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Hot Chef Move

New Houston restaurant brings a hot chef to Shady Acres — and there's no flying under the radar this time

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Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014
Roost chef/owner Kevin Naderi is branch out with Lillo & Ella in Shady Acres.  Photo by Dragana Harris
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014 mustard green and yam in Thai coconut sauce chili with baby corn and herbs
Mustard greens and yams in a Thai coconut sauce chili with baby corn and herbs. Courtesy photo
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014
Naderi expects the bar to be its own destination thanks to bar manager Aaron Lara's cocktail menu. Photo by Eric Sandler
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014
New floor, new paint, new look.  Photo by Eric Sandler
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014
The new dining room is  brighter than the El Gran Malo days.  Photo by Eric Sandler
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014 lunch menu
Lunch menu. Courtesy photo
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014 dinner menu
Dinner menu. Courtesy photo
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014 mustard green and yam in Thai coconut sauce chili with baby corn and herbs
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014 lunch menu
Lillo and Ella restaurant Kevin Naderi May 2014 dinner menu

Roost chef/owner Kevin Naderi opened his second concept this weekend in Shady Acres. Located in the former El Gran Malo space, Lillo & Ella follows Roost's successful formula of mixing shareable plates and larger entrees, but this time the influences are explicitly Asian.

"The more I played with food at Roost the more I found myself going back to Asian-style flavors of clean, simple and fresh herbs," Naderi tells CultureMap. "Things that I enjoy eating myself . . . I just kind of like the bright flavors of things."

 "Why would I stick to one thing? I don’t want to get bored in what I do. At the same time, I like to give people different things." 

The menu skips across the continent with Thai-style curries, Chinese bao (at lunch), Vietnamese chicken wings and Japanese-style izakaya skewers. "I don’t like to stick to one region," Naderi explains. "Just like at Roost, there’s so much out there.

"Why would I stick to one thing? I don’t want to get bored in what I do. At the same time, I like to give people different things." 

Inside, the space has been completely transformed into something that's much brighter than its predecessor. Naderi tiled the floor, added brick accents, cleaned up the bathrooms (huzzah!) and worked with Re Coop Designs and Spencer Elliot for new shelves and steelwork. He bought the lot next door and torn down a house to give Lillo & Ella some much-needed parking.

Even the name, which pays tribute to homebuilder Edward Crain Sr.'s nickname and the street Crain named for his business partner's wife, seems designed to appeal to neighborhood residents.  

"A lot of people in the area have been talking about it . . . They’re all excited to have us here and have been giving us little pointers. It’s a great neighborhood," Naderi says. "It’s a great area to have lunch. I don’t see any reason why there wouldn’t be good lunches here."

In addition to the new look, Naderi has enlisted general manager Chris Fleischman to put together a wine list and bar manager Aaron Lara for a cocktail menu. "(Lara) is doing really nice cocktails," Naderi says of the bartender who was most recently at Bad News Bar. "Some Asian influence, some just really focused . . . He really gives a crap about what he does."

Naderi realizes the three men have the chance to do something special. Even though Naderi's still only 28, he's learned a lot in the three years since he opened Roost.

"I think it’s a concise team of guys that really care," he says. "Granted, we’re all young. Maybe we’re going to drop the ball one or two times, but it’s a learning curve, you know? That’s what we’re here for. I’ve never said I’m the best at what I do."

When Roost opened, the restaurant's location, tucked away on Fairview, gave it a bit of an underground vibe. This time Naderi realizes he won't be flying under anyone's radar but hopes diners will give the new concept a chance. 

"I know people come in with all these premade feelings of 'This is what I’m going to experience' and 'This is how things should be or are going to be.' It’s just come in and have a good time and relax a little bit. Our price point is still reasonable. That’s what we want. Our wine and cocktails are very reasonable. All of our cocktails are $11. Wines, I think we have one bottle at $80 to $100. Everything else is below.

"I don’t have to pay rent. We pass that on to the customers a little. Come in and have a good time."

Lillo & Ella is open for lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Fridays (11 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and dinner on Saturdays (4 p.m. to 11 p.m.). Sunday brunch will come soon.

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