Driving around Houston brings one to an unmistakable conclusion. Houstonians are ready to be out and about.
Fortunately, a number of new restaurants have opened to accommodate those impulses. The list below covers just some of the establishments that have opened since December, along with two very exciting pop-ups. No, this article isn’t remotely comprehensive; consider it a starting for those looking to try something new.
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.
Goodnight Hospitality has opened its crown jewel — a tasting menu restaurant that combines the culinary skill of chef Felipe Riccio with the wine knowledge and service expertise of master sommelier June Rodil. The experience is distinctly fine dining: it includes snacks and a glass of infused vermouth in the restaurant's lounge; captains serving each course; decor, plate ware, and other touches that all communicate luxury. All in all, diners will feel extremely well cared for with a staff that seems to anticipate a person's needs before they’re able to articulate them.
Diners begin their meal in the lounge with snacks that include a bite of caviar and a roasted lion’s mane mushroom. The nine-course menu builds in flavors and intensity, beginning with lighter flavors such as a salad of legumes sourced from Goodthyme Farm (owned by Goodnight partners Bailey and Peter McCarthy) paired with cheese and snapper crudo adorned with precisely cut pieces of apple. Highlights include barely seared tuna belly with olive, rabbit roulade with greens, and sous vide short rib with a delicate beet pave. The three-plus hour experience concludes with a return to the lounge for mignardise plus takeaways and a printed menu to remember the experience.
Needless to say, all this luxury and attention comes at a correspondingly high price. The six course tasting costs $145, and nine courses rings up at $195, which means a nine course dinner for two with standard pairings will cost about $700 after tax and tip. That’s a splurge for almost anyone, but — to steal a line — if you have the means, I highly recommend it.
Chef Kaitlin Steets has been operating this French-inspired pop-up at Theodore Rex since mid-February. Diners have the choice of either a five-course omnivore or vegetarian tasting menu ($65).
While both options feature thoughtfully prepared, tasty courses — I went with friends and we traded bites from both menus — opting for the vegetarian menu brings beet salad with celery and roasted lions mane mushrooms with crispy steak fries, both of which ranked among my favorites of the night. Then again, the omnivore menu features a precisely deboned and roasted quail dish that's incredibly flavorful.
While the name and menu may be different, T. Rex’s polished, friendly service remain intact. Just act fast; Littlefoot’s final night of service is May 3 (T. Rex returns May 16).
This new concept from the team behind Nancy’s Hustle has rapidly emerged as one of Houston’s top pizzerias. The pies feature a thin, chewy crust that serves as a sturdy base for a range of toppings that include classic sausage and peppers, a cheese-less tomato pie with anchovies, and a riff on Hawaiian complete with pineapple and jalapeno. That the pizza both travels and reheats well is an added bonus.
Beyond pizza, diners will find an appealing array of small plates, such as a first rate tuna crudo, thinly sliced mushrooms under a mountain of shaved Parmesan, and fried mussel nuggets. Like Nancy’s, Tiny Champions offers friendly service and an eclectic beverage list full of well-balanced cocktails and offbeat wines. Save room for desserts like the carrot sherbet sundae and chocolate Angostura “salami.”
Former Uchi chefs Luis Mercado and Paolo Justo have been quietly wowing in-the-know diners with their innovative tasting menus built around dry-aged fish. Held in a Montrose clothing store for groups of four to six people, a meal at Neo features between 15 and 20 courses that mix individual pieces of nigiri — madai that had been aged for two weeks, kampachi that had been aged for 27 days, and bluefin tuna that had been aged for 32 days — along with composed plates.
The dinner I attended featured a collaboration with chef Emmanuel Chavez of buzzy artisan tortilleria Tatemó that blended Japanese techniques with traditional Mexican flavors. Memories of dishes such as a crystal blue prawn taco with burnt chile salsa, inflada taco with uni and avocado crema, and a lamb tartare tostada with mole verde lingered long after the meal ended. An almost one-to-one ratio of chefs to diners meant the meal absolutely flew by; the chefs served 18 courses in about 70 minutes.
One Fifth Southern Comfort
It’s the end of One Fifth as we know it, and I feel fine. As the restaurant comes to the end of its five-year run, Chris Shepherd and chef de cuisine Matt Staph have installed a menu of elevated Southern fare at the Montrose spot that's been home to four previous iterations. This one offers a slightly less ambitious but more comforting take on the cuisine served at One Fifth Gulf Coast, which seems like a fitting way to draw things to a close.
