After a frantic end of 2021 led to a busy beginning of 2022, the last couple of months have seen a slight slackening in the pace of restaurant openings. Blame the rodeo, maybe, or simply note that some sort of pause needed to happen at some point.
Regardless of the reasons for the diminished quantity of new openings, it provides an opportunity for this column to include a few worthy establishments that had previously flown under the radar. This month’s list includes the Montrose steakhouse that’s packing in diners, and the buzzy, New York City import that’s a smash hit in The Heights. It also more established spots like one of the city’s best modern soul food restaurants and a salad concept that’s winning fans in West U.
As always, these are roughly ordered by the priority I would give to trying them, but all of the entries on the list have something to offer. Write-ups are based on actual experiences dining at the listed restaurants (sometimes more than once). They’re less formal reviews than a guide of what to expect along with some suggestions for what to order (and what to avoid).
Atlas Restaurant Group, the Baltimore-based company behind River Oaks District seafood restaurants Loch Bar and Ouzo Bay, has opened this Italian steakhouse in the Montrose Collective mixed-use district. Named for the Italian word for “marble,” the restaurant serves an enticing mix of shareable appetizers, freshly made pastas, Italian-American classics, and dry-aged steaks — all paired with cocktails and a mostly Italian wine list.
Highlights from a recent meal included a hamachi appetizer that gets a little crunch from a squid ink rice chip; a dry-aged, bone-in ribeye that had an appealing funk; and a squid ink campanelle loaded with blue crab and served with rich uni cream sauce. A classic take on chicken parmigiana featured plenty of gooey cheese and a slightly sweet tomato sauce. Live music played on a grand piano in the lounge area provides a little old school atmosphere.
Moving to a permanent location near Spring Branch has allowed chef Emmanuel Chavez to taken his maize-obsessed concept to the next level. While customers can still buy artisan tortillas made with different varieties of heirloom corn using a traditional nixtamalization process, Tatemó now offers an expanded range of brunch items on Sunday and an elegant, eight-course tasting menu on Saturday nights.
Brunch dishes such as masa pancakes and a quesadilla with choice of fillings provide well executed takes on classic fare, but the tasting menus really allow Chavez to display his skill. A recent meal featured both a personal sized tlayuda with a crispy texture and an expertly cooked, medium rare ribeye that served as the filling for carne asada tacos with the restaurant’s flavorful tortillas. Simply put, it’s some of the most elegant, thoughtfully prepared Mexican cuisine I’ve experienced in Houston.
Hospitality industry veterans Steve Rogers (Bar 5015), Rob Wright (Prospect Park), and Mazen Baltagi (Slowpokes) have teamed up to launch this high end concept in the former Houston’s space on Westheimer. Named for the iconic Houston hotel, the restaurant features a reworked interior — still built around posh booth seating — along with new additions like a private dining room and a covered patio.
Chef Antoine Ware (Hay Merchant, Harold’s in the Heights) has created a menu grounded in upscale Cajun/Creole fare that also pays a couple of nods to the space’s former occupant. That means the ability to order Ware’s take on Houston’s classics like spinach artichoke dip and a Hawaiian ribeye (a little sweet in a good way; served with a huge slice of grilled pineapple) along with shrimp and grits, roasted oysters, and blackened snapper. Ware also shows a deft touch with salads; both the “Not a Wedge” and his Thai Noodle Salad emerged as favorites at a recent meal. Unfortunately, both the ribeye and an order of lamb chops arrived under their requested temperatures, but that seems more like new opening jitters than cause for concern.
The Greasy Spoon
Admittedly, it has taken me too long to make my way to Max Bozeman’s upscale soul food restaurant — Black Restaurant Week co-founder Warren Luckett gave it a shout out on a podcast episode last year — but a visit to the six-month-old Pearland location found the restaurant in fine form. Braised oxtails had a luscious, melty texture, while a seafood platter featured well fried catfish and juicy sauteed shrimp. The Greasy Spoon gets all the sides right, too, from rich mac and cheese and vibrant collard greens to sweet candied yams dirty rice with the right amount of liver-y funk.
Both locations are famous for their lines during weekend brunch, but the Pearland location had tables available during a weekday lunch. Those who want to avoid the crowds should plan accordingly.
Don’t confuse this Australian-inspired, New York-based restaurant with a coffee shop. Yes, it does sell flat whites and other coffee drinks to-go, but the focus is on a full service, cafe-style experience.
In order to sample both Bluestone Lane’s all-day breakfast options and its lunch offerings, we opted for a “brekkie board” of smash avocado toast paired with granola and a Rainbow Bowl (roasted carrots, spinach, farro, edamame, diced beets, sliced red cabbage, feta, poached egg, and avocado topped with chimichurri yogurt dressing). Note that the ability to order from the table via smartphone makes it easy to customize every dish by adding extras like bacon (to the avocado toast) and lemon and garlic chicken (to the Rainbow Bowl) or removing any unwanted components. The kitchen turns out flavorful food, although a server saying the kitchen had no way to warm up an almond croissant did seem a little odd.
While Bluestone Lane is a welcome addition to an area that’s lacked this style of casual, all-day dining since Down House closed, it does come at a cost. Lunch for two rang up at over $50 before tax and tip.
Post Houston continues to add concepts that make its Post Market food hall one of this year’s most exciting dining destinations. Roberta’s has started turning out the same wood-fired pizzas that earned the original location in Brooklyn national acclaim. Start with the Famous Original, essentially a fancy cheese pizza, that shows off the restaurant’s high quality ingredients and properly charred, pleasantly chewy crust. The pepperoni roll provides a bit of Ratatouille-style nostalgia with its ranch dipping sauce.
Mike Tran, chef-owner of Chinatown favorites like like Mein and Tiger Den, is responsible for Moto Ramen. The stand serves a rich, almost creamy tonkotsu and a more mild shoyu broth alongside various spiced up options. Al dente noodles and flavorful chasu hold their own with any of Houston’s other well-regarded noodle shops.
Leaf & Grain
Yes, this salad and bowl concept has been operating downtown for a couple of years, but its West University location near the corner of Weslayan and Bissonnet has only been open for a few months. Lured by a one-off sandwich special, I also took the opportunity to try the restaurant’s first rate chicken tortilla soup (nice tomato flavor, just the right spice level) and The Oasis, a Mediterranean-inspired salad that features baked falafel and a zippy zhug vinaigrette. Like other, similar concepts, diners may also build their own salads and bowls from a couple dozen ingredients.
Dim Sum Box
Fung’s Kitchen may still be closed, but the Fung family has returned to the dim sum business via this fast casual restaurant in Katy. The menu covers all of the familiar dumplings, stuffed noodles, steamed buns, and other items (chicken feet) that one expects from a dim sum meal. Shu mai and hai gow match any of the familiar Chinatown options for texture and flavor, and the fast casual format means diners get exactly what they want without having to wait for a server to take an order or carts to circulate through a dining room.