The last six months have been an incredibly dynamic time for Houston restaurants. Simple consider that three of the city’s James Beard Award winners — Chris Shepherd (One Fifth), Hugo Ortega (Xochi), and Justin Yu (Better Luck Tomorrow) — have all opened new projects.
Spurred on by the Super Bowl, the area around Discovery Green has been transformed with new arrivals like Brasserie du Parc, Bayou & Bottle, three new openings in the Marriott Marquis, and three more in the George R. Brown Convention Center. Closer to the Galleria, Yauatcha and Bosscat Kitchen have joined the restaurants in River Oaks District to make the area one of the city’s dining hotspots.
Of course, the Heights and its adjacent neighborhoods remain popular, too. A few prominent closings haven’t overshadowed new arrivals like Presidio, Field & Tides, Helen in the Heights, Star Fish, Heights Bier Garten, King’s BierHaus, and gelato shop Dolce Neve.
That’s a lot of new restaurants, and it doesn’t even include the never-ending stream of poke shops or interesting activity happening in the suburbs.
For all that activity and its corresponding talk that perhaps Houston has become overheated, restaurateurs continue to open new concepts. The next few months will see a number of new restaurants from both locals looking to expand and out-of-towners who see opportunity in the Bayou City.
While other publications may be content to list 10 or 11 new restaurants, we like to dig a little deeper. Even though places that opened last week or this week — including Chapman & Kirby, SeaSide Poke, Balls Out Burger, Smoke N Honey's, Retrospect Coffee Bar, and South Bank Seafood Bar — aren't on the list, these 21 bars, restaurants, and dessert shops should keep readers busy all summer.
New concepts from local favorites
Oxbow 7 and Hoggbird’s
“Elevated bayou cuisine,” that’s how Bryan Caswell (Reef, Little Bigs, El Real Tex-Mex Cafe) describes Oxbow 7, the first chef-driven concept he’s opened since Stella Sola. Located inside downtown’s Le Meridien hotel, expect the restaurant to feature a stylish, Mid-century modern look when it opens in July, and cuisine that draws upon Caswell’s interests as a hunter and fisherman. The new restaurant represents a change on the business side, too; it’s Caswell’s first where his wife Jennifer is a partner and his longtime associate Bill Floyd is not. Hoggbird’s, a rooftop bar located on the hotel’s 23rd story, looks poised to become downtown’s newest hot spot.
Justin Yu has been pretty tight-lipped about his plans for the former Oxheart space, but the James Beard Award winner has finally revealed the name: Theodore Rex. Yu confirmed to CultureMap that the restaurant, which will feature a new layout and an a la carte menu, is still on track to open this summer, but he’s not quite ready to discuss what style of food it will serve or when exactly it will open. In the meantime, diners can eat his Party Melt, Not a Pizza, and other bar snacks at Better Luck Tomorrow.
Former Brasserie 19 general manager Shawn Virene is so devoted to champagne that he’s named his River Oaks restaurant after a town in France that’s located in the Champagne region. Virene has promised that A’Bouzy’s list of over 150 sparklers will be “ the best priced and researched” in Houston; given his track record, we believe him. The success of the New American menu of seafood, salads, and steaks will depend on precise execution; hopefully, details will emerge soon and the exact timing of the restaurant’s opening.
Like Virene did at Brasserie 19, Sam Governale built a devoted following during his eight year tenure at Fleming’s, which will certainly attract customers to his new restaurant in the former Teala’s space on West Dallas. The permitting process has pushed Emmaline back to a late summer opening from its original spring target, but work has begun to transform the space with a second-story patio. Meanwhile, Governale and executive chef Dimitri Voutsinas have been popping up at events around town to test out ideas for the restaurant’s menu — which Governale once described as “classic American fare with European refinement” — by serving dishes that range from classic meatballs to olive-stuffed poached halibut with white asparagus. Of course, the wine list will be first-rate.
Restaurateur Claire Smith has tapped a number of rising stars, including former Down House executive chef Kent Domas and One Fifth veteran Summer Sepeda, to assist with this new concept in the former Shade space. Slated to open later this month, the restaurant’s definition of “contemporary bistro cuisine with a nod to classical European cooking techniques” has taken a little more shape thanks to a preview dinner that included a summer salad of cantaloupe, tomatoes, and herbs, black sea bass, and blueberry panna cotta. Expects details on the wine and cocktails options, created in part by former Public Services general manager Sean Jensen, to emerge soon.
Later this summer, Shawn Bermudez, the Montrose-based entrepreneur behind The Burger Joint, Stone’s Throw, and Boondocks, will open this replacement for his Sunday funday hotspot Royal Oak. As anyone who’s driven past it will notice, the biggest structural change is the addition of a second story patio. Bermudez has politely declined requests for interior renderings or details on the new food and drink menu, but his stylish aesthetic (an underrated aspect of Stone Throw’s success) and attention to detail (one of the reasons The Burger Joint is always so busy) will certainly make the new bar a must-visit destination as soon as it opens.
