farewell to the fare
The 12 saddest Houston restaurant closures of 2017
This year saw incredible growth for Houston restaurants; each of the city’s three most-recent James Beard Award winners opened new establishments, several of the city’s rising stars in both the dining room and the kitchen stepped out on their own, and out-of-town concepts continued to raise the game.
While the scene continues to grow, the city also lost several significant restaurants during 2017. Whether due to increased competition, the post-Harvey economic slowdown, declining quality, or some other factor, places that once thrived found their fortunes diminished.
Closings are part of life in the restaurant business — one of next year’s departures has already been decided. Montrose Irish pub The Harp recently announced it will close at the end of February. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. These are the most significant shuttered restaurants of the year.
The groundbreaking restaurant that helped elevate Houston’s reputation as a dining destination and earned a James Beard Award for chef-owner Justin Yu served its last tasting menu in March. Yu cited a desire to serve food that was “more approachable without being any less ambitious” as a factor in his decision to replace Oxheart with Theodore Rex, the European-inspired bistro he opened in October.
Chef Ryan Hildebrand’s ode to sweet, savory, and spirits closed after a difficult five-year run that saw the restaurant struggle to find a mix that fully resonated with diners. The chef’s new project, FM Kitchen & Bar, has succeeded by focusing on burgers, comfort food, and good drinks. Israeli-inspired steakhouse Doris Metropolitan recently opened in the building.
Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s
Treadsack’s English-inspired pub and Gulf Coast seafood restaurant closed after allegations of financial mismanagement rocked the Heights-based restaurant group. Most of the restaurants’ most prominent employees — executive chef Graham Laborde (Killen’s restaurants), beverage director Travis Hinkle (The Post Oak), pastry chef Julia Doran (Nancy’s Hustle), sous chef Kent Domas (Alice Blue), and general manager Sarah Meyer (Willie G’s) — have all moved on to other projects. State of Grace owner Ford Fry leased the building with plans to turn into a Tex-Mex restaurant called Superica with a companion casual seafood-oriented restaurant.
Holley’s, SaltAir Seafood Kitchen, and Peska
The three ambitious seafood restaurants all cited Hurricane Harvey as factors in their demise, but none ever quite lived up to their owners’ ambitious intentions. Houstonians seem to be so down on seafood that even Chris Shepherd struggled to take Underbelly in a less meaty direction. Currently, all three spaces remain empty, but their prime locations in Midtown, Upper Kirby, and near the Galleria ensure that other operators will give them a shot eventually.
Shade and Glass Wall
Two of the restaurants that helped make the Heights a dining destination served their last meals in 2017. Restaurateur Claire Smith decided the time had come for Shade to evolve away from its Southern-influenced menu into a more European direction and replaced it with Alice Blue. After initially announcing the Glass Wall would give way to a more casual concept, the owners of Galleria-area bar and restaurant Bosscat Kitchen claimed the space for their BCK: Kitchen & Cocktails concept that’s slated to open in January.
Pappa Charlies Barbeque
Houston’s barbecue options have exploded in recent years, but even widespread acclaim couldn’t help Pappa Charlies generate enough business to be viable. Pitmaster-owner Wesley Jurena told CultureMap that he’s looking for a new location in northwest Houston. Hopefully, that means Houstonians haven’t had the last of his signature sweet-and-spicy pork ribs.
A beautiful dining room and prime location in Highland Village weren’t enough to make real estate developer Haidar Barbouti’s eclectic restaurant a success. Although the space remains empty, the success of nearby establishments like Smith & Wolensky and Ra Sushi, to say nothing of what’s going on just over the railroad tracks in River Oaks District, suggests that some smart operator could make it viable.
Lasco Enterprises aspired to serve elevated Tex-Mex and high-quality margaritas at this restaurant in Uptown Park, but Houstonians decided they liked their fajitas and enchiladas just fine the way they’re served at other places. Sadly, the property’s landlord wouldn’t agree to a plan that would have allowed Ninfa’s on Navigation to open in the space, and the building remains empty.
Long Sing Supermarket
The Chinese grocer that represented one of the last fixtures of old Chinatown closed in July. Known for its hanging meats and cheap lunch specials, Long Sing’s fans included chef Justin Yu, coffee guru David Buehrer, and Rice Box owner John Peterson, who named his business after the store’s unofficial nickname.
The River Oaks location of the cocktail and craft beer bar closed in July to make way for construction of The Driscoll, Weingarten Realty’s 30-story luxury tower. The building will also compel Chinese favorite Cafe Ginger to relocate a few blocks down West Gray. When Local Pour closed, owners HUSA Management, Inc stated it would find a new location, but the company recently closed four locations of Baker Street Pub and declared bankruptcy, which puts those plans in doubt.
Carmelo’s Italian Restaurant
After 37 years of serving classic Italian fare, owner Carmelo Mauro decided to close his restaurant on Christmas Day — but this story has a happy ending. Mauro announced Thursday night, via a Facebook post from radio host Cleverley Stone, that he has agreed to sell the restaurant to B&B Butchers owner Ben Berg, who will reopen it on January 3 with its full staff intact.
Which restaurant that closed this year will you miss the most? Let us know in the comments.