Mai Pham

Correspondent

  • Houston, TX, USA

Mai Pham is a correspondent who covers Houston for Forbes Travel Guide. Pham began traveling to France as a teenager, spending glorious summers exploring the streets of Paris with her cousins. As a freelance food and travel writer, she is constantly in pursuit of culinary bliss. From paella in Barcelona to pad Thai on the streets of Bangkok, Pham follows her motto: Eat well, travel and be happy. Her work can be found in the Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, My Table Magazine, Citysearch and Examiner.com. She is also a regular correspondent for Fox 26 News in Houston, where she reports on the local food scene.

  • On November 5
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What’s the best time to visit Hotel Derek?

    The best time to visit Hotel Derek is when the climates are milder — namely, during the spring and fall seasons, which run from late February to late April, and late September to mid-November, respectively.

    You also may want to time your visit to the Houston hotel with the many events that take place throughout year. In early spring, the city hosts the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show, the largest of its kind in the world, with competition events, fabulous rodeo food, concerts and more. Come fall, the arts season kicks off with performances in opera, ballet, theater arts, musicals, dance, symphony and more. Houston also offers numerous sports for spectators year-round; catch home games to see the Rockets (basketball), the Texans (football), the Astros (baseball), the Dynamo (soccer) and more.
  • On November 5
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What restaurants does Hotel Derek have?

    For dining, Hotel Derek’s Vin Bar offers an à la carte and buffet breakfast each morning, along with lunch and dinner service. The morning buffet is a must-not-miss. Introduced in late 2012, the Texas-sized breakfast is served on sizzling-hot cast-iron skillets, and features favorites such as made-to-order Belgian waffles, eggs Benedict and grilled sausages. In addition to its changing seasonal à la carte menu featuring locally sourced, sustainable produce and meats, Vin Bar recently introduced a gourmet burger menu, with items such as the already popular Hangover Burger (a black Angus beef patty with cheddar, bacon, potato hash and a sunny-side-up egg tucked inside a wheat bun), so named because it purportedly will get rid of any morning-after ailments.

    Mondays through Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m., Vin Bar also plays host to a lively happy hour, with discounted drinks and special light bites (such as Gulf oyster BLTs with jicama slaw on a Parker House roll). If you have a group or party, you can reserve a private dining room for lunch and dinner.

    A new Starbucks bar is also located on the property, offering the full complement of coffee beverages in the morning and afternoon. This Starbucks turns into Caffeine Bar toward the evening, when baristas will create concoctions with your favorite energy drink. And if you don’t feel like leaving your bed at the Houston hotel, in-room dining is also available.
  • On November 5
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What is the design style of Hotel Derek?

    Designed by Dallas-based Flick Mars, the theme of the oil derrick — the homophone from which the name “Derek” was derived — is seen in various design elements throughout the property, tying the Hotel Derek to Houston’s rich history as an oil city. In the lobby, obsidian-colored granite flooring laid out in a herringbone pattern is meant to emulate the rich oil flowing throughout Texas, while commissioned artwork with oil derricks adorns the walls in the lobby, hallways and each guest room.

    Though the Texan theme runs throughout, the overall look of the boutique hotel is fashion-forward, with modern, bold, clean lines; bright colors; and an energetic, technologically advanced design that fits the new millennium. In the lobby, a mosaic of flat LCD screens projects old movies and other visual imagery. Modern guest rooms are minimalist chic with a hip, retro-cool element of the 1960s. On each floor’s landing, a large back-lit piece of framed mixed-media tells you which number floor you’ve entered. In addition, the business center features Mac stations and a bright turquoise blue detailing — everything that is hip, cool and now.
  • On July 2
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    Where is the best Tex-Mex in Houston?

    Tex-Mex is king here in Houston, which is why choosing a "best" is a difficult task. Everyone has their favorite Tex-Mex place, the one that has the best fajitas or enchiladas.

    Hard core enthusiasts swear by Mama Ninfa and her original Ninfa's on Navigation for their famous fajitas. From the same family, El Tiempo is often the first place that comes to mind when out-of-towners visit. Their fajitas are definitely impressive.

    In terms of longevity, it would be hard to beat Molina's Cantina, a fixture on the Houston restaurant scene for 70 years and going strong. Their enchiladas de tejas, or cheese enchilada topped with chili con carne, is legend. Others swear by Lupe Tortilla's fajitas. The family-friendly restaurant is so successful that they've grown and expanded to several restaurants around town. Pico's Mex Mex is another mom and pop favorite, as is Teotihuacan. In Sugar Land, Lupita's, a family-friendly neighborhood mom and pop, offers fantastic fajitas as well.

    Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen has been a hotspot of late for visiting chefs and celebrities. As the name would suggest, she specializes in made-from-scratch enchiladas, with many sauces that take up to eight hours to make. Her flagship location in Memorial features mesquite-grilled cabrito and other dishes cooked on the mesquite grill.

    For Montrosians, there's no place like La Mexicana, serving Tex-Mex for 30-plus years. Also in Montrose, El Real Tex-Mex, housed in an old movie theater on the lower Westheimer strip, its tower emblazoned with the words, "Tex-Mex" offers old-school Tex-Mex with offerings like Frito Pie and creamy queso with chips. El Real is owned by former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh with celebrity chef Bryan Caswell, and partner Bill Floyd. When syndicated "Ask a Mexican" columnist Gustavo Arellano came to Houston to promote his new book, that's where he held his afterparty.


  • On July 2
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    Where is the best Tex-Mex in Houston?

    Tex-Mex is king here in Houston, which is why choosing a "best" is a difficult task. Everyone has their favorite Tex-Mex place, the one that has the best fajitas or enchiladas.

    Hard core enthusiasts swear by Mama Ninfa, and her original Ninfa's on Navigation for their famous fajitas. From the same family, El Tiempo is often the first place that comes to mind when out-of-towners visit. Their fajitas are definitely impressive.

    In terms of longevity, it would be hard to beat Molina's Cantina, a fixture on the Houston restaurant scene for 70 years and going strong. Their enchiladas de tejas, or cheese enchilada topped with chili con carne, is legend. Others swear by Lupe Tortilla for their fajitas. The family-friendly restaurant is so successful that they've grown and expanded to several restaurants around town. Pico's Mex Mex is another mom and pop favoriate, as is Teotihuacan. And for Montrosians, there's no place like La Mexicana, serving Tex-Mex for 30-plus years. In Sugar Land, Lupita's, a family neighborhood mom and pop, offers fantastic fajitas as well.

    Finally, El Real Tex-Mex, housed in an old movie theater on the lower Westheimer strip, its towner emblazoned with the words, "Tex-Mex" offers old-school Tex-Mex with offerings like Frito Pie in the heart of Montrose. Incidentally, El Real is owned by former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh with celebrity chef Bryan Caswell, and partner Bill Floy. When syndicated "Ask a Mexican" columnist Gustavo Arellano came to Houston to promote his new book, that's where he held his afterparty.


  • On July 2
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What are the best sushi restaurants in Houston?

    Photo by Mai Pham: Nigiri at Kata Robata Houston just happens to be home to the largest sushi club in the United States. Currently, Sushi Club of Houston has approximately 8,000 members and counting, which means that Houston has plenty of choices when it comes to sushi. 

    For some of the best creative sushi, visit Kata Robata, where James Beard nominated Japanese chef Manabu Horiuchi and his team deliver exciting creative nigiri. Selections like seared toro with quail egg, amaebi with uni, and foie gras with scallop glistens with freshness and melt in your mouth. Their sashimi appetizers, like the hamachi with foie gras, or the octopus carpaccio, are also amazing. The team is constantly innovating to come up with new and exciting offerings that reflect the freshest in daily selections, from live uni, tora-fugu, kobe beef, and live scallop. For the best experience, request an omakase, or chef's tasting, with Hori-san at the sushi counter.

    For traditional nigiri sushi, sushi chef Chris Kinjo, a transplant from Atlanta, currently offers some of the most exquisite nigiri you'll sample in Houston at MF Sushi. His cuts are precise, his exotic fish -- delivered from Tsukiji Tuesdays and Fridays -- are unusual, and achingly fresh. O-toro, uni, kinmedai, baby yellowtail and more are on offer regularly. For the best experience, request an omakase, or chef's tasting, with Kinjo-san at the sushi counter.


  • On July 2
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What are the best sushi restaurants in Houston?

    Photo by Mai Pham: Nigiri at Kata Robata Houston just happens to be home to the largest sushi club in the United States. Currently, Sushi Club of Houston has approximately 8,000 members and counting, which means that Houston has plenty of choices when it comes to sushi. 

    For some of the best creative sushi, visit Kata Robata, where James Beard nominated Japanese chef Manabu Horiuchi and his team deliver exciting creative nigiri. Selections ilke seared toro with quail egg, amaebi with uni, and foie gras with scallop glistens with freshness and melt in your mouth. Their sashimi appetizers, like the hamachi with foie gras, or the octopus carpaccio, are also amazing. The team is constantly innovating to come up with new and exciting offerings that reflect the freshest in daily selections, from live uni, tora-fugu, kobe beef, and live scallop. For the best experience, request an omakase, or chef's tasting, with Hori-san at the sushi counter.

