Houstonians will soon be dining on kebabs, vegetables, and a whole lot of hummus. Hamsa, a modern Israeli restaurant from the owners of Houston steakhouse Doris Metropolitan, will open Wednesday, May 11.
First announced in 2019, Hamsa combines the diverse flavors and cooking techniques of the Middle East with a lively atmosphere and the wide-ranging beverage program that Doris Metropolitan is known for. It joins sister concept Badolina Bakery & Cafe in Rice Village (5555 Morningside Dr.) to make an all-day duo that can serve diners breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Together, the three establishments form Sof Hospitality, a restaurant group focused on bringing the flavors of the modern Middle East to Houston.
“Hamsa is a concept we always wanted to do, which is more of the food we bring from back home,” Sof Hospitality partner Ital Ben Eli tells CultureMap. “The experience will be a little different than a traditional restaurant where you order an appetizer, entrees, and desserts. Here, we bring more of that experience that we’re used to from back home. We have different sections, but each one is meant to be shared.”
The obvious comparisons are to award-winning restaurants like Zahav in Philadelphia and Shaya in New Orleans. Ben Eli, who also operates a location of Doris Metropolitan in New Orleans, is familiar with those establishment but sees Hamsa as having its own perspective.
“I heard the name ‘Shaya’ in the past month more than I have in my entire life,” Ben Eli says with a laugh. “People are familiar with that concept in New Orleans, because it’s extremely popular.”
He adds, “It’s like comparing two different Italian restaurants, but it’s still the segment of modern Israeli cuisine. Mostly what we have in common is a rich menu of different flavors and different styles of cooking. It’s really diverse as far as the range of flavors goes.”
Diners will build a shared meal from the different sections of Hamsa’s menu. Salatin consists of about a dozen small vegetables plates that range from beet salad and labneh to baba ganoush, pickled vegetables, and harrisa-spiced carrots. Then, choose from one of three hummus preparations: lamb with caramelized onions and pine nuts, shakshuka with merguez sausage and egg, or Hummus Complet with tahini and a brown egg.
Small plates include arak mussels, beef tartare, and falafel. Charcoal-grilled skewers come as a vegetarian king trumpet mushroom or carnivore choices such as beef tenderloin, chicken shawarma, or a kebab that mixes beef and lamb.
“We insisted on having a charcoal grill for the skewers to get the flavor we were looking for,” Ben Eli says. “It was a pain to get the permits, but I think it was worth it.”
Large entrees such as grilled lamb spare ribs and whole branzino round out the savory choices. They can be paired with sides like turmeric potatoes and Israeli salad.
Pastry chef Michal Michaeli, who is also responsible for the creations at Doris and Badolina, has put her spin on Middle Eastern classics like grilled pears with whipped labneh, basboosa malabi cake, and halvah.
Diners who simply want the restaurant to choose their meals may opt for the “Yella Yella” option. Hebrew slang for “let’s go,” it will consist of a range of the restaurant’s most popular dishes for a set price.
Overall, the restaurants should cater to a wide variety of tastes, including vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-free. Sommelier and general manager Melissa Rogers has over 100 wines available for pairings, including many from Israeli and Lebanon.
After two years of waiting, Ben Eli and his partners, Itamar Levy and chef Sash Kurgan, are looking forward to sharing their new creation with Houstonians. Lucky Doris regulars may have gotten a sneak peek at a couple of dishes, but Ben Eli notes that they taste even better cooked in Hamsa’s kitchen.
“I’ve never worked for a restaurant for as long as we did with Hamsa,” he says. “We literally had a couple years to learn what we needed to learn. From trial and error to traveling to other cities, we had time to focus on what we wanted to do.”