Houston may suffering through some winter doldrums weather-wise, but the restaurant scene remains as hot as ever. The range of new options remains so dynamic that even a beloved Chinese barbecue restaurant only ranks sixth on this month's list.
It's extremely delicious — and an excellent value — just not quite as special as the newly-opened Houston outpost of highly-acclaimed Texas barbecue joint that's regularly drawing waits of an hour or more. This month holds other intriguing options, like a promising Thai pop-up and a destination-worthy Indian restaurant that only requires a drive to Upper Kirby.
As always, these are ordered by how quickly readers should make their way to try them, but all of the restaurants have something to offer. Let's get onto the list.
Opening a Houston location of the Brenham barbecue joint may have taken a little longer than expected, but the arrival of a bigger, badder version of pitmaster-owner Leonard Botello IV’s restaurant gives local barbecue fans a big reason to celebrate. The design and buildout by local firm Construction Concepts offers an elevated take on the bluesy, roadside joint vibe of the original with lots of Instagram-friendly touches.
Powered by five massive offset smokers, the quality of the barbecue — the expertly rendered brisket, succulent ribs, and juicy housemade sausages (three varieties are available) — already matches or exceeds that of the original location that Texas Monthly ranked 10th best in the state. Signature sides like tater tot casserole and corn pudding are almost worth waiting in line for by themselves (even the green beans weren’t the usual barbecue joint mush).
Truth’s celebrated layer cakes have their own register, which means diners can walk in and pick up a slice to-go without a lengthy wait. The only issue is that the parking lot, though generous by Washington Ave standards, isn’t enough to handle the crowds. Tearing down an adjacent lot should yield another 20 or so spaces; until that happens, go early (a little ahead of the 11 am opening time), go late (after 1:30 pm), or be prepared to walk a bit. 110 S Heights Blvd.; 832-835-0001
Decatur Bar & Pop-Up Factory
The original Beaver’s may be gone, but its spirit as a ground-breaking restaurant with a great bar lives on courtesy of a new concept that features rotating chefs who will occupy the space for four to six months. Right now, Decatur is home to chef Evelyn Garcia, a native Houstonian and former Chopped champion who has worked at some of New York’s best Asian restaurants. She’s using her experience cooking Thai food to turn out a weekly, four-course, family-style menu that’s served on Friday and Saturday as well as a bar menu that’s available daily from 5 pm to 11 pm.
While dishes like salmon ceviche and Thai-style fried chicken may not be available on any given week, they offered enough depth of flavor to offer hope that whatever is available on subsequent weeks will be executed at a similarly high level. Standouts on the bar menu include a pork larb salad and roasted beet hummus. Dishes get paired with craft beer, a tidy selection of wines by-the-glass, or creative cocktails from bar director Leslie Krockenberger. 2310 Decatur St.; 713-389-5008
Verandah Progressive Indian Restaurant
Chefs Sunil Srivastava and his wife Anupama have opened their eagerly-anticipated, inner loop follow-up to the acclaimed (and lamented) Great W’Kana Café. To fit the luxurious environs of the ritzy Kirby Collection, Verandah offers an elegant design that pays homage to the five elements of earth, fire, water, air, and ether with original artwork by Anupama’s mother hanging on the walls.
While the design is eye-catching, the real stunners come from the kitchen. A familiar lamb kebab arrives in a glass cloche filled with aromatic clove and mint smoke, while familiar tandoori chicken arrives in a different cloche with a different variety of smoke. Salmon isn’t usually memorable, but it can be when topped with a spicy curry sauce. Even a simple sounding chicken consommé gets a lift from lemon zest that complements the delicate chicken meatballs in the broth. In time, Srivastava will offer a special chef’s table experience with one-off dishes built around a theme such an all-kebab menu.
