After an incredibly busy fall, the time has come to peer into the crystal ball of Houston dining and start thinking about the bars and restaurants the city will be talking about in 2016. Before diving in, let's consider a few emerging trends that should last throughout the year.
At this point, the major story of Houston dining in 2016 appears to be the arrival of high-profile concepts from out of town operators. Dallas-based restaurants are making a particularly strong push south. While some might argue that Houstonians prefer locally-owned places, we're not always terribly fussy about who owns an establishment. Just remember that for every example of out-of-townres like Katsuya or Funky Chicken that don't last, places like Uchi and Torchy's Tacos become permanent parts of the landscape.
Local restaurants are also looking to get in on the multi-unit trend. Liberty Kitchen will grow from two Houston-area locations to five in 2016, starting with a new location in Rice Village called Little Liberty. Bernie's Burger Bus will add a third restaurant to its growing empire, and both Good Dog Houston and Kenny & Ziggy's will add second locations. Ronnie Killen will cement his status as Houston's meat king by adding a burger joint to his barbecue restaurant and steakhouse.
Montrose may be quiet, but The Galleria-area is booming. Long seen as one of Houston's most stable dining neighbors, new construction has brought much needed physical space for new additions to the area. As many as seven restaurants will open at River Oaks District between now and May, including big names like Austin-based burger joint Hopdoddy, Dallas-based pizza restaurant Thirteen Pies and upscale steak and seafood destination Steak 48. Already home to Peska Seafood Culture, North Italia and True Food Kitchen, two new concepts are on track for BLVD Place: souffle restaurant Rise nº2 and Japanese restaurant Sozo Sushi.
But many of those restaurants won't open until this summer or even the fall. Instead of trying to sum up an entire year's worth of openings, let's focus on new places (or places that are new to Houston) that are likely to open between now and April. Don't worry — we're still keeping a close eye on Shake Shack, too.
The best pizza restaurant in Dallas is poised to make its Houston debut in a former Heights alternator repair shop that's mere steps from high-profile new arrivals like Hunky Dory, Bernadine's, and Southern Goods (sadly, the Montrose location seems to be stuck in the city's permitting quagmire). Cane Rosso has received just about every honor imaginable, from a visit by Guy Fieri to being ranked as some of the best pizza in America. When it opens, expect a frenzy of diners to seek out the rigorously authentic, VPN-certified pizza that uses high quality, locally-sourced toppings.
Plans for this beer garden located beneath Prohibition are beginning to take shape ahead of its opening next month. In addition to an extensive selection of craft brews, the space will feature four food vendors — giving the city its first taste of the food hall concept that's sweeping the country. As pitmaster John Avila revealed to CultureMap, he'll be serving barbecue as El Burro and the Bull alongside three other vendors. While the remaining identities are still unknown, rumors suggest that all three concepts are already well-known to the dining public.
Ginger & Fork
Former Tony Mandola's employee Mary Li sets off on her own with this Chinese concept in La Fisheria's former space off Shepherd near I-10. The concept will blend authentic Chinese flavors with a full cocktail program when it opens in February or March. Considering the dearth of Chinese food options along Washington, the restaurant looks poised to be an exciting new addition.
The Halal Guys
On January 30, Houstonians will get to experience a New York City-based cultural phenomenon. That's the day the city's first Halal Guys will begin serving chicken and gyro platters over rice topped with the restaurant's signature white sauce. Whether the city's diners will match New Yorkers fervor for standing in line remains to be seen, but we already have one sign that it could be a similar frenzy. UberEATS quickly sold out of every portion it offered this week.
This restaurant unites Hubcap Grill owner Ricky Craig with former Goro & Gun/the Chicken Ranch owner Joshua Martinez with the goal of giving Galveston a new, high quality option for po' boys, muffaletta sandwiches and seafood platters. Located in a historic building on The Strand, Harborside Mercantile's decor blends retro touches like Edison bulbs with plenty of dark wood for an intimate feel. Former Haven chef Alan Duhon brings both an affinity for local ingredients (Galveston's fish markets are only a couple of blocks away) and his East Texas heritage to the menu. Most of the work has been completed, and Martinez hopes to be open in time for Mardi Gras.
Judging by its liquor sales, the original incarnation of this Mexican seafood restaurant never quite caught on with diners, but perhaps a move to downtown and a new chef will prompt diners to view La Fisheria's downtown location that opened on Wednesday with fresh eyes. Chef Vidal Elias Murillo's promise to deliver "Mexican soul food" in the form of dishes like a soft-shell crab sandwich in a morita chile sauce, lengua tacos, and a shrimp tostada on crispy jicama certainly sounds like the sort of fare that will allow the restaurant to compete for attention with places like Peska and Caracol. The restaurant has also dropped its controversial "no kids" at dinner policy.
The upcoming coffee and doughnut shop from Greenway Coffee/Blacksmith owners David Buehrer and Ecky Prabanto looks set for a February opening. Like Blacksmith, Morningstar will feature a full menu of breakfast and lunch items, but it's the addition of doughnuts that will set it apart. Buehrer has occasionally tweeted previews of items like chai cake donuts and roasted pineapple and kaffir lime fritters that have had diners salivating. Design by celebrated University of Houston architecture professor John Zemanek should also set the space apart from just about every other cafe in town.
Oui Banh Mi
Lucky Burger may be gone, but its replacement is finally emerging on the corner of Mandell and Richmond. This restaurant from the family that owns Les Givrals on Washington (but not the Milam location) aims to correct Montrose's surprising lack of places to get a banh mi, spring rolls and other Vietnamese fare late at night. Even better — a drive thru means no getting out of your Uber to get a fix. Estimating the pace of construction and inspections can be tricky, but the work has been making steady progress for the last month or so. Hopefully, it will open in the next few weeks.
The Raven Tower
While construction continues on the White Oak Music Hall, the first sign of the changes coming to the Near Northside is this new bar that features an expansive patio and a spectacular view of the downtown skyline. A report from Tuesday night's preview party revealed good prices on craft beer and cocktails, plenty of games to play in nice weather, and a serious lack of parking that should have future patrons strongly considering carpooling. Live music and food from trompo truck La Macro mean this place will definitely be popular — whether or not patrons are allowed to explore the '70s era bachelor pad at the top of the tower or not.
Texas Tacos & Barbecue
Iconic Second Ward breakfast taco favorite Villa Arcos isn't moving, but Dena Gutierres, the woman who has operated the restaurant for the last five years, is. As soon as February 1, Gutierres will open Texas Tacos & Barbecue in the former home of Oak Leaf Smokehouse where she will serve the same breakfast tacos she has at Villa Arcos and Oak Leaf's barbecue. While Villa Arcos will continue to be a staple for many Houstonians, the prospect of be able to eat a similar product in an air conditioned dining room has an undeniable appeal.