After Uchi, is the Houston restaurant scene set for an Austin invasion?
Over the weekend the CultureMap tip line got a question about the "Austin restaurants" heading to lower Westheimer. Our ears were immediately perked — restaurants plural, you say? — but it looks like the question came about because of a misread of a Swamplot post about the plans at the site of the upcoming Uchi.
(Uchi will move into the former Felix space, with the neighboring building that once held Privé and others available for as many as three separate businesses, in addition to a small structure also available around the corner on Grant.)
But the question got us thinking — is there an Austin invasion in the works? In addition to Uchi, Austin's popular healthy to-go Snap Kitchen opened a couple months ago on Kirby, and Trey Melcher is planning to import Austin Tex-Mex fave Vivo to the River Oaks area in the same shopping center as his new Railyard bar.
"There is nothing like it in Houston, and the two locations in Austin are incredible. It will be very upscale, sexy, dark with candle lighting," Melcher says of Vivo, comparing the aesthetic to The Red Room.
Is this the end, or the beginning, of a series of Austin imports — and what will they mean to the Houston dining landscape?
After all, Houston has already embraced a slew of Austin-based eateries in such a way that we almost forget that they didn't start here. It's a lot that includes the always-packed Chuy's (let the foodie who has not enjoyed the free nacho bar at happy hour cast the first stone), Amy's Ice Cream, The Continental Club and Whole Foods.
And I'm not even including the faux-Austin digs like Tacos A Go-Go and Onion Creek, with their determined "Keep Austin Weird"-style quirkiness — not that that's a bad thing, mind you.
In its own way, the Houston dining scene reminds me of the way someone once described Hinduism: So flexible and all-encompassing that though new and competing ideas emerge, they are eventually absorbed into the mainstream culture.
So with that in mind, we are more than happy to welcome Uchi and whatever Austinites follow it. In fact, we have a few things we'd like to see take hold in Houston — feel free to add your own in the comments.
Our Austin wish list:
1. La Condesa. Trendy and beautiful, in addition to being the purveyor of James Beard-caliber modern Mexican cuisine — Condesa was nominated for Best New Restaurant last year — it almost feels like this place should be in Houston already, holding court in Midtown or next door to Haven.
2. El Arbol. Even if the food was only mediocre, the stunning patio alone, with a magnificent tree rising in the middle, presents such a beautiful place to relax and unwind it would be worth a visit. But the food isn't just OK, it's a lush, fresh take on South American cuisine that falls somewhere between the elegant casualness of Latin Bites and steak-focused Samba Grill.
There's nothing like it in Houston, ever since Hurricane Ike wiped out the stately oak at Brennan's.
3. Z'Tejas. It's not like Houston is short on Cajun/Southwestern/Tex-Mex/California bistro hybrids, but there's something about craving Z'Tejas that can't be satisfied by any impostor.