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Photo courtesy of Savve

If you're looking to create a change in your current restaurant rotation, you can whet your appetite in the meantime with a new Houston-based app called Savve.

Designed to quickly match hungry users with great savings at local restaurants and bars, Savve was created with the revitalization of the Houston restaurant scene in mind, especially as it recovers from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hungry Houstonians can get access to all the city's best deals in one place, plus find restaurants and bars they have never experienced before with the app's unique "Surprise Me" feature.

Savve's algorithm learns user preferences over time to recommend restaurants and bars that match personal tastes at the best price.

In turn, restaurants and bars can acquire customer insights via Savve's early adopter program and expand their current customer base by showcasing their best deals.

As these businesses work to regain revenue lost post pandemic, Savve is showing its support by offering risk-free trials to limited number of restaurants and bars.

"As a Houstonian, I'm excited to do my part to help our city's restaurant and bar owners get back on their feet after a challenging year," says Wes Winn, president and founder of Savve Concepts. "Savve is reigniting the excitement around in-person dining in Houston, making restaurants and bars accessible again while also helping to bring customers back to the places that need them most."

Savve acts as your "passport," allowing you to taste as many restaurants as you'd like with in-app Savve special deals. It also shows the closest restaurants near you with active deals.

Savve is also rolling out new features for in-app restaurant partners that allow them to see real-time metrics of their deal redemption and user participation.

The app is available for free on any Android or Apple device, and can be downloaded here or in the App Store or Google Play.

Interested restaurants can contact wes@savveconcepts.com for an exclusive CultureMap special offer.

Photo by Ashley Gongora

Where to sip summer cocktails from Houston Tastemaker's top spirits

Bottoms Up

In addition to the beautiful bites and tasty treats offered up at this year's Tastemaker Awards, hundreds of guests got to sip on specialty cocktails designed just for the food and beverage industry's big night.

Sponsors Maestro Dobel Tequila and Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey made sure there was always a line at the bar with the Dobel Ranch Water, Black Diamond Margarita, and Stranahan's Fireside Old Fashioned — three drinks that can make any time of the year feel like a party.

But since it's summer, here are a few Houston hot spots where you can imbibe your own Dobel drinks:

At Gloria's Latin Cuisine, you'll want to go top-shelf. Order a margarita made with Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila, Cointreau, freshly squeezed lime juice, and agave nectar.

Same goes at Los Tios, where the Diamond Margarita delivers Maestro Dobel Diamante, Agavero orange liquor, and lime, shaken table-side.

Get a little adventurous at Be More Pacific with a Diamond Crush: Dobel Diamante private barrel tequila infused with cucumbers and grilled bell peppers, served regular or spicy.

Go classic at The Rustic with a Rustic Waters Classic, made with Maestro Dobel Diamanté, fresh lime, and Q club soda.

And so you can know more about what you're drinking, here's a bit more about both spirits:

Maestro Dobel Tequila
There are seven unique variants of this single-estate tequila, each with a distinct flavor profile and crafted from 100-percent blue agave.

Dobel is short for Juan Domingo Beckmann Legorreta, the 11th generation of tequila producers. Maestro Dobel tequila is his legacy, and he personally oversees every step of its production. The signature of Juan "Dobel" is found on every bottle — a symbol of his deep respect for craft and connoisseurship.

The tequila is double-distilled, matured in Eastern European new white oak barrels and filtered for exceptional smoothness and clarity.

The world’s first Cristalino, Maestro Dobel Diamante is unique in its category; it has been formulated using a blend of extra anejo, anejo, and reposodo tequilas. Despite classification as reposado, Diamante's expression is crystal-clear due to a proprietary filtration process.

Maestro Dobel is also the official tequila of the PGA tour, including the Houston Open that's coming up November 11-14 at Memorial Park Golf Course.

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey
Colorado's first legal whiskey since Prohibition and the pioneer and leader of the American single malt category, this Rocky Mountain single malt is handcrafted from grain to bottle in Denver, Colorado.

There are four ways to enjoy premium Stranahan’s Whiskey: Original, Blue Peak, Diamond Peak, and Sherry Cask.

