The Montrose restaurant scene is booming. This month's list of new restaurants to try contains four high-profile Montrose openings from well-known operators; three of them also own concepts ranked among the top 30 in CultureMap's list of Houston's top 100 restaurants.
That doesn't even include some of the neighborhood's other new arrivals like Sweetgreen and the latest version of One Fifth or a restaurant like Night Heron that recently changed direction with a new chef in the kitchen. Of course, this month's list has some geographic diversity; it also includes The Heights, downtown, Spring Branch, and The Woodlands.
As always, these are ranked by how quickly I think people should try them based on my experiences dining at these restaurants, but they're all worth considering, depending on each person's taste and circumstances.
This restaurant’s high profile partners — master sommeliers June Rodil and David Keck, award-winning chef Felipe Riccio, and local businessman Peter McCarthy — and a super-talented staff of industry veterans make this Montrose restaurant one of this year’s highest profile new arrivals. Its menu of Southern European comfort food takes its inspiration from Riccio and chef de cuisine Adam Garcia’s travels across Spain, Portugal, and Italy, which includes time Riccio spent cooking at Osteria Francescana, arguably the best Italian restaurant in the world.
With its custom terrazzo floor, clean interior, and open kitchen, it’s clear Goodnight Hospitality spared little expense in bringing Rosie Cannonball to life. Even the paper towel dispensers in the restroom have been powder coated to match the desert-inspired interior created by design firm Studio Robert McKinley.
The menu offers diners a number of options that include pizzas, pastas, vegetable dishes, and center of plate entrees, most of which are prepared on the restaurant’s custom wood-burning grill and oven. Over the course of three visits, dishes such as the focaccia di Recco, a crispy flatbread stuffed with mortadella and gooey Robiola cheese, grilled mushrooms with egg yolk and lemon, and the tortellini in brodo — filled pasta in a rich, aromatic chicken broth — have emerged as the sort of utterly irresistible dishes that demonstrate the kitchen’s skill.
Similarly, the pizza dough has a pleasantly chewy texture and gets a good char from the oven. On the other hand, rigatoni with pesto seemed bland, especially compared to the other dishes on the table. Also, the cheeseburger on the late-night menu may use high-quality ingredients such as Parmesan cheese and imported Italian sausage, but its $24 price makes it hard to justify as anything other than an occasional splurge.
Pastry chef Shawn Gawle’s dessert menu offers a number of tempting choices. Don’t miss the pavlova, which arrives with a crispy meringue on top and an intensely-flavored peach sorbet in the middle. Basque cheesecake, a dish that’s having a moment nationally, has a fluffy, almost souffle-like texture that I really enjoyed, but friends missed the crunch provided by an American-style cheesecake’s crust.
Of course, the beverage offerings are extensive. Keck and Rodil teamed up to give Rosie a wine list that’s deep in European varietals at all price points, and the housemade cocktails complement the food nicely. 1620 Westheimer Rd.
As The Pit Room’s tacos, salsa, and queso demonstrate, Michael Sambrooks knows how to make good Tex-Mex. No surprise then that his dedicated Tex-Mex restaurant has gotten off to a very strong start.
Powered by a wood-burning oven and grill, the restaurant serves first-rate beef and chicken fajitas, carnitas, and a juicy, crispy-skinned pollo asado. Both cheese and beef enchiladas are appropriately gooey in a good way, and the ability to add brisket from The Pit Room really perks up the queso. Hopefully, those standards remain intact following the recent, unexpected departure of chef Lyle Bento, who had been Sambrooks’ culinary director.
Add in a selection of well-executed, classic cocktails, most of which are reasonably priced between $8 and $10, and a thoughtful remodel that expanded the bar and relocated the front door to get a restaurant that looks poised to become a valuable addition to Montrose. 4306 Yoakum Blvd.
The Toasted Coconut
Moving a half-mile or so west down Richmond from Candente, this tiki-inspired bar and restaurant is the latest project from Nobie’s owners Sara and Martin Stayer and their bar director, CultureMap Tastemaker Awards bartender of the year winner Sarah Troxell. The former Maria Selma’s/Texas Shrimp Shack space has been given a beachy remodel, complete with tiki masks inside and a sandbox under the palapa.
The menu consists of mostly sharable plates such as the Not so Queso (a peanut dip served with roti), skewers (leg of lamb and Thai beef are both particularly good), and dumplings that have thin skins with savory, satisfying fillings of either Sichuan pork or butter chicken. Sweet and spicy fried chicken will satisfy those with larger appetites.
Troxell’s cocktails are lighter, more refreshing takes on classic tiki drinks; none of them are as overwhelmingly boozy as at a dedicated tiki temple like Lei Low. Start with the Low Tide, a spin on the classic Mai Tai, or the Seaward, which is served in a coconut.
On the bar-restaurant spectrum, full service makes it more of a restaurant than a place like Better Luck Tomorrow, but the snacky menu makes it more of a bar than La Lucha. It’s hard to imagine coming here just for the food, but very easy to think about spending a day sipping cocktails under the palapa. 1617 Richmond Ave.
It took a little longer for Brian Doke to open his wine-fueled, European-inspired restaurant than anticipated, but this stylish spot at the corner of 14th and Yale is finally open for dinner (lunch and brunch will follow). Thoughtfully divided into a bar, a main dining room, and a sun room, it’s impossible to tell the space was once a dilapidated warehouse.
