Oxheart closes in March

Justin Yu explains why he's closing Houston's best restaurant and what's next

Why Justin Yu is closing Houston's best restaurant and what's next

Oxheart Restaurant interior diners kitchen
Oxheart will close March 17. Photo by © Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Visitors and Convention Bureau

One of Houston's best restaurants announced on Friday that it will close in March. Not because it isn't popular, vibrant, or dynamic — the time had come for a change. 

James Beard Award winner Justin Yu revealed in a blog post that he will close Oxheart on March 17, which is the restaurant's fifth anniversary. "Oddly enough, the decision wasn’t too hard to make," the chef writes.

"I want to be ahead of our own curve. I know regardless of what previous successes we’ve had, we can’t sit here and expect success with the same formula," he writes. Later, he adds, "Oxheart has changed; and, importantly, I have new goals and challenges I’d like to take on. So, as lucky as we’ve been to have survived more than the first 6 months of opening, I want to make a change."

Currently, Oxheart serves two different six-course tasting menus using rigorously-sourced local ingredients: one all vegetarian and one that includes a couple of meat dishes. In its place, Yu will open a new, still unnamed restaurant next May.  Longtime sous chef Jason White will serve as chef de cuisine, which, as Yu notes, means he needs to "finally get over myself and trust someone else to run the kitchen."

The new restaurant will have a new name, new decor, and a new menu style. Yes, that's correct, the new restaurant won't serve a tasting menu.

In the blog post, Yu compares the work he and his business partner Karen Man put into opening Oxheart to decorating a college dorm room. Renovations to the space will make the new restaurant more efficient for its staff and more comfortable for its diners. 

"This time I know what kind of stupid stuff I'm getting into," Yu writes in a text message. "Well, I think I know what I'm getting myself into." He describes the new restaurant's food as "more approachable without being any less ambitious" than what he's served at Oxheart. 

Switching things up also will allow Yu to divide his time between the new project he's opening on Yale St. with Anvil owner Bobby Heugel, Public Services, the wine and whisky bar he co-owns with Oxheart sommelier Justin Vann, and Oxheart's replacement. Currently, he expects to spend his mornings in The Heights and his evenings downtown. 

Since opening in 2012, Oxheart has emerged as one of Houston's highest profile restaurants. Yu has earned both a coveted Food & Wine Best New Chef award and the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest for his work there. The restaurant has held the top spot on Chronicle critic Alison Cook's list of Houston's top 100 restaurants four out of the last five years. National writers including then New York Times critic Frank Bruni, Eater critic Bill Addison, and Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema have all praised it. 

Whatever Oxheart becomes, one thing's for sure. Beginning March 18, the title of Houston's best restaurant will be up for grabs. Seeing who steps up to claim the title will be worth watching.