio State and Purdue to the Houston Illini Club.
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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 .