The fall opening season has given Houstonians an exciting array of high-quality new restaurants to try. This month's crop includes a Louisiana-inspired bistro with serious chef talent, Chris Shepherd's new steakhouse, and a wine-fueled new direction for a talented French chef.
Best of all, the trend shows no signs of slowing down. The next couple weeks will include even more new restaurants that will be worthy of attention. Start working through them now to stay current.
As always, these are ordered by the priority I would give to visiting them, but this month has lots of good options. People craving cha siu pork or a great sandwich should feel confident about heading to those options over sitting down for a long bone ribeye.
From its elegant dining room to its carefully-prepared Cajun-Creole cuisine, this new restaurant near Greenway Plaza is off to a very impressive start. The design by local firm Gin Design Group recalls the restaurant’s namesake town in Louisiana with lots of wood accents and linen lanterns that give the room a dreamy, romantic feel.
On the menu, chef Drake Leonards offers an update take on Creole classics like a shrimp etouffee that swaps the (usually overcooked) rice for housemade pasta, roasted oysters that get a little extra oomph from brown butter breadcrumbs, and chicken liver mousse with figs that’s as creamy and flavorful as anywhere in the city. Duck duck rice — seared duck breast with crispy duck fried rice — is a dish I can’t wait to order again. General manager Luke Smith oversees a friendly front of house staff and a well-priced, European-oriented wine list.
It’s worth noting that Eunice is part of BRG Hospitality, formerly Besh Restaurant Group. Co-owner John Besh resigned from his role in the company after being accused of sexual harassment but retains an ownership stake. I think Eunice is a welcome addition to Houston, but I respect the opinion of people who choose not to dine there. 3737 Buffalo Spdwy. (enter on Richmond); 832-491-1717
Chris Shepherd’s new restaurant — his third in less than six months — provides a permanent home for many of the dishes he served at One Fifth Steak. That means the cast iron seared 44 Farms ribeye, uni panna cotta, and yes, the decadent baller boards are all present and accounted for.
Personally, I’m more intrigued by some of the improvements Shepherd has added, like the massive dry-aging room that allows him to serve 100-day aged long bone ribeyes, the expanded starters that include fish sauce-marinated crab fingers, and the slab salad, a kicked off riff on the classic wedge that includes ultra-smokey Benton’s bacon. Don’t miss the zabuton, a cut of Marble Ranch wagyu that has a filet’s tenderness but delivers a beefier, richer flavor.
A comprehensive renovation by design firm Collaborative Projects gives the room a much more luxurious feel than it did when it was Underbelly, as do details like leather-bound menus and ice cubes with the restaurant’s logo. Overall, the restaurant does enough to satisfy those looking for either a traditional steakhouse experience or something a little more adventurous. In a city full of beef-loving Texans, that should ensure its success. 1100 Westheimer Rd.; 832-241-5088
Jonathan’s the Rub at Memorial Green
To the extent that the original Jonathan’s is an unlikely success story — a catering operation that evolved over 10 years into a popular neighborhood restaurant — the new location reflects considerably higher expectations for chef-owner Jonathan Levine and his children Sam and Jessica (the restaurant’s general manager). The good news is they’re mostly off to a strong start.
Levine and executive chef Eric Laird have created a menu that takes the original locations “new Houston cuisine” and adds a serious steakhouse component. In addition, Levine has spent time in Mexico and added a couple of Mexican-inspired dishes to his repertoire. Knowing that, it’s choose your own adventure: will it be wedge salad followed by a bone-in filet (or the really excellent veal chop), ceviche tostada followed by chicken with mole (with a surprising depth of flavor), or JTR classics like lobster tacos and Hill Country chicken and shrimp?
In addition to a more luxurious environment (the Gensler-designed space is a stunner), the biggest difference between the two locations comes with alcohol. Whereas the original is a BYOB joint for people in the Memorial Villages to enjoy a nice bottle from their collection, the new outpost has a full liquor license with a thorough, well-priced wine list created by Shepard Ross (Pax Americana, Glass Wall, etc) and cocktails by Linda Salinas (Hungry’s, La Grange, etc). 12505 Memorial Dr.; 713-808-9291
Avondale Food & Wine
L’Olivier may be gone, but chef Olivier Ciesielski and sommelier Nate Rose have transformed the space into a wine-fueled concept that swaps French fare for an eclectic interpretation of contemporary Gulf Coast cuisine. The biggest change with the new concept is a retail wine component; the restaurant’s former private dining room now serves as a wine store with approximately 100 bottles available. Rose knows wine, and that’s reflected in a wide-ranging selection of vintages from family-owned wineries around the world. Patrons pay one price for to-go or a slightly higher price to dine-in.
