One of the best things about Houston Restaurant Weeks, which kicks off Friday, is the opportunity to try a new restaurant at a friendlier price point than might regularly be available. New restaurants know this, and they use their HRW menus as an opportunity to put their best foot forward. That's a win-win for diners, who can be assured that the they're both getting a good deal and the restaurant is happy to see some new faces. Of course, with $5 for every $35 menu going to the Houston Food Bank, it's good for the community as well.
Below are nine restaurants that have opened since HRW 2013 and one restaurant that's participating in the event for the first time in its two-plus year history. Give them a try. They're ready for you.
David Guerrero's South American restaurant in the Second Ward is a bona fide hit with local food writers, and diners are finally starting to catch on. The restaurant's three-course, $35 dinner menu offers some of the best dishes from the menu that samples from the traditions of so many countries. Start with a Venezuelan arepa (corn cake topped with grilled chicken and avocado) or a Peruvian dish of mashed potatoes and boiled shrimp. The three entree choices include a grilled flank steak and a braised pork shoulder, which both show the kitchen's well-executed meat dishes. Finish up with flan, tiramisu or an intriguing-sounding dish that combines fresh figs with panela "sugar cane" syrup and homemade cheese.
Celebrity chef Bradley Ogden's upscale comfort food restaurant may have scaled back some of its more ambitious dishes since opening (the caviar seems to have disappeared, for example), but the restaurant's three-course, $35 menu features some of BFD's biggest deal dishes. Popcorn shrimp in chili-lime aioli are hard to beat, and the restaurant's take on pot roast is one of the best in the city. If that doesn't appeal, try the fried tomatoes, pan roasted trout or pork chops. Both the signature butterscotch pudding and chocolate banana cake bring the meal to a sweet conclusion.
Since it opened in December, Tracy Vaught and chef Hugo Ortega's ode to coastal Mexican cuisine has been one of Houston's hottest restaurants, and the HRW lunch and dinner provide both current fans and newcomers with a good overview of why the restaurant has been so successful. The two-course, $20 lunch menu includes both fish or oyster tacos and octopus salad. The four-course (including amuse), $45 dinner menus each revolve around a different theme: vegetarian, on dry land, ocean lover and "our style," which mixes both meat and seafood. As it includes both a ceviche made with the restaurant's namesake sea snails and a catch of the day, I'd probably go with the ocean lover, but the choices mean everyone will find something to like.
Also, all four menus offer wine pairings at under $30, which gives diners an opportunity to sample some of beverage director Sean Beck's carefully selected list. If you want to go, book early. This one will fill up fast.
This neighborhood restaurant in Midtown has developed a loyal following thanks to its welcoming atmosphere and bold flavors. The three-course, $35 menu plays to the kitchen's strengths with the signature angry birds appetizer and free range fried chicken entree. Hatch and crab bisque also brings some heat, and the duck pate ravioli with kimchi sounds very intriguing. Keep it classic at dessert with peach upside down cake or a cookie dough brownie.
Admittedly, the Japanese-inspired restaurant isn't offering any sushi on its three-course, $35 dinner menu, but that just means diners have more choices from talented chef Bob Iacovone's Creole dishes, which are always worth sampling. Start with Asian BBQ ribs or seafood gumbo. Dare to mix fish and dairy with the grilled salmon over shrimp and brie orzo or try the crawfish-stuffed chicken breast. Dessert are classic: berries and cream, ice cream or a chocolate brownie.
The French restaurant brings long-time Houston chef Georges Guy back inside the Loop after a period in West Houston. The restaurant is serving a four-course (including amuse), $45 menu of French bistro classics that should be a hit with anyone who has a slight Francophile bent. Of the starters, it's hard to resist the escargot a rich porcini garlic cream. Entree choices consist of roasted beef filet, snapped in puffy pasty quenelle and rabbit confit in mushroom sauce. Chocolate mousse for dessert? Why not?
Chef Antoine Ware has brought his soulful Creole cooking to the Heights, and the results have been very positive for this neighborhood destination. The former Harold's in the Heights clothing store has been transformed into a warm dining room with an expansive patio. The three-course, $20 lunch menu includes gumbo, blackened catfish, a pork schnitzel and and a lemon tartlet. The three-course, $35 dinner menu takes things up a notch with boudin balls and gumbo among the appetizer choices and a grilled ribeye or shrimp and grits for the entrees. Finish things off with traditional bread pudding or trifecta, a peach, strawberry and blueberry cobbler.
Hidden just off West Alabama on Audley street, Luigi Ferre's restaurant relocated to Houston from Galveston back in January. While its neighbors in River Oaks and Greenway Plaza may have already discovered Ferre's homemade pastas and carefully prepared Italian-American dishes, HRW gives the rest of the city a chance to catch up. The three-course, $35 has a generous five appetizer choices including calamari and two different salads. Entree choices include veal, risotto and sauteed snapper. Save room for Italian cream cake for dessert.
Kevin Naderi's neighborhood restaurant isn't new, but it is a newcomer to HRW. The three-course, $35 dinner menu reads like a greatest hits of sorts, thanks to the presence of the restaurant's signature fried cauliflower appetizer and coffee and donuts dessert. Nothing wrong with that, as they're two dishes people keep coming back to Roost for. Braised beef cheeks and seared salmon will probably be the most popular entree choices, but don't miss the barley and lentil-stuffed pepper; Naderi does good things with vegetables. One word of warning: Roost does not accept reservations. Go early, go late or be prepared for a bit of a wait, especially on weekends.
Break the chain habit at CityCentre with this South American restaurant from former Tango & Malbec partner Gianfranco Percovich. Finding a good steak at the $35 price point can be a challenge, but Sal y Pimienta delivers with an eight-ounce Brazilian cut picanha from well-respected Niman Ranch. Beyond the beef, vegetarians and seafood lovers alike will find tempting choices on the menu like pancetta-wrapped Mahi Mahi and mushroom-stuffed pasta. Wrap up the meal with four(!!!) leches cake, fruit salad or dulche de leche creme brulee.