Around the World in Houston: Discover South America

Photo courtesy of Houston Brazilian 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.

This week, we’ll journey to South America for heritage festivals, language meetups, tango dancing, and traditional food and drink, from empanadas and bandeja paisa to pollo a la brasa and pão de queijo. For an in-depth look, check out our Around the World guides to Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.

Annual Festivals & Cultural Events

  • Houston Latin Fest Bringing together the cultures of the Caribbean and North, South and Central America, the Houston Latin Fest usually takes place in late summer, early fall.
  • Houston Latino Film Festival Enjoy cinema without borders at this non-profit film festival, which screens films from all over Latin America, as well as Spain, Portugal, and the U.S.
  • Brazilian Independence Day Celebration The Brazilian Foundation hosts an annual Brazilian Independence Day Celebration, honoring Brazil’s rich culture, history, and heritage through live music, art, food, and dance. The event is typically held in September, around Brazilian Independence Day (September 7).
  • Houston Brazilian Carnaval This annual Brazilian festival marks the beginning of Lent, with the celebration rocking live drummers, DJs, beads, feathers, samba dancing and more.
  • Houston Colombian Fest International This annual festival brings together Houston’s Colombian community in celebrating Colombian Independence Day, with food and drink, music and dance, and family-friendly activities.
  • Peruvian Festival Typically held the April or May, the Peruvian Festival celebrates Peruvian culture and heritage through Creole and Andean music, folk dance, arts and crafts, and traditional food.

Museums & Cultural Organizations

  • Latin American and Caribbean Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston This department boasts a core collection of modern and contemporary art with more than 550 emblematic from Mexico, Central, and South America, the Caribbean, and works by Latino artists in the United States.
  • Talento Bilingüe de Houston Located in the East End, this bilingual, non-profit cultural center strives to enhance Houston’s Latino arts experience through collaboration, education, and preservation.
  • Brazilian Arts Foundation Houston This nonprofit has been dedicated to community building and cultural education since its formation in 2001. In 2006, a cultural center was established in the historic Houston Heights. Activities everything from language lessons to capoeira (martial arts) programs and samba workshops, plus a Houston Brazilian Dance & Music Conference.
  • Brazilian Foundation Launched by a group of Brazilian friends in 2015, this local nonprofit focuses on art, cultural education, and information. Yearly activities include art exhibits, workshops, fundraising events, community media, scholarship and volunteer opportunities, and professional qualification courses. Look out for upcoming events on Facebook.
  • Casa Argentina de Houston With a mission of promoting the culture and traditions of Argentina and Latin America, as well as helping charities, this local non-profit puts on music and tango concerts, theatre productions, sporting events and historical celebrations of Argentinean culture throughout the year.