When volunteer firefighter Jess Graber responded to a neighbor’s barn fire, he never imagined that any good would come of it. But the barn he made an effort to save belonged to George Stranahan. When the fire settled, the two discovered a shared passion for the Colorado outdoors and a good pour of fine whiskey. The pair developed a recipe for a distinctively smooth and flavorful American single malt whiskey using their mountain surroundings to their advantage.

Stranahan’s Original Whiskey is double-distilled using a proprietary blend of four barleys, then aged for a minimum of four years in virgin charred American white oak barrels.

Blue Peak is an American single malt distilled at high altitude, aged in new American oak barrels and Solera finished, a maturation process typically used in wine that results in a rich and mellow whiskey. Named for a 1,300-foot peak in Aspen and inspired by the alpine scenery of the Rocky Mountains, Blue Peak is built around a small batch of single malt whiskey that has been hand-crafted at a high altitude and aged for four years in 53-gallon, new American oak barrels with a #3 char, imbuing a warm, toasted flavor.

The profile of the aged expression is expanded through the time-honored Solera process, accentuating the liquid with fruit and butterscotch characteristics. Enjoy neat, on the rocks, or in your favorite classic whiskey cocktail.

From grain to glass, Stranahan’s Blue Peak is distilled and bottled at its Colorado distillery, the state’s first legal distillery after Prohibition.

The Black Diamond Margarita was a hit at the Tastemaker Awards.

Photo by Ashley Gongora
The Black Diamond Margarita was a hit at the Tastemaker Awards.
Photo by Daniel Ortiz

The Tastemaker Awards toasts the best in Texas dining for 2022

A taste of Texas

CultureMap trekked across Texas this spring to toast the Tastemakers during our annual culinary awards program — and this year was bigger than ever. In addition to our longstanding events in Houston, Austin, and Dallas, we brought the party to San Antonio and Fort Worth for the very first time.

The series began April 26 with our inaugural San Antonio event before returning to Austin's Fair Market on April 28. The Texas culinary tour then headed to Cowtown for our Fort Worth debut on May 10, followed by an evening at Dallas' Fashion Industry Gallery on May 12. The foodie fun wrapped up May 25 in Houston with another sold-out night at Silver Street Studios.

The 2022 Tastemaker Awards served as a Texas-sized celebration of the culinary scenes they honored, with guests savoring bites from participating nominees, sipping signature cocktails alongside culinary stars, and raising a glass to the winners during our live awards ceremonies.

Nominees were selected by local panels of industry experts, including past Tastemaker winners and CultureMap editors. The panels then selected all winners, except for Best New Restaurant, which was determined by readers in our online tournament.

Meet all of the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards winners, listed by city, below.

Houston:

  • Restaurant of the Year: Street to Kitchen
  • Chef of the Year: Aaron Bludorn, Bludorn
  • Bar of the Year: Tongue-cut Sparrow
  • Best New Restaurant: d’Alba Craft Kitchen & Cocktails
  • Rising Star Chef of the Year: Benchawan Painter, Street to Kitchen
  • Pastry Chef of the Year: Christina Au, Blacksmith
  • Bartender of the Year: Sarah Crowl, Better Luck Tomorrow
  • Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Click Virtual Food Hall
  • Wine Program of the Year: Tiny Champions
  • Best Pop-up: Luis Mercado and Paolo Justo, Neo

Dallas:

  • Restaurant of the Year: Meridian
  • Chef of the Year: Ji Kang, Sloane's Corner
  • Bar of the Year: Rattlesnake Bar
  • Best New Restaurant: Hawkers Asian Street Food
  • Rising Star Chef of the Year: Aldo Lugo, Jose
  • Pastry Chef of the Year: Amy La Rue, Carte Blanche
  • Bartender of the Year: Reid Lewis, Atlas
  • Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Hillside Tavern
  • Brewery of the Year: Vector Brewing
  • Wine Program of the Year: Monarch
  • Best New Pizza: 400 Gradi

Austin:

