Having spent the last few weeks examining the best of Houston's bar and restaurant scene as part of our Tastemaker Awards coverage, the time has come to look at which restaurants will be competing for prizes next year. That starts next week, when the first of a series of high-profile summer openings will make their debut.
Unlike last October's more comprehensive list of upcoming restaurants, these are the restaurants that seem most likely to open between now and Labor Day. That means that some other high-profile projects, including The Del from Glass Wall/Pax Americana operator Shepard Ross, State of Grace from Atlanta-based empire builder Ford Fry and the downtown location of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, have been left on the cutting room floor. Perhaps they'll surprise everyone and open early, but the recent trend of delays suggests otherwise.
Bernadine's/Foreign Correspondents/Hunky Dory
These three restaurants from Heights-based restaurant group Treadsack (Down House, D&T Drive-Inn, Johnny's Gold Brick) have been in development since 2013 for Hunky Dory and Foreign Correspondents and 2014 for Bernadine's, but construction on all three looks set to conclude in June — or certainly by July.
Thankfully, thanks to the Kipper Club Test Kitchen, diners have gotten previews of Richard Knight's tavern fare for Hunky Dory, P.J. Stoops's tongue-searingly spicy Thai food for Foreign Correspondents and Graham Laborde's elevated, Gulf Coast-inspired fare for Bernadine's.
While the chefs are refining their menus, bar director Leslie Ross is busily finalizing cocktails, which should make all three drinking destinations as well. Collectively, the Treadsack Three are poised to bring a dramatic improvement to dining in the Heights, and, if they live up to their considerable hype, will emerge as three of the best restaurants to open in 2015.
B&B Butchers and Restaurant
The Washington Avenue restaurant revival will add an upscale steakhouse and butcher shop when this restaurant from former Smith & Wollensky general manager Benjamin Berg opens May 26. The historic Dittman building has been completely gutted and transformed into an 80-seat dining room with brick walls and exposed wood ceilings. An 1,800-square foot roof deck will provide views of the downtown skyline. B&B will dry age its meat in house; diners should even be able to catch a glimpse of the butchers working their band saw as they enter the restaurant. In addition to USDA Prime, B&B's menu will feature Texas wagyu steaks.
Randy Rucker's self-described "neighborhood joint" in Briar Grove has almost finished construction and started hiring. While Rucker typically declines to define his cuisine, look for local sourcing with an emphasis on foraged and preserved ingredients. Last year, the chef defined the concept as serving "true luxury" that takes advantage of native seafood as well as wild game. Expect to get more clarity on the cuisine when Bramble hosts "soundcheck" preview dinners: details, of course, TBA.
The Burger Joint
This new concept from food truck master chef Matt Pak (Koagie Hots, The Golden Grill) and business partner Shawn Bermudez (Royal Oak, Stone's Throw, etc) is built around the simple goodness of a thin patty burger made with high quality beef from Texas ranch 44 Farms. Based on the restaurant's companion food truck that's already on the street, the Burger Joint serves a juicy, flavorful burger that's available in traditional forms like a bacon cheeseburger or slightly more creative riffs like a Mexican-inspired burger that's topped with queso fresco, jalapenos and avocado.
When it opens in June, look for the brick and mortar version, which occupies the former Little Big's space on Montrose, to offer an expanded selection of toppings, as well as creatively-topped fries and boozy milkshakes.
Having successfully launched dinner service at Revival Market, partners Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera can turn their focus to this modern ice house. Named after a heritage breed of corn, 8-Row Flint will celebrate the plant in terms of food (tortillas used to make tacos) and drink (bourbon and bourbon-based cocktails). Pera will work with chef de cuisine Vincent Huynh on creative taco fillings that utilize Revival's high-quality meat.
On the drinks side, look for craft beer to supplement the cocktails. How quickly the former gas station at 11th and Yale can complete its transformation remains to be seen, but Weber and Pera are still optimistic it will be before Labor Day.
Fielding's Local Kitchen
Already known for its high-end burger concept Fielding's Wood Grill, owner Cary Attar and chef Edel Goncalves will step things up with Fielding's Local Kitchen. Located in the Creekside shopping center that's already home to Levure Bakery, Local Kitchen will feature housemade pasta and charcuterie along with well-priced bistro cuts of steak.
The beverage program will feature 25 craft beer taps, 100 bottles of wine priced at $99 or less and 500 spirits that will bring Houston's craft cocktail scene north with housemade tinctures, syrups and infusions.
Helen Greek Food & Wine
Popular sommelier Evan Turner will finally bring his vision for a high-quality Greek restaurant to life at the former Kahn's Deli in Rice Village. Since the space only needs a remodel by local design firm Collaborative Projects (Underbelly, Bernie's Burger Bus), it's on track to open as soon as July. Turner tells the Chronicle that the food will be "as if you kidnapped Greeks from all over the country, north and south, east and west, little villages and big cities, islands and the mainland, and then you put them down in Houston and said, ‘Keep cooking Greek food with whatever ingredients you find here.'"
