After spending the past month discussing Houston's best restaurants as part of our Tastemaker Awards coverage, the time has come to once again look at the new restaurants making a splash across the city. Although this year has yet to match 2017 in terms of either pace or overall quality — it's hard to top a year when three of Houston's James Beard Award-winning chefs open new restaurants — a number of intriguing new options have emerged in the past couple of months.
This month's list includes two new barbecue options from pitmasters making the leap from pop-ups to full-time service, an acclaimed local chef with a new fast casual concept, and the best linguine vongole I've tried in awhile. As always, these are ordered in how quickly I think people should try them, but choose the one that seems most appealing. After all, a wine-obsessed Heights resident will probably get more pleasure out of Postino than Rodeo Goat.
After six years of pop-ups, pitmaster Patrick Feges has opened his barbecue joint in Greenway Plaza. While Feges serves well-executed versions of beef brisket, pork ribs, and a housemade sausage, it goes beyond that by also serving turkey, chicken, pulled pork, pork belly, and boudin that’s made from the trimmings of the other meats. Co-owner Erin Feges (a chef and one-time Chopped champion) has created sides like Moroccan-spiced carrots, Asian cucumber salad, and mashed sweet potato with banana that are flavorful and satisfying enough to make for a meal by themselves (order any three for $8).
Greenway Plaza has served as a successful launching pad for both The Rice Box and burger-chan, but people can still be intimidated by the parking. Feges posted a four-part video series to Instagram that explains the procedure. 3 Greenway Plaza, Suite C210
Fig & Olive
This New York-based restaurant has brought its Mediterranean-inspired cuisine to the former Saks space at the Galleria. The expansive space is light and bright, with a large patio. Meals begin with the restaurant’s signature crostini; the foie gras, burrata with tomato and pesto, and prosciutto with fig and ricotta ranked as the our favorites.
Dishes like the mushroom croquette, octopus carpaccio, and truffle risotto further the restaurant’s goal of serving generally lighter fare, while the balsamic-glazed short rib has been introduced to appeal to heartier Texan appetites. All that gets paired with a broad selection of wine and cocktails. Taken together, the accessible menu, stylish design, and prime location have Fig & Olive poised to be the city’s next see-and-be-seen spot. 5115 Westheimer Rd.
Sometimes it seems like the last thing Houston needs is another burger joint, but DFW-based Rodeo Goat makes for a nice addition to the city’s burger offerings. Located in EaDo’s East Village development (home to Chapman & Kirby, SeaSide Poke, and three upcoming offerings from Agricole Hospitality), the space features an open kitchen (perfect for hearing the burgers sizzling on the grill) and a 200-seat, tri-level patio.
The beef burgers start with 44 Farms beef that’s ground in-house and are adorned with any number of creative toppings. Over the course of two visits, the Marvin Zindler (bacon, cheddar, jalapenos, barbecue sauce, etc), Nanny Goat (herbed goat cheese, garlic-herb mayo) and Sugar Burger (candied bacon, grilled peaches, arugula, etc) provide flavors that enhance the patty’s natural beefiness without overwhelming it. Crispy fries, Blue Bell milkshakes, and a full selection of craft beer and cocktails only enhance the experience. 2118 Lamar St., Suite 102
BCK Kitchen & Cocktail Adventures
This new concept from the owners of Bosscat Kitchen & Libations trades that restaurant’s heavy, bar-oriented food offerings for dishes inspired by its owners childhoods in the ’80s and ’90s: everything from sweet and sour meatballs and street corn to Salisbury steak, shake and bake pork chops, and ‘pasghetti O’s. It’s the sort of conceit that could go off the rails pretty easily, but the dishes wind up being elevated enough to taste good without being so frou-frou as to be unrecognizable from the cafeteria fare that inspired them.
Bosscat’s drinks and dishes always have a strong visual component, and that continues at BCK. The Berry Crunch Milk Punch (served with Cap’n Crunch berries) and the Dr Feelgood (served in a Dr Pepper can) look as good on Instagram as they taste. Standing out in a competitive Heights restaurant market is tough, but BCK’s creative menu and casual atmosphere seem poised to earn its neighborhood’s appreciation. 933 Studewood St.
