With 2018 drawing to a close, it’s tempting to take a break from the onslaught of new restaurant that’s pushing to open before the end of year. Maybe visit an old favorite or even something that opened this summer.
Alas, the high quality of these new arrivals demands as much attention as establishments that opened in February or July received. Oh well, life offers worse fates than evaluating the merits of a 60-ounce ribeye, slice of pepperoni pizza, or tortellini in uni sauce.
As always, these are ranked in the order I think people should try them, but the criteria are pretty subjective. Someone craving laksa or Japanese curry shouldn’t hesitate to try the restaurants listed here that serve those dishes; every entry on this month’s list is a good one.
This new eatery, part of Agricole Hospitality’s EaDo trio, is the company’s first proper restaurant since opening Coltivare in 2014. As such, it arrives with high expectations for partners Ryan Pera, Morgan Weber, and Vincent Huynh, who recruited executive chef Paul Lewis (Cullen’s, Osteria Mazzantini) to lead the kitchen.
Inspired by Houston’s, the space has a clean, modern look that features lots of wide, comfortable booths, as well as a counter that looks into the open kitchen. Named for a town where immigrants entered Texas in the 19th century, the cuisine takes its inspirations from the various immigrant communities who have made their way to Houston.
Currently only open for dinner, the menu offers a number of can’t-miss dishes, including the housemade sourdough with butter and salt, a wood-grilled half chicken with Spanish rice, ricotta gnudi with blistered tomatoes, and the blue crab imperial that’s pretty much the best version of a dish your grandmother loved. We splurged on a 60-ounce bone-in ribeye from Texas wagyu purveyor Strube Ranch; served medium rare and sliced prior to serving, the steak offers an incredibly deep beefy flavor with a pleasantly soft texture. It’s pricey but worth it.
Beverage director Marie-Louise Friedland’s wine list focuses on the Americas and offers lots of intriguing options in the $60-75 range. Diners may also opt for a cocktail from neighboring bar Miss Carousel (the gin and tonic is particularly excellent).
One meal three days in is too soon to predict whether Indianola will match Coltivare’s reputation, but an appealing menu, reasonable prices, and a comfortable room have it off to a very strong start. 1201 Saint Emanuel St.; 832-582-7202
Diana American Grill
The Hobby Center tapped James Beard Award winner Robert Del Grande to oversee the menu of its new restaurant. Inspired by theater district restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, the chef has created a menu based on elevated Italian restaurants and casual steakhouses — with enough of a Gulf Coast twist to feel relevant. Diner will find it’s worth getting to the theater 90 minutes or so before the curtain goes up to sample what Del Grande has created.
Start with a classic Texas pimento cheese dip or a lobster cocktail that’s balanced with a tangy-creamy avocado mayonnaise. The Diana house salad comes with a bright lemon vinaigrette and a heavy dose of artichokes. Going to the theater is already a special occasion, so why not splurge a bit by ordering the orecchiette pasta with freshly steamed lobster, ribeye with caramelized onions and garlic soffrito, or the show-stopping butterflied veal chop with fried artichokes and Milanese sauce?
The dishes are compelling enough that they’d be good for dinner anytime, but Diana is only open when shows are on the stage. Plan accordingly. 800 Bagby St.; 713-315-2562
When word first leaked out that B&B Butchers owner Ben Berg had leased the bar across the street for a new concept, cynics could be forgiven for thinking the restaurant would be little more than a cash grab. Thankfully, those predictions have proven incorrect; despite the kitchy name, Berg’s new restaurant is just as fully realized as his steakhouse is.
Chef Eric Johnson’s menu keeps things casual; it includes a proper, New York diner-style cheeseburger that’s an ode to the simple pleasure of fatty beef, gooey cheese, and a toasted bun. Other highlights include the crab beignets, a proper fish and chips, and a classic schnitzel with spaetzle.
I’m personally opposed to dropping $38 on a lobster roll, but the rest of the menu is good enough that I’d be willing to split it with someone else just to verify whether it delivers a reasonable value for the money. Then again, I’d almost rather save the calories for the retro-fun desserts, especially the classic banana pudding. 1890 Washington Ave.; 713-554-1809
EaDo’s new nightlife district seems like a perfect fit for a pizza by-the-slice joint, so it’s good timing that Agricole Hospitality opened one as part of its new project. The dough takes the basic recipe used at Coltivare and refashions it into a pizza al’taglio-style rectangular pie that’s crispy on the outside, light on the inside, and hearty enough to withstand a substantial amount of toppings. Those toppings run the gamut from high quality pepperoni and Texas wagyu beef to roasted mushrooms, Benton’s ham, pickled jalapenos, Brussels sprouts, and more.
