The winners for nine of the 10 categories in the 2021 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards are selected by our judges’ panel of restaurant industry experts. However, Best New Restaurant is different.
This category gives CultureMap readers the chance to weigh in on their favorites via a bracket-style, head-to-head tournament that pits 16 restaurants against each other until only one remains. The first round of voting runs July 1-5, followed by rounds two and three from July 6-10 and 11-15, respectively. Two restaurants will compete for the title from July 16-20.
People may vote once per matchup per day. The results are closely monitored for cheating and other shenanigans, so don’t try any funny business to game the results. Voting is open now.
Considering our matchups feature a wide range of dining experiences — everything from some of Houston’s most luxurious dining rooms to casual, come-as-you-are spots — along with serious culinary talent, expect every contest to be close.
Who will win? Find out July 22 at the Tastemaker Awards party. We’ll dine on bites from this year’s nominated restaurants before emcee Bun B reveals the winners. Buy tickets now.
Acadian Coast vs. Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House
Despite being separated by roughly 40 miles, these restaurants have quite a bit in common. Both feature talented up-and-coming chefs — Joe Cervantez at Pier 6 and Kenneth Hamilton at Acadian Coast — along with an extensive selection of Gulf Coast seafood that’s anchored by oysters served raw, roasted, and fried. Both restaurants also have offer an extensive selection of cocktails to pair with their seafood. While Acadian Coast features one of the city’s best new patios, Pier 6’s bayside setting that looks onto the water helps justify the drive to San Leon.
Roots vs. Tiny Champions
This matchup features two establishments vying for the title of the best new restaurant to open in the East End. At Roots, chef JD Fouche channels his experiences at restaurants like Riel and Reef to create Gulf Coast-inspired small plates that pair with the 50-plus wines on tap. Tiny Champions takes all the things people like about Nancy’s Hustle — the first-rate service, the wine list built around ciders and natural wines, the come-as-you-are vibe — and applies it to an eclectic menu of pizza, pasta, and vegetable-driven small plates. Dishes like rabbit boudin and a dessert that combines foie gras, peanut butter, and jelly demonstrate that Fouche isn’t afraid to push the envelope, but only Tiny Champions is bold enough to put pineapple on pizza in a way that’s earned nearly universal acclaim.
Bludorn vs. Ostia
Both of these restaurants are home to chefs who trained at some of New York City’s best restaurants: Cafe Boulud for Bludorn chef-owner Aaron Bludorn and Jonathan Waxman’s legendary Barbuto for Osita’s Travis McShane. Although both restaurants are located in Montrose, their styles couldn’t be more different. Bludorn feels likes a party with groups of family and friends tucking into trays of oysters and the towering lobster pot pie. Ostia has a more homey atmosphere that’s anchored by housemade pastas and its peerless roast chicken with salsa verde.
Killen's vs. Xin Chao
Located just minutes from each other along Washington Avenue, these two restaurants put a modern twist on Texas comfort food. At Killen’s, chef-owner Ronnie Killen pairs the fried chicken and chicken fried steak that have long been part of his repertoire with new tastes such as chicken pot pie, chicken and biscuits, and a really excellent German chocolate cake. Chefs Christine Ha and Tony Nguyen channeled their favorite childhood dishes to create Xin Chao’s menu, but they’ve stepped up familiar Vietnamese dishes with preparations that utilize locally sourced ingredients and a willingness to incorporate with smoked meat.
Musaafer vs. Street to Kitchen
In terms of decor, these two restaurants couldn’t be more different. Musaafer boasts one of the city’s most opulent dining rooms, while Street to Kitchen has one of its most humble. Where they’re similar is that both restaurant’s chefs — Musaafer’s Mayank Istwal and Street to Kitchen’s Benchawan Painter — take inspiration from a combination of childhood memories and contemporary fare to bring the flavors of their respective homelands to hungry Houstonians. While anyone would be impressed by Musaafer’s signature butter chicken experience (especially when dining in its hall of mirrors), those who’ve journeyed to the East End for Painter’s larb know she’s serving some impressive dishes of her own.
Belly of the Beast vs. 93 'Til
Admittedly, a Mexican restaurant in Spring and a Japanese-inspired record bar in Montrose may not seem to have much in common, but both of these establishments feature chefs with solid pedigrees — Belly of the Beast’s Thomas Bille worked at some of Los Angeles’ best restaurants while 93 ‘Til chefs Gary Ly and Lung Ly bring extensive experience from New York, Houston, and beyond — who are stepping out on their own for the first time. While its tempting to order each menu’s most trendy dish, which is birria tacos at Belly of the Beast and a fried chicken sandwich at 93 ‘Til, those who explore more broadly will be wowed by the diversity of each chef’s cuisine. While Belly of the Beast recently closed to seek out a better location, 93 ‘Til is writing a new story for a space many had considered “cursed.”
Turner's vs. March
This matchup features two of Houston’s most luxurious restaurants. Turner’s blends a throwback menu that includes dishes such as lobster Thermidore, artichoke soup, and Dover sole with an ultra-posh setting and plenty of tableside service touches. Chef Felipe Riccio utilizes everything he knows about Mediterranean cuisine into March’s nightly tasting menus, which are served with a refined level of service that's consistent with restaurants that earn Michelin stars. While it’s hard to beat the whimsy of Turner’s bar menu that features a wagyu hot dog and pigs in a blanket, March’s 11,000 bottle wine cellar guarantees diners will always have the perfect pairing.
Degust vs. Hidden Omakase
This round’s final matchup features two tasting menu restaurants. At Degust, chef-owner Brandon Silva blends his Mexican heritage, his travels across Europe, and his time at restaurants like Uchi and Peche to create a menu that draws upon a wide range of influences. Chef Niki Vongthong draws upon her experiences at Uchi and Aqui (among others) to create a Japanese-inspired, 12-course experience that features the expected toro and wagyu dressed up with housemade sauces and other condiments. Both meals feature counter-style seating that puts the chefs on stage as they prepare each course, but it will be up to voters to determine which restaurant moves on to round two.
The 2021 Best New Restaurant Award is presented by Savve.