Picking 10 restaurants wasn't enough to sum up what an excellent year 2014 was for dining in Houston. So many new places opened and became important to people that one list of best new restaurant felt incomplete. Here are the eight restaurants that were 2014's most pleasant surprises: the off-the-radar spots that opened quietly and earned acclaim through high quality food and top notch service.
After all, not every restaurant has a splashy opening or a ton of buzz from a high profile chef.
Think of the list below as the companion to the year's most disappointing new restaurants and the best new restaurants. They may not be splashy (well, not all of them), but each of these restaurants offers something special, something that makes dining in Houston a little more fun.
David Guerrero returned to the dining scene with this casual cafe in the Second Ward that serves comfort food classics from across South America. As Andes Cafe has evolved from its January opening, Guerrero has added dinner entrees to the original breakfast and lunch offerings. Don't miss the Thursday night parillada special, a sizzling platter topped with meat and housemade sausages.
Korean flavors and small plates are two emerging trends that come together well at this River Oaks restaurant. Dishes like scallion pancakes, kimchi and Korean fried chicken wings deliver the signature spicy/sour mix Korean cuisine is known for in a slightly more accessible package than might be found at more traditional restaurants on Long Point. Beverage options built around various fruit-infused sojus add to the appeal.
Georges Guy brings his history serving Houstonians French cuisine to the former Feast space on lower Westheimer. His menu of unpretentious bistro fare, backed by a reasonably priced list of French wines, offers the sort of sustaining comfort food that's becoming hard to find. Keepiing it classic is the way to go here, as in the elegantly plated duck d'orange or puff pasty wrapped snapper quenelle.
This cafe gives the 300 block of Main a daytime destination. Backed by Boomtown Coffee that's roasted on site, the daily menu of breakfast and lunch options includes the crispy, gooey chicken liver po boy that's one of 2014's best dishes. At night, the New Orleans inspired cocktail menu makes The Honeymoon a placcid escape from the frenetic scene at nearby spots. Both sides come together during weekend brunch diners fill the room for grillades and grits and an appropriately spicy Bloody Mary.
This restaurant that blends classic Southern dishes with Asian flavors is another promising Second Ward newcomer. Dishes like crispy fried okra, housemade boudain and turkey necks in lettuce wraps show serious potential. Hopefully, strong word of mouth helps it find a sustainable audience in the up and coming neighborhood.
This sushi restaurant in the Gateway Memorial City development backs up its high style dining room with serious culinary chops. Chef Addison Lee takes the techniques he learned at celebrated New York restaurant Nobu and blends them with the skills he's showed at a variety of Houston restaurants to create Japanese-inspired dishes. In particular, Lee's use of fruit like apples and pears provides a memorable sweetness to complement the meaty fish. A beverage programs that offers both reasonably priced wines and flavorful cocktails gives KUU even more appeal.
Pappas Meat Co.
What does one of Houston's most successful restaurant empires do when it finds itself in possession of a "spare" building? Enter a restaurant category that was missing from its portfolio, of course. Pappas Meat Co. takes the appeal of casual steakhouses like Saltgrass and Outback and improves upon it with offerings like hand-cut, bone-in steaks and well-executed cocktails. Comfort food dishes including chicken fried steak, pot roast and fried green tomatoes improve upon the classics served at sister restaurant Dot Coffee Shop (and upon higher priced options at more prominent comfort food restaurants). The location at I-10 and Federal Road may be off the radar for most inner Loopers, but don't worry. This concept is so clearly head and shoulders above its peers that it feels bound to expand quickly throughout the Houston area.
"If you build it, he will come" didn't originally refer to an all-day cafe/coffee shop in EaDo, but it certainly describes Tout Suite. Anne Le and Sandy Tran expanded upon the bakery goodness of surprise CityCentre success story Sweet with a menu of breakfast items, salads and sandwiches. High quality ingredients from suppliers like 44 Farms and Greenway Coffee help ensure deliciousness. A variety of seating options makes it a comfortable choice for students looking to study or downtown office types in search of a healthy lunch. With plans to install a new menu and add beer and wine to the mix, Tout Suite should be even more appealing in 2015.