  • Restaurant of the Year: Cuantos Tacos
  • Chef of the Year: Edgar Rico, Nixta Taqueria
  • Bar of the Year: Tiki Tatsu-Ya
  • Best New Restaurant: Wax Myrtle's
  • Rising Star Chef of the Year: Amanda Turner, Olamaie
  • Pastry Chef of the Year: Susana Querejazu, Lutie's
  • Bartender of the Year: Cory Starr, Tiki Tatsu-Ya
  • Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Better Half Coffee & Cocktails
  • Wine Program of the Year: Birdie's
  • Brewery of the Year: Meanwhile Brewing Co.
  • Best Vegan Restaurant: Counter Culture

Fort Worth:

  • Restaurant of the Year: Belenty's Love Vegan Mexican Restaurant
  • Chef of the Year: Jenny Castor, Luckybee Kitchen
  • Bar of the Year: The Lobby Bar at Hotel Dryce
  • Best New Restaurant: Dusty Biscuit Beignets
  • Best Breakfast: Ol' South Pancake House

San Antonio:

  • Restaurant of the Year: 2M Smokehouse
  • Chef of the Year: Jason Dady, Jardín
  • Bar of the Year: Bar 1919
  • Best New Restaurant: Dashi Sichuan Kitchen & Bar
  • Best Brewery: Dorćol Distilling & Brewing Co.

Aaron Bludorn, right, was named Houston Chef of the Year.

Photo by Daniel Ortiz
Aaron Bludorn, right, was named Houston Chef of the Year.
Photo by Daniel Ortiz

Houston's culinary superstars, food fans, and Bun B toast 2022 Tastemaker Awards

the 2022 tastemakers awards

Nearly 1,200 haute and hungry Houstonians packed the 2022 CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards to toast the Bayou City’s best at Silver Street Studios.

Houston’s hottest, biggest, and preeminent food event is the crowning moment of our annual, weeks-long program that highlights and celebrates the hottest, most innovative, and most visionary of the city’s culinary and bar scene.

This year’s Tastemaker Awards benefited local charity Second Servings, the nonprofit organization that rescues surplus food from retailers, sports venues, distributors, hotels, and more and delivers it to charitable operations and shelters.

As always, a host of sponsors helped make the night a rousing success, including Maestro Dobel Tequila, Stranahan’s Rocky Mountain Single Malt Whiskey, 11 Below Brewing Company, Malibu Splash, All Hands Craft Cocktails, DAOU Vineyards, Goodstock by Nolan Ryan, and Topo Chico.

Cheered on by unseasonably cool weather, fans packed Silver Street’s grand hall; some pregamed at the VIP bar and lounge, many snapped pics at the selfie stand and backdrop and — always a fave — the uber-cool 360 Photo Booth from PicMe Events. The twirling takes made for hundreds of Instagram stories.

Then, it was on to some of the city’s best bites and libations and hydration stationing courtesy of Topo Chico. Delectable dishes included:​

  • Kinokawa’s Carbonara di Uni
  • Koffeteria’s Fried Chicken Sandwich on Focaccia, Baguette with Cambodian Pesto, and Oatmeal Cookie
  • Trattoria Sofia’s Polpetti D’Agnello
  • Hidden Omakase’s Waygu Picanha Toast
  • Le Jardinier’s Poached Shrimp
  • ​Bludorn’s Pimento Cheese Gougere
  • Phat Eatery’s Shrimp Siu Mai Dumpling
  • Brasil’s Frito Pie-ish
  • De Gama Canteen’s Pani Puri
  • Common Bond Brasserie’s Smoked Duck Rillette
  • Click Virtual Food Hall’s Bicol Express
  • El Topo’s Strawberry Carlotta and Al Pastor Croquette
  • Stella’s at the Post Oak’s Tuna Poke
  • Blacksmith’s Candy bars
  • Degust’s Olive Baba Yogurt & Castelvetrano Olive Bread
  • Fluff Bake Bar’s Couch Potato Cookie Dough
  • Golfstrømmen’s Smoked Salmon Snitter, Red Drum, and Norwegian Salmon
  • J Bar M’s Tri-Tip Tostada
  • Candente’s Tacos de Canasta
  • Handies Douzo’s Sake Crudo
  • Goodnight Hospitality’s (Rosie Cannonball and March) Scallop Crudo
  • Daily Gather’s Deviled Eggs
  • Trill Burgers’ OG Burger and Smashed Onion Burger

Emcee Bun B, Houston’s own hip-hop icon, fresh off a historic rodeo show and a Coachella stop — and longtime trill Tastemaker Awards host — hyped up the energetic audience and set the tone for the fast and fun awards program. His Trill Burgers, which he debuted at last year’s Tastemaker Awards, were once again one of the night’s buzziest stops.