Fresco Cafe Italiano
A new restaurant that features an Italian chef making fresh pasta should be cause for a foodie frnezy, but Fresco has been mostly flying under the radar since it opened last September. Still, chef-owner Roberto Crescini's food deserves more attention. The former executive chef at Bellaire’s Enoteca Rosso opened this unassuming restaurant on the Southwest Freeway that serves nine styles of housemade pasta and seven different sauces.
While it’s possible to build a bowl with a pasta and a sauce, Crescini also serves some set combinations, including one of the better versions of linguine vongole I’ve had in some time. Another special featured housemade Italian sausage. We matched our pastas (cooked properly al dente, natch) with a crispy, thin crust pepperoni pizza with so-so dough but great sausage. Reasonable prices (almost nothing over $20) and free BYOB more than make up for the no-frills decor and counter style service. 3277 Southwest Freeway
Just as establishments like Better Luck Tomorrow and Holman Draft Hall are blurring the line between bar and restaurant, this Arizona-based concept blends a wine bar and restaurant. That starts with the cafe’s space at Heights Mercantile, which features a variety of seating options (tables, booths, wine bar, patio, couches) designed to cater to customers who want to work on a laptop or canoodle during a date.
Open beginning at 11 am during the week and 9 am on the weekends, Postino encourages patrons to have a glass or two of wine at lunch by pricing its eclectic by-the-glass list at just $5 until 5 pm. On the culinary side, the dozen bruschetta options are priced at a reasonable four for $15, which is perfect for sharing with another person. I could quibble that my panini wasn’t quite toasted enough to melt the cheese, but that seems like the sort of thing that’s easy to fix on a future visit. 642 Yale St.
The Chicken Station
Former Latin Bites chef Roberto Castre has launched this new fast casual concept that serves Peruvian roasted chicken. Located along the light rail line in the East End, the Chicken Station matches its chicken — which does a good job of delivering both juicy meat and crispy skin — with a host of sides: everything from french fries and yucca fries to plantains, mixed vegetables, creamy corn, and fried rice. Castre also serves a range of salads, sandwiches, desserts (the alfajores cookies are especially delicious), and Peruvian classics like salchipapas (fries topped with chopped hot dog and sauces). If Castre ever expands the concept to a location that’s closer to home, I’ll be there twice a month. 7001 Harrisburg Blvd.
Willow’s Texas BBQ
Feges BBQ isn’t the only smoked meat purveyor attracting attention. Pitmaster Willow Villarreal recently made the transition from weekly pop-up to almost-daily service with a new food truck that serves at Big Star Bar from Thursday to Sunday. Villarreal’s cuisine has been earning raves from barbecue bloggers, but my two visits have been uneven; once, the brisket matched the quality of brick and mortar restaurants but another the fat hadn’t fully rendered. Still, the ribs had been properly cooked on both visits and the sides, including Tex-Mex style charro beans and classic Southern greens, make this a truck worth visiting. 1005 W 19th St.
Flip 'N Patties
Speaking of food trucks, this Filipino truck made the jump to a West Houston brick-and-mortar location back in January. Favorites from the truck days like the namesake burger (beef patty topped with a cheesy-stuffed fried mushroom), lechon kawali (pork belly bites), and lumpia (egg rolls) all match or exceed the quality of what was served on the truck, and the menu has expanded with additional sides and salads. First-rate french fries and the crispy, juicy chicken pupu plate are also worth trying. No wonder the lines at peak times can snake out the door. 1809 Eldridge Parkway
The venerable Ethiopian restaurant recently added a second location in the former home of Luigi’s in the Greenway Plaza/Upper Kirby/River Oaks area. Not being very experienced in the cuisine, I dined with two friends who suggested an extensive sampler platter that offered different versions of kitfo and tibbs, two of the restaurant’s signature meat dishes. Unfortunately, the individual dishes flavors blurred together, especially when wrapped in the spongy injera bread that’s a staple of the cuisine. With a couple of appetizers and dessert, our meal somehow cost over $150, which seems excessive when most of the entrees are priced between $15 and $20. Next time, I’d skip the sampler and just go with one entree per person. 3030 Audley St.