Turner and business partner Sharif Al-Amin (Philippe, Prohibition, Radio Milano) have both hopped from job to job quite a bit, but, if they're truly found a home at Helen, they'll deliver a restaurant that's unlike any other in Houston.
It's been over a year since Kata Robata announced its plans to branch out in the former Farrago's space in Midtown with a drinks-first concept that blends the traditional izakaya combination of small plates and good drinks with a menu updated for modern tastes, but Izakaya finally looks set to open in June. Former Haven/Cove chef Jean-Philippe Gaston shares the executive chef title Kata Robata's Manabu Horiuchi, which reunites a duo that worked together previously.
They've created a menu that includes raw fish preparations, similar to what Gaston created at Cove, and Asian-inspired street food. A cocktail menu created by San Francisco-based bartenders Claire Sprouse (formerly with Grand Prize) and Chad Arnholt will emphasize Japanese drinking culture with high balls that utilize Japanese whiskey as well as traditional Japanese fermentation and preservation techniques. In terms of design, a massive bar dominates the room and shows off an extensive collection of sake and spirits.
The former E.J.'s has been transformed into a coastal Mexican cantina in this new concept from the owners of Cottonwood and Liberty Station that's set to open May 26. With interior details sourced from Mexico, the space has a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. A two-story, internal courtyard that features views along Westheimer should emerge as La Grange's most desirable spot.
On the menu, Cottonwood chef Daniel Ajtai has focused on seafood, with a smoked tomato campechana that sounds particularly delicious. Cocktails (both frozen and not) and an extensive selection of craft beer will keep patrons properly hydrated.
Head to Asiatown for this latest concept from Tiger Den chef/owner Mike Tran. When it opens in June, Mein will feature a variety of Cantonese style comfort foods built around pork, noodles and rice. House-made egg noodles will appear in a variety of dishes along with a carefully concocted soup broth that diners will be able to add their choice of toppings to. Shareable plate options include an authentic, Chinese-style chasu roast pork as well as roasted duck and chicken wings.
An Art Deco design features images from China in the 1930s and '40s.
Sushi master Chris Kinjo resumes serving Houstonians his expertly-prepared dishes at a new location in the Museum District. Designed by local firm MC2 Architects, known for Triniti's James Beard Award-nominated space, the new MF will feature a more upscale design than Kinjo's previous outpost west of the Galleria. A 12-seat counter will serve as the stage for Kinjo's elaborately prepared omakase tastings.
Kinjo and his brother Alex recently opened an outpost of MF in Atlanta, but the chef is confident Houston is still on track for a June opening.
Originally pitched as a gastropub from James Beard Award winner Bradley Ogden, this restaurant in the Gateway Memorial City development has found a new direction under former Triniti chef de cuisine Greg Lowry, who's joined Ogden Hospitality to revive the chef's flagging Houston operations. Lowry describes it as "Texas, pub-driven food" that draws upon Southern, Texas and Mexican influences. One example: a McRib-inspired sandwich of boneless pork ribs topped with cheddar cheese, onions and chow chow that Lowry is thinking of calling "Good Luck," as in, "good luck finishing it."
If it all comes together, Lowry will have achieved a nearly unprecedented turnaround.
SaltAir Seafood Kitchen
If signs of progress on Instagram are to be believed, this seafood restaurant from Clark/Cooper Concepts (Ibiza, Brasserie 19, Coppa Osteria, Punk's Simple Southern Food) should be on track to open in the former Pesce/Brio in July. When it does, expect a bright, nautical-looking space with an elegant atmosphere. The company promises that chef Brandi Key's menu will "keep it simple" while focuses on raw seafood dishes like crudos and ceviches while also delivering cooked fare like salt and pepper calamari, whole roasted fish and non-seafood meat dishes.
Construction is finally underway at this new concept that brings together former Liberty Station/Cottonwood partner Charles Bishop and former Underbelly sous chef Lyle Bento, which puts it on track for a July opening. Along with sous chef Patrick Feges and chef de cuisine J.D. Woodward, Bento has begun to preview Southern Goods menu of modern Southern fare via pop-ups at Ladybirds, and the initial results are very promising.
Look for brunch options like blue corn Johnny cakes with boudin and duck egg and sweet potato waffle with fried quail; a recent preview of dinner items featured gnocchi-style biscuits with bologna. If the chefs deliver, Houston may have an answer to Olamaie, the white-hot Austin restaurant that dominated this year's Tastemaker Awards.
Slated to open in late July/early August, this new Midtown spot takes its inspiration from the original Buddha-Bar in Paris. The 4,000 square foot bar, restaurant and lounge will serve a limited food menu of approximately five appetizers and five entrees that draw from a variety of Asian cuisines; the beverage program will be centered around wine, martinis, sake and a signature soju cocktail.
The former Knoll showroom on Main Street is being remodeled with a French colonial theme that will feature two, hand-carved Buddha sculptures as well as multiple seating areas.