In a well-deserved hat tip, Bun B glossed CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler as “the best palate in Houston” before moving to the nominees.

Audience members roared for nominees including Pop-up of the Year, Pastry Chef of the Year, Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year, Bar of the Year, Best New Restaurant, and the hotly anticipated Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year.

Winners were chosen by the aforementioned judges panel of restaurant industry experts — except Best New Restaurant, which was voted on by CultureMap readers. Get the full list of winners here.

As Bun B pointed out, much like the Academy Awards’ buzz builds around Best Actor and Best Picture, the Tastemaker Awards anticipation builds around the Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year categories.

In the end, the acclaimed Aaron Bludorn took the title of Chef of the Year. Restaurant of the Year, the awards’ top prize, went to Street to Kitchen in a surprise win. The humble, “unapologetically Thai” restaurant shares a building with a gas station convenience store.

Since its launch in 2014, our Tastemaker Awards have been the city’s defining food event where A-list dining names mix with casual fans. The massive crowd and eager participants made 2022 one of the biggest and brightest awards ever.

Hearty congratulations to the winners and thanks to the fans; we can’t wait for next year.

A break to nosh.

Photo by Daniel Ortiz
A break to nosh.
Photo by Kirsten Gilliam

Houston's best restaurant, chef, and more star in 2022 Tastemaker Awards

Tastemaker Winners Revealed

Presenting the winners of the 2022 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. This collection of restaurant industry professionals represents the best of Houston’s dining scene.

As a reminder, our judges’ panel of former winners and Houston restaurant industry experts selected the winners in nine of this year’s categories. CultureMap readers selected the winner of Best New Restaurant in a bracket-style, head-to-head tournament.

Finding theme that unites them is elusive. Maybe that’s the point. This year’s winners cover a wide range of ground, from a tiny establishment that shares its parking lot with a gas station to an upscale establishment known for its lobster pot pie. One of our winners doesn’t have a dining room, but it does serve some of Houston’s most satisfying Filipino food. Another operates out of a clothing store.

Maybe that’s the theme. In Houston, it’s important not to judge a restaurant by its environment. Delicious meals can happen anywhere passionate people devote themselves to their craft. Let’s celebrate their accomplishments and look forward to next year.

Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year - Click Virtual Food Hall
What makes chef Gabe Medina’s ghost kitchen concept so compelling is the sheer number of cravings it can satisfy. From Japanese cuisine and Filipino fare to burgers, pastas, and vegan dishes, Click offers something for almost everyone. A wide delivery radius from its home in Rice Military means many inner loopers can experience Medina’s creations.

Bar of the Year - Tongue-cut Sparrow
This award is a little bittersweet. As much as people enjoyed Bobby Heugel’s formal, Japanese-inspired cocktail bar, the entrepreneur has transitioned the space into Refuge, a new concept that preserves some aspects of Tongue-cut’s elevated service — hot towels and elegant glassware, for example — but in a livelier atmosphere. Although it may be gone for now, this award acknowledges that the bar helped inspire a wave of other intimate, upscale cocktail lounges that have made Houston a more fun place to imbibe.

Bartender of the Year - Sarah Crowl, Better Luck Tomorrow
Nominated for her work at both Coltivare and Rosie Cannonball, Crowl finally takes the prize in her role as bar manager at Bobby Heugel and Justin Yu’s casual patio bar. Wherever she works, count on drinks made with seasonal ingredients and Instagram-worthy garnishes. She’s also been among Houston’s leading advocate for zero proof cocktails, because even people who don’t drink alcohol deserve a flavorful beverage.

Wine Program of the Year - Tiny Champions
Rather than select a restaurant with thousands of selections, our judges opted for Sean Jensen’s tidy list of a dozen by-the-glass options and about 50 bottles. Fittingly, the selections are sustainably produced wines that pair well with the restaurant’s eclectic pizzas and pastas. As an example, Jensen cites the Donnhoff Estate Trocken Riesling; the wine’s acidity pairs well with the shrimp pesto campanelli.

