a bigger, better goat
Houston Masterchef winner Christine Ha opens her red-hot Vietnamese restaurant in bustling Spring Branch hub
Houston’s Masterchef winner has arrived in Spring Branch. Chef Christine Ha has opened the bigger, better new location of The Blind Goat in the bustling neighborhood with Stuffed Belly, her drive-thru sandwich concept, to follow soon.
Formerly a stand in Bravery Chef Hall, The Blind Goat has joined Feges BBQ and Slowpokes at at Spring Branch Village, local real estate developer Braun Enterprises’ shopping center at 8141 Long Point Rd. The restaurant began its soft opening last weekend and is now open daily for dinner (reservations are required during soft opening).
Operated with her husband and business partner John Suh, the Blind Goat is Ha’s homage to Vietnamese street food. It takes its name from Ha’s condition of having lost her sight and the chef’s Vietnamese astrological sign.
“I describe it as [inspired by] street or open air seafood markets in Vietnam but modern and chic in the Houston setting,” Ha tells CultureMap.
Ha, who won Season 3 of the Gordon Ramsay cooking competition show Masterchef, also earned a 2020 James Beard Award semifinalist nomination in the Best New Restaurant category for the Blind Goat’s original location at downtown’s Bravery Chef Hall. She and business partner Tony Nguyen are 2023 James Beard Award semifinalists in the Outstanding Chef category for Xin Chao, their restaurant near downtown that mixes Texas barbecue and Vietnamese culinary traditions.
What distinguishes this location of the Blind Goat from both its predecessor and Xin Chao is that it’s a ground up build. While that comes with challenges such as pandemic supply chain disruptions and construction delays, the result is a space that’s been specifically designed to execute Ha’s menu.
“Our kitchen is more than twice the size of our whole space at the food hall,” she says. “I was able to realize more of the initial true vision of what I had for the Blind Goat.”
That vision starts with a number of new dishes, such as banh khot. Ha compares the crispy rices cakes to the more well known banh xeo, but with a distinct advantage over the larger crepe.
“I love the flavors of banh xeo, but it’s so large it gets soggy,” she says. “I love the crispy aspect of the banh khot.”
The menu’s whole roasted turmeric fish takes its inspiration from a dish that Ha’s late father loved. At the Blind Goat, the fish is marinated with yogurt, shrimp paste, turmeric, and golangal. After being roasted, it’s deboned but served with the head and tail on for good luck, Ha explains.
An early customer favorite is the crawfish and garlic noodles. A staple of Vietnamese American restaurants in San Francisco, Ha puts a Houston spin on the dish by swapping crab for crawfish.
Adding to the experience are tropical-inspired cocktails that enhance the coastal flavors of the food. Look for fruits like guava and melon along with Asian ingredients like taro and lemongrass.
“I’m very hands on with everything. The food is all my recipes. The cocktails, I taste all of them and make sure they’re the way I want them to pair with our food,” Ha says. “It’s about creating this cohesive, fun experience.”
Also contributing to the tropical/coastal experience is the design by local architect John Tsai of JT Arc Studio. Working with Suh, Tsai and his team selected the colors and created a custom rope installation for the space.
“We wanted to keep it clean, simple, and chic. It doesn’t take way from the food, but it still feels fun, light, and beachy,” Ha says.
The chef and her team will only have a few weeks to get the Blind Goat dialed in before they’ll have an additional project to tackle. Stuffed Belly, the chef’s new sandwich restaurant, is on track to open in April in the same shopping center as the Blind Goat. She’s still finalizing the menu and searching for the right chef to lead the kitchen.
“It’s daunting to open two restaurants back to back, but you have to be able to adapt,” she says. “We’re looking for someone creative and fun who loves sandwiches to helm that kitchen.”