South American Food & Drink

Restaurants & Bars

  • 5411 Empanadas It’s all about empanadas at this Downtown tunnel hideaway, which feeds a hungry crowd during breakfast and lunch crowd on Monday through Friday. Get the baked goodies stuffed with deliciousness like Malbec beef, chorizo and patatas, and sweet corn.
  • Aji Peruvian Restaurant This westside spot showcases Peruvian flavors via dishes like Lomo a lo Pobre, a Peruvian-style beef tenderloin, served with fries, sweet plantains, steamed rice, and fried egg; Peruvian Seafood Rice, loaded with Peruvian aji sauce an steamed mussels, clams, squid, shrimp, and calamari; and Causa Limeña, a smashed potato dish layered with creamy chicken or shrimp salad.
  • Acai Brasil Owned and operated by a Brazilian couple, this local business strives to bring proper acai bowls from Brazil to Houston. You’ll also find authentic specialties like coxinha (savory croquettes), pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread), bolo de cenoura (Brazilian carrot cake), pao de mel (Honey Cake) and banana cake.
  • Andes Cafe – This colorful East End kitchen spans the lands of South America, meaning you can find authentic and delicious specialties from choripan sandwiches, morcilla (blood sausage) and Colombian-style hamburguesa to pollo a la brasa, lomo saltado, and arroz con coco (Venezuelan rice pudding).
  • Arepa Xpress Over in Spring, this daily café offers a variety of cachapas, patacon, tequeño, and arepas with queso de mano, ham and eggs, avocado and chicken salad, roast pork and more. Don’t miss the cachitos, Venezuelan-style kolache.
  • Argentina Cafe A little piece of Argentina in the heart of the Galleria, this café starts off bright and early with huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs) and toasted sandwiches de miga, with other offerings including homemade potato gnocchi, lomito plates, and pizzas topped with Argentinean sausage.
  • Avenida Brazil With locations in Clear Lake, Southwest Houston and The Woodlands, Avenida offers the traditional Brazilian churrascaria experience, plus specials like an authentic Brazilian feijoada for Sunday brunch.
  • Batanga This Downtown hangout offers Latin American tapas and exotic drinks, with live music and a killer patio to boot. Hit it to share plates of grilled beef skewers, yucca frites, and chicken empanadas.
  • Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse This Galleria-area Brazilian steakhouse rocks 12 cuts of meat (including the house specialty, picanha) and a garden-fresh salad bar.
  • Colombian Cuisine Restaurant This westside spot rocks traditions like arepa and tostones, sancocho de pollo soup, bandeja paisa platters, whole red snapper with creamy coconut, deep-fried tilapia, and lengua (tongue) in salsa criolla.
  • El Rincon Paisa Restaurante You’ll find authentic Colombian eats at this family-run restaurant, with offerings including breakfast places, morcilla con arepa, tamal, picada, mondongo (tripe soup), bistec a la criolla, mojarra frita (whole-fried tilapia) and Colombian albondigas (meatballs). Wash it down with natural juices, mazamorra, and aguapanela.
  • Emporio Brazilian Grill Enjoy classics from Brazilian feijoada, farofa, and shrimp muqueca to churrasco misto and Brazilian chicken strogonoff, plus a Saturday traditional feijoada buffet.
  • Fabian’s Latin Flavors Right near Market Square Park, this cool eatery boasts a Latin-inspired menu, with Colombian-style specialties including bandeja paisa and milhoja dessert.
  • Fogão Brazilian Churrasqueria This Montrose steakhouse is family owned and operated, offering fast casual, Brazilian Churrasqueria-style dining. Get pão de queijo, empadinha (Brazilian pot pie) and coxinha de frango (chicken croquettes) alongside a la carte meats or the endless Brazilian Market Bar.
  • Gran Colombia Restaurante Get traditions from morcilla (blood sausage) con arepa and shrimp in coconut sauce to bistek a la Criolla and milanesa at this Colombian restaurant on the northwest side of town.
  • Gordi’s Arepas & More Head to Downtown’s Conservatory food hall to enjoy handmade arepas with gourmet fillings from Berkshire pork belly and Venezuelan cheese to shredded flank steak and sweet plantain.
  • Gusto Gourmet You’ll find Venezuelan and Mediterranean fusion at this Montrose haunt, with Venezuelan specialties ranging from shredded chicken arepas and tequeños filled with guava and cheese to pabellón and quesillo (caramel flan).
  • La Guitarra Con Sazon Peruvian Cuisine Experience the diverse flavors of Peruvian cuisine, kissed with touches of Creole, African, native pre-Columbian, and Spanish. Dine on lomo and pollo saltado, pasta with creamy huancaina sauce, Peruvian beef heart skewers, and scratch-made ice cream in flavors like lucuma, guanabana, and maracuya (passion fruit).
  • La Fogata Restaurant On the southwest side of town, this Colombian restaurant offers traditional tastes from patacones (fried green plantains) to arroz con pollo.
  • La Olla Restaurant With locations in Katy, Spring and Southwest Houston, La Olla boasts a menu of Colombian-style specialties from bandeja paisa and arroz con camarones to chuleta a la calima and hamburgesa. Stop by for cheap lunch specials or feast at dinner.
  • La Ruana Restaurant Head to this westside hole-in-the-wall for traditional Colombian breakfast plates, soups, meats and seafood, bandeja paisa and more.
