After a banner 2017 for new restaurants in Houston, this year is off to a bit of a slow start. Seriously, what’s the best restaurant to open in Houston this year?
And before someone heads to the comments to type “Nancy’s Hustle” or “Doris Metropolitan,” remember they opened in December.
That’s not to say some interesting places haven’t arrived. Take your pick among Feges BBQ, Rodeo Goat, Fig & Olive, or Night Heron as places diners are happy have opened, but none of them are as ambitious as the beginning of 2017 when places like Xochi, One Fifth, and Riel definitively raised the game for dining in Houston.
Thankfully, the situation looks poised to improve considerably over the next few months. Between now and Labor Day, Houstonians can look forward to new concepts from two of the city’s most well-regarded chefs, high-profile imports from out of town, new concepts from established local operators, and more. The list below isn’t intended to be comprehensive, but it does hit most of the highlights.
All Things Chris Shepherd
The James Beard Award winner is about to have a very busy five months as he prepares to open three new restaurants. First up is UB Preserv, the spiritual replacement for the recently-shuttered Underbelly that’s slated to open in the next week or so. Shepherd is working on the menu with chef de cuisine Nick Wong, who comes to Houston after working in New York for superstar chef David Chang.
UBP won’t serve lunch or accept reservations, but it will offer a dim sum-style brunch every Sunday (sadly, no carts). As for the menu, Shepherd has been keeping most of the details under wraps; we do know dumplings will be on offer, and this crawfish dish with banh hoi noodles looks pretty epic.
In the next few days as we get closer to opening the doors to @ubpreserv I will start to show some of the dishes that we have been working on. This is the Crawfish and Noodle. We are paying homage to one of our favorite places @crawfishandnoodles We take the beautiful Banh Hoi noodles that we get from Van Loi and sear them into a cake. Once that has happened we sauté fresh Louisiana crawfish tails with garlic, creole seasoning, butter and top it with herbs 📸 @juliesoefer
May 2, 2018 at 10:26am PDT
Next up will be Georgia James, a steakhouse inspired by One Fifth Steak that will be located in Underbelly’s former home at 1100 Westheimer. Yes, that means steaks seared on cast iron and the return of the famous Baller Board (and hopefully uni panna cotta). As for the design, Underbelly’s farmhouse aesthetic will be replaced with an art deco-influenced glass and steel look. If the construction goes smoothly, look for a mid-summer opening.
Finally, One Fifth rolls on. On July 31, One Fifth Romance Languages will shutter to make way for One Fifth Mediterranean, which takes its inspiration from Greece and the Middle East. Shepherd is working with Underbelly Hospitality culinary director Nick Fine and chef de cuisine Matt Staph on the menu. Details are scant, but a representative promises that the “bread service will be killer and will use the wood-burning oven.”
Intriguing new projects from local operators
After a series of delays, construction is almost complete on Agricole Hospitality’s three new concepts in the East Village development, which should put the project on track for a June opening. Indianola will serve dishes inspired by the cuisines and port cities that the three partners's ancestors used to enter this country: San Francisco (culinary director Vincent Huynh), Indianola, Texas (Morgan Weber), and Ellis Island (Ryan Pera). Miss Carousel will offer a fresh take on cocktail bars by streamlining the ordering and drink-making process, and Vinny’s will serve both whole pizzas and slices in a variety of styles. Chefs de cuisine and sous chefs are still being finalized, but chef Paul Lewis (Cullen's, Osteria Mozzantini) will oversee the culinary program at all three spaces.
Most of Ford Fry’s restaurants are in Atlanta, but being both a Lamar High School alum and the operator of State of Grace more than entitles him to local status for the purposes of providing an update on the two restaurants he’s bringing this July to the former Hunky Dory/Bernadine’s space in the Heights. Superica is a Tex-Mex restaurant that serves staple dishes like enchiladas and fajitas alongside freshly-made flour tortillas and potent margaritas. La Lucha channels Fry’s memories of the San Jacinto Inn with a menu built around oysters, shrimp, and fried chicken.
Kau Ba Kitchen
Remember that scene in Ugly Delicious where chef David Chang travels to Vietnam and meets a chef who had blended Houston’s Viet-Cajun cuisine with Vietnamese ingredients to create something she called ‘Viejun?’ That chef, Nikki Tran, will make her triumphant return to the Bayou City with a new restaurant in the former Bacchus space on Dunlavy. According to its website, Kau Ba will serve dishes made with fresh ingredients and no MSG when it opens in July. Watch the video below to gain more insight into Tran’s approach.
After two years of running a food truck and serving up tacos at Montrose bar Grand Prize, Taqueria Barba is going brick and mortar with a Heights-adjacent space that’s just down the street from places like Morningstar, Hughie’s, and Pinkerton’s Barbecue. Owner Steven O’Sullivan tells Eater that the restaurant will serve all the familiar dishes from the truck (the smoked pork tacos are particularly good) alongside a full bar with frozen margaritas and hard-to-find mezcals. Expect an opening by the end of May.
It’s been almost two years since Channa and Johnny Rhodes unveiled their plans to open an ambitious tasting menu restaurant in north Houston’s Lindale Park neighborhood, but Restaurant Indigo is finally drawing closer to reality. The concept has shifted slightly; instead of a vegetable-oriented riff on barbecue, Rhodes wants to share the history of soul food by creating dishes inspired by its roots in both African American and Native American culinary traditions. If all goes according to plan, it will open on Juneteenth.
