For three years, Ruthie Miller has provided CultureMap readers with an invaluable monthly list of hot Houston restaurants to try. Since she's decided to take a break from that responsibility, it falls to me to continue her legacy.
Without further ado, here are 10 restaurants sure to satisfy all non-turkey related cravings in November:
Whether this new pub from the Free Press crew is a bar with great food or a casual neighborhood restaurant with a solid craft beer selection and appealing late night hours remains to be seen. Either way, it's already attracting a steady crowd of locals eager to sample chef Rachel Merk's menu.
Among the early highlights is a Juicy Lucy. That's a Longhorn beef patty stuffed with Fontina cheese and jalapenos. Lowbrow serves brunch, too, with classic entrees like chicken fried steak and matzah brei.
Opening later this month in the shuttered Katsuya space in West Ave, Nara is a contemporary Korean concept that is something of a labor of love for chef Donald Chang. His aim is to bring elevated Korean food to diners in the same way his restaurant Uptown Sushi served modern, ingredient-driven sushi to a wide audience.
The menu goes with a broad approach. There are Chinese style bao at the bar, a full range of sushi offerings and updated Korean food from the kitchen. The private dining room has tables with built-in grills where a chef will cook in front of diners, and Chang will cook traditional specialties at a chef's table.
After getting a sneak peek, 11-course tasting, I'm looking forward to returning for more of the oxtail ramen and duroc pork served with a spicy bean paste made by Chang's mother. She still hasn't given him the recipe.
Pappas Seafood House on Shepherd
Officially, the Texas oyster season began on Nov. 1, but our oysters still haven't plumped to their levels of maximum deliciousness. And yet, it's the third month with a "R" in it. The oyster craving must be satisfied!
If the Pappas family wants to feed their customers oysters at a discount, the least people can do is take them up on it.
The folks at Little Pappas are here to help. For the past couple weeks, the restaurant has been selling fancy-pants, East Coast-sourced Blue Point oysters for only $6.95 per dozen. They're usually $18.
If the Pappas family wants to feed their customers oysters at a discount, the least people can do is take them up on it. In addition, the menu contains some new dishes cooked up by Pappas R&D department like shrimp and scallops over risotto and a shrimp and crab cocktail that has a bit of campechana flavor.
Nara isn't the only new restaurant opening this month in West Ave. Coming this week to the former Alto Pizzeria spot above Del Frisco's Grille, Trenza offers a menu that blends Latin and Indian cuisines. In the kitchen, Next Food Network Star runner-up Susie Jimenez takes recipes she learned from her family and reinterprets them.
Try the lamb vindaloo sopes, which combines the fiery Indian meat with a classic masa cake. Or keep it light with an order of ceviche. For a more personalized experience, consider sitting at the chef's counter and letting Jimenez personally guide the meal.
Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette
For the River Oaks edition of the popular Heights restaurant owners Lee Ellis and Lance Fegen have gone upscale. Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette's decor is more lavish than its sibling, and valet parking makes the crowded strip center lot a little more bearable.
Chef Travis Lenig moves over from the original to run the new outpost. He's serving an expanded menu that includes more cured fish dishes, more sharable appetizers and a dramatically increased selection of oysters.
Feeling spendy? Consider a raw tower that includes lobster, oysters, shrimp and more. Not a seafood lover? There's a prime rib cart patrolling the dining room.
Fielding's Wood Grill
The one-two punch of gourmet burgers and craft beer makes its way to The Woodlands with this new establishment from two of the original partners in gourmet grocery store/restaurant Hubbell & Hudson. Fielding's sets itself apart by making everything in house: Peeling potatoes, baking buns, curing bacon, spinning ice cream, etc.
In addition to traditional beef burgers that comes with a variety of creative toppings, the restaurant serves less-traditional fare including bison, ahi tuna and vegetarian patties. Round out the experience with a boozy milkshake. Breakfast is available on the weekends.
Japanese ex-pats and Memorial families have already discovered Izakaya Wa, the three-week old Japanese restaurant for Houstonians who are tired of sushi and think this new ramen craze is overhyped. The menu consists of apps, fried skewers and grilled skewers that are meant to be shared among a group while they enjoy beer or sake.
While the panko-crusted fried skewers tend to look and taste pretty similar to each other, the grilled items are really nice. In particular, the chicken thigh is moist and flavorful with a not-too-sweet sauce.
Two smallish skewers run between $5 and $10, so the bill can add up fast if everyone comes hungry. Should one want a little sushi, Izakaya Wa has a small selection of fresh fish and a decent-sized variety of rolls. Overseeing it all is celebrated sushi chef Hajime Kubokawa (aka Kubo-san) and former Kubo's GM Akira Asano.
Garfield minus Garfield is a darkly funny, more existential version of the classic comic. What happens with Philippe minus namesake chef Philippe Schmit?
Newly promoted executive chef Manuel Pucha makes sure that Schmit's techniques are still intact, but the most French aspects have been removed in favor of English-language menu descriptions and new entrees that are decidedly American.
There's nothing particularly French about the dish, but it does taste really good.
Consider the apple-wood smoked pork chop over creamy polenta. There's nothing particularly French about the dish, but it does taste really good.
Looking for a snack? Try bar bites on the newly opened patio that pair well selections from beverage director Vanessa Trevino Boyd's extensive list of wines by the glass.
This restaurant at the corner of Fountain View and Westheimer is the first American outpost of a popular China-based chain. On the menu? Skip the Chinese-American classics (beef with broccoli, sesame chicken) and order the Sichuan style dishes that Chuan specializes in. Dishes such as the Zhang's dumplings in red chili oil and tenfu beef deliver the signature mala tingle.
Fried chicken wings in a Pepsi sauce are probably the best possible use for the soft drink, providing a sweet counterpoint to the salty, crispy batter. Is it at quite the same level as Chinatown's celebrated Mala Sichuan?
Of course not, but the location is more convenient for anyone who lives or works near the Galleria. Also, the custom furniture and open kitchen make it an extremely comfortable and visually interesting place to dine.
Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant
Finding the next great restaurant on Bellaire is a minor obsession for certain hard-core foodies. Like certain music fans, they need to brag about "discovering" some hidden gem and then move on once more people start patronizing it. Since it has already been reviewed in both the Press and Chronicle, Hai Cang has probably already reached that trendy tipping point, but everyone else should definitely make plans to check it out.
Crab, fish, prawns, lobster and more swim happily in the restaurant's massive tanks. When someone orders a dish, the appropriate animal is plucked from the tank, prepared by talented chefs and devoured by eager diners. Prices are eminently reasonable too.
Two fried lobsters seasoned with butter and black pepper cost only $18.99. That's good eating and good value, which is why going to Bellaire became such a big deal in the first place.