this year's hottest headlines
Bun B, Justin Verlander, and big closures heat up the restaurant stories Houston feasted on most in 2022
Editor’s note: The time has come to look back on the 10 most-read restaurant and bar stories of 2022. As always, closures rank high — including the top three — but readers found plenty to like about new openings and upcoming projects. In a year when the Astros won the World Series, it’s no surprise that an off-hand comment from one of the team’s most popular players also garnered significant interest. Here are the stories you loved the most.
10. Acclaimed Chinese restaurant’s new Heights location opens with stunning design details and 'fantastic' menu. Mala Sichuan co-owner Cori Xiong told the story of her fifth location that opened this September in the Heights M-K-T development. Working with Houston’s Gin Design Group, the restaurant features elements that pay homage to the Sichuan province and Xiong’s hometown of Chengdu. “There’s a Chinese saying that it takes 10 years to wield a great sword,” Xiong said. “This restaurant is the sword that I took 10 years to wield.”
9.These are Houston’s 9 best restaurants for 2022. The nominees for Restaurant of the Year in the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards ranged from a tiny restaurant that shares a building with a gas station to a fine dining staple that appeared during an episode of Top Chef. All serve delicious food and provide exceptional service, but, in the end, Street to Kitchen took the coveted prize.
8. Houston’s Masterchef champion and husband plan new gourmet sandwich shop in Spring Branch. Not only will Christine Ha and John Suh relocate their gastropub The Blind Goat from downtown’s Bravery Chef Hall to Spring Branch, but the chef and her husband will also open Stuffed Belly, a gourmet sandwich concept. Ha, who won the third season of Masterchef and earned a James Beard Award finalist nomination for Xin Chao, has been known primarily for Vietnamese flavors. At Stuffed Belly, she’ll put her spin on comfort classics like grilled cheese, tuna salad, and fried chicken sandwiches. Expected to open in the spring, the restaurant will offer a drive-thru for easy to-go ordering.
7. Justin Verlander shouts out his favorite Houston burger on national TV. In an interview that occurred during the broadcast of a game between the Astros and the Rangers, announcer Scott Braun asked the now former Astros ace if he found any food in Houston that he couldn't get in Detroit. "I like Nancy's Hustle's burger," Verlander replied. While we hear New York has some pretty great restaurants, too, good luck finding a burger as good that’s as close to Citi Field as Nancy’s is to Minute Maid Park.
6. Texas celebrity chef Tim Love pulls the plug on his 3 Houston restaurants. When Woodshed Smokehouse, Love Shack, and Side Dough opened at Upper Kirby’s Levy Park in March 2020, they seemed poised to establish the celebrity chef as a presence on Houston’s dining scene. Sadly, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shut down indoor dining less than two weeks into their tenure, and the restaurants never got a chance to establishment themselves. To date, Levy Park has not announced who will take over the spaces, but the prime location should attract serious culinary talent.
5. Houston's rap legend Bun B claims Montrose mainstay for first Trill Burgers restaurant. After dazzling diners with smash burger pop-ups, the Houaton hip hop legend and his business partners found a permanent location at the former James Coney Island on Richmond (more on that below). Prior to signing a lease, Trill Burger had an epic year that included national recognition from Good Morning America and appearances at music festivals across the country. The Trill Burgers team hasn’t revealed much about their plans for the space, but fans can expect some new menu items including milkshakes.
4. Houston's favorite casual Greek restaurant heads to The Woodlands for fourth location. Gyros and spanakopita are coming to The Woodlands courtesy of Niko Niko’s, which has claimed a former Luby’s space for a new location that will open in 2023. Owner Dimitri Fetokakis told CultureMap he has plans for the interior that will highlight the restaurant’s signature dishes. “We might do a little but more rotisserie, more action stations,” he said. “Right now the honey balls are kind of hidden, the gyro machine is hidden. If we lay it out right, we’ll have more visibility.”
3. Houston restaurant closings to know right now: Farewell to 4 former favorites. The most recent article in this roundup is last week’s article about the closures of four restaurants at the end of December. Whether a Yelp favorite, a Tastemakers Award winners, or chain restaurant known for its giant portions, they all made their mark on Houston. While we’re certainly miss some more than others (come back soon, Sticky’s sauce), all of them contributed to good nights for their customers and employees.
2. Iconic Houston hot dog restaurant's last Inner Loop location quietly closes. James Coney Island president Darrin Straughan explained that the hot dog restaurant’s decision to close its location at at the corner of Shepherd Drive and Richmond Avenue stemmed from a strategy to take profit from its real estate holdings and reposition the brand into smaller spaces that are better suited for to-go orders. "We’re not going away," Straughan said. "We have people who want to keep the brand alive and flourishing. To use the current term, we’re pivoting."
1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. When it opened in 2019, the Katy location of Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que seemed poised for success. After all, the Llano-based restaurant has successfully expanded to New Braunfels, Austin, and Fort Worth. Unfortunately, it never quite caught on — some blamed the timing so close to pandemic shutdowns; others cited the pricing — leading to the restaurant’s sudden closure in November.