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Where to Eat Right Now

Where to Eat Right Now: 10 hot, must-try restaurants for July

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29 first look at Bernie's Burger Bus restaurant June 2014 hamburger burger
The newly opened Bernie's Burger Bus brick and mortar is seeing big crowds. Photo by Eric Sandler
Gianfranco Percovich Sal Y PImienta
Gianfranco Percovich seasons his steaks with salt and pepper at Sal y Pimienta in CityCentre. Photo by Joel Luks
Common Bond kugelhopfs
Common Bond is executing at a high level, making it a rare repeat on the Where To Eat Right Now. Photo by © Debora Smail
Lox bagel Bosta Wine and Coffee
The nova bagel at Bosta is a can't miss dish on the cafe's breakfast menu.  Photo by Eric Sandler
The Grove donuts do-nutz and deli
Make the trip past Sugar Land for creative donuts at The Grove.  Photo by Eric Sandler
El Gallo Rojo meat and beans
El Gallo Rojo is a can't miss lunch spot for north downtown office workers.  Photo by Eric Sandler
Dosi Korean restaurant lamb
Lamb collar with rice dumplings at newly opened Korean restaurant Dosi.  Photo by Eric Sandler
29 first look at Bernie's Burger Bus restaurant June 2014 hamburger burger
Gianfranco Percovich Sal Y PImienta
Common Bond kugelhopfs
Lox bagel Bosta Wine and Coffee
The Grove donuts do-nutz and deli
El Gallo Rojo meat and beans
Dosi Korean restaurant lamb
Eric Sandler head shot column mug March 2014

The summer's heat may have finally arrived and put an end to patio season, but that doesn't mean it's time to stay home. After all, what better way to beat the summer's heat than to hang out in a well-air conditioned restaurant? 

This month brings a new wine and coffee bar, a big-time food truck launching its brick and mortar and Carmelo Anthony's favorite Houston restaurant. On to the picks.

Bernie's Burger Bus

After almost a year of planning and construction, the first brick and mortar outpost of the popular food truck has opened in the Bellaire triangle. Fans of the truck will recognize all their familiar favorites, but chef/owner Justin Turner has made some important additions. First, diners can choose from lamb, chicken and grass-fed beef patties instead of  the regular Angus.

 The best thing may just be that the food comes out straight from the kitchen on a plate. Instead of fries that sometimes got limp in a paper bag, everything is hot, crispy and delicious. 

The new chicken burger, ground in-house from organic chicken thighs and topped with goat cheese guacamole, is particularly delicious. Instead of grabbing a soda from a cooler, the drink options now include craft beer, milkshakes (with or without alcohol) and Maine Root sodas.   

Still, the best thing may just be that the food comes out straight from the kitchen on a plate. Instead of fries that sometimes got limp in a paper bag, everything is hot, crispy and delicious. That improvement alone is worth the short drive from inside the Loop.

Bosta Wine & Coffee

It's a tricky thing for a chef or restaurateur — you think you're opening up a little coffee shop and wine bar with a couple of sandwiches only to discover that your customers think of you as a full-blown restaurant.  Such is the case for Bosta, the first of two concepts Balcor Hospitality is bringing to the newly opened Parc Binz building.

Former Stella Sola chef Justin Basye has developed a menu of simple breakfast sandwiches and panini that are good for lunch or a light dinner. Don't miss the nova sandwich, which brings together house-cured and smoked salmon with a bagel from Meyerland's New York Bagel Company. It's delicious and, at only $8, a good deal, too.

The addition of former Osteria Mazzantini sommelier Samantha Porter as wine director for Bosta and the upcoming Museum Park Cafe has solidified the wine list, too. Although she signed on less than a week ago, Porter has already taken a page from 13 Celsius's playbook by offering half off all open bottles of wine on Sunday. Combine it with a meat and cheese plate for a satisfying end to the weekend. 

Dosi

This newly opened Korean restaurant on Shepherd further enhances that recently trendy cuisine's foothold on the Houston dining scene. The premise is simple: Dosi serves tapas-style shareable plates of updated Korean classics along with a variety of fruit-infused cocktails that use soju, a Korean alcohol typically distilled from rice, wheat or barley. While the flavors may not be as spicy or funky as those found at more traditional restaurants on Long Point, they did please the small group of friends I visited Dosi with.

In particular, we were impressed by the spicy lamb collar served with Korean rice dumplings (similar to those served with goat at Underbelly) and the Korean fried chicken that was sweet, spicy and incredibly crispy. 

As for the soju, the liquor still has plenty of bite with the infusions version. Those looking for something a little milder should try the "blended" version that's basically a soju smoothie made with fresh fruit. At $25 for a 700ml bottle, it's a good value for something that entire table can share. 

Sal y Pimienta

This South American restaurant bucks the trend of only chains opening in CityCentre. Chef/owner Gianfranco Percovich, who launched Tango & Malbec, brings the same quality and attention to detail to his latest project. As the restaurant's name implies, it features beef simply seasoned with salt and pepper.

After all, if the quality of the beef is good enough, it shouldn't need anything else. That's best expressed by the parrilla, which offers up a mix of beef, chicken, lamb and sausage where each item has its own distinct flavors.

Feeling like a splurge? Split one of the various tomahawk ribeyes from the specials menu.

While the grilled meats are definitely the star, the menu also features a wide array of appetizers, pizzas and seafood options that should appeal to even those without a carnivore's palate. In particular, the empanadas and flounder ceviche are worth strong consideration. The waitstaff is well versed in the South American wine list and happy to guide diners to a selection that's in their budget. 