    For traditional nigiri sushi, sushi chef Chris Kinjo, a transplant from Atlanta, currently offers some of the most exquisite nigiri you'll sample in Houston at MF Sushi. His cuts are precise, his exotic fish -- delivered from Tsukiji Tuesdays and Fridays -- are unusual, and achingly fresh. O-toro, uni, kinmedai, baby yellowtail and more are on offer regularly. For the best experience, request an omakase, or chef's tasting, with Kinjo-san at the sushi counter.


  • On July 1
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What are the best specialty markets in Houston?

    Photo by Mai Pham: Central Market cheese section Houston is home to some of the best grocery store shopping you can find stateside. Specialty Markets like Phoenicia Specialty Foods, essentially a world emporium of hard-to-find items from places like Croatia and Lebanon, to Greek and Spanish items, are amazing. They currently have two locations in Houston, one serving West Houston, and a newer flagship location in Downtown.

    In River Oaks, Central Market is tough to beat. A gourmet food lover’s dream come true, it offers some of the finest produce, meats, and pre-prepared food items in the city, along with cooking classes to help you use their product. In The Woodlands area, Hubbell & Hudson offers another foodie paradise on a smaller scale.

    We are blessed to have Spec’s Liquor store based in Houston. The flagship location on Smith street downtown is iconic, a literal warehouse of wine and liquor and everything that goes along with it.

    On the Asian front, it’s anyone’s game. Viet Hoa is an excellent Vietnamese super-grocer, as is Hong Kong Food Market. Ranch 99 is one of the best Chinese supermarkets, and Super H Mart for Korean-focused grocery shopping. For Japanese foods, Daido Market, though smaller, offers a suitable selection of fresh fish and other Japanese products.
  • On July 1
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What are the best specialty markets in Houston?

    Photo by Mai Pham: Central Market cheese section Houston is home to some of the best grocery store shopping you can find stateside. Specialty Markets like Phoenicia Specialty Foods, essentially a world emporium of hard-to-find items from places like Croatia and Lebanon, to Greek and Spanish items, is amazing. They currently have two locations in Houston, one serving West Houston, and a newer flagship location in Downtown.

    In River Oaks, Central Market is tough to beat. A gourmet food lover’s dream come true, it offers some of the finest produce, meats, and pre-prepared food items in the city, along with cooking classes to help you use their product. In The Woodlands area, Hubbell & Hudson offers another foodie paradise on a smaller scale.

    We are blessed to have Spec’s Liquor store based in Houston. The flagship location on Smith street downtown is iconic, a literal warehouse of wine and liquor and everything that goes along with it.

    On the Asian front, it’s anyone’s game. Viet Hoa is an excellent Vietnamese super-grocer, as is Hong Kong Food Market. Ranch 99 is one of the best Chinese supermarkets, and Super H Mart for Korean-focused grocery shopping. For Japanese foods, Daido Market, though smaller, offers a suitable selection of fresh fish and other Japanese products.
  • On July 1
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What are the best sushi restaurants in Houston?

    Photo by Mai Pham: Nigiri at Kata Robata Houston just happens to be home to the largest sushi club in the United States. Currently, Sushi Club of Houston has approximately 8,000 members and counting, which means that Houston has plenty of choices when it comes to sushi. 

    For some of the best creative sushi, visit Kata Robata, where James Beard nominated chef Manabu Horiuchi and his team deliver creative nigiri -- seared toro with quail egg, amaebi with uni, foie gras with scallop -- that glistens with freshness and melts in your mouth. Their sashimi appetizers are also delicious, and the team is constantly innovating to come up with new and exciting offerings that reflect the freshest in daily selections -- live uni, toro-fugu, kobe beef, and live scallop are just some of the items on offer. For the best experience, request a omakase, or chef's tasting, at the sushi counter.

    For traditional nigiri sushi, sushi chef Chris Kinjo, a transplant from Atlanta, currently offers some of the most exquisite nigiri you'll sample in Houston. His cuts are precise, his exotic fish -- delivered from Tsukiji Tuesdays and Fridays -- are unusual, and achingly fresh. O-toro, uni, kinmedai, baby yellowtail and more are on offer regularly. For the best experience, request a omakase, or chef's tasting, at the sushi counter.


  • On July 1
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What are the best hotel pools in Houston?

    Photo courtesy of Hotel Zaza Houston is known for its sweltering summer heat, and the best way to beat it is with a trip to to pool. For a party atmosphere, Hotel Zaza is the place to be. Private cabanas, sunny umbrellas, free flowing drinks, and a ping pong table are just a few of the reasons why this pool is such a hit with locals and travelers. Use is limited to guests and spa guests.