Chef Micah Rideout’s menu gives diners the option of sticking to a classic like a cheeseburger, filet, or pasta bolognese or choosing something a little more unusual such as balsamic-cured duck break, six different carrot preparations on the same plate, or lamb belly fajitas with housemade roti. Regardless of dish, wine director William Meznarich’s 30 by-the-glass selections help ensure a perfect pairing. 1344 Yale St.
Having already opened one of this year’s highest-quality new arrivals with Squable, Bobby Heugel and Justin Yu have turned their attention to this wine bar and cafe that’s located next to Anvil in the former Etro space. Clean and bright, the bar has been relocated for better flow, and the modern furniture offers patrons a mix of seating options within the tidy, two-story space.
Sommelier Justin Vann, who also oversees the wine lists at Theodore Rex, Squable, Better Luck Tomorrow, and Public Services, offers approximately 100 bottles and 20 by-the-glass options that cover both traditional producers as well as more unusual choices. Alternatively, patrons may opt for simple cocktails (fancy ones are next door) as well as Alex Negranza’s signature Irish coffee.
Considering they’re produced in a food truck, Yu and chef de cuisine Natasha Douglas provide an impressively diverse array of dishes. At breakfast, the options include four different toasts, five different sandwiches, and a couple of classic breakfast plates. At dinner, the focus shifts to shareable items that would pair well with a glass of wine, as well as a couple of more hearty entrees. Thankfully, Penny Quarter’s chicken sandwich, which is topped with sprouts and sits in a bun made by Squable chef Drew Gimma, is available all day. 1424 Westheimer Rd.
Spring Branch is home to a number of Korean barbecue restaurants, but none offer quite as much style as this newcomer. Each table features a small, round grill as well as an overhead vent that sucks up any smoke to prevent diners from smelling like grilled meat.
Bori offers 41-day dry-aged on its menu, but it was sold out on the night of my visit. Instead, we ordered the large combo that comes with brisket, ribeye, and “marinated prime beef” of an unidentified cut. With the servers helping supervise the cooking process, the thinly sliced strips get cooked properly. While the ribeye would have benefitted from some seasoning, the other two cuts delivered beefy flavors with a subtle whiff of smoke. Add in cheesy corn and a kimchi pancake for a satisfying meal. 1453 Witte Rd.
The Blind Goat
Seven years after winning season 3 of Masterchef, Christine Ha has opened her first restaurant in downtown’s Bravery Chef Hall. Instead of serving the same noodle dishes, sandwiches, and pho as lots of other Vietnamese restaurants around town, Ha serves dishes designed to pair well with a drink or two.
The menu includes sharable plates like pork and shrimp eggrolls and beef carpaccio as well as entrees such as peanut tofu and sugarcane shrimp. The goat curry, a hearty, satisfying dish, has emerged as an early favorite, although people who are used to fiery Indian curries should note that it isn’t spicy. I’ll be back for her “Rubbish” apple pie, which is inspired by a dish she served head judge Gordon Ramsay on the show — and more of that goat. 409 Travis St.
Radunare Italian-American Table
Inspired by his family’s Italian heritage, Frank Morello went from radiologist to restaurateur with this establishment in The Woodlands. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Radunare features well-executed takes on familiar dishes like arancini, meatballs, and four cheese ravioli. The menu also features lighter options that include a watermelon and arugula salad, smoked salmon panini, and grilled salmon with pesto. Pair them with wine, beer, or cocktails created by Houston bar veteran Chris Frankel (Spare Key, El Segundo Swim Club).
Over lunch, Morello told me he sees the restaurant as a way to pass down his family’s traditions to his children. The restaurant’s food may not be groundbreaking, but that sort of passion is hard to deny. 2520 Research Forest Dr. (The Woodlands)
Southside Flying Pizza and Grill
This Austin-based pizzeria has quietly opened at the intersection of Navigation and Canal. Available as extra large slices or whole pies, the pizzas come with a thin, crispy crust that makes for easily foldable slices.
The Trio Italiano comes with giant meatballs, the King of Pepperoni is a classic combination, and the pepperoni rolls are always a fun addition to any meal. In addition to pizza, the menu also includes wings, burgers, salads, sandwiches, and a few entrees.
The restaurant is small, but two levels of seating allow it to accommodate a decent crowd. TVs make it a game-watching option. 2240 Navigation Blvd.
Ike’s Love and Sandwiches
This California-based restaurant offers an almost overwhelming number of choices. Start by picking a main protein (roast beef, chicken, etc) and then find the additional elements that seem most appealing. That process led me to a Matt Cain (roast beef, salami, turkey, provolone) on the restaurant’s signature Dutch crunch roll and a Michael Jordan (meatballs, pepper jack) on French bread. Both combinations delivered a good combination of textures and flavors, but the meatball benefitted from paying $3 to add fried mozzarella sticks to the sandwich.
Two things to note: most of the sandwiches cost between $9 and $13, which means adding chips and a drink will drive the price over $15; that’s basically Local Foods territory without that restaurant’s creative vegetable sides. Also, the absence of a vent hood over the oven caused a smelly haze to hang over the dining room; I don’t think I’ll dine in again until that’s corrected. 1051 Heights Blvd.