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Where to eat in Houston right now: 7 best new restaurants for November

Where to eat in Houston right now: 7 best new restaurants for November

Safina asparagus risotto
Asparagus risotto stands out at Safina. Courtesy of Safina
Traveler's Table interior
Traveler's Table has renovated the former Aqui space. Photo by Troy Ezequiel
Politan Row Pacha spread
Try Nikkei cuisine at Pacha. Photo by Denny Culbert
Safina asparagus risotto
Traveler's Table interior
Politan Row Pacha spread

This month’s crop of new restaurants to try offers a wide range of choices. Whether it’s a new hotel restaurant in the Texas Medical Center, the city’s newest food hall, or a veteran chef stretching his legs at a brewery, diners have lots of new choices.

As always, these restaurants are in the order I think you should try them based on my experiences dining there. Please enjoy.

Politan Row 
Rice Village’s new food hall offers eight stands that serve everything from Mexican to Carribean to Thai cuisine. With a mid-century modern look and a large, central bar, it’s already proving to be a popular dining option in the bustling shopping district.

For this month, I’ll focus on the half I’ve been to and save the remaining four for December. Evelyn Garcia’s Kin builds on the success she had at Decatur Bar with a new menu of curries, snacks, and roti; barbecue brisket roti is a definite highlight. Similarly, Victoria Elizondo used countless Taco Tuesdays to hone Cochinita & Co.’s namesake pork tacos into a deeply savory recipe that’s highly satisfying.

As a person of Japanese ancestry who grew up in Peru, Masaru Fukuda is a living embodiment of Nikkei culture. At Pacha, he serves creative sushi rolls such as the picante (spicy tuna, mango, avocado, and wasabi vinaigrette) alongside ceviches and tiraditos. Light and refreshing, the clean flavors make his offerings compelling.

Their work opening shops like Blacksmith and Morningstar demonstrate that sisters Ecky and Niken Prabanto know plenty about coffee and tea. At Susu Kopi and Boba, they mine their Indonesian heritage to add milk tea and soft serve ice cream to the mix. Leaving without a cone of coffee, chocolate, corn, or matcha — topped with homemade magic shell, natch — would be a mistake.

A couple of details about the food hall’s structure are worth nothing. Since none of the stands have vent hoods, all of the actual cooking is done in a hidden back kitchen. Dishes are assembled at the stands and presented to the customer. Also, the hall provides a staff who oversee operations, keep things clean, and can help diners navigate the facility.

Finally, with an absence of familiar choices like pizza, pasta, and burgers, it’s worth noting that the hall has limited utility for picky eaters. Hopefully, families with children will discover the joy of falafel and gyro at Torshi or a pork taco at Cochinita and Co. 2445 Times Blvd.

Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company 
Chef Arash Kharat has gotten off to a strong start at his new home, a 200-seat restaurant on the second floor of Buffalo Bayou’s new brewery in Sawyer Yards. Formerly with Beaver’s, Kharat shows that he’s capable of more than just barbecue and burgers.

For example, the restaurant’s pizzas feature a dough that’s fermented for 72 hours to give it a light texture and pleasant chewiness. The pies are topped with all manner of ingredients, including housemade sausage (housemade, all-beef pepperoni will hit the menu as soon as this week). Kharat’s creativity manifests itself in other ways; instead of serving traditional fried pickles, he’s featuring an Indian-inspired pakora of local vegetables that offers a more diverse range of flavors and is gluten-friendly.

I’ll be back soon to try the wings and the tacos he plans to introduce. Whatever someone chooses to eat, Buff Brew’s full range offers plenty of pairing options. 2101 Summer St.

Traveler’s Table 
With all due respect to my good friend David Leftwich (we’ve been recording The Full Menu segments on Houston Matters together for more than five years), I think his review of this new Montrose restaurant missed the point of what it’s trying to achieve. If someone is craving one of the specific dishes on its menu — whether that’s butter chicken, khao soi, Argentinian steak, salmon tartare, or shrimp and grits — go to a restaurant that specializes in the part of the world where that dish comes from.

