Late summer and early fall have been an undeniably exciting time to dine in Houston thanks to a range of newly opened establishments. As much as people love their classic favorites, these new bars and restaurants deserve attention.
This month’s group of new restaurants features the latest project from one of the city’s most lauded chefs, two bar-forward concepts with compelling, affordable food, and three Italian-inspired options. New French flair downtown and a promising new brewpub contribute even more buzz.
As always, these are roughly ordered by the priority I would give to trying them, but all of the entries on the list have something to offer. Write-ups are based on actual experiences dining at the listed restaurants (sometimes more than once). They’re less formal reviews than a guide of what to expect along with some suggestions for what to order and what to avoid.
Tracy Vaught and Hugo Ortega’s first casual restaurant — and the first to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner — has been drawing considerable buzz since it opened at the end of August. Inspired by Mexican street food, the menu offers a diverse selection of tacos, sandwiches, shareable plates, and housemade pastries.
Over the course of a few visits, several favorites have emerged, including the pastor tacos, the birria tacos, and the queso flameado that’s served with housemade tortillas. Those meats make the restaurant’s breakfast tacos similarly compelling, and Ortega’s “stacked” chilaquiles that have a layer of refried black beans between two tortillas are a flavorful twist on the classic. The full selection of cocktails, including beverage director Sean Beck’s first take on frozens, offer plenty of refreshment.
Although an overcooked burger suggests the kitchen is still rounding into form, Urbe already seems like a worthy addition to Vaught and Ortega’s storied career.
As a friend recently observed, this new cocktail bar in Midtown is a “problem” in a good way. A partnership between former Bernadine’s chefs Graham Laborde and Chris Roy with Johnny’s Gold Brick owner Benjy Mason, Winnie’s pairs creative, affordable cocktails — house specials are $10 at night and only $5 before 5 pm — with a Cajun-inspired menu of po’ boys and shareables.
Picking a favorite sandwich is difficult, but the peacemaker (fried shrimp and fried oysters) and the BLT katsu sando that combines braised and fried bacon with pickled green tomato and shredded lettuce are both destination-worthy. Similarly, Winnie’s lighter, fresher take on New Orleans staples like the Hurricane and the Hand Grenade make it easy to linger over “one more” cocktail.
I could quibble with the amount of ranch and queso that causes the roast beef debris po’ boy to become a soggy mess or the hassles of parking in the Mid-Main garage, but the reality is that I’ve been half a dozen times since Winnie’s opened — clearly those objections are pretty trivial.
Speaking of places I’ve been to a lot, this East End cocktail bar has become another new favorite. The stylish, ’90s-inspired design is casual enough to work as a gathering spot for friends but intimate enough to be the starting or ending point of a date night.
The cocktail menu offers a diverse selection of drinks along with a few zero proof options that are more compelling than the usual soda or sparkling water. In particular, the draft paloma, freezer martini, and Carpe Diem are particularly compelling.
Similarly, chef Danny Leal serves a compelling, Mexican-inspired menu of shareable, bar-friendly dishes such as enchiladas potosinas and the must-order churros. Daily specials such as the Monday night smash burger and Wednesday’s Brazilian-inspired steak night keep the food options as fresh as the drinks.
Common Bond Brasserie
Common Bond’s recently opened downtown flagship offers a full service brasserie that represents a new direction for the growing company. Sleek and stylish, the brasserie offers diners the opportunity to eat French-inspired fare — paired with an extensive selection of wine and cocktails — that makes the downtown location an appealing dinner options for downtown workers, residents, and those looking for a pre-theater meal.
Chef Jason Gould channels the skills he demonstrated at the late, lamented Gravitas with dishes such as citrus-poached lobster with buttermilk panna cotta, smoked duck rillettes, and seafood bouillabaisse teeming with fish, mussels, shrimp, and scallops. Executive pastry chef David Berg, who brings a fine dining pedigree from establishments such as Tony’s and Potente, contributes an apple galette that holds its own with any in the city.
Southern Yankee Crafthouse
All the people bemoaning Hay Merchant’s closure at the end of the year can cheer up a bit, because this Montrose brewpub will satisfy many of those craft beer and comfort food cravings. Admittedly, the beer selection is limited to those produced by Southern Yankee, but it’s a diverse range that covers everything from a Mexican-style ale to hazy IPAs and a peanut butter porter. The full bar offers a range of classic and creative cocktails.