Red Dessert Dive

This newest addition to the Houston bakery boom delivers clever twists on sweet and savory classics to its small space in the Heights. Savory options include scones, croissants and kolaches that are filled with cream cheese, bacon and chives. Chocolate chip cookies get a lift from a sprinkle of high-quality fleur de del, but the real can't miss item is the Debusker. Named by owner Jessica Lusk's 7-year old nephew, it's a fudgy brownie topped with a M&M cookie. 

In the morning, patrons can choose from a full selection of locally-roasted Boomtown coffees. At night, pick from a list of wine and beer currated by 13 Celsius's Adele Corrigan. The beverage selection makes Red a first rate, after-dinner spot, particularly when it's open late on the weekends. Full-time hours are still in flux; check Facebook to be sure.

Américas

Although Américas has always been a solid spot for a meat-centric, special occasion meal, chef David Cordua wants diners to consider it an everyday destination as well. He's added a series of shareable appetizers and entrees to the menu, including four new paellas that are big enough to split between three people.

New seafood options include a ceviche inspired by the classic paloma cocktail and pan-seared skate inspired by Cordua's culinary school studies in France. A new lunch menu includes tacos and sandwiches to help diners get through more quickly and leave without feeling like they need a nap after their meal.

Still, as NBA free agent Carmelo Anthony discovered during his lunch there, the classic lobster tails and signature churrasco steaks remain on the menu. After all, updating a popular restaurant doesn't have to come at the expense of customer favorites. 

El Gallo Rojo

The steam table lunch may have fallen out of fashion, but that doesn't mean the genre can't occasionally impress. Such is the case at El Gallo Rojo, a breakfast and lunch spot that opened in May at the corner of Franklin and Main street.

 While it could potentially get lost in the middle of the latest wave of downtown revitalization happening just to its south, downtown office workers should Gallo Rojo a shot. 

While it could potentially get lost in the middle of the latest wave of downtown revitalization happening just to its south, downtown office workers should Gallo Rojo a shot, because chef Mark Latigue is serving up seriously flavorful versions of classic Creole and Cuban cuisine.

Classic New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp arrived appropriate buttery and nicely cooked — still with some firmness and not total mush. Additionally, a plate of black beans and spicy beef stew had us scraping our bowls.   

The Grove Do-Nutz & Deli

Sometimes restaurants are new, and sometimes they're merely new to me. Such is the case with The Grove Do-Nutz & Deli, a shop located near New Territory off Hwy. 90 between Sugar Land and Richmond. Lured by The Grove's irresistible Instagram account and a favorable Houstonia write-up, I found creative donuts, top-notch kolaches and even a little Asian fusion.

Most importantly, the base donuts are solid — light in texture and not too sweet — which is essential, because The Grove really knows how to load on the toppings. Pink lemonade had an almost Kool-Aid sweetness, but The Elvis, topped with peanut butter, banana and bacon, had a great balance between sweet, savory and salty. 

Both the sausage and cheese and boudain kolaches I sampled fared similarly well — with a basic, fresh-tasting dough that allowed the ingredients to shine through. The pandan waffles have a chewy texture and a distinctive green hue.

Overall, it's a satisfying breakfast experience and a preview of the new-school donuts shops like Glazed and Hugs and Donuts that are set to arrive inside the Loop.

Common Bond

In eight months of writing these columns I've never repeated a restaurant, but I'm making an exception for Common Bond. No Houston restaurant has quite captured my attention like the cafe with the stated goal of becoming the best bakery in America.

Some of that, of course, is its proximity to my home, but, most importantly, Common Bond is executing at a very high level. Heading into its second full month of operation, pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel and his team have begun to manage the crowds that flock to Common Bond. Croissants and other pastries no longer run out by 11 a.m., and the lunch, brunch and breakfast menus of savory items have begun to expand.

Among the highlights? A riff on grillades and grits made with veal (brunch) and a headcheese bahn mi (lunch) that delivers plenty of livery funk are both recent additions that ensure the crowds will continue to line up.     

The Republic Grille

Members of the popular Woodlands Area Foodies Facebook group are raving about this newcomer and for good reason. As Albert Nurick explains on his blog H-Town Chow Down, The Republic Grille serves an intriguing mix of well-executed Southern staples.

While the typically burger-obsessed Nurick notes that Republic meets his standards, it's the chicken fried steak that's the real standout. A full selection of salads and a couple of seafood entrees are available for those seeking lighter fare. Eminently reasonable prices and a rustic, Hill Country further enhance Republic's appeal.

Is it a destination restaurant for inner Loopers? Of course not. Is it a worthwhile stop for Woodlands residents or those seeking pre-concert fare. Absolutely. 

And one to grow on

Cacao & Cardamom

Admittedly, a chocolate shop is not a restaurant, but Cacao & Cardamom is no ordinary chocolate shop. For the past two years, chocolatier Annie Rupani has earned fans across the city for her creatively decorated chocolates. Flavors like guava tamarind and Szechuan peppercorn break the mold in terms of typical flavors.

They've garnered Rupani wins at a variety of culinary competitions including RodeoHouston's Best Bites. Now she's launched a full-time shop across from the Galleria which also includes a look into the shop's production facility and will soon include a small seating area.

Health-conscious eaters should strongly consider giving C&C a look — each piece is under 45 calories and contains fewer than two grams of sugar thanks to Rupani's use of honey or agave to sweeten her creations.

Need more recommendations? Try the picks from June, May, April, March, February and January

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