Pastry Chef of the Year - Christina Au, Blacksmith
A veteran of places like Common Bond and four-star hotels in California, Au has found a home as the in-house pastry chef for one of Houston’s best coffee shops. Menu staples like Blacksmith’s signature biscuits have received new attention, and Au’s weekend specials, an array of sweets like cheesecake, chocolate cake, and her instant classic millionaire tart, sell out quickly. Similarly, her occasional pop-up appearances feature a variety of craveable dishes such as pop tarts and the candy bars she served at tonight’s awards.

Best Pop-Up - Luis Mercado and Paolo Justo, Neo
These two Uchi veterans have earned a dedicated following for their carefully crafted omakase progressions that feature dry-aged fish. Held inside a Montrose clothing store, the intimate experience features an almost one-to-one ratio of staff to diners, which means a highly personal experience. As the chefs evolve, they’re incorporating a more diverse array of influences, as in a recent lamb belly in green curry that’s inspired by both Mexican-style mole verde and a dish served at essential South Asian restaurant Aga’s. Of course, reserving the seats to try these new creations might be a little more difficult now.

Best New Restaurant - d’Alba Craft Kitchen & Cocktails
In the end, the tournament came down to fine dining Le Jardinier versus this neighborhood restaurant in Garden Oaks. Credit to d’Alba for turning out its supporters to take the title.

The restaurant’s fans know d’Alba for its welcoming atmosphere, expansive patio, and chef Geoff Hundt vegetable-forward, Italian-inspired fare. Combine those strengths with the hospitality displayed by owner Daut Elshani, who applies his experiences opening several nightlife hot spots to a family friendly destination that already feels like a neighborhood staple.

Chef of the Year - Aaron Bludorn, Bludorn
Few chefs who have moved to Houston have made a bigger impression in as little time as Aaron Bludorn. His legacy working in New York at Michelin-starred Café Boulud and his star turn on Netflix’s Final Table cooking competition show attracted some initial attention, but it’s the way Bludorn has embraced his adopted hometown that really stands out. Whether it’s serving food at the Southern Smoke festival before his restaurant opened or his recent fundraiser for World Central Kitchen that featured a collaboration with Truth Barbecue pitmaster Leonard Botello IV, the chef never misses an opportunity to contribute to his community. Expect him to play an even more prominent role in the community as he prepares to open his new seafood restaurant Navy Blue later this year.

Rising Star Chef of the Year - Benchawan Painter and Restaurant of the Year - Street to Kitchen
Two of this year’s top prizes go to this humble East End restaurant that’s dedicated to serving “unapologetically Thai” cuisine. Painter, known as “Chef G” to friends and regulars, blends the culinary traditions she learned from her family while growing up in Thailand with professional experiences at restaurants like SaltAir Seafood Kitchen and Theodore Rex to create Thai dishes that incorporate locally-sourced ingredients. On Fridays and Saturdays, she creates one-off dishes that utilize farm fresh produce and high quality proteins that are truly can’t-miss.

Meals at Street to Kitchen are a true family affair. Graham Painter, the chef’s husband, oversees the front of the house and helps guide diners through the menu that blends familiar dishes like pad Thai with more regional specialities. The recent addition of a beer and wine license means that Graham has been able to create a wine list stocked with Riesling, Champagne, Crémant, and other varietals that pair well with spicy Thai food.

Restaurant of the Year: Street to Kitchen.

Photo by Kirsten Gilliam
Restaurant of the Year: Street to Kitchen.
Courtesy of Pondicheri

Houston's 11 best chefs showcase the city's world-class and diverse dining scene

chef of the year

The 11 finalists for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Chef of the Year are a distinguished group.

The James Beard Foundation selected five of this year’s nominees as semifinalists for its Best Chef: Texas award. Two more own a barbecue restaurant selected by Texas Monthly as one of the state’s 50 best.

Not that they need any acclaim beyond being selected by our judges’ panel of local restaurant industry experts as standing out from their peers. Of course, they serve excellent food, but they’ve also demonstrated leadership in both their businesses and the larger community.