Recommended dishes include crab-stuffed jalapeños, fried shrimp, and roasted oysters in a Viet-Cajun-inspired garlic butter. Gulf flounder Pontchartrain adds fried oysters to its familiar jumbo crab topping, which is a touch any Houstonian can appreciate. The comprehensive beverage program, expansive patio, and friendly staff contribute to the experience. Thankfully, there's still time for another visit or two.
For their first project as Night Moves Hospitality, chef Lyle Bento (Southern Goods, Underbelly) has teamed up with bartender Greg Perez (Calle Onze, Monkey’s Tail) for this tropical-themed spot at the recently-renovated Heights House Hotel. This meal was a private tasting during the bar’s very quiet soft opening, but the location’s pool side setting and Bento’s track record of success make it a place to watch.
The chef channels his Hawaiian roots on the menu with dishes like ahi tuna poke on gem lettuce, Spam musubi, and fried chicken wings with a flavorful garlic-lime sauce. He also dabbles in some of the Filipino dishes that are popular on the island, including Oka, a ceviche-style dish made with coconut cream, and Lechon Kawali, a pork crackling dish dusted with a mix of spices.
Perez’s talented bar staff has created a roster of drinks that are creative as the cooking. Highlights include the Clarified #10, a take on a classic pina colada with clarified milk, the La Fresona, a strawberry Ranch Water served in a pool-friendly plastic pouch, and the El Pajaro, a Jungle Bird riff with Campari and mezcal.
The first thing to know about former Rockets star James Harden’s Midtown restaurant is that it feels like a party. The celebratory mood stems from the well-dressed crowd that takes picture of their food at the table and of themselves in front of the restaurant’s logo. Confident, friendly service adds to the sense of occasion.
Chef Tobias Dorzon, a reality show veteran and former professional athlete with 100,000 Instagram followers, adds to the atmosphere with bold dishes and big flavors. Mac and cheese comes in egg roll form, and the deep fried lasagna (yes, really) comes surrounded in a vibrant tomato sauce. Fried rice comes loaded up with crab, crawfish, and a grilled lobster tail. Sun Devil oysters (named for Harden’s alma mater) use collard greens to put a Southern spin on classic Oysters Rockefeller.
The only thing holding Thirteen back is some minor flubs in execution. Neither the egg rolls nor the lasagna arrived as crispy as fried items should. A side of collard greens had an off-putting sweet flavor to start and a sour finish; stick to the fried Brussels sprouts with sweet garlic sauce instead.
Chef Mike Lim, who came to Houston to open Roka Akor and earned widespread praise for his work at Tobiuo Sushi in Katy, opened this stylish Midtown restaurant in December. Diners will find a mix of sushi and Japanese-inspired small plates such as the signature Venus, which features thinly sliced scallop topped with uni and salmon roe that’s paired with a soy reduction and yuzu aioli — assembling all the ingredients together nets a bite that’s sweet, tart, salty, and creamy. A five-piece nigiri set required no additional seasoning, and the kitchen showed a deft touch by cooking Japanese wagyu from the Miyazaki prefecture to an exact medium rare.
Gatsby’s Prime Steakhouse
This new restaurant in the former Pax Americana space on Montrose offers a more intimate twist on the familiar steakhouse; instead of a 300-seat monster, the main dining room only consists of approximately 10 tables. The room has been given a posh makeover with black walls, antique chandeliers, and lots of red and gold accents.
Chef Erick Anaya comes to the restaurant after a stint at Steak 48, and he shows a deft touch with properly medium rare steaks, dramatic seafood towers, and a range of classic sides. The wine and cocktail lists consists of familiar classics, which will either appeal to people who recognize them or leave oenophiles wanting a wider range of more adventurous selections.
Spicy chicken sandwiches, both Nashville and not, seem to be all the rage in Houston these days, which makes this Fort Worth-based, fast casual spot a welcome addition to Washington Avenue. Available as both a sandwich and supersized tenders, Cookshack’s chicken comes in four different spice levels and with a number of sauces. Personally, “Texas Spicy” had more than enough heat for me, but true chile heads will opt for the sinus-clearing power of “A.M.F.” The restaurant also serves smoked ribs glazed in a sweet sauce; the fall-off-the-bone texture isn’t standard for Texas barbecue, but fans of the ribs served at places like Hillstone and Barnaby’s will appreciate the style.