A note on parking: diners will find a valet at the entrance on Kirby, or they may self park via the garage entrance on Colquitt (the restaurant will validate two hours for free). A valet stand on W. Main is only for residents of the apartment building above the restaurant. 3300 Kirby Dr.; 281-501-0258
2840 at Dukessa
Former Kitchen 713 chef Ross Coleman has found a new home at this lunch spot in the Galleria area. While the menu offers new options, Coleman’s interest in global soul food remains. Just consider his goat tostada that gets Ethiopian touches with an injera crisp and a topping of spicy goat wat. Go healthy(-ish) with dishes like pan-roasted salmon with crispy skin and fried green tomatoes or chicken fajitas kale salad or opt for something more decadent like classic shrimp and grits or a half-pound burger topped with cheddar. Either way, the pleasant environment and friendly staff will help make lunch an enjoyable, if leisurely, experience. 2840 Chimney Rock Rd.; 713-299-7821
Mari and Xavier Godoy left lucrative careers in the oil and gas world to launch this cafe in the Heights that blends their roots in Venezuela with a passion for Italian cuisine. At breakfast, that means lots of freshly made pastries from the restaurant’s dough lab, plus arepas and Italian espresso. At dinner, chef Tony Castillo serves up shareable plates and freshly made pastas. Highlights include the carrots over carrots appetizer (roasted carrots over carrot hummus), salt-roasted beets with Gorgonzola, and a hearty bolognese served with casarecce pasta.
A stylish dining room shows off the open kitchen — the restaurant truly believes it has nothing to hide from diners about how it prepares their food. An eclectic wine list help round out the experience. 927 Studewood St.; 346-227-8458
Siu Lap City
The family who operated the the lunch counter at the much-lamented Long Sing Supermarket has a new home at this restaurant in Midtown. While the restaurant serves a variety of options, the most compelling are the roast pork, the barbecue pork, pork ribs, and roast duck. While all of the choices are good, the classic barbecue pork is a standout, matching the pork's meaty flavors with just the right level of sweetness.
Best of all, the restaurant is still a good deal. A combination lunch plate provides an overwhelming portion of any two meats, rice, and vegetables for $8. Add an egg roll for an extra $1. Sure, it's a no-frills experience, but that's just part of the charm. 2808 Milam St.; 713-236-8171
Sorrisso Modern Italian Kitchen
This stylish Italian concept replaces Current inside the Westin hotel in The Woodlands. In place of a loosely-defined take on farm to table cuisine, veteran chef Enzo Fargione has installed a compelling menu of shareable starters, handmade pastas, and Neapolitan-style pizzas. Highlights include a savory lamb ragu over creamy polenta, roasted octopus, and pappardelle pasta with short rib ragu. On the other hand, adding a poached egg seemed to overwhelm the flavor of a bowl of cacio e pepe. Frying red fish for a milanese dish seemed like an odd choice, but the results proved surprisingly effective — adding a little crunch while still keeping the fish juicy and firm.
Inner loopers making the drive north may recognize general manager and sommelier Giorgio Ferrero, a veteran of restaurants such as Toulouse and Smith & Wollensky. While his wine list definitely plays it safe, it is possible to find decent values on it, which is a plus at a hotel. 2 Waterway Square Pl.; 832-839-5436
La Vibra Tacos
This newly opened Heights restaurant has quite a bit going for it, including fresh, housemade tortillas (corn and flour) and a comprehensive selection of proteins (beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, etc). In particular, the costra taco, in which the meat gets wrapped with a layer of gooey melted cheese before being placed in a flour tortilla, is the sort of gotta-have-it bite that should keep diners coming back again and again. The chicharron de queso, essentially an oversized cheese crisp, is also particularly can’t-miss.
On the downside, the restaurant still seems to be finding itself in a lot of ways. The portions are small relative to the prices, which range from $3 to $5 per taco. Offering a range of salsas should be a good thing, but none of La Vibra’s five options had any discernible spice. Once the kinks are worked out, this restaurant should be a nice addition to the Heights. 506 Yale St.
Hyde Park Wood Fired Kitchen
As its name implies, this new concept from the owners of Nobi Public House serves up food from two wood-fired ovens. The technique worked well for a cauliflower dish with Calabrian peppers and charred octopus matched with a classic combination of roasted potatoes and chimichurri. On the other hand, a doughy pizza arrived with a too-sweet balsamic drizzle that overwhelmed the prosciutto beneath it. Similarly, while the boundary between al dente and undercooked can be thin, the spaghetti in the cacio e pepe was most definitely the latter — maybe it just isn’t my month for that dish.
The extensive wine list, well-priced spirit selection, and strong word of mouth from friends all suggests that Hyde Park is a better restaurant than what I experienced. Someday soon I hope to return and determine for myself whether that’s the case. 247 E. NASA Pkwy. (Webster)