Rice Village doesn’t lack for quality dining options — just consider all the acclaim places like Helen and Cloud 10 have received — but the area lacks the sort of casual, late night options that are common in Montrose. Although the imminent arrival of both Shake Shack and Hopdoddy seems poised to inject some new life into the area, a veteran restaurateur is betting that Rice students and Medical Center employees have an appetite for ramen.
Former Tarakaan Piran Esfahani announced this week that he will close his 55 Bar and Restaurant and reopen it as Nao Ramen House. Chef Rob Frias, who worked with Esfahani during the brief revival of food service at Tarakaan, will lead the kitchen.
Set to open in early December, Esfahani tells CultureMap that Nao will be different than Houston’s other ramen-focused restaurants in that it encompasses a larger space and will offer a patio. Unlike 55, which had a seen-and-be-seen atmosphere, Nao will be a more casual affair.
“We’ve had 55 for many years,” Esfahani says. “We think it’s time to do something new, innovative for Rice Village. There’s very little out there of what we want to do in the surrounding area. We feel like the combination of Rice University and the Medical Center understand this concept. It’s time to change it up and do something different.”
Frias earned some acclaim for the lobster ramen he served at Tarakaan, but Nao’s menu will be more traditional with tonkotsu (pork), miso, and chicken broths available. Frias has also developed a beef broth that starts with braised short ribs. In true izakaya-style, Nao will also serve yakitori skewers and bao buns.
To feed the area’s bar patrons, Nao will stay open until 2 am on Friday and Saturday. Weekday hours are still being decided, but will likely be until 10 or 11 pm. As for the name, Esfahani offers a succinct explanation.
“I don’t remember how I got it,” he admits. “It’s a female Japanese name that means ‘honest.’ I really like the simplicity of it and the shortness of it.”
Honest food at a fair price? Sounds like a recipe for success.