For a certain group of diners, Friday is one of the most anticipated days of the summer. Not because a certain restaurant is open or offering a particularly appealing special. Instead, it's the first day the Houston Restaurant Weeks website goes live with this year's menus.
For those who are unfamiliar with Houston Restaurant Weeks, here's how it works. Restaurants offer fixed price, multi-course menus that are available the entire month August through September 5. This year, they include $20 lunch and brunch options, and $25, $35, and $45 dinner options. Each menu includes a donation of $3 to $7 to the Houston Food Bank. Diners like HRW because it allows them to try restaurants at a bit of a discount from their usual cost, and restaurants like HRW because it has transformed August from one of the slowest months of the year into one of the busiest.
Friday marks the first chance diners have to review menus and start making their HRW reservations. As always, many of the city's most popular restaurants, including all of Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught's restaurants (Hugo's, Caracol, and Backstreet Cafe), as well as staples like Tony's, Cafe Annie, Brennan's of Houston, and Churrascos, are back for 2016.
The event's popularity — it raised a record $1.9 million for the Food Bank in 2015 — means that every year more restaurants participate. If a favorite spot isn't listed on the website, don't panic. Organizers will be adding establishments right up until HRW kicks off August 1.
Having done a quick scan of the menus, these are 11 restaurants that are new to HRW in 2016 that we're particularly excited about.
All eight of the popular Tex-Mex chain's locations are participating in HRW for the first time, and the restaurant’s three-course $25 dinner menu might be one of the best deals in the entire event. Usually, a half-pound of fajitas costs $27.99, but, during HRW, that entree also comes with a choice of one of three starters (chicharron crab cake, cortadilloqueso, or mango jicama salad) and one of three desserts. The other entree choices are a surf and turf taco that combines beef, chicken, and shrimp fajitas in one tortilla or carnitas, but the fajitas will like be the biggest hit.
Chef Richard Knight always had a full dining room during HRW at Feast, and his new restaurant should see similar crowds. The three-course $35 menu features several of Hunky Dory’s most popular dishes. Start with housemade charcuterie, salad with avocado dressing, or country ham with summer melons. Entree choices include the restaurant’s widely acclaimed burger, chicken tikka masala, or a braised and grilled 10-ounce short rib. For dessert, just get the sticky toffee pudding.
The French, fine dining restaurant near the Galleria is offering lunch, brunch, and dinner menus. Of those, the $45 three-course dinner menu offers a range of appealing choices, including starters like tomato cherry gazpacho and cheese souffle and mains like sweet pea ravioli and Hudson Valley duck ($5 supplement). Best of all, the dessert options include chocolate souffle. The two-course lunch menu includes some of the dinner options, but dessert is a $5 supplement.
Main Course Cooking School
Located in Spring within the MainStreet America home design center, the cooking school offers the only interactive HRW experience. For $45, diners will learn how to prepare the meals they are eating, and Main Course will offer a different themed menu each night of the week. For example, Tuesday night’s class is “Tastes of Texas Steakhouse” and includes a grilled hearts of romaine salad as well as a ribeye with corn on the cob and hasselback potatoes. Wednesday night has a New Orleans theme (barbecue shrimp, snapper Ponchartrain, bananas Foster), and Friday takes its inspiration from Julia Child.
The casual restaurant connected to downtown’s Phoenicia grocery store is serving both a three-course $25 dinner and a two-course $20 brunch. Appealing vegetarian options can be found throughout the menu, like the beet and goat cheese terrine at dinner or the veg out pizza at either meal. Other dinner entree options include braised lamb tacos, a roasted half chicken, and halibut roasted in parchment. Hill Country fried chicken and waffles headlines the brunch entrees. Both meals come with dessert choices, and additional sides are only $3 each.
The recently opened barbecue joint that unites Corner Table executive chef Eric Aldis with Louie Mueller Barbecue veteran Brett Jackson is using HRW to show off its barbecue-inspired items. At lunch, choose from beet and sweet potato chips, smoked wings, and deep-fried, pickled okra to start and a sandwich (either pork loin or turkey) or burnt end tacos for a main. Options on the three-course $25 dinner menu include smoked chicken tortilla soup or burnt ends to start, an eight-ounce beef short rib or pork belly ribs for a main, and Shipley doughnut white chocolate bread pudding for dessert (or two other desserts, not that you’ll order them).
Get a taste of the casual steakhouse that has Heights residents buzzing with its three-course $35 dinner menu. Appetizer choices consist of crispy boudin, salad, or soup of the day. Entrees include chicken lollipops, smoked ham hocks, and catfish. Peach ice cream, blackberry cobbler, and pecan fudge pie finish the meal.
State Fare Kitchen & Bar
The Texas comfort food restaurant in Gateway Memorial City is serving both lunch and a three-course $35 dinner. Lunch starters include pea soup, posole ceviche, and a salad while entrees include tempura fish tacos, chicken breast Milanesa, and grilled flank steak. At dinner, start Oaxacan shrimp broth, Caesar salad or fried okra; mains include salmon, fried chicken and a red velvet waffle, or a 10-ounce smoked ribeye. Finish up with strawberry shortcake, brownie sundae, or banana pudding.
Taverna Pizzeria Risotteria
The Italian restaurant in River Oaks District offers a three-course $35 dinner menu. Start with choice of salad (beet, house, or Caesar). The four entree choices include lasagna, seared salmon, and the signature risotto burrata. For dinner, choose from tiramisu, strawberry-mango panna cotta, or key lime cake.
True Food Kitchen
Both vegetarians and omnivores will find plenty of choices on the three-course $35 dinner menu at this Galleria-area restaurant devoted to healthy eating. Herb hummus and edamame dumplings lead the appetizer choices; five entree options include steelhead trout with kale, red chili shrimp, and a grass-fed bison burger. Flourless chocolate cake and strawberry-rhubarb crisp look to be the two most-appealing dessert options, but maybe you’d prefer the lemon tart or chia seed pudding.
Weights + Measures
The CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year Winner is participating in both lunch and dinner service during HRW. Lunch starts with either sesame haystack onions or a Tuscan kale salad and finishes with a choice of pork cutlet Milanese, linguine with tiger shrimp, or wagyu short rib sandwich. The three-course $35 dinner menu starts with the signature ribeye meatballs (and two other choices) then move on to entrees including lamb chops, ahi tuna, or fettucine. Peach melba, chocolate cake, or doughknots complete the meal.