To bring her vision of an all-day cafe that serves plant-based, healthy food to life, Vibrant owner Kelly Barnhart sought the assistance of Alison Wu, a Portland-based lifestyle and food writer. Inspired by food Barnhart wants to eat with her daughter, Vibrant will serve bowls, salads, and toasts at breakfast and lunch when it opens in mid to late June. Dinner will follow.
The family behind Montrose staple Romano’s is branching out with this Italian concept that’s claimed the former La Vista space in Briargrove. Pizza will be on the menu, of course, but the focus will be on freshly made pastas, classic Southern Italian inspired dishes, and hearty entrees including steaks and chops, PaperCity reports. Construction is still ongoing, but the owners expect to open in June.
As for La Vista, chef Greg Gordon’s new location in Lazybrook/Timbergrove is shooting for a mid-May opening. For the new version of his restaurant, Gordon has recruited chef J.D. Woodward (Goro & Gun, Southern Goods) to lead the kitchen, although details on what they’ll be serving remain a little vague. Perhaps the biggest change for La Vista’s regulars will be the full liquor license that brings an end to the former location’s BYOB policy.
This Mexican-inspired concept from the owners of Northside spot Edison & Patton is on track for a mid-May opening in a newly-constructed space next to Eight Row Flint. The menu takes its influence from both Northern Mexico and South Texas with dishes that run the gamut from fajitas to scallops in white mole and octopus tostadas. Cocktails will be agave-focused, including a selection of margaritas.
Blood Bros. BBQ
Construction has begun on the space in Bellaire that will allow this popular barbecue pop-up to become a full-time restaurant. That means regular access to pitmaster Quy Hoang’s Asian-influenced take on classic Texas barbecue, as well as experiments like the Thai chile boudain that was one of the consensus best bites at this year’s Houston Barbecue Festival. Expect a more diverse selection of sides when the restaurant makes its debut later this summer.
Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack
Admittedly, Ray’s isn’t new, but the Third Ward staple will soon relocate from its current home in a gas station to a larger, free-standing building. The new space will allow the restaurant to utilize all wood-burning pits with a greater capacity, and the expanded kitchen means a wider variety of sides.
The countdown is on for this new restaurant that aims to put a Houston spin on restaurateur Ian Tucker’s award-winning Dublin gastropub, The Exchequer. Chef Dominick Lee (Kiran’s) will serve a menu inspired by his New Orleans roots, modern day Houston, and a few classic dishes. Beverage director Sarah Cuneo (The Pastry War) and bar manager Christa Havican (Reserve 101) will ensure the cocktails are as good as the food. As CultureMap reported earlier this week, Poitín arrives May 14 in Sawyer Yards.
Motorcycle racer-turned-restaurateur Will Gruy will bring Roman-style pizza al'taglio to West University later this summer. While foodies should be intrigued by the pizza’s signature crisp, airy crust, West U residents just seem to be happy that the restaurant will be BYOB.
At this point, CultureMap readers should be well-acquainted with the 20,000-square-foot food hall that will bring 10 vendors to the Jones on Main at the J.P. Morgan Chase Tower. It’s an intriguing mix that includes concepts from well-known restaurants like Goode Co. and Dish Society as well as first-ever brick and mortar locations for food trucks like Craft Burger and Oddball Eats. When it opens in “late summer,” Finn Hall’s beverage options will include a craft beer and wine bar as well as art deco cocktail lounge.
High-profile out of towners
“Nearly 40 restaurants around the world” sounds more appropriate for a burger joint than one of the world’s most-acclaimed fine dining restaurants, but Nobu has built a lofty reputation for its creative, Japanese-inspired cuisine. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa will bring signature dishes like black cod with miso and yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno to a 10,000 square foot location in the Galleria VI sometime next month. Given the buzz, Nobu looks poised to be that rare restaurant that draws passionate diners and see-and-be-seen types in equal measure.
Chef John Besh may have stepped away from his company in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, but his company, now named BRG Hospitality, is moving forward with its plans to open a restaurant next to Greenway Plaza. Chef-partner Drake Leonards is still attached to the project, which is good, since the menu is inspired by the childhood flavors of his hometown in South Louisiana. Look for it to arrive in late August or early September.
Celebrity chef Michael Mina and superstar cookbook author Ayehsa Curry joined forces to create this restaurant that takes an international perspective on barbecue. Expect everything from Chinese-style char sui pork to an Argentinian ribeye with chimichurri (but not Texas-style brisket) when it opens in CityCentre in mid-June for dinner service (lunch and brunch will follow). Reviews of the San Francisco location have been mixed, but hopefully Mina’s expertise in running restaurants around the world means that the kinks have been worked out.
Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken
Two years after announcing its plans to open on Washington Avenue, the Memphis-based fried chicken chain known for its signature spicy coating is finally on track to open later this month. If the frenzy that greeted Gus’s arrival in Austin is any indication, the line will be long — but worth it.
East Hampton Sandwich Company
The Dallas-based restaurant known for its “bomb sandwiches” has plans to make a splash in Houston with two locations. Look for its River Oaks District outpost to open later this month, with the Montrose store to follow a few weeks later.
Pickup trucks in the parking lot of the former J. Black’s space on Washington Avenue are a sign that pitmaster Leonard Botello IV’s plans to bring his acclaimed Brenham barbecue joint to Houston may finally be coming to fruition, but devoted fans of Botello’s slow-smoked brisket, homemade sausages, creative sides, and mile-high layer cakes will probably be driving west for awhile. A representative tells CultureMap that she doesn’t have “any updates on opening dates or timing to share.” That’s undeniably disappointing, but at least most of the construction on Highway 290 has wrapped up, which makes the drive a little more pleasant.