February 19, 2018
These neighborhood stewards told us why they’ve chosen to put down roots where they did.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD OPTIONS IN HOUSTON—huge, sprawling, diverse Houston—are seemingly endless. Choosing which part of town suits you best is a challenge, equal parts exciting and overwhelming. Maybe you’d do anything to avoid a hefty commute to your office in the Galleria. Maybe you’re all about the quality of your kid’s school. Maybe you want walkable access to your daily caffeine fix, or you want to know your neighbors intimately—or not at all.
Wherever your priorities lie, there’s probably a neighborhood in the area that’s perfect for you. This year, we narrowed down a list of our current favorites—just 10, in a sea of great possibilities—and showcased some of the people who call those ’hoods home. Both long-timers and newcomers, these neighborhood stewards told us why they’ve chosen to put down roots where they did. Before you log onto HAR.com, maybe you’ll find a Houstonian in these pages you relate to, giving insight into what might be the neighborhood of your dreams.
For more information on all 147 of Houston’s neighborhoods, including demographic data, market data, transportation data and school rankings, head to our Neighborhoods by the Numbers chart for 2017.
- Average home price: $675,000—$2.35 million
- Deciding factor: Family-oriented
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Ciro’s Italian Grill, CityCentre’s shops and restaurants, the private lakes at Sandalwood
PATTY BUSMIRE grew up in Houston and moved around a lot growing up—in areas including Boulevard Oaks, where she attended Edgar Allen Poe Elementary, then-brand-new Sharpstown, and Dickinson. In the late ’80s, she moved to Chicago for a decade with her then-husband, where she had two kids, Drew and Becky.
“Living in the inner city, it’s kind of hard to find playdates for your kids,” Busmire says. “You do whatever it is to try and find socialization for them. We’re not Jewish, but I took my son to the Jewish community center for his first social experience—he was doing Shabbat, and every Friday we had challah bread and the whole deal.”
When her family made the move back to Houston in 1997, Busmire wanted to live in a place that felt like the neighborhoods she grew up in. Her realtor, Amy Bernstein, took her to Sandalwood, an enclave near the Memorial Villages lined by three small connected lakes running along Buffalo Bayou.
“I walked along the lake trail and there was Easter grass, and I was so excited because it said to me, families are here,” she says. “And this neighborhood has proven to be just that—a throwback to the neighborhoods that I grew up in, where you played Kick the Can, and you went outside, and your friends were right down the street, and the kids go down to the lake on their bikes with their fishing pole over their shoulder.”
After her children, now 23 and 25, left for college, Busmire spent two years remodeling her lakeside mid-century modern home, while hewing close to the original architect’s intent. When she’s not running her business—Full Blown Dry Bar in the River Oaks Shopping Center—she’s entertaining guests for big dinners and pool parties. And even though she’s living solo in the house for now, she hopes her family will have a presence here for the long haul.
“I marveled when I moved here that people had moved back here and raised their kids in the schools that they grew up in. It’s just this love and loyalty to this area,” she says. “I hope my kids come back and raise their kids here. I hope one of them ends up in this house!”
Garden Oaks/Oak Forest
- Average home price: $250,000—$445,000
- Deciding factor: The neighborhood Montessori school
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Plonk! Wine Bar, Petrol Station, and Petrol’s Saturday Farm Stand
EMMA MOON was a divorced mother of a teenage daughter when, after living abroad for years, she returned to her hometown of Houston in 1999 and purchased a Montrose townhome. Then she met her husband, Ted, had another child, and put it back on the market. “We were starting all over,” she says, “so the townhome in Montrose wasn’t quite suiting us, and we were starting to think about schools.”
Their search started in the Heights, where they found the homes smaller than they’d like and largely out of their price range. “Someone told us about this neighborhood,” she smiles, sitting on the patio of Oak Forest wine bar Plonk and gesturing to the area beyond. “We came and checked it out and decided to move here, and pretty quickly fell in love with it.”
The Moons landed in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a pool, fruit trees and an organic garden in the backyard. A big selling point for her family was, indeed, the schools. Her 10-year-old son attends Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet, one of only three public Montessori schools in HISD. “That’s a big part of what brought me to this neighborhood. I love the idea of being involved with parents who would be willing to give of themselves to create something like that,” she says.
When Moon’s not running her events-planning business, she’s gardening in her backyard or selling pastured meat to her neighbors at the Farm Stand at Petrol Station. She loves that her son can go out and play with his friends without needing a ton of supervision. “It’s the mixture of urban life with a touch of suburbia,” she says. “I love being in a neighborhood where things are just a little bit slower.”