The slices themselves are hearty enough that two should be sufficient to satisfy most appetites, which means a 10-slice large pie could feed five or six adults pretty comfortably. They’re well-priced, too, at $4 or $5 for most combinations. Classic pepperoni is a winner here, as is the Green Machine (kale, red onion, caramelized onion, French peta, parmesan).
My one quibble is that the pies are made in advance and reheated to order. I’m fine with the idea, but I wanted my slices a little hotters and crispier. Next time, I’ll order them well done — unless I’m there late (it’s open until 3 am Friday and Saturday), in which case I’ll probably be in a state of mind where I want my slice as quickly as possible. 1201 Saint Emanuel St.; 713-750-9433
Food writer and pop-up chef Cuc Lam partnered with Jerry Lasco (The Tasting Room, Max’s Wine Dive) on this new fast casual spot that takes its inspiration from the country of Singapore. The city-state’s cuisine contains Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indian, and Chinese influences, all of which are reflected in Lam’s menu.
Highlights of my visit included Vietnamese-style Imperial egg rolls packed with pork and wood ear mushroom and Thai-style Pad Krapow Moo loaded with pork and lots of basil. Crab and cream cheese will never be my favorite flavor combination, but the spicy chili crab sauce Lam serves with her rangoons almost made me a believer.
I’ll be back to explore the rest of the menu soon, which includes dishes like chicken tikka masala, fried rice with barbecue pork and shrimp, and Dan-Dan noodles. Or maybe I’ll just get it delivered — Sing is available on just about every app, which makes it even more convenient. 718 W 18th Street; 713-808-9016
Shun Japanese Kitchen
Veteran chef Naoki Yoshida split from Nippon, his family’s popular Montrose sushi spot, to create something new — a second generation restaurant that applies a Texan perspective to classic Japanese dishes. For example, gyoza come stuffed with carnitas instead of ground pork, and Texas ranches supply the wagyu beef.
Yoshida and executive chef Nick Hill (Triniti, Beaver’s) have a lot of good ideas, but the prices are definitely at the Uchi/Kata Robata level. Crab and shiitake tortellini in uni beurre blanc would be a dish that wouldn’t be out of place (in flavor or execution) on DaMarco’s menu, but even the fine dining Italian restaurant wouldn’t charge $26 for three small pieces of pasta. Hamachi costs $4.50 at Kata; it’s $6 at Shun.
The end result is that a casual dinner for two topped out at $150 before tip and without alcohol (the restaurant is BYOB while it waits for a liquor license). No matter how delicious or carefully prepared the dishes are (and they are), that’s hard to justify at a new restaurant that’s trying to lure diners. 2802 S. Shepherd Drive; 832-409-5888
This newly opened bar, restaurant, and concert hall may be best known for celebrity partner Pat Green and its prime location next to the George R. Brown Convention Center, but the menu of Texas comfort food makes it a worthy lunch or dinner destination. Calling spoon bread topped with pulled pork or smoked brisket “tamales” is probably a misnomer, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious. Texas quail gets a whiff of smoke from the wood-burning grill and a subtle sweetness from its molasses brine — no wonder Green recommended it during his interview with CultureMap.
Not to harp on pricing, but the menu doesn’t list the cost of any of the beers or cocktails. That seems like a way to get a nasty surprise at the end of the night.
A note on parking. Valet costs $10, but those who are willing to walk a little can park for free at Discovery Green (with validation). My preference is to park around the corner on Clay Street for $1 an hour, at least during lunch when it’s not likely to be as busy. 1836 Polk St.; 832-321-7799
Go Go Curry
This chain, which comes to Chinatown’s Dun Huang Plaza from Japan by way of New York, is essentially a fast food joint devoted to Japanese curry. The sauce, more savory than spicy, gets served over rice with proteins like fried pork cutlets, fried chicken breast, tempura shrimp, sausage, and more. Considering the reasonable prices (about $10 per person), the meal exceeds expectations. The quality of the frying is good, even if the curry gets a little one-note after multiple bites.
I don’t see any reason to rush back for another visit, but those who feel a more emotional pull to this style of cuisine will welcome the addition. 9889 Bellaire Blvd., Suite C317