Usually, January sees a slower pace of restaurant openings than the fall, as places recover from the holiday busy season and regroup. That isn't the case this year, as this month's Where To Eat Right Now proves. For what its worth, the trend slows no signs of slowing down either.
Also, after half of January's Where To Eat Right Now was outside the Loop, this month only two of the restaurants are (and one of those is in tony Tanglewood). For all the speculation that rising rents will drive restaurateurs to farther flung locations, the center of the Houston remains extremely vital.
Without further ado, here are 10 newly opened restaurants to try this month. Give one of them a shot instead of an old favorite for Valentine's Day.
Coltivare may have just opened, but the restaurant already feels as polished as many long-established endeavors. Credit Revival Market partners Morgan Weber and chef Ryan Pera for using the delays imposed by parking negotiations to refine the details that have helped justify the high expectations people have for Coltivare.
Already, ingredients from Coltivare's 3,000 square foot garden are showing up in dishes, and that trend will continue as the weather warms and more plants spring to life. For now, pizzas from the wood-fired oven and anything from the wood-burning broiler, like the spicy chicken with agrodolce, are can't miss items.
Once the restaurant obtains a liquor license (private club style like Down House and Shade), it will offer a full cocktail menu built around Italian amaro and wine selected by Plonk veteran Jeb Stuart. For now, it's BYOB. Although Coltivare doesn't accept reservations, diners can call ahead to place themselves on the list. When a table is ready, the restaurant will send a text that gives people five minutes to return and claim a seat
Former Samba Grille and Alma Cebiche + bar chef David Guerrero is back with this highly appealing Second Ward cafe that serves dishes from countries along the Andes Mountains. Colombian anticuchos, thick, meaty pieces of grilled beef heart, can be found on the menu alongside papa a la huancaina, a Peruvian potato dish covered with creamy aji sauce that was so addictive a Peruvian friend wanted to buy it by the jar.
Sandwiches, such as a sausage-filled choripan, are enormous and offer solid value. Naturally, Guerrero's signature ceviches are as delicious as they've always been. Add to the mix South American coffees (from local roasted Katz), sodas and gelato flavors for a complete experience. Located in an office building, the restaurant is primarily open for breakfast and lunch during the week but serves dinner on Friday and Saturday.
This new Tanglewood restaurant wears its heart on its sleeve, or maybe, its good intentions on its menu. Look below the reasonably-priced entrees to see the list of farmers, ranchers and other purveyors who supply the ingredients for chef Johnny Romo's dishes.
At less than $15 for a serving of skirt steak with chimichurri or a generous portion of pork tenderloin, the prices feel a couple bucks lower than they should be, possibly to attract diners who may already be eating similar fare at nearby restaurant Adair Kitchen. Mussels steamed in Saint Arnold beer with tomato and kale may not be reinventing the wheel, but that dish has never stopped being delicious, either.
This restaurant wears its heart on its sleeve, or maybe, its good intentions on its menu.
The stylish design, the utility of serving breakfast, lunch and dinner during the week and brunch and dinner on the weekends, and a well-priced wine list combine to make this new restaurant feel like a real winner. The only complaint is that the wooden tables and polished surfaces mean the dining room can be noisy when its full.
Midtown may finally be expanding beyond the bar scene with the arrival of Cook & Collins, a casual neighborhood restaurant that serves classic comfort food from the same people who have made Crisp a success in Shady Acres. The concept gives Midtown residents an everyday spot for meals that's been missing from the neighborhood.
The transformation from the location's previous incarnation as El Patio/El Xuco Xicana is stunning. The subway tile, hanging lamps and wood accents give the place a welcoming, upscale feel. The menu's highs come when its blending sweet and spicy, as with the Angry Birds fried chicken appetizer and the Pig Popper flatbread.
Basic dishes like steak and the fried chicken entree are also worth trying. Cocktails are solid and the beer selection includes local craft options. Lunch and dinner are both available during the week; brunch starts this weekend.