- Average home price: $216,000—$441,000
- Deciding factor: Diversity
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Sugar Land Town Square for shopping and events, Pappasito’s
TANZEEL MERCHANT spent most of her childhood in Sugar Land, where her mother and father, immigrants from Pakistan and India, respectively, raised her and her siblings. She attended the University of Houston, where she met her husband, Ibrahim Farhoud, himself an immigrant from Lebanon. After they married and started their own family, moving back to Sugar Land seemed like the obvious choice.
“We were living off San Felipe, and my daughter was 2 or 3. I was pregnant, and we needed more space,” she says. “It was for the kids. That whole suburb environment, it just makes a difference when you’re a parent. Plus, my parents live five minutes away.”
Merchant and her husband now have three girls, ages 7 to 12, and her parents stop by their five-bedroom, four-bathroom home in the Avalon at Telfair, a subdivision with six lakes connected by trails, at least once a week. “My kids get to get spoiled by their grandparents. My dad is absolutely adorable,” Merchant says, smiling. “He knows what everybody likes, and he’ll just show up at the house with everybody’s favorite ice cream.”
When her family’s not working or in school, they might be eating their weekly Wednesday-night dinner at Pappasito’s or catching an outdoor movie night at Sugar Land Town Square.
Merchant says her family adores living in the area because of the great schools, the sense of safety and security, and, most importantly to her, the wide range of people and cultures to which her kids are exposed.
“I love that it’s diverse—it’s a really big thing for me, especially with my girls,” she says. “Children are very impressionable, and being in this culturally diverse area, everybody’s happy, nobody’s self-esteem is being affected, everybody’s comfortable. It’s just a complete mix, and everybody loves everybody.”
- Average home price: $253,000
- Deciding factor: Eclectic, open-minded neighbors
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Villa Arcos, East End Farmers Market, Chocolate Wasted Ice Cream
In 2003, Ann Pinchak, then a 46-year-old immigration attorney and married mother of two, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “My life changed dramatically because of MS,” she says. “It got me to think. My life was stressed, and things didn’t fit.” After retiring from her law practice and realizing she was gay, Pinchak eventually left her husband and her neighborhood of Bellaire, where she’d raised her two children, already knowing exactly where she wanted to end up.
She’d first lived in, and loved, the East End while attending the UH Law Center from 1979 to ’82, and she’d always felt the neighborhood calling her. “With each time I left and came back, I was like, why did I ever leave the East End? It’s my heart and soul,” she says.
She bought an old house from the ’20s and renovated extensively, swapping out the plumbing and installing central air, among other things. “At first, my friends were like, what are you doing?, because the house needed a lot of work,” she laughs. “It had wall-to-wall shag carpet, the foundation was crooked, the plumbing consisted of all the original pipes.”
But beneath the shag carpet were beautiful hardwood floors, and the home’s 33 original windows, of all shapes and sizes, provide natural light and views to her favorite asset of the house—her neighbors. “The biggest thing for me is the people; I can stand right on my front porch and that’s, for me, an example of it,” she says. “My neighbor across the street is Hispanic, they’ve lived here 40 years, her mother makes tacos from scratch every Christmas, and they have me over. Next to her is an African American woman who’s a writer. The neighbor on the end is very active in the civic association.”
Pinchak spends her days gardening in her yard and handing out extra produce to passersby walking along her street’s promenade, or checking in with the vendors at the Sunday East End Street Market, where she’s a regular. Now that she’s found her way back to the neighborhood, she plans to stay put. “It’s diverse, it’s eclectic, it’s open-minded,” she says. “It’s just the most accepting neighborhood I’ve ever been in, and I’ve always felt alive here.”
- Average home price: $933,000
- Deciding factor: Peace and quiet
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Union Kitchen, Fadi’s Mediterranean Grill, walk and bike paths
In 2008, when Duane Brown was drafted as a left tackle for the Texans, he purchased a home in Bellaire, a short commute to his “office” at the NRG Stadium complex. Once his wife, Devi, joined him from New York four years later, they decided to search for a new house together.
“We were looking in Rice Village; we loved a lot of the properties there. We don’t want to be far out, so Sugar Land and Pearland were out of the question for us,” Devi says. “But the more we spent time here, the more I started to really love Bellaire. It’s an insulated place with its own vibe. And if I want to get to Rice Village, which I love for shopping,” she adds, “I can get there in seven to 10 minutes.”
The Browns stayed in the four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath house Duane had purchased, which was brand-new when he moved in, renovating the space with additions including a custom-made bed.
Devi—an on-air personality at iHeartRadio and owner of “retail and self-discovery brand” Karma Bliss—also loves her quick commute to the radio station in the Galleria area: the time it takes for two songs to play, she says.
When the couple isn’t hard at work, they’ll swing by the River Oaks District for a date night or catch a meal at nearby Union Kitchen. But mostly when they’re in Bellaire, they’re enjoying their peace and quiet. “We love to ride bikes around the neighborhood,” she says. “The streets are really beautiful, and the trees fold over into the street.”