We’ll reveal the winners this Wednesday, May 25 in a ceremony emceed by Houston hip-hop legend Bun B. Tickets are sold out (sorry), but we’ll have a full rundown of the night’s events.

Alex Au-Yeung - Phat Eatery/Yelo
More than anything, this chef seems to be having more fun at his restaurants than most people. Phat Eatery is primarily a Malaysian restaurant, but that doesn’t mean Au-Yeung can’t switch things up by adding Hong Kong-style dim sum or developing his own curry-flavored take on Viet-Cajun crawfish. When he decided to make some changes at Yelo — nominally a Vietnamese street food concept — the chef simply added some of his favorite dishes to the menu, which means diners now may opt for beef rendang in a San Francisco-style bread bowl or hand-pulled noodles (among others). No wonder the James Beard Foundation recognized him with a semifinalist nomination in the Best Chef: Texas category.

Aaron Bludorn - Bludorn
When it comes to his culinary pedigree, the chef is fond of saying “we stand on the shoulders of giants” — he said it on last week’s episode of Top Chef, for example — which seems appropriate given his lengthy tenure working for legendary French chef Daniel Boulud. To his credit, the chef also recognizes the people who are helping him operate one of Houston’s most consistently excellent restaurants. At last year’s Commune food festival, he praised the line cook who made the pasta dish he served to attendees. That sort of humility will help Bludorn attract the talent he needs as he continues to become one of Houston’s most successful chefs.

Mark Clayton - Squable
Three years in, Squable has become one a destination-worthy Houston restaurant, and its chef deserves much of the credit for that success. Clayton blends the respect for local sourcing he acquired at restaurants like Coltivare and Oxheart with classic European techniques. It’s a tricky balancing act, but Clayton’s creativity ensures the restaurant’s shareable plates, pastas, and entrees maintain their Texas ties. Then again, maybe he deserves this nomination for Squable’s utterly craveable, raclette-covered, French cheeseburger.

Patrick Feges and Erin Smith - Feges BBQ
At the Spring Branch location of their acclaimed restaurant, this husband-and-wife duo demonstrate their eclectic version of Texas barbecue. Yes, it’s grounded in well-executed versions of staples like beef brisket and pork ribs, but the menu goes far beyond traditional dishes by including Carolina-style whole hog and a range of globally inspired sides like charro beans, Moroccan-spiced carrots, and the essential spicy Korean braised greens. Smith’s wine knowledge, gained during her time working at Montrose wine bar Camerata, pairs the restaurant’s smoked meats with smart, off-beat choices that enhance their flavors.

Christine Ha and Tony Nguyen - Xin Chao
This dynamic duo — Ha is a Masterchef winner and cookbook author, while Nguyen earned local acclaim for his Viet-Cajun cuisine at Saigon House — have teamed up to offer their own perspective on the Vietnamese cuisine they grew up eating. The results yield thoughtful takes on staples like bo luc lac (made with wagyu beef) and egg rolls as well as contemporary mashups like the Viet-Cajun oysters with Nguyen’s signature H-Town Bang sauce, smoked beef cheek dumplings, fried soft shell crab with a tamarind reduction. All those good ideas earned the attention of the James Beard Foundation, which named the chefs as finalists for the first-ever Best Chef: Texas award.

Anita Jaisinghani - Pondicheri
Trends may come and go, but this veteran chef will continue to do what she always has — sharing her love for Indian flavors with Houstonians while supporting local farmers and advocating for sustainable living through quiet initiatives like Pondicheri’s popular Meatless Monday. Last year, she introduced the Dwaffle, a gluten-free, dairy-free, and fat-free take on a traditional waffle that’s still crispy, flavorful, and filling; go on Tuesday, when it’s topped with Jaisinghani’s signature fried chicken. Coming later this year is the chef’s first cookbook, Masala, which will further enhance her considerable legacy.