Restaurateur Cary Attar will add a third concept to the Fielding’s family with this chicken-oriented spot. Fielding’s Wood Grill, the company’s gourmet burger outpost, already features an excellent roasted bird, and it will be joined by dishes “ranging from coq au vin to chicken tikka masala,” according to Eater Houston. As at both Wood Grill and Fielding’s Local Kitchen & Bar, beverage options will include cocktails, craft beer, and a well-priced wine list.
While almost everything planned for Avenida Houston has opened, diners have yet to experience this new project from The Breakfast Klub owner Marcus Davis. Eventually the restaurant, which explores the cuisines of the African diaspora from the Caribbean to the American South, will makes its debut in the Partnership Tower that sits across the George R. Brown Convention Center.
While we wait, it’s worth noting that The Breakfast Klub’s adjacent Signature Cafe is open from 10 am to 2 pm all summer, which should shorten the amount of time people stand around in the heat, and for late night service from 10 pm to 3 am on Friday and Saturday. Scarfing some wings and a waffle after a night of boozing in Midtown sounds very appealing.
The return of a beloved local institution
Construction continues to rebuild the iconic restaurant, which was destroyed by a fire in April 2016. Owner George Mickelis told TV station ABC13 that the new building will feature a number of improvements when it reopens this summer, including a patio, dinner entrees like steak, and the ability to order beer and wine. Of course, all the classic recipes will remain intact. Best of all, the employees will return, too; they’ve remained on the payroll throughout the rebuilding process.
Heavy hitters with out of town roots
Speaking of the mysterious plans of James Beard Award-winning chefs, Austin’s Paul Qui has only been slightly more forthcoming than Yu about his plans for his restaurant that’s coming to lower Westheimer. Chefs Gabe Medina and Nikki Vongthong will oversee the kitchen, and that the menu will feature “wood and wok cooking with a heavy emphasis on meats and seafood,” as well as a raw bar. The building looks to be mostly complete, but no one has so much as hinted at an opening date. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer.
This restaurant that’s slated to open next to Tacodeli may be flying a little under the radar, but sushi lovers will want to keep their eyes on it. A representative tells CultureMap that the owner recruited chef Shimao Ishikawa from New York City’s Michelin-starred Jewel Bako. If the chef’s cuisine is as exacting as the interior details being revealed on the restaurant’s Facebook page, Kukuri won’t stay unknown for long.
The Dallas-based restaurant will join newly opened restaurant/lounge concept Chapman & Kirby and soon-to-open poke shop SeaSide Poke in EaDo’s rapidly emerging East Village development. Rated as one of the burgers in Cowboy Country, the restaurant serves more than 20 burgers, craft beer, and cocktails.
The upscale steak and sushi concept with well-regarded locations in Chicago, Scottsdale, and San Francisco finally looks poised to open this month in the River Oaks area inside a new tower at 2929 Wesleyan. Executive chef Ce Bian and sushi chef Mike Lim will lead the restaurant, which is built around a robata grill. Options include hot and cold appetizers, nigiri sushi, and prime steaks, or diners can opt for an omakase tasting menu. An extensive selection of cocktails and a stylish interior should at least ensure diners drift east from the hotspots in River Oaks District to give Roka Akor a shot, but whether it will pack in patrons like Steak 48 and Le Colonial remains to be seen.
Tarka Indian Kitchen
The Austin-based fast casual Indian restaurant will arrive in the Heights on June 14, followed by a location in Spring this fall. Similar in style to Chipotle, diners select a protein and spice level for each item on Tarka’s menu of curries, kabobs, biryanis, and flatbreads. Signature items include pressed naan sandwiches and masala fries. High-quality ingredients, including hormone free chicken and grass-fed lamb, make it an appealing choice for the health-conscious.
SumoMaya Mexican-Asian Kitchen
The Arizona-based restaurant that fuses Japanese and Mexican flavors remains the last officially confirmed concept coming to River Oaks District. Although it’s been on versions of this list for a while, it finally looks poised for a late summer opening. Soon enough, we’ll all be arguing about the merits of dishes like pork al pastor pad thai and Mexican pho with roasted pasilla chile broth.
The New York City-based restaurant known for Instagram-friendly poke burritos and authentic Hawaiian flavors is scheduled to arrive in the Chipotle-anchored shopping center on Heights Boulevard just south of I-10 in August or September.
Local restaurants with new locations
Dish Society Memorial
The casual farm-to-table restaurant will bring its all-day dining, craft beer, and locally-sourced ingredients to Midway’s new mixed-use development in the next couple of months. A fourth location will open in The Heights next year.
Bernie’s Burger Bus - The Heights
Once the final permitting snafus are overcome, the third location of the growing gourmet burger restaurant will makes its debut (hopefully late June or early July). While most of chef-owner Justin Turner’s menu will match the Bellaire and Katy locations, the restaurant’s first location inside the loop will be a slightly more grown-up affair courtesy of a full bar with cocktails and boozy milkshakes.
Cloud 10 Creamery
CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Pastry Chef of the Year 2014 Chris Leung will bring his creative ice cream flavors and acclaimed banana split to the Heights Mercantile development this summer.
Also slated for Heights Mercantile, the popular crepe shop will finally have an above ground, brick and mortar home. The 1,400-square-foot restaurant will include a patio and space for private events.