For food lovers in Houston, July 15 is one of the most eagerly-anticipated days of the year, because that’s the day the Houston Restaurant Weeks website goes live with menus.
Organized by TV and radio host Cleverley Stone, the month-long dining event, which runs from August 1 until Labor Day (September 4), features over 250 participating restaurants that run special two and three-course menus at set price points of $20 (lunch), $22 (brunch), and either $35 or $45 (dinner). Each meal contributes a set donation of between $3 and $7 to the Houston Food Bank.
All those meals add up. Last year’s event raised just over $2 million to feed hungry people in the Houston area, and the event has raised over $9.6 million since 2003. The event is a win for restaurants that have turned one of year’s slowest months into one of their busiest, a win for diners who get to try some of the city’s most popular establishments at a discount, and a win for the Food Bank.
While diners may choose to patronize restaurants like B&B Butchers, Masraff’s, and Peli Peli that ranked in last year’s top 10, many others will use it to try places that are either newly opened or new to the event. As an opening salvo in CultureMap’s HRW coverage (more restaurants will be added through July 31), here are 11 newcomers to consider, including the best new restaurant to open in Houston this year (so far) and the Heights spot that took the top prize at this year’s CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
The Italian-inspired restaurant that took home both Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year in the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards makes it HRW debut with a compelling, three-course, $35 menu. To start, choose from either two small snack/salumi plates (arancini, eggplant dip, pork terrine, etc) or a more substantial appetizer or salad (chicken wings, fried cauliflower, grilled figs with prosciutto, etc).
Entree options include six different pizzas, five pastas — including the signature black pepper spaghetti — and three dishes (mussels, eggplant parmesan, or roast chicken). Finish with one of three desserts. Since Coltivare doesn’t take reservations, diners should plan to arrive either early or late to minimize their wait times. 3320 White Oak
Hugo Ortega’s Oaxacan restaurant in downtown’s Marriot Marquis hotel may not be the concept that won him a James Beard Award in May, but it has emerged as this year’s consensus best new restaurant. Xochi is serving both a $20 three-course lunch menu, three different $45 dinner menus (four courses each, wine or spirit pairings available for an additional $28), and a four course $35 vegetarian dinner menu (plus $27 optional wine pairing).
While all of the dinner menus look compelling, the menu de mezcal, which celebrates Oaxaca’s signature spirit with dishes that include both a peach tamal and dry-rubbed pork shank (along with a $27 spirit pairing) seems particularly must try. 1777 Walker
The recent addition of former Brennan’s chef Danny Trace has made Astros owner Jim Crane’s fine dining Italian restaurant a must visit destination. For HRW, Trace is serving a four-course, $45 dinner menu that blends Italian preparations with Texas ingredients. Start with a classic dish like burrata caprese salad or Italian wedding soup. Entree options include a spicy pasta fra diavolo with Texas shrimp, Hill Country quail saltimbocca, and an eight-ounce beef filet with garlic-whipped potatoes.
Save room for dessert. Executive pastry chef David Berg offers three options, but those who pass on his signature caramel apple galette are missing one of Houston’s most underrated treats. 1515 Texas
Osso & Kristalla
Potente’s more casual sister restaurant is serving all three HRW meals. Choices on the two-course $20 lunch menu include fried calamari, tomato soup, pulled pork pizzetta, and a cheeseburger made with a pork and beef patty. Brunch starts with a prosecco cocktail, continues with a small starter, and finishes with entrees like a blueberry bacon malted waffle, eggs pomodoro, and smoked salmon rillette toast.