  • Latin Bites This family-owned and operated restaurant takes inspiration from the rich culinary landscape of South America and Perú. Bring friends to share small plates and traditional entrees, from anticuchos skewers marinated in Andean peppers to Peruvian ceviche with corn “cancha”; and be sure to check out happy hour for great deals on sips and bites.
  • Los Perros This Washington Ave food truck slings arepas, burgers, and loaded Colombian-style hot dogs.
  • Maison Pucha Bistro This Heights newcomer from chef-owner Manuel Pucha is the culmination of his 25-year culinary journey (which includes French restaurants in both New York and Houston). Here, Pucha reimagines French classics with a touch of his Ecuadorian heritage, from ceviche to Ecuadorian chocolate soufflé.
  • Mi Recuerdo Colombian & Mexican Restaurant This northwest restaurant mixes Colombian and Mexican fare, with offerings from arroz con camarones to tamal valluno.
  • Mi Pueblito With locations in Woodlake/Briar Meadow and Katy, this lively Colombian restaurant offers an authentic eats and fresh cocktails. Start with arepas, buñuelos, ceviches, and aborrajados (deep-fried sweet plantain), then move onto dishes like bandeja paisa (a rice, beans and meat plate with fried egg, plantain, avocado and corn patty), arroz con pollo, broiled whole snapper, coconut seafood stew and lengua en salsa criolla (Colombian-style tongue with Creole sauce). The eatery offers traditional breakfasts, desserts, and baked goods like arequipe and flan, too.
  • Mono’s Colombian Restaurant Dine on shrimp in coconut sauce, fried red snapper, and arroz con pollo at this Sharpstown Colombian spot.
  • The Original Marini’s Empanada House With two locations in town, Marini’s has become a Houston cult favorite. Visit for flaky empanadas loaded with everything from diced salami and raisins to fig, mozzarella, and walnuts. While you’re there, pick up some chimichurri and dulce de leche by the jar.
  • Paisa’s Twin Colombian Restaurant This westside spot offers authentic tastes like bandeja paisa, cazuelita de frijoles and lengua en salsa Criolla. Kids menus are also available, featuring baby bandeja plates, salchipapa and fries, and mini perro.
  • Palma de Cera Over at this Katy haunt, you’ll find dishes from Colombian-style empanadas and sanchocho de cola (oxtail soup) to pollo a la criolla and pargo rojo frito (whole-fried snapper).
  • Pampa Grill & Market You’ll find seriously good Argentinean steaks, milanesas, meats from the parrilla, choripanes, sweet and savory empanadas, provoletas and more at this family-run grill and market. Pick up some morcilla (blood sausage) to go from the small market section.
  • Patagonia Grill and Cafe – An elegant Argentine steakhouse experience can be had at this unassuming strip center spot. Start with a glass (or bottle) of wine and some chorizo criollo and grilled provoleta, then move on to porcini ravioles, grilled trout a la parrilla, and tira de asado (short ribs).
  • Pastelitos Cafe Experience Latin and European flavors at this Energy Corridor café, with house specials including Venezuelan pabellón criollo, arepas, and pastelitos (puff pastries) filled with things like black beans and sweet guava cheese.
  • Peru Café Express At this West University haunt, classic regional eats include huancaina-style yuca, Peruvian-style shrimp chowder, saltado de carne, and aji de gallina, to name a few.
  • Peru Gourmet Restaurant In southwest Houston, Peru Gourmet is a fan-favorite spot for pollo a la brasa, arroz chaufa, and saltado, offering family-style combos, lunch plates, and kids meals.
  • Pollo Bravo Peru meets Mexico at this local chain, with dishes ranging from Peruvian-style ceviche and spaghetti to its signature rotisserie chicken.
  • Pollos El Rancho Restaurant This restaurant is famous for its pollo a la brasa, served with fries and fresh salad; though you’ll find other traditional dishes from the Peruvian cuisine as well.
  • Saldivia’s South American Grill The flavors of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are on display here, as are the sounds (catch live tango and folklore music on Saturday nights).
  • Sal Y Pimienta Kitchen Wines from Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay mix and mingle alongside Italian, French and Californian numbers at this trendy South American kitchen. Sip some while you dine on creamed corn empanadas, charcuterie and cheeses from Argentina, Italy, and Spain, stuffed canelones, beef Milanese, and mollejas a la crema (veal sweetbreads in cream sauce).
  • Sur Latin Peruvian Cuisine Just west of George Bush Park, this strip center spot rocks ceviches, causa limeña, lomo saltado and more.
  • Tango & Malbec – Part Argentinean steakhouse, part sultry tango and wine bar, this Galleria-area favorite makes for the ultimate date night experience. Hit it to sip malbec, nosh on fresh ceviche, crispy mollejas, and tender steaks from the parrilla, and check out special events, including live Latin guitar, dance classes, professional tango dancing and more.
  • Tasty Arepa Find this food truck for some of the tastiest arepa in town.
  • Texas de Brazil Hit this Town & Country churrasqueria to fill (and refill) up on everything from to fresh Brazilian cheese bread and flan to hand-carved garlic picanha and moqueca fish stew.