Chef Matt Baum, a veteran of restaurants such as Common Bond and Grace’s, has created a menu anchored by thin crust pizzas with a range of toppings that run the gamut from traditional meat lovers to a pie topped with housemade pastrami, arugula, and provolone. Both the flounder and the potatoes get beer-battered to create the restaurant’s fish and chips. Crispy pork belly bites pair well with most of the beers on offer.
All that eating and drinking happens in a space that barely resembles its former iteration as Good Dog Houston. The interior has been opened up with a large, three-sided bar, and the front patio is covered just in time for fall’s mild temperatures.
Concura Italian Bites
Proprietor Jessica Biondi has transformed this former dessert shop near Highland Village into a stylish Italian restaurant. Black walls and furniture add a stylish touch, while an open kitchen gives diners a view of chef Angelo Cuppone at work.
Rustic dishes that provide a taste of the Italian countryside help set Concurra apart from other nearby restaurants. Those in search of something a little different should consider options such as the tomato bread bowl (pappa al pomodoro), passatelli pasta with mushroom ragu and truffles, and porchetta-wrapped rabbit loin. Pair them with a classic Italian cocktail or glass of wine from the Italian-oriented list.
d’Alba Craft Kitchen & Cocktails
This Garden Oaks newcomer has a lot to recommend it, starting with a huge patio and a kid-friendly seating and play area. Inside, renovations have brightened the former Liberty Kitchen space into a fun environment for dining and imbibing.
Consulting chef Geoff Hundt (Local Foods, Benjy’s) has created a menu of pizzas, pastas, shareables, and more that are all priced to suit people who want to come once or twice a week. Highlights from a recent visit included the signature “balloon bread” appetizer, a dairy-free take on spinach and artichoke dip, and metaldini pasta with Texas beef bolognese. Once the restaurant is able to hire a full staff, the menu will add additional dishes (along with lunch and brunch), but most diners should find something that will satisfy.
This month’s third new Italian restaurant is the latest fine dining creation from chef Maurizio Ferrarese. Located at the Hotel Granduca in Uptown Park, Alba offers diners an intimate environment that’s quiet enough for business dinners or other important occasions.
As he’s been demonstrating since his well-regarded stint at Quattro, Ferrarese makes first-rate pastas, and Alba’s are not to be missed. Both the short rib ravioli and osso bucco risotto combined flavorful meats with properly cooked grains. Similarly, the restaurant serves a classic, well executed take on beef tartare plus a showy version of classic tiramisu. Wines and cocktails are priced at the higher end, but that’s to be expected given the luxurious environment and well-heeled clientele.
This South African restaurant has replaced Peli Peli’s locations in both The Woodlands and the Galleria. While its predecessor earned a reputation as a fine dining, special occasion spot, Mozambik aims to be a family-friendly, affordable concept that diners can visit all the time.
Restaurateur Ryan Stewart, formerly Peli Peli’s executive chef, has brought a new focus on using fresh ingredients and classic culinary techniques to the menu. A simple dish of meaty grilled calamari and Portuguese chorizo illustrates the benefits of the approach, as does a flavorful take on classic peri peri chicken. While its unclear whether or not milkshakes are authentically South African, Mozambik serves theirs with just the right not-too-thin-not-too-thick texture and colorful, photo-worthy toppings.
Speaking of stylish renovations, Yauatcha’s transformation into Joey is a sight to behold. The room has been opened up, the bar area turned into a focal point, and the patio now features a retractable roof — perfect for sipping on a $15 cocktail (or two).
The Canadian import serves an eclectic menu that draws on a broad array of influences. A meal that features seared salmon sushi, lobster ravioli, and crab cakes doesn’t seem like it should work, but the kitchen produces, flavorful, well-executed takes on all of its cuisines. One small warning: those craving steak with their ravioli should probably spend to upgrade from the too chewy sirloin.
A proprietary reservation system shows very few available tables, but the dining room was half empty during a weeknight visit. Call to inquire about actual availability or take a risk and walk-in; the worst thing that could happen if they’re full is walking across the parking lot to Mozambik.