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Old Friends, New Finds in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio

The Houston Museum of Natural Science and Cockrell Butterfly Center.

I love my old friends, but that doesn’t keep me from making exciting new ones. I wish I had more time to spend with all of them. So it goes with travel: I’ll never quit staying, eating, and playing at my old favorites, but I always try to work in a few new ones, too. And we all know what that means: The list of old friends grows longer and longer...

OLD FRIEND—Da Marco My husband dared, on our recent visit, to reach for the wine bottle. A server swooped down out of nowhere to intercept it and do the pour himself. Such is the service at longtime Houston locals’ favorite Da Marco, matched only by the food, especially the pasta and seafood. The place is always packed, and the servers work their tails off. Go often; tip well.

NEW FIND—Oceanaire So many people were waiting on us at this new Galleria restaurant that we wound up with more oysters than we’d ordered. What a happy problem! The little morsels on the halfshell—different east and west coast varieties daily—are fresh, cold, and served with a perfect vinaigrette. Seafood entrées are winners, too.

OLD FRIEND—The Houston Museum of Natural Science There’s not a kid or adult who can’t find something to love here, whether it’s dinosaurs, gems and minerals, or seashells. The Cockrell Butterfly Center has just reopened, bigger and better than ever. (Among the additions: a crawl-through beehive for kids.) And through July 29, Imperial Rome gives a look at how the Romans lived, dressed, and ate.

NEW FIND—John C. Freeman Weather Museum I’ll admit it: I’m a weather junkie. So the arrival of a weather museum in the Museum District made me downright gleeful. Here, you can learn how tornadoes are formed and what El Niño really is and see photographs from Gulf Coast hurricanes, including Katrina and Rita. Meteorologists actually do track storms on site, and the building’s windows are designed to sustain 130 mph winds.

OLD FRIEND—soon to be better St. Anthony Hotel The last time I visited the St. Anthony, San Antonio’s grand dame built in 1909, I found the rooms tasteful, but not dazzling. I’m betting they’ll soon dazzle, as the entire hotel is undergoing, bit by bit, a total makeover, scheduled to be completed by its 100th birthday in 2009. First step: The Madrid Room, headed by David Bull, celebrated former chef of Austin’s Driskill Hotel, opened in April. Try the popular rib-eye filet with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

NEW FIND—Hotel Contessa Every room in this River Walk hotel is a spacious suite, designed in neutral tones to appeal to both men and women. A full-length mirror leaning against an exposed-brick wall is a deft touch, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the River Walk. The hotel’s Spanish/Mediterranean details extend to its restaurant, Las Ramblas. It recently added a new Aveda spa.

OLD FRIEND—getting newer all the time The original Paesano’s on a dodgy edge of downtown is long gone, so my “old” favorite at this point is the chic one north of town, on Basse Road. There’s another on the River Walk, and still a newer one with a spectacular outdoor patio on Loop 1604. Each menu is a little different, but each serves the signature “Shrimp Paesano,” a garlicky, buttery treat I find hard to resist.

NEW FIND—La Frite Belgian Bistro Belgian it may be, though the food, such as mussels and skinny fries, seems French to me. Whatever. This unassuming Southtown restaurant serves delicious food in a casual, congenial room. It’s OK to park in the nearby neighborhood.

OLD FRIEND—The Alamo Is it possible to look at this icon of Texas history too much? I don’t think so. I feel the ghosts of the March 6, 1836, battle every time I walk in. The Long Barrack was recently renovated to better showcase its artifacts. The Alamo is free, and you can wander through it on the way to dinner, since it’s smack in the center of downtown.

NEW (yet old)— FIND The Tower of the Americas The centerpiece of the 1968 HemisFair reopened last summer (See “Spotlight on…,” page 10 of the print issue). The 360-degree view from the 750-foot tower is still riveting, and space for parties has been added. You can also dine in a revolving restaurant (Eyes Over Texas) and take a bouncy ride across the Lone Star landscape in the 4-D theater. (The sign saying you shouldn’t ride if your back’s in bad shape refers to the 4-D ride, not the elevator, which is smooth, and free, if you’re going to eat at the restaurant.)

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT: my old friends, which I’ll never abandon, and some new ones, which are all on their way to becoming old friends, making my decisions on where to sleep and eat and what to do that much harder every time I revisit these cities. Happily, I visit them all frequently. So should you.

Dallas

Adolphus Hotel, 1321 Commerce St., 214/742-8200; www.hoteladolphus.com.

Hotel Palomar, 5300 E. Mockingbird Lane, 888/253-9030; www.hotelpalomar-dallas.com.

Belmont Hotel, 901 Fort Worth Ave., 877/476-3378; www.belmontdallas.com.

Sevy’s Grill, 8201 Preston Rd., 214/265-7389; www.sevys.com.

Stephan Pyles, 1807 Ross Ave., Ste. 200, 214/580-7000; www.stephanpyles.com.

Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St., 214/954-0234; www.dm-art.org. Closed Mondays. Adults $10; seniors $7; students with ID, $5; 11 and younger, free.

Nasher Sculpture Center, 2001 Flora St., 214/242-5100; www.nashersculpturecenter.org. Closed Mondays. Admission: Adults $10; seniors $7; students $5; age 12 and younger, free.

Houston

St. Regis Hotel, 1919 Briar Oaks Lane, 713/840-7600; www.starwoodhotels.com/stregis.

Alden Hotel, 1117 Prairie St., 832/200-8800; www.aldenhotels.com.

Da Marco, 1520 Westheimer Rd., 713/807-8857; www.damarcohouston.com.

Oceanaire, 5061 Westheimer Rd. (in the Galleria shopping center), 832/487-8862; www.theoceanaire.com/houston.

Houston Museum of Natural Science, 1 Hermann Circle Dr., 713/639-4629; www.hmns.org. Open daily. Adults $9; $7 ages 3 to 11, college students, and 62 and older; butterfly exhibit, planetarium, IMAX, and special exhibits extra.

John C. Freeman Weather Museum, 5104 Caroline St., 713/529-3076; www.wxresearch.org. Open daily. Adults $5; seniors and children $3. The door stays locked; ring the bell to be let in.

San Antonio

St. Anthony Hotel, 300 E. Travis St., 210/227-4392; www.wyndham.com/hotels/SATST/main.wnt.

Hotel Contessa, 306 W. Market St., 210/229-9222; www.thehotelcontessa.com.

Paesano’s, 111 W. Crockett St., #101, 210/227-2782; 555 E. Basse Rd., #100, 210/828-5191; and 3622 Paesanos Pkwy., 210/493-1604; www.paesanos.com.

La Frite Belgian Bistro, 728 S. Alamo St., 210/224-7555.

The Alamo, 300 Alamo Plaza, 210/225-1391; www.thealamo.org. Admission free. Open daily except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Tower of the Americas, 600 Hemisfair Plaza Way, 210/223-3101; www.toweroftheamericas.com. Open daily. Tower ticket includes Flags Over Texas Observation Deck and Skies Over Texas 4-D Theater Ride. Adults $10.95; seniors and military $9.95; children $8.95. Parking $6.

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