They probably should stick around, because Ciesielski has created a new menu with some exciting dishes that enhance the flavors of those wines. In particular, his Gulf Coast snapper with herbs and sliced tomatoes, the truffle-infused “not an Oreo,” and seasonally-appropriate butternut squash ravioli all demonstrate the wisdom of blending French technique with local ingredients. A new front of house staff, guided by Rose, helps diners make the right selections with their meal. (Full disclosure: Avondale co-owner Mary Clarkson is a frequent co-host of CultureMap’s “What’s Eric Eating” podcast.) 240 Westheimer Rd.; 713-360-6313
Houston has so many good Tex-Mex restaurants that it can be hard for a newcomer to stand out, but this concept from State of Grace owner Ford Fry and chef Kevin Maxey deserves attention. Fry may have built his business in Atlanta, but he grew up in Houston, which is why the restaurant wears its influences proudly — just look at the neon sign inspired by the Felix logo hanging in the bar.
All of the classics are present, and they’re good, especially the queso, which, thankfully, bears no resemblance to the paste-like Felix version. Tortillas are thick in a good way, with a fresh, slightly bready flavor. Beef fajitas arrived properly medium rare, the two salsas delivered just enough heat. I could quibble about a couple of service slip-ups (part of our entrees didn’t arrive on time) or that the margaritas would benefit from having a more pronounced tequila bite, but overall this restaurant should be a welcome and popular addition to the Heights. 1801 North Shepherd Dr.; 713-955-3215
One complaint I hear from readers is that Houston doesn’t have (any/enough) good sandwiches. Friends, y’all need to visit this unassuming sandwich shop on Westheimer. As the name implies, the restaurant serves rotisserie roasted meats, and they’re of high quality: beef from Creekstone Farms (as in, the one that supplies Franklin Barbecue) and all-natural “naked truth” truth chicken from Wayne Farms.
Those meats get placed on toasted brioche or pretzel buns and loaded up with creative (and really delicious) toppings like balsamic vinegar onion marmalade and provolone (on the chicken) or horseradish aioli and cheddar (on the beef). Good quality, housemade potato chips only enhance the experience. My only disappointment is that the porchetta has been relegated to a weekend special, but I’ll be back to try it soon. 9296 Westheimer Rd.; 832-519-9384
This breakfast-oriented sister concept of King’s BierHaus serves as more than a permanent home for the kolaches the restaurant has been serving at pop-ups. It expands the offerings with a selection of breakfast sandwiches, tacos, and pastries, and beverages (matcha tea and coffee) in an ultra-cute bright white and yellow environment.
In true King’s style, diners will find generous portions. A butcher’s kolache comes filled with ground chuck in a tangy beer marinade, and the barbacoa absolutely spilled out of an el jefe taco. I even liked a matcha croissant, which provided enough green tea flavor without overwhelming the buttery pastry. The egg sandwiches look great, but there was only so much I could sample on one visit. 2042 E T C Jester Blvd.; 713-489-6719
H-E-B has teamed up with four New York chefs, including superstar Jonathan Waxman, to open this coffee shop and cafe. It’s bright and clean, with a full range of all the usual espresso and tea-based beverages a person could want, like the doughnut cappuccino, which comes with a freshly fried mini doughnut. Overall, the quality of the scones, muffins, croissants, and other pastries is quite good. The cafe also offers a selection of grab-and-go sandwiches that I have yet to try.
If I were to find myself shopping at the Bellaire H-E-B, I would likely spend an extra 10 minutes to stop by the Roastery for a coffee and a snack. Thankfully, it won’t be a one-off for long. A flagship location will soon open in the San Felipe store, and Roastery outposts will be included in the stores H-E-B has under construction in the Heights, Meyerland, and on Washington Avenue. 5106 Bissonnet St.
Chung Wang Chinese BBQ
If the site of pork, duck, and chicken hanging in a case doesn’t stimulate some serious hunger, we probably can’t be friends. If it does, maybe we should have lunch at this new eatery that’s part of the Katy Asian Town development that’s also the site of a new H-Mart grocery store, the Houston area’s first Beard Papa’s cream puff bakery, and a forthcoming location of Mala Sichuan Bistro. Well-executed takes on classic roast pork and chicken make this a worthy stop, but skip the Peking duck — it was too greasy and flavorless to justify its $48 price. 23119 Colonial Pkwy. (Katy); 281-783-8383