In 10 of the 11 categories for the 2023 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, our panel of local restaurant industry experts pick the winners. The exception is Best New Restaurant.
For that category, we ask CultureMap readers to vote for their favorites in a bracket-style, head-to-head tournament of 16 restaurants that opened in Houston in 2022. Our readers have a pretty good track record of identifying quality establishments, as demonstrated by the James Beard Award finalist nominations that two former winners — Blood Bros. BBQ and Xin Chao — earned last year.
Just as winning one of the judges’ prizes is extremely difficult, so too is winning the Best New Restaurant tournament. To keep things interesting, round one always matches up restaurants that have a common tie, whether it’s geography, style of cuisine, or something a little more ephemeral. Let the debates begin!
Voting is open now. People may vote once per matchup. The results are closely monitored for cheating and other shenanigans, so don’t even try to game the results. Round one ends at 11 pm on Monday, March 27.
Which restaurant will win? Find out April 13 at the Tastemaker Awards party. We’ll dine on bites from this year’s nominated restaurants before emcee Bun B reveals the winners. Buy tickets now before they sell out.
Hamsa vs Navy Blue
Arguably the toughest first round matchup, these two restaurant have more in common than their locations in Rice Village. They’re both sister concepts of established restaurants — Bludorn for Navy Blue and Doris Metropolitan for Hamsa — and both made Texas Monthly’s list of the state’s best new restaurants. Vote now to determine whether Hamsa’s hummus and falafel or Navy Blue’s oysters three ways and whole Dover sole will move on to round two.
Marmo vs il Bracco
This pairing features a steakhouse that makes its own pasta and an Italian restaurant that serves a great steak. Marmo has been a hit in the Montrose Collective with its creative pastas, dry-aged beef, and nightly live music. Similarly, diners are flocking to il Bracco for its housemade pastas, fried artichoke appetizer, and Italian-inspired cocktail menu. It will be up to voters to decide which meatball moves on.
Dinette vs Moon Rabbit
The two modern Vietnamese restaurants that have captivated the Heights square off in this matchup. At Dinette, chef Cole Hoang blends his northern Vietnamese heritage with techniques he refined while working for chef Christine Ha at the Blind Goat and Xin Chao to create dishes such as soft shell crab banh mi and a Vietnamese-style pizza. Led by chefs Tam Nguyen and Rudy Vasquez, Moon Rabbit has earned raves for its well-executed takes on staples like shaking beef and lemongrass pork banh mi. Both restaurants serve good cocktails, but only one will move on to round two.
Burger Bodega vs Loro
This matchup features two restaurants that serve tasty burgers. Before launching his smash burger concept, food influencer Abbas Dhanani traveled to Los Angeles and New York to taste all the best versions. For its Asian smokehouse, the Uchi team partnered with legendary pitmaster Aaron Franklin to learn all the techniques necessary to produce consistently excellent smoke-kissed meats. Now it’s time to determine whether Loro’s boozy slushies or Burger Bodega’s mango lassi milkshake move on in the tournament.
Aiko vs Aya Sushi
Our sushi matchup features two restaurants that have embraced omakase. At Aiko, diners choose from $35, $55, and $95 options that include nigiri, handrolls, and crudo. At Aya Sushi, veteran sushi chef Yoshi Katsuyama offers his customers both a chef’s tasting and a premium tasting that can include more than 15 courses. Of course, both restaurants also have extensive a la carte offerings and daily specials, but we encourage you to take the plunge with a tasting — and to pick one restaurant to move on.
The Warwick vs Karne Korean Steakhouse
Both of these restaurants offer a fresh take on the steakhouse. At The Warwick, look for Southern classics like shrimp and grits and smoked ribs as well as a couple nods to the restaurant’s location as a former Houston’s in the form of a Hawaiian ribeye and a Thai noodle salad. Karne offers its diners the signature Karnivore platter that provides a sample of its best meats and banchan as well as some splurge-worthy dishes like oysters topped with uni. Diners will find an eye-catching design and photo-worthy cocktails at both establishments, but only one will make it to round two.
Cucharita vs Tatemó
Now comes the old school vs new school Mexican matchup. A sister concept to Montrose staple Cuchara, Cucharita serves a range of breakfast favorites including tacos, waffles, and all the egg dishes — including caviar. Tatemó has earned regional and national attention, including a James Beard semifinalist nomination, for its nixtamalized masa creations that use heirloom Mexican corn. Vote to decide whether Cucharita’s corn waffles or Tatemó’s masa pancakes make it to round two.
Amrina vs Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers
Admittedly, pairing an Indian fine dining restaurant with a Southern restaurant devoted to fried chicken and seafood seems like a bit of a curious matchup, but these two restaurants are united by the way they offer unique perspectives on familiar dishes. For example, Amrina serves dishes such as whiskey naan, jackfruit samosas, and tandoori leg of lamb with gold leaf that are distinct from the versions at other, similar establishments. Of course, Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers produces craveable fried chicken and shrimp, but it’s globally inspired dishes like grilled jerk chicken and sweet ‘n spicy miso wings that set it apart. Sadly, only one restaurant will earn a spot in round two.