Grocery Stores & Bakeries

  • Fiesta Mart With locations across Houston, Fiesta offers a lively atmosphere and no shortage of flavor. Shop for locally-sourced produce, fresh meats and seafood, housemade tres leches and baked goods, and grocery items like fruit nectars, frijoles, and yerba mate, the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil.
  • Houston Wine Merchant Stop by Houston Wine Merchant to pick up a bottle of Avua – Cachaça Amburana, a small batch, single sourced cachaca handcrafted by one of Brazil’s few female distillers.
  • Pan Riko Get buñuelos, almojábanas, and tamales tolimenses at this Colombian bakery and café.
  • Risaralda Bakery Hit this bakery for pan de queso, buñuelos, pan aliñado, breakfasts, and natural fruit juices and coffees.
  • Sweets by Belen Opened in 2016 by Peruvian-born Belen Bailey, this small Hillcroft bakery takes you to Peru and through South America with a treasure trove of desserts. Get lucuma and cherimoya ice cream, milhojas filled with dulce de leche cream, rice pudding, flan and more.
  • Tuttopane Artesanal Bakery and Café This Venezuelan bakery and café offers treats like canilla bread, baguette, and sweets like Golfeados (Venezuelan sticky buns). You’ll also find breakfast and lunch plates, from cachitos and arepas to soups to scrambles.

Language Classes, Education Centers, Groups & Meet-Ups

  • Habla Houston Learn to speak Spanish through weekly classes, interactive meetups and more.
  • Spanish over Coffee Brush up on your Spanish language skills with all-level classes that help you learn through conversation. Program experiences include dinner parties, game nights, scavenger hunts, and grocery shopping.
  • CCLS Portuguese Language School Houston Develop fluency in Brazilian Portuguese through the interactive program at this language school.
  • Portuguese and Brazilian Meetup Network and converse with fellow Brazilian expats and Portuguese language speakers.
  • Latin Women’s Initiative This nonprofit organization strives to make difference in the lives of Latin women and their families by providing both financial and volunteer support to several local nonprofit organizations in the Houston community.
  • Brazilian Friends in Houston Join this closed Facebook group to connect with over 2,000 members in the Houston area.
  • Tepuy Venezuelan Community of Houston This non-profit organization celebrates Venezuelan traditions, roots, and culture in Houston-Texas. The group is open to everyone, offering cultural and community programs.
  • Houston Argentine Tango School – With classes held at the Continental MECA (Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts) building in the Sawyer Heights area, this tango school offers an escape from the daily grind and intro into creative movement. Beginner, midway, and advanced lessons are available.
  • Houston Tango Join a vibrant community of tango enthusiasts with this local Facebook group, which covers everything from dance workshops to tango shoe pop-ups.

Other Notables

  • BBVA Compass Stadium Fútbol fans can get their fix at this EaDo soccer stadium, home to both the Houston Dynamo and the Houston Dash.
  • Minute Maid Park Fans of Venezuela’s most popular sport can get their baseball fix by catching an Astros game at Minute Maid Park.
  • Club Tropicana Dance the night away to Latin music at this popular nightclub, which hosts musical acts, DJs, and specials like ladies night.
  • Colombian Folkloric Ballet Formed in 1983, this non-profit ballet company promotes and preserves Colombian culture among the youth of the growing Colombian community of the Greater Houston area. The group puts on folkloric ballet performances, workshops, and community outreach programs throughout the year.
  • El Venezolano de Houston This Houston-based media company offers print and online publications that inform, connect and engage with Hispanics in Houston and near areas. Lookout for a lineup of events, including social mixers.
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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 .