Bobby Matos - State of Grace/La Lucha
Hard to believe its been almost seven years since Matos opened State of Grace for Atlanta-based chef and restaurateur Ford Fry. That State of Grace continues to feel relevant is a testament to Matos’s constant menu updates that utilize seasonal ingredients to keep the pastas, starters, and sides as fresh as possible. Indeed, eagle-eyed shoppers may spot the chef carrying bountiful boxes of produce at the weekly Urban Harvest farmers market. At La Lucha, Matos’s menu will always be grounded in oysters, its essential fried chicken, and signature Pharmacy Burge, but Matos and his crew find ways to innovate there, too; for example, they recently introduced an octopus tostada that pairs the protein with avocado crema and a morita mayo for a compelling mix sweet and spicy.

Felipe Riccio - March
After working at some of Houston’s best restaurants and staging around Europe, Riccio, in partnership with master sommelier June Rodil, unveiled his Mediterranean-inspired tasting menu restaurant last year. Each of March’s biannual menus examines a different region, which means that Riccio and his team develop their menus after conducting extensive research into an area’s ingredients, techniques, and other culinary traditions. The results are precisely executed progressions that provide diners with insight into places they might not otherwise have experienced without a passport. Sourcing ingredients from Good Thyme Farm, a property owned by Riccio’s business partners Bailey and Peter McCarthy, ensures that March’s dishes have ties to Texas, too.

Nick Wong - Formerly of GJ Tavern
Admittedly, this nomination is more in recognition of prior accomplishments than present circumstances, as Wong recently departed from Chris Shepherd’s downtown restaurant. Still, the relentless creativity he displayed at UB Preserv and the enthusiasm with which he’s embraced Houston have earned Wong the respect of his peers. While food fans undoubtedly miss UB Preserv signatures like the crispy rice salad and boudin shumai, they can appreciate the sly sense of humor he displays on his Instagram stories. The chef hasn’t revealed his future plans yet, but hopefully he remains in Houston and continues to make this city a more delicious place to live in.

Anita Jaisinghani.

Courtesy of Pondicheri
Anita Jaisinghani.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston Independent School District cancels classes again due to city-wide boil notice

school's out

With the issues surrounding the city-wide boil notice still unresolved, Houston Independent School District has announced all its campuses and facilities will be closed on Tuesday, November 29. This comes after classes were canceled on Monday, November 28.

"This decision has been made due to the logistical challenges caused by the notice," district staff notes in an email. "Those challenges prevent the district from being able to provide meals for its students and ensure safe water is available for students and staff."

The email goes on to add that all HISD employees will be working remotely unless otherwise instructed by the chief of their business area.

While most kids will no doubt enjoy yet another day off, HISD encourages students to "engage with digital academic resources that are available 24/7 online.

This closure announcement comes as other districts and colleges closed campuses on Monday. As CultureMap previously reported, the city was put on a boil notice after water pressure dropped below the City of Houston's required minimum of 20 PSI due to a power outage at the East Water Purification Plan around 10:30 am Sunday, November 27.

Under city guidelines and those set in part by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, city water pressure must be at least 20 DPI to ensure contaminants do not enter the flow. Notably, according to the director of Houston Water, Yvonne Williams Forrest, the city's water pressure never dropped to zero — but did fall below the regulatory limit.

Additionally, Forrest says the city boil notice could last until the early hours of Tuesday, November 29.

As reported by CultureMap news partner ABC13, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner provided a timeline for the outage on Sunday:

  • 10:30 am: East water purification plants 1 and 2 lose power
  • Plant 3 loses power, 14 sensors below 20 PSI for less than 2 minutes, 2 sensors below 20 PSI for 30 minutes, 5 sensors never fell below 20 PSI
  • 12:15 pm: Power restored to plants 1 and 2
  • 12:30 pm: Power restored to plant 3
  • 3:30 pm: All sensors back to 35 PSI

Residents expressed outrage on social media that they weren't notified of the boil notice until late Sunday night. In response that same night, several school districts — including Houston ISD — announced they would close on Monday, November 28. Parents should watch their school districts' social media for updates regarding classes resuming.

Concerned residents who are unsure if the boil notice affects their neighborhood can view this map that displays the entire affected.

Early Monday, the City of Houston announced on Twitter that the aforementioned Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) approved a plan by the Houston Public Works department to sample water and send to labs for testing.