    The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star rated Four Seasons can't be beat for service and amenities. You will feel utterly pampered from the minute you step foot on the pool deck and are greeted with fresh fruit water and a bottle of SPF for your use. The saltwater pool with jacuzzi is simply divine, and a full bar and pool menu are avaible at the misted, covered pool bar, The Deck. Use is limited to guests and spa guests.

    Finally, the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star rated Hotel Granduca has one of the most beautiful pools in Houston. The Tuscan-inpsired architecture and decor, along with a saltwater pool with jacuzzi make this a relaxing place to get away from the heat and the stresses of the day. Available only to hotel guests.
  • On July 1
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    Where is the best Tex-Mex in Houston?

    Tex-Mex is king here in Houston, which is why choosing a "best" is a difficult task. Hard core enthusiasts swear by Mama Ninfa, and her original Ninfa's on Navigation for their famous fajitas.
    From the same family came El Tiempo, widely regarded as some of the best fajitas in town as well. In terms of longevity, it would be hard to beat Molina's Cantina, a fixture on the Houston restaurant scene for 70 years and going strong. Their enchiladas de tejas, or cheese enchilada topped with chili con carne, is legend. Others swear by Lupe Tortilla for their fajitas as well, so successful that they've grown and expanded to several restaurants around town. And for Montrosians, there's no place like La Mexicana, serving Tex-Mex for 30-plus years. Finally El Real Tex-Mex, started by former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh and celebrity chef Bryan Caswell, offers old-school Tex-Mex with offerings like Frito Pie in the heart of Montrose. When syndicated "Ask a Mexican" columnist Gustavo Arellano came to Houston to promote his new book, that's where he held his afterparty.




  • On July 1
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    What are the best hotel pools in Houston?

    Photo courtesy of Hotel Zaza Houston is known for its sweltering summer heat, and the best way to beat it is with a trip to to pool. For a party atmosphere, Hotel Zaza is the place to be. Private cabanas, sunny umbrellas, free flowing drinks, and a ping pong table are just a few of the reasons why this pool is such a hit with locals and travelers. Use is limited to guests and spa guests.
    The Four Seasons can't be beat for service and amenities. You will feel utterly pampered from the minute you step foot on the pool deck and are greeted with fresh fruit water and a bottle of SPF for your use. The saltwater pool with jacuzzi is simply divine, and a full bar and pool menu are avaible at the misted, covered pool bar, The Deck. Use is limited to guests and spa guests.
    Finally, the Hotel Granduca has one of the most beautiful pools in Houston. The Tuscan-inpsired architecture and decor, along with a saltwater pool with jacuzzi make this a relaxing place to get away from the heat and the stresses of the day. Available only to hotel guests.
  • On July 1
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    Where are the best go-to spots in downtown Houston?

    Downtown Houston is experiencing a revival at this very moment. It started with the opening of the very hip, very cool OKRA Charity Bar, which dedicated all its proceeds to funding charities across town. Soon thereafter, Latin hotspot Batanga opened up, with a gorgeous patio reminiscent of a scene from Spain, serving Latin American inspired tapas in a lively atmosphere marked by the live music on weekends. 

    In the same complex, you'll find cool newcomer Goro  and Gun has opened with the promise of great ramen and well constructed cocktails, along with chef driven food to match. Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar is also one of the cool new hotspots in the heart of downtown. 

    Over near Discovery Green, MKT Bar at Phoenicia Specialty Foods hosts nightly musical performances, from DJ sets to live music and acoustics -- the calendar is rotating. One block down is the best whiskey bar in Houston, Reserve 101, and across the street is House of Blues, which also has the exclusive Foundation Room upstairs.
  • On July 1
    Mai Pham answered the question: Mai Pham

    Where is the best pizza in Houston?

    Pizza makes the world go round, doesn’t it? A reason why there are so many excellent choices around town. I list my favorites here:
    1. For Neopolitan-style, thin crust pizza, Dolce Vita in Montrose does a superb job. The crust is light as air, fluffy and crisp -- just perfection. Order the calabrese (spicy salami), the arugula and prosciutto, or build your own. The pizzas are fabulous every time.
    2. Piola, a franchise from Italy, also offers great thin-crust pizzas in Midtown. Known for their famous Brazilian cheese pizza, they have an artichoke pizza that’s really wonderful as well.
    3. Pizaro’s over near the West side at Memorial and Kirkwood has a certified pie maker, and was named Houston Press’ best pizza the year of its debut.
    4. The Pass & Provisions offers chef-driven, wood-fired oven pizzas, like their uni and guanciale, or their sausage and fontina.
    5. Coppa Ristorante Italiano is turning our delicious pies as well. Their mushroom pie with arugula and black truffle cream, and their coppa ham and eggs is super tasty.