It might be June, but summer temperatures have already arrived, and Houston’s dining scene is just as hot. All-day cafés seem trendy (Agnes Café & Provisions opened in April and Benjamin Berg’s NoPo Café, Market & Bar just debuted), while it still seems like the paint has barely dried at