Chef Luigi Ferre, who worked at Midtown staple Damian's for years, has transplanted his popular Galveston restaurant to a new spot off West Alabama behind Lamar High School. The food is classic Italian-American cuisine of the sort people go to Damian's, Vincent's and others for: Mushroom ravioli in pomodoro sauce, fettucini Alfredo and veal scallopini are all featured.
Luigi's sets itself apart by getting the details right.
Luigi's sets itself apart by getting the details right with housemade pastas, sausage and desserts. Service is polished, attentive and willing to accommodate substitutions to get the dish just right. Although located near Giacomo's, the menu is different enough to set itself apart and appeal to diners who are looking for old school dishes. The interior has a similarly classic vibe that would make it an appealing date night option.
It will be BYOB until Ferre completes the process of transferring his liquor license to the new location.
Pitmaster Marlon Brooks has joined his brother Harlon in the barbecue business with this tidy restaurant next to the University of Houston campus. Brisket is properly cooked with a mild smoke flavor and well-rendered fat. Ribs are almost fall off the bone soft, but they still maintain a decent chew with a slightly sweet flavor. Sides, particularly the braised collards, are made with care and complement the offerings well.
Service from Brooks and his wife Ros is friendly and welcoming. While it may not be a contender for Houston's best barbecue, Brooks does provide UH students and the neighborhood with a solid, very reasonably priced option.
This Washington Avenue staple brings its rock and roll vibe, huge portions of amped up comfort food and late night hours to Montrose. While the burger, fried chicken and egg sandwich are the same at both locations, chef Michael Pellegrino has also created dishes that are unique to the new location. Start with jerk duck confit pies or clam chowder fondue.
For an entree, consider the chicken and sriracha dumplings or the osso bucco and frites made with 8th Wonder Brewery gravy. Max's joins recently remodeled Gratifi, well-regarded Mexican restaurant Cuchara and foodie hot spot Boheme to make the intersection of Fairview and Taft a top notch destination.
Want a healthier option? Max's owners Lasco Exterprises have also launched Flow Juice Bar next door.
The bakery that served cheese-stuffed pretzel rolls, brisket-filled kolaches and bacon scones has been reborn inside the Cypress barbecue joint The Backyard Smokehouse. All of the favorites that made Ranch Bakery an under the radar destination during its run in 2012 are back, and owner John Homrighausen will also supply desserts to the restaurant.
So far, the breakfast offerings are only available on the weekends, but that just means Inner Loopers have a stopping point on their way to the outlet mall or as a prelude to a day of touring through Central Texas.
Even as Cook & Collins hopes to appeal to a more mature Midtown crowd, the owners of Upper Kirby nightclub OTC are adding another bar to the Bagby strip that already includes patio bars Dogwood and The Gaslamp. OTC Midtown will set itself apart from the competition with a menu of pizzas derived from Brooklyn pizza joint Pete Zaaz, as first noted by Eater.
The menu is built around non-traditional, creative offerings like a baked potato pizza instead of more traditional fare. While its probably unrealistic to think OTC will produce pies at the Coltivare level, the Facebook pictures certainly look intriguing enough to merit a visit. As for the drinks, the focus is squarely on cocktails, but a small beer selection is available, too.
If nothing else, Midtowners should enjoy having a late night pizza option to replace the departed Late Night Pie.
University of Houston students have a new spot on campus for locally roasted coffee, drinks and snacks thanks to the Nook Cafe. Opened by UH alum Derek Shaw and business partner Sam Wijnberg, Nook Cafe lives its motto of "By Coogs for Coogs" with a space designed by a UH alum, coffee supplied by UH grad Avi Katz and a policy of donating 10 percent of profits from sales of its Cougar Blend coffee to the school.
Beyond that, Nook Cafe offers pastries from French Riviera Bakery and Take the Cake. Older students can enjoy beer and wine to take the edge off those pre-exam jitters. In a hurry? Soon, diners will be able to order any non-alcoholic beverage online and pick it up without waiting in line.