For nine of the categories in the 2016 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, a panel of restaurant industry insiders has already voted on the winners. No, we won’t tell you who they are, but you're welcome to find out at the awards ceremony on May 18.
But Best New Restaurant is different. For that category, CultureMap readers get to choose the winner in a four-round, bracket-style tournament that starts with 16 contenders. Collectively, they represent the most exciting new restaurants to open in Houston between May 2015 and February 2016, which means readers should have, at least in theory, had a chance to visit most. Individually, they couldn’t be more different; the candidates cover both inside and outside the Loop, a wide range of cuisines, and even different styles of service.
Which restaurants move on and which places drop out is entirely up to you. To keep things interesting, each establishment faces off against someplace with which it has something in common: an ownership group, cuisine, or overall feel. The margins are sure to be close. Polls are open now and will close at 11:30 pm on May 8. Vote now.
Hunky Dory vs Bernadine’s
They’re two very different restaurants, and either one could probably win this whole tournament; however, seeing as they share a roof and a parking lot, it makes sense to pit them against each other in round one. Sure, they both have killer cocktails and an inviting patio, but their cuisines set them apart. Will it be Hunky Dory’s English atmosphere or Bernadine’s Gulf Coast vibe? Wood-grilled steaks or pan-seared snapper?
Bramble vs The Durham House
Two of Houston’s newest Southern-inspired restaurants face off in this matchup. At Bramble, Randy Rucker has crafted a casual neighborhood restaurant where a chalkboard menu of whole roasted meat and fish dishes provide a good excuse for friends to gather together. At The Durham House, rising star chef Mike McElroy brings years of cooking in New Orleans and high-quality charcuterie to Washington Ave. Will it be Rucker’s return or McElroy’s ambition that moves on to the second round?
SaltAir Seafood Kitchen vs State of Grace
This matchup features the two most similar restaurants in the bracket. Both are seafood-oriented spots with elegant dining rooms that deliver excellent service to a primarily well-heeled clientele. The biggest difference is their influences: the California coast for SaltAir and Ford Fry’s Houston childhood for State of Grace. Which River Oaks hotspot with a buzzy oyster bar will advance?
Southern Goods vs Fielding’s Local Kitchen & Bar
In contrast to the matchup above, these restaurants appear fairly different, but their similarities emerge on closer inspection. The Heights has become Houston’s hottest dining neighborhood, and none of the recent openings features as much talent in the kitchen as Southern Goods’s three Underbelly vets: Lyle Bento, J.D. Woodward, and Patrick Feges. The Woodlands, meanwhile, is Houston’s hottest dining suburb, and this more upscale sibling of Fielding’s Wood Grill expands upon the original’s ethos of utilizing locally-sourced ingredients and making everything from scratch.
B&B Butchers vs Helen Greek Food & Wine
Consider this matchup to be Houston’s past vs its present. Sure, they’re both new restaurants, but B&B Butchers is an expansive steakhouse with a throwback menu that includes dishes like beef Wellington and crab Louie. On the other hand, Helen has earned national attention by serving something new to Houston: authentic Greek dishes made with mostly locally-sourced meats and vegetables.
Houston has evolved beyond the days when people ate only steaks, burgers, and Tex-Mex, but they still remain popular. Will the rising star triumph over the popular newcomer?
Pappa Charlies Barbeque vs The Burger Joint
What could be more classic than the matchup of burgers vs barbecue? In less than two years, Pappa Charlies grew from an underrated trailer to one of the city’s most reliable destinations for smoked meat. Meanwhile, The Burger Joint’s diverse menu, expansive patio and late night hours have attracted crowds since day one.
Brisket and ribs or burgers and fries? Only one can advance.
Izakaya vs Mein
People don’t argue about whether Chinatown or Midtown is a better dining neighborhood in the same way they debate Montrose vs The Heights, but that’s a component of this matchup. While these restaurants have stylish spaces and their status as sister concepts to well-regarded siblings (Kata Robata for Izakaya, Tiger Den for Mein) in common, they’re pretty different dining experiences.
Izakaya is a Japanese-inspired drinks and small plates concept that serves everything from raw seafood to a riff on chicken fried steak. Mein offers classic Cantonese comfort fare. Houstonia critic Alice Levitt doesn’t think very highly of either one, but she only gets one vote like everyone else. Choose wisely.
Cooking Girl vs Foreign Correspondents
The final matchup pits one of 2015’s most eagerly anticipated newcomers against an upstart that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. At Foreign Correspondents, chef P.J. Stoops uses rigorously-sourced local ingredients to present authentic Thai flavors. Cooking Girl replaced failed sushi restaurant Akamaru, but the restaurant’s carefully prepared noodle dishes and spicy Sichuan flavors have won it plenty of fans. Will it be Treadsack’s polish or homey familiarity that moves on to round two?