More than anything, the relentless pace of new restaurants openings defined Houston's dining scene in 2015. Every month as many as three or four high-profile new restaurants opened. Keeping up and actually trying all these new places would be difficult for anyone, and winnowing them down to 15 picks for the best new restaurants of 2015 required making some tough choices that left out some pretty big names (sorry, Peska).
The pace slowed down in December, with only Bernadine's and Eight Row Flint making their eagerly anticipated debuts. Additionally, the demands of holiday gatherings — and a personal desire for a bit of a break — meant that I haven't visited some of December's other new options like The Dunlavy and Anju.
Instead of presenting a list of new restaurants to try, this month's list offers some suggestions for a few of my off-the-radar favorites that diners may have overlooked in 2015. Whether due to cuisine, location or some other factor, these restaurants may not have garnered much attention when they opened — some didn't even appear in a Where to Eat Now column — but they've all established themselves are worth a visit.
After all, not every restaurant opens with a big budget and a splashy media campaign. Sometimes a place opens a little more quietly and finding them takes a little more time. Thank goodness. The joy of discovering an unexpectedly great meal makes any diner's day a little brighter.
Although the idea of an off-the-radar restaurant opening in the heart of Montrose may seem a bit absurd, the description applies to this Italian steakhouse that brings together Sorrento owner Abbas Hussein with well-regarded Italian chef Alberto Baffoni, but that doesn't mean the food doesn't deserve as much attention as more high profile places like B&B Butchers. Marinated in rosemary, garlic and olive oil, the signature Fiorentina porterhouse delivers big flavors at a surprisingly reasonable price for the portion — only $79 for a 36-ounce steak that will easily feed three. Besides, only eating steak would mean missing out on Baffoni's specialties like octopus carpaccio, tableside beef tartare and fresh pasta that hold their own with any Italian restaurant in Houston.
Bollo Woodfired Pizza
Born from owner Ray Salti's decision to close Sorrel Urban Bistro, Bollo offers an upscale take on the success Salti has had in growing Pepperoni's into a suburban pizza powerhouse. Bollo takes a more Italian approach to pizza, with an imported oven and simple pies that are only topped with three or four high-quality ingredients like buffalo mozzerella, prosciutto and locally-sourced beef from Texas "T" Kobe. I'll respectfully disagree with the opinion that it serves Houston's best pizza — I'd rank Pizaro's, Dolce Vita and Coltivare ahead — but the overall mix of pizzas and appealing small plates makes it a welcome addition to the mix of options in and around Upper Kirby.
Although I pride myself on being among the first to visit new restaurants, I've been slow to visit this Chinese restaurant that opened four months ago next to Boheme. The appealing menu offers both authentic, Sichuan-style dishes like mapo tofu and dan dan noodles as well as Chinese-American classics like General Tso's chicken and orange beef. Thankfully, both styles of cuisine are delicious on their own terms. The restaurant shows particular flair with noodle cookery. At a recent lunch, we ordered three dishes that each had different styles of noodles, and they all arrived properly cooked.
Dishes also arrive quickly, which is always nice, and the service is certainly friendly and enthusiastic. One caveat: beverage options are limited. Wine and beer drinkers should definitely take advantage of the restaurant's BYOB policy.
Fielding's Local Kitchen + Bar
This sister concept to upscale burger joint Fielding's Wood Grill brings a Mediterranean flair to the Creekside section of The Woodlands. Whereas Wood Grill is dominated by its various burger offerings and familiar fare like roast chicken, Local Kitchen offers a more diverse range of dishes that include pizza, pasta and seafood. Highlights from chef Edel Goncalves's menu include Tandoori-spiced crispy chicken wings, flammkuchen pizza and salmon over black rice. Helpful service and an atmosphere the balances the family-friendly needs of the neighborhood with an environment that's upscale enough for date night mark this restaurant as must try for those visiting The Woodlands from points south.
For a city of its size, Houston doesn't have very many French bakeries, but this casual cafe helps fill the gap. Under the direction of chef/owner Rabih Salibi and pastry chef Dany Srour, Flo features sandwiches, salads, breads and pastries that all feature components made in-house. For example, Salibi cures his salmon using a 48-hour process, and then serves it on bread baked by Srour. Macarons, fruit tarts and chocolate mousse are all worth trying, too.
The restaurant has been such a hit that Salibi is already looking for additional locations in Montrose, The Woodlands and other parts of Houston. If all goes according to plan, Flo won't be off-the-radar for long.
Grafitti's at Union St.
"Where can I get a good chicken fried steak?" a fried recently asked me. "Have you tried Grafitti's?" I replied. He hadn't, of course, which made me realize I need to remind people about this comfort food spot that's located just off Washington Ave near Julep and Liberty Station. The menu starts with massive, creatively-topped burgers, but sides, milkshakes and salads all fare well here. Retro-styled design and a full bar only add to the fun.
Jane & John Dough
Located in Tomball, this bakery offers creative twists on classic American pastries. From scratch-made biscuits and dinner rolls to kolaches made with pretzel dough, the creatively named enterprise has something to suit every taste. A range of sandwiches make it a lunchtime destination, and high-quality Stumptown coffee ensures everyone leaves properly caffeinated. Don't miss the cafe's Instagram feed, which demonstrates their collective taste in music is just as good as their abilities with baked goods.
Karbach Brewing Co
One of the happy outcomes of changes the Legislature made to laws related to the way beer is sold in 2013 is that allowing breweries to sell beer for on-premise consumption gives them better incentives to make their facilities more comfortable and welcoming. No better example of this exists in Houston than the restaurant at Karbach Brewing Co's $15 million brewery expansion. The menu utilizes locally sourced ingredients for a variety of items that range from classic pub food like a burger and fish and chips to pizzas and even vegetarian options. Obviously, all of the dishes pair well with Karbach beers.
Original chef Joseph Stayshich recently departed the restaurant; hopefully, the cooks who remain are able to maintain his standards and continue to make it an appealing dining destination.
Located next to Fielding's Local, Levure has been serving French pastries, breakfast items and sandwiches to Woodlands residents since May. Croissant are obviously must order, and the wide variety of breads and egg dishes draw raves. Now that the restaurant has hit its stride, it has expanded its menu with new items like a burger and even tried a dinner pop-up. Taken together, it's an important addition to The Woodlands that, along with Fielding's, makes Creekside a definite food destination.