Downtown restaurant Theodore Rex has temporarily swapped its normal menu for something a little different. For the next week or two, chef-owner Justin Yu has replaced the Asian-influenced Money Cat menu he’s been serving for one he’s dubbed “Yuston’s,” an homage to upscale comfort food restaurant Houston’s.
“It’s one of those things I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Yu tells CultureMap. “I want to cook and have fun at the same time. Houston’s was one of those places I missed so much.”
Although it’s a chain, the restaurant has always earned wide admiration among independent restaurateurs for its precise execution, thoughtful design, and welcoming atmosphere.
“The things about it that you look at when you’ve had a little more experience [owning a restaurant] . . . the lighting, the layout, the training of the staff,” Yu says. “I’m finally where nostalgia is such an important part of the way you choose to dine. There’s things on the menu that are just easy to order. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Yuston’s menu contains riffs on most of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, including spinach-artichoke dip, barbecue pork ribs, the Hawaiian ribeye, and a French dip sandwich. Sommelier Justin Vann has also selected wines that will pair with the dishes.
All of the items are available for order via the T. Rex website, but quantities are limited by the kitchen’s capacity. Pre-ordering is the safest way for diners to ensure they get everything they want.
Yu says he chose the menu based on the dishes he orders when he dines at Houston’s (and that would travel well) — with one exception. “I didn’t know [until a couple years ago] they had chicken tenders, but I've heard on someone’s podcast that they’re really upset about them not having chicken tenders.”
[Editor’s note: Guilty as charged.]
Since Theodore Rex’s small kitchen doesn’t have a fryer, Yu and his team had to set up a pot with oil to execute the chicken tenders properly. He’s tweaked his original tempura batter recipe slightly so that they stay reasonably crispy during their journey from the restaurant to someone’s home.
One night in, Yuston’s is a hit. The menu switch lured a crowd of T. Rex regulars to the restaurant, and Yu’s fellow James Beard Award winner Chris Shepherd gave it a shout out on Instagram.
May 7, 2020 at 6:28pm PDT
Yuston’s and Houston’s have one other major difference. Whereas the chain restaurant has attracted criticism for not permitting its employees to wear PPE in the form or masks or gloves while serving dine-in customers, T. Rex remains to-go only and all employees are required to wear masks.
“For us, we want to make sure everyone feels safe in the atmosphere,” Yu says. “I’ve erred on the side of being overly cautious, even if people think we’re taking it a step too far. We’re constantly sanitizing.”
On behalf of chicken tender-loving podcasters, Yu's commitment to his staff is admirable. On behalf of someone who ordered some of these dishes for dinner Thursday night, the spicy honey mustard sauce is not to be missed.