Amenities are still accessible, in other words, even though the Browns have escaped the hustle and bustle. “It has a feel of being a sleepy suburban town, miles away from the chaos and a world away from the traffic,” Devi says. “This is our safe haven.”
- Average home price: $182,000-$335,000
- Deciding factor: Family life
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Local Table, El Tiempo
When David Underwood and his wife Lori were a young couple in the early 2000s, they called their Rice Military neighborhood “transitioning.” “Washington was not cool at the time,” he laughs. But once their daughter Ava was born, they realized they needed something else—more room to grow their family in a place oriented toward their kids.
“Rice Military is great for a young couple or singles, but at that time it wasn’t the best fit for us,” he says. “It was one of those situations—a little bit of desperation.”
Because Underwood, the CEO and co-founder of a local internet marketing company, works in the Galleria, they set their sights out west. “We were drawn to The Woodlands, to be frank, but logistically, with getting to my office, we were looking west,” he says. “Plus, Katy schools are great.”
The Underwoods landed in Cinco Ranch in 2004, a time when the now-exploding Katy master-planned community was already growing rapidly. Since then, they’ve added a new member to their family—their son Drew, who’s now 10—and built a house from the ground up.
The commute to the Galleria can be hairy, Underwood says, but he gets around it by heading in early for pre-work gym sessions and leaving the office before or after rush hour peaks. “Because I am an owner of my own company, I work around when traffic’s really bad,” he says. “And as a company, we allow individuals to come in early and leave at four.” Many employees who, like him, live outside the loop, do just that.
When he’s not working, Underwood’s attending A&M football games, where he’s a season-ticket holder, or hosting his best friends from college and their families, many of whom live nearby, for grilling and swimming. He helps coach his son’s basketball and football teams, and climbs the stands to watch his daughter play volleyball and soccer.
“Our kids really enjoy living here,” he says. “That’s the stage we’re at in our lives—our kids are growing in their social lives and playing sports, and they really fit in. They want to get on their bike and ride to their friend’s house and go swimming, and living here affords us the ability to do that.”
- Average home price: $445,000-$459,000
- Deciding factor: A house with a yard, inside the loop
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Eight Row Flint for margaritas (a favorite because they allow dogs), 19th Street for strolling and shopping, C&D’s Hardware, Buchanan’s Native Plants
Carlos Interiano and Christopher Lyons had been living in Montrose for nearly a decade when, itching for a change, they decided to trade in their townhome for “a house-with-a-yard-type setup,” Interiano says. They searched for nearly a year in their neighborhood, but the homes were too expensive or weren’t the right fit. Finally, in 2013, their realtor convinced them to look at the Heights.
“Initially it was a price thing,” says Interiano. “But then we started to see the streets over here with the trees and everything, and we’re like, you know, this doesn’t look bad.” The area, off Shepherd near 11th Street, was rapidly gentrifying at the time. Today, it’s still dotted with auto shops, but there are plenty of high-profile restaurants, too, many of which have opened up since the couple moved in.
“At first we were a bit worried about moving up here, like we’re going to the suburbs. We were sad about leaving Montrose and our gayborhood, leaving our old home,” he adds. Lyons agrees: “That I-10 barrier changed my whole perspective of where we were moving. I felt like, oh my god, I can’t believe it. And it took me a good year to not feel it anymore.”
At the end of 2013, the couple moved into a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home, built from the ground up according to their specifications. Your classic Heights bungalow, it isn’t. But building their dream home has allowed Interiano and Lyons to create a space that fits them perfectly, including a large, beautiful kitchen where they entertain guests, along with that yard and a big oak tree, where their two Welsh terriers can play freely.
The two have embraced the area—on an average weekend day, you might find them chatting with their neighbors or walking their dogs along the Heights hike-and-bike trail. “We love the not-so-urban neighborhood feel that still provides the convenience of living in the loop,” Interiano says, noting their easy commute to the Galleria and the Med Center. “It’s the right balance for us two.”
The couple’s been surprised to find that during downtime, they often don’t cross over from the north side of the freeway. “We spend most of our weekend time here,” Interiano says. “We don’t go down.”
- Average home price: $615,000
- Deciding factor: Urban vibe
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Hugo’s, Common Bond, Blacksmith
Ryan Pera, chef at Coltivare and co-owner of Revival Market and Eight Row Flint, all Heights establishments, is a local fixture both there and in Montrose, the neighborhood he calls home with his wife, Lori Choi, a vascular surgeon.
But back in 2003, when the two were dating in New York City and Choi was accepted into the residency program at Baylor, neither had much sense of Houston at all. “Lori’s letter said Houston—I’d never been to Houston, and she’d only been to interview,” Pera says.
