No stranger to the reality TV spotlight, Houston’s culinary scene is getting even more time in the sun thanks to House of Ho, a brand new reality TV show that’s showcasing the city’s culinary excellence — with a heaping side of juicy family drama.
For those who haven’t yet seen the buzzy new show, which premiered on HBO Max on December 10, the premise is pretty simple: It follows the over-the-top escapades of the high-rolling Ho family, namely patriarch Binh Ho, his wife Hue, and their adult children — eldest daughter Judy, son and self-described “spoiled rich boy” Washington, and his wife Lesley. The family is the definition of a Houston success story — Binh and Hue arrived in Texas in the 1970s as refugees and worked in convenience stores before amassing a fortune in banking and real estate.
The focal point of House of Ho is the inherent drama that comes along with any family, with a thick veneer of luxury on top. The real star of the show, though, is the food. In the pilot episode, the Ho family is introduced alongside a stunning Sunday brunch spread prepared at the family’s massive River Oaks home by Hue, with a lavish array of Vietnamese dishes like roasted meats, lettuce wraps piled high, and crunchy egg rolls. From its very first moments, this show makes clear that not only is the Ho family living better than the rest of us, they’re eating better, too.
Complex family dynamics, ranging from troubled marriages to the steep expectations of parents, sibling rivalries, and the drama of divorce, are the intended draw of House of Ho, but those intense discussions are almost always held around a table full of decadent food. In the second episode, a Christmas dinner with charcuterie, lobster, and champagne is punctuated by Washington Ho, all too happy to play the rich playboy, using his iPhone as a mirror to search for leftover tiny orbs of caviar stuck in his teeth.
Clearly filmed pre-pandemic, House of Ho also shows off some of Houston’s ritziest restaurants. It’s a veritable parade of upscale eateries in each episode, with spots like luxe steakhouse Steak 48, buzzy cocktail bar Chapman and Kirby, and chic restaurants Emmaline and A’Bouzy. A boozy happy hour at Cafe Annie introduces one of the show’s best characters, known as Aunt Tina. A former liquor store owner with a wicked sense of humor and plenty of sage advice, Aunt Tina encourages the newly-divorced Judy to buy shots for a handsome drinker at a nearby booth.
Later, Washington attends an exclusive poker game at plush drinking den Madison, where he ponies up a $30,000 buy-in while sipping copious cocktails. In the season’s final episode, Judy toasts to her 40th birthday — and scores a surprise wedding proposal — at Spanish restaurant MAD.
In a lot of reality TV shows, restaurants are often used to set a scene — a quiet coffee shop is the perfect locale for an explosive fight between two Real Housewives stars, for example — but the actual food often fades into the background against the rest of the interpersonal chaos. House of Ho handles its restaurant scenes entirely differently, with lingering shots of crepes browning on the griddle at Sweet Paris and luxe surf-and-turf presentations at Steak 48.
Food plays a similar co-starring role when the Ho family, who are clearly gourmands, dines at home. Chinatown’s beloved Viet Hoa Supermarket gets a cameo in the series when Hue stops by to stock up on fresh catfish, live crabs, and mango. Those ingredients are, a few scenes later, transformed into a Sunday meal of whole-roasted catfish with a side of passive-aggressive spousal conflict.
It’s also not uncommon throughout the series to see Washington popping by his parents home for a bowl of mom’s chicken soup and Vietnamese cookies, or to see Hue dropping off homemade dishes for Washington and Judy.
And sure, House of Ho is pure reality TV schlock, not prestige television. The interpersonal drama is played up for the camera, the lavish spending on private jet flights and designer garments and Italian supercars feels especially cringeworthy at a time when millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Be prepared to roll your eyes frequently at the crying and fighting and the bourgeois posturing.
But the food, which functions as both a showcase of Houston’s culinary prowess and a feast for the eyes, is definitely worth sticking around for.
All 7 episodes of House of Ho are currently streaming on HBO Max.