Boil notices are nothing new to the Gulf Coast and Greater Houston areas, given the propensity for storms and flooding. But as longtime Houstonians know, there are few key things to remember when under a boil notice. These tips include:

  • Boiling all water used for food, drinking, and brushing teeth
  • Boiling the water for at least 2 to 3 minutes — even for making coffee
  • Avoiding chilled water lines from on the refrigerators
  • Avoiding ice from an automated ice machines

    The City of Houston also reminds residents to call 3-1-1 for any boil-notice-related questions.

    Beloved Houston local art showcase decks the walls for 25th anniversary with can't-miss events

    silver showecase

    Local shoppers on the hunt for that perfect gift or art loves looking to expand their collections want to be at the annual Art on the Avenue event at Winter Street Studios in the Heights on December 3.

    The noted auction features more than 500 works of art by more than 250 local artists. Celebrating its 25th year, the event celebrates the creative process and encourages collecting works created here in the Houston area.

    Fittingly for the nation's most charitable city, Art on the Avenue is also an important fundraiser for Avenue, a Houston nonprofit dedicated to developing affordable homes.

    Among the many local artists displaying works in the auction is Paperbag, who got his name from painting paper bags on people's faces. His artwork encourages others not to judge a book by its cover, and invites individuals to celebrate their unique personalities and stories. In addition to his art, Paperbag — née Dominique Silva — is also an ardent mental health supporter.

    Blossom by Paperbag Look for works such as "Blossom" by local artist Paperbag.Photo courtesy of Paperbag

    Art on the Avenue kicks off on Thursday, December 1 with a VIP preview party. A $150 ticket gives attendees an exclusive first look at the available works and the opportunity to bid on them prior to the main auction and party on Saturday, December 3. Art-inspired bites, cocktails, and entertainment by Two Star Symphony are also part of the evening's festivities.

    On Saturday, December 3, from 10 am to 1 pm, guests to see these incredible works of art for themselves and enjoy free admission.

    The auction proper begins at 6 pm, where a $35 ticket allows guests entry to the gallery space, bidding opportunities, and entertainment from vinyl enthusiast Losty Los of The Waxaholics, who will spin tunes.

    Art on the Avenue Sketches, paintings, sculptures, and more will be up for auction. Photo courtesy of Art on the Avenue

    Guests looking for a chance to dress up are encouraged to deck out in silver in honor the event's 25th anniversary.

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    Art on the Avenue runs Thursday, December 1 through Saturday, December 3 at Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter St. For tickets and information, visit Art on the Avenue.

    'Burn you twice' hot chicken chain spices up Houston with fifth fiery location

    flying into spring

    A rapidly growing chicken tender restaurant will soon arrive in Spring. Urban Bird Hot Chicken will open its fifth Houston-area store next year in January.

    Located in the former B.Good space at 2162 Spring Stuebner Rd., Urban Bird will be part of The Market, a Kroger-anchored shopping center within the the larger City Place mixed-use development. Other nearby tenants include Torchy’s Tacos, Jinya Ramen Bar, and Beard Papa’s, the Japan-based cream puff bakery.

    First opened in 2020, Urban Bird is a chicken tenders concept with different spice blends that deliver increasing levels of heat. The six options range from "country" up to "Nashville hot" and "Fire in the Hole" — which the restaurant says “will burn you twice. Available as baskets, sandwiches, or chopped up over fries, the restaurant touts that its batter went through 60 iterations prior to opening.

    Diners may pair their tenders with dipping sauces such as ranch, barbecue, or the signature Bird Sauce. Sides include fries (both potato and sweet potato), Hot Cheetos mac and cheese, street corn, and a kale salad with a dressing that includes maple syrup. Shakes and frozen custard help ease the burn.

    Urban Bird currently has locations in Katy, north Houston, Fulshear, and near Rice Village. In addition to Spring, the restaurant will soon add outposts in Webster and the Summerwood neighborhood near Lake Houston.

    “We’re thrilled to welcome this fast-growing concept to The Market and feel that it will resonate well with people who live in the area, as well as employees from City Place businesses and major office campuses,” Rip Reynolds, senior leasing agent for real estate developer Regency Centers, said in a statement. “The Urban Bird Hot Chicken team were drawn to this prime site based on its high levels of traffic, the desire for proximity to an anchor and the immediate availability of a second-generation space, the latter of which was only recently vacated.”