For a year, Pera and Choi rented in Montrose, which was an easy commute to the Med Center and to Pera’s job as a sous chef at the Four Seasons downtown. They purchased their townhome, which was built in the early ’90s, in 2004. And today they’re renovating the space, adding a gas line in the kitchen, which Pera’s particularly excited about.
These days Choi travels a lot for her job, but gets to spend good chunks of time at home. Pera’s in the Heights at his restaurants; he often bikes to work. And they still love Montrose—its restaurant and retail options, its density. They love popping over to Common Bond for a coffee and a top-notch kouign-amann and having their friends from the neighborhood over for dinner on their patio.
A favorite activity for both is running through the Museum District to Rice. “We love to see people running and exercising,” Choi says. “When we go on our runs, we see the same people every Sunday all year round, and without being on a name basis with those people, we’re all recognizing each other as stewards of the neighborhood.”
The couple, who married in Houston the same day Coltivare opened in 2014, say the area’s urban quality makes them feel at home. “We’re inside a real city,” says Pera. “At the same time, it’s not like the hustle-bustle New York City streets where there’s a million people walking by at all times. It’s still a neighborhood.”
- Average home price: $489,000-$756,000
- Deciding factor: Seclusion and proximity to nature
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Hughes Landing for restaurants, natural trails, Lake Woodlands
Fernando Osuna was born and raised in Mexico City, an urban metropolis of 21 million people. When he and his family moved to Houston after he got a great job offer at Lopez Negrete Communications, the Hispanic-focused ad agency where he now serves as chief creative officer, they wanted an alternative to hectic inner-city life.
“Mexico City is a beautiful place to live, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a big city, and I spent my whole life there,” Osuna says. “For me, it was a little bit stressful—I lived six miles from work, and it took me an hour and a half to get there and back.”
While house-hunting, the couple ended up looking at The Woodlands, and were instantly smitten with its thick stands of pines. “It was December when we came here the first time, and we saw all the lights and the lake, and we both loved it,” he says. “My wife told me, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m living in The Woodlands.’”
In 2009, the Osunas and their son, then 9, settled into a four-bedroom home with forest views and a pool. While he drives in to Greenway Plaza for work when he’s not traveling, compared to his Mexico City commute, he says, it’s usually a breeze. “I enjoy my drive into and out of work. I drive like 50 minutes and 45 miles,” Osuna says. “It’s a good thing for me because it takes me time to disconnect from work.”
And when he gets back to the neighborhood, he truly does let his job go. “The moment you get here, you feel like you live in the forest,” he says. “I feel like I’m on vacation when I get home, with the birds, the wildlife, the secluded space.”
- Average home price: $1.64 million
- Deciding factor: Proximity to friends and amenities
- Favorite neighborhood spots: Island Grill for smoothies, Adair Kitchen, Tanglewood Drive Promenade
Ericka Bagwell spent 20 years living in Memorial, but in 2014, after finalizing her divorce from Astros legend Jeff Bagwell, she decided to downsize. She wanted to land in a neighborhood where her two daughters, Blake and Bryce, now 14 and 16, would feel comfortable. “This was a big move for me,” she says.
Bagwell also wanted something a little closer to the action. She landed on Tanglewood, home of the tony Houston Country Club—and, famously, home to President George H.W. Bush. It felt close to everything, including her girls’ friends and their schools.
“My oldest daughter goes to high school at Episcopal, and my younger daughter’s in middle school and goes to St. Francis,” she says. “I wanted to be more central for the both of them, kind of like in the middle.”
Plus, as a woman with a busy social calendar, she cherishes the easy access to lunch dates and trunk shows. “Anywhere I am in the city, I can be home in five minutes. I used to have to think about how I would get to Memorial at different times of the day; I used to have to strategize, how am I gonna get home, how am I gonna cut through?” she says. “Now it’s convenient for everyone to get here. I have people come over, and I’ve held classes in my backyard around my pool—I have a trainer come and we do yoga and work out.”
It was an adjustment giving up the three wooded acres the family had inhabited in Memorial. But at half an acre, the new property is still quite large, and Bagwell’s new, 10,000-square foot, five-bedroom, European-accented home is handsome and provides easy access for walking and running through the see-and-be-seen Tanglewood Road promenade, which slices through from Chimney Rock to San Felipe.
Bagwell’s daughters and their friends, many of whom live nearby, catch movies at iPic in the River Oaks District or get lunch at True Food Kitchen, activities that are within easy reach. “When it was time for me to make a move and my home sold, I knew that this is where I was going to move to,” she says. “I have a lot of friends here, and they were all going, ‘You have to move to Tanglewood!’”
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