What owner Matthew Mitchell has created is a restaurant where diners could sample all of those dishes and more in the course of a meal. While the individual dishes make no claims about authenticity, their ingredients and elegant plating help elevate them.

Obviously, some dishes are stronger than others. Standouts across two visits include the salmon tartare on crispy rice cakes, beef cheek ravioli in a creamy cheese sauce, Greek flatbread, and North African leg of lamb. On the other hand, Chinese five spice duck mostly tasted of its orange sauce and the butter chicken lacked the rich tomato sauce that makes the dish shine.

Well-balanced cocktails and an eclectic wine list make finding a beverage easy, and the redesign of the former Aqui space (new fabrics and light fixtures, a slightly relocated entrance) come together to create a place that should find an audience. 520 Westheimer Rd.

One Dim Sum 
Inner loopers have been denied the pleasure of all-day dim sum since Yum Yum Cha closed in 2015 have an exciting new option in Midtown. Located in the former Maba Pan-Asian Diner space, the restaurant serves a full range of steamed and fried dim sum dishes as well as a limited selection of Cantonese and Sichuan-style entrees.

Favorites on a recent visit included classics like pork and prawn shu mai, har gau (steamed shrimp dumplings), and xiao long bao (soup dumplings). The menu also features dishes that are reminiscent of those served at Yauatcha such as pea shoot and crab meat dumplings, bbq venison puff, and crispy prawn cheung fun — all at lower prices than the versions served at the upscale, London-based restaurant’s location in the Galleria. What One Dim Sum lacks in style, it makes up for in flavor, and that’s enough to make it a compelling alternative to driving down Bellaire for dumplings.  510 Gray St.

Sixty Vines 
The Plano-based pizzeria and wine bar has brought its eclectic menu and 51 wines on tap to a 8,700-square-foot, two-story space in Rice Village. With a wide range of varietals from different regions, the tap selection should satisfy most oenophiles, and those who need more selections will find them available by-the-glass or bottle.

Starter options include well-executed versions of classic dishes like wood-roasted cauliflower and meatballs in a vibrant tomato sauce. An off-the-menu pizza with butternut squash and a balsamic drizzle sounded sweet when presented by the server, but the addition of sausage and a sturdy crust helped balance out the flavors. An under-seasoned ceviche proved the kitchen still has some kinks to work out, but overall it’s easy to see why the restaurant is already drawing crowds.

Patrons may park on the elevated parking deck free for two hours. Access the ramp from Kelvin Dr. The restaurant has a second-story entrance that makes getting in and out easy. 2540 University Blvd.

Safina 
The Texas Medical Center’s limited dining options have improved courtesy of this Mediterranean restaurant that debuted earlier this year in the InterContinental hotel. Executive chef Tiago Almeida brings both his Portugeuse heritage and years of experience working for The Four Seasons to his role.

Dishes like lamb chops with mint yogurt, asparagus risotto, and shrimp Provençal may not be ground-breaking, but they’re flavorful and well-executed. By the standards of a hotel restaurant, they’re far more interesting than the usual salmon or filet mignon. Safina’s arrival gives Med Center workers or visitors a satisfying dinner option — and The Naturalist, its companion bar, should be a welcome new option for happy hour. 6750 Main St.  

Merus Grill 
This new restaurant from J. Alexander’s just opened in Uptown Park. Given the look (mostly dark with spotlights over individual tables), the servers in all black,  and the grill-focused menu, the only real question is whether or not it will be a sufficient replacement for the Houston’s on Westheimer that recently closed after almost 40 years in business.

A visit on its second day open to the public yielded mixed results. On the plus side, both a steak burger and the signature prime rib arrived at the requested medium rare temperature, and dishes such as an avocado bomb (sliced avocado with raw tuna), barbecue ribs, and Caesar salad all proved to be worthy versions of their respective classics. While the prime rib looked fantastic, it had a mushy texture that prevented the dish from being as satisfying as it should have been.

The prices are lower than Houston’s, and the staff’s commitment to friendly service almost matched its rival. If the kitchen can get the food to measure up, the Galleria area may not feel the loss of the other restaurant quite as acutely. 1180-1 Uptown Park Blvd.