Good food, check. Good service, check. But what about the surroundings?
CultureMap's 2014 Tastemaker Awards step beyond basic dining criteria to recognize recently-opened Houston establishments that greet customers with outstanding interior design.
From fine steakhouses to tequila bars, Houston's newest restaurants and bars create atmospheres reflecting levels of formality or informality, upscale menu specialties or casual-style fare, overall identity and a distinctive brand.
Mr. Peeples burst on the scene as a modern, upscale steakhouse in Midtown. The three-level space includes such touches as Swarovski crystal chandeliers, bold purple walls with accents of gold and red, a two-story circular wine rack and graffiti art by Houstonian James Perez that decorates the hallways and bathrooms.
A soaring canopy entrance sets the stage at Vallone's steakhouse. Located at Gessner and I-10 next to the Westin Memorial City Hotel, the restaurant welcomes diners with luxurious interior appointments reminiscent of the original Vallone's on Kirby but with modern touches like contemporary chandeliers, a vertical fireplace in the bar and a two-story glass wine cellar.
When Nara opened, it billed itself as a Korean restaurant with Japanese touches. A beautiful cherry blossom tree stands in the foyer, a symbol for both countries. The decor is minimal with oversized chairs for a relaxing atmosphere.
Wood floors throughout and tufted leather chairs are among the eye-catching design elements at Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette on San Felipe. Chandeliers hang in each stall of the ladies' room and a custom wall covering enhances the dining room.
El Big Bad on Market Square showcases a 50-foot-long mural by local artist Kevin Hernandez that includes luchadores, wolves, pigs, mythical figures and more. The private dining room is decorated with straw, sticks and stones, which represents the houses that the three little pigs lived in.
At Coppa Osteria in Rice Village, the glass-walled Dough Room is the center of attention. The blue flooring and yellow-frame chairs create a casual feel. The large pizza oven is painted a bright, cheery yellow.
KUU Restaurant joins Gateway Memorial City with an interior that follows the meaning of its Japanese name: "The art of eating." Wood and copper elements create contrast. Look for the signature light display shaped like a fish in the hallway.
This taco and tequila bar in the heart of Montrose is filled with Mexican folk art, from wooden crosses to the portrait of the namesake that hangs guard atop the large bar. Pierced-tin star-shaped lights dangle from the tall ceiling. Brick and wood walls join for a rustic flavor.
Wooden floors contrast with stylish light fixtures at Trenza in West Ave. The private dining room is glamorous while the lounge is comfy with oversized pillows. Ladles on the wall are filled with cacti.