Dinner starts with an amuse bouche of artichoke hummus. The three-course $35 menu starts with classic dishes like fried calamari, prosciutto and melon, or burrata caprese salad. Entree options include a mozzarella-stuffed meatball with rigatoni, Sicilian barbecue shrimp, and four cheese tortellini. Keep dessert classic with Italian cake, tiramisu, ricotta cheesecake, or berries with mascarpone cream. 1515 Texas
The casual half of The Pass & Provisions will serve both a two-course lunch and a three-course $35 dinner during HRW. Both menus features the same three starters (red oak salad, watermelon and tomato gazpacho, and spicy tuna sourdough toast) and overlapping main dishes like green pea cavatappi and smoked pork sausage, but the dinner menu includes an eggplant parmesan pizza and three dessert options that aren’t being served during lunch. 807 Taft
This Vietnamese restaurant in River Oaks District has earned a reputation as a pleasant place to dine thanks to its beautiful decor and lively bar scene. The three-course $45 dinner menu offers diners the opportunity to sample Le Colonial’s lighter, fresher take on traditional Vietnamese dishes.
Start with steamed dumplings filled with chicken and mushrooms, summer rolls filled with shrimp and rice noodles, or crispy spring rolls packed with shrimp and pork. Entree options consist of a classic Bo Luc Lac cuisine as well as grilled salmon and asparagus or shrimp in green curry sauce. While both strawberry panna cotta and a chocolate mousse dome sound pretty good for dessert, a mango sundae should prove to be a tempting choice. 4444 Westheimer
Relish Restaurant & Bar
This River Oaks restaurant serves the sort of well-executed comfort food that someone could eat once a week or more. The three course $35 menu features some of chef Dustin Teague’s best dishes, including starters such as duck liver mousse and a daily crudo. Entree options consist of fried chicken, New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp, and an eight-ounce filet. Dessert choices keep things classic; the seasonal fruit crostata looks like the most appealing option. 2810 Westheimer
Brasserie du Parc
Already known for his acclaimed Galleria-area restaurant Etoile, chef Philippe Verpiand opened this restaurant that looks out onto Discovery Green in January. The three-course $35 dinner menu serves up classic French fare.
Of the five appetizer options, beef tartare, chicken liver pate, and chilled tomato soup are the most intriguing. While it would be hard to pass on steak frites as an entree, seafood risotto and beef bourguignon are compelling alternatives. Just leave room for one of the three dessert options; skipping sweets at a French restaurant is folly. 1440 Lamar
While Brasserie du Parc serves mostly traditional French cuisine, Cafe Azur offers a lighter, more seafood-oriented take on Gallic dishes. The two-course $20 lunch menu includes dishes such as fish soup, chickpea fries, veggie fettuccine, and mussels Marinere.
While at dinner, the three-course $35 steps things up a bit a taleggio cheese-topped butternut squash, squid ink risotto, and an eight-ounce flat iron steak. Dessert options consist of a strawberry cake, apple and jalapeno crumble, and a classic floating island. 4315 Montrose
Bayou & Bottle
Instead of traditional courses, this comfortable lobby bar in downtown’s Four Seasons Hotel offers a $35 menu that gives diners the opportunity to choose two dishes from a list of 13 possibilities. Some, like Korean BBQ wings, beef fat fries, and chips and queso are all clearly intended to be appetizers. Others, like steak frites, a cheeseburger, and pan-seared scallops, are more entree oriented.
Regardless of one’s choices, the friendly, accommodating staff won’t judge anyone for doubling down on either style of dish. Just leave room for one of the three dessert choices: chocolate brownie, PB&J sundae, or strawberry shortcake. 1300 Lamar
Eloise Nichols Grill & Liquors
Keep things Southern with this more upscale concept from Adair Kitchen owners Nicholas Adair and Katie Barnhart. The three-course $35 dinner menu starts with choices that include caramelized Brussels sprouts, spicy fried chicken nuggets, and venison sausage. Vegetarians will choose to dine on the “super foods” bowl, but omnivores will likely skip it in favor of choices that consist of shrimp and grits, a sweet tea-brined pork chop, and grilled half chicken.
Finish the meal with chocolate hazelnut cake, peach crisp or key lime pie. 2400 Mid Ln
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