It feels like people mostly stay away from restaurants in January. Coming off the rush of holiday-related events and motivated to stick with New Year's resolutions about spending less money and eating healthier, most of the restaurants I've visited in the last month have been pretty quiet. Except for Weights + Measures.
The pace of openings slowed a bit, too, which gave me the chance to catch up on a couple under-the-radar spots I'd missed during the fall.
Anyway, February is the month people start getting back out there. Whether it's to watch the Super Bowl at a sports bar or planning a special dinner for Valentine's Day, diners begin to reemerge from their homes and start to explore. With all that in mind, here are 10 restaurants to try. They won't all be competing for the best new restaurants of 2015, but they will deliver a satisfying meal.
Weights + Measures
After a staged soft opening, this bar/restaurant/bakery in Midtown is now fully open every day from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Morning service starts with pastries, donuts and breads from Slow Dough Bread Co's first retail outpost and continues with lunch, dinner and late night bar bites from chef Richard Kaplan. Lunch has already proven popular, with diners enjoying both the wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches that feature house-cured charcuterie. Personally, I've been using it as a spot for a happy hour drink with friends or a solo dinner of beer and pizza at the bar. Try the roasted carrot version with its Egyptian spice mix. The only downside is that W+M doesn't take reservations; waits at peak times can run an hour or more. Plan accordingly.
Oporto Fooding House & Wine
The Midtown location of the popular wine bar and tapas restaurant feels like a grown-up version of the Greenway Plaza original. Simply put, the restaurant, designed by Austin's Michael Hsu (Uchi, Hunky Dory), is gorgeous with extensive use of light-colored wood. It's also substantially larger than the original, which means waits shouldn't be bad, even on the weekends (no reservations for parties smaller than 8). Recommended dishes include the roasted oysters, seafood pizza, hangar steak and chicken curry empanadas. Despite only being open a couple of weeks, our server knew the menu well and was able to suggest wine pairings based on our choices. The larger steak, presented dramtically on a metal hangar, looked good, but, at $45, I'd recommend allocating dollars towards more courses instead.
The second location of this British-based Italian restaurant opened recently in the former Solea space on Shepherd. Thanks to the presence of longtime Houston chef Alberto Baffoni (Simposio) Mascalzone's menu has taken a step forward. Pizza, made fresh and cooked in an oven with a rotating deck, is still a good choice, but the handmade pastas are also worth considering. Solea's space has been given an Italian-inspired makeover, and construction has begun to expand the restaurant's patio with a second story. Looking for a second opinion? My colleague Joel Luks has been four times in the past month.
Cousins Maine Lobster
This California-based, Shark Tank-endorsed food truck has found a local partner in Neil Werner, who says he has a passion for bringing the flavors of the Maine coast to Houstonians. Cousins gets the essential detail of a lobster roll right — don't muck it up with too much mayonnaise or toppings that mask the lobster's natural sweetness. Other options include a Connecticut-style roll served hot butter insteads of mayo, tater tots topped with lobster and ice cream with lobster. Long lines have greeted the truck's initial services; bring a little patience. Thankfully, it moves quickly.
Meet Julius and Barry Fourie, a father-son duo with a passion for sharing the flavors of Julius's native South Africa. They started Spice Runner as a food truck in San Antonio before opening this restaurant in the Energy Corridor. Diners choose from eight different sauces that are based on some of the world's great cuisines; then they add a protein and veggies. In less than five minutes, the dish arrives as either a rice bowl or inside a hollowed-out baguette. British-style meat pies are another option and have already become a hit with ex-pats in the area. With vegetarian and gluten free options available, the Fourie family thinks they've developed a concept that could grow quickly. People who really like the sauces can take them home.
Admittedly, this kebeb shop in Midtown isn't that new — it opened in September — but it was new to me. Choose from beef and lamb, chicken or fish as a protein and consume as either a sandwich or salad; Dögarz Döner's seasoning mix blends Turkish and Italian influences for a combination of flavors that's a little bolder than what's served at Austin-based VertsKebap. My spicy meat version was so overstuffed that it was hard to pick up and eat, but the mix of flavors from the various toppings made finishing easy.
New owner Randy Hines has given this 45-year old institution in Greenway Plaza a major jolt. Gone are the drab decor and flavorless fillings of the past few years. In their place, the Kolache Shoppe has a more modern look and, more importantly, ingredients suited to the modern palate. Sausages now come from places like Junior's Smokehouse in El Campo, and high quality local purveyors like Blue Heron Farms and Just Pure Flavors supply the fruit fillings. Vegetarians even get savory flavors like spinach, potato, jalapeno and cheese. Break the chain habit and enjoy some local deliciousness.
Despite listing out 18 new restaurants across two columns to wrap up the best of 2014, Holley's got left out. In response to some recent recommendations from people I trust, I returned for the first time since my initial visit in July. After a meal of the restaurant's signature gumbo, Parker House rolls and a Thai-style whole fried fish, I found the restaurant to be in fine form. The recent addition of pasty chef Johnny Wesley bodes well for desserts, too. Slightly lower prices would help move it from special occasion to my regular rotation, but the food deserves attention. Or just spend the $50 to attend one of the restaurant's monthly fried chicken dinner.
With the lawsuit between Artista operator Cordua Restaurants and The Hobby Center resolved with a new, five-year lease, executive chef David Cordua has rolled out a new menu. Highlights include a caviar version of the "twinkie" that won January's truffle challenge, and a lamb loin served in the same style as the company's signature churrasco. Seafood paella and tempura-fried calamari give seafood lovers options, too. During the recent run of The Book of Mormon, the restaurant will slam through as many as 200 diners in the 90 minutes leading up to showtime, but it's considerably calmer on all other nights.
Pie Five Pizza Company
This Dallas-based chain has made a strong entrance into the Houston market with three locations that have opened since December, including one on Yale Street near Walmart. One of many businesses competing to become "the Chipotle of pizza," diners at Pie Five choose a crust, sauce, cheese and toppings from an array of choices. Pies are assembled to order and baked in about five minutes. Blogger Hank on Food categorizes it as "what I'd expect from a good pizzeria." I'd call it an inexpensive way — $10 for a pizza, salad and drink — to satisfy a pizza fix that's on par, if not a little better, than delivery from a national chain. Of course, I also recommended roasted carrot pizza a few paragraphs ago.
Admittedly, this food truck from Clark/Cooper Concepts isn't a restaurant; it only serves illy coffee and cinnamon rolls. However, the cinnamon rolls are a delicious, sugary throwback that's sure to make officemates jealous. Also, the truck appears every Monday through Friday in front of Ibiza in Midtown, which makes it a decent alternative to someone's daily Starbucks fix. Weekend types can find it in front of Punk's Simple Southern Food and Coppa Osteria in Rice Village. Just look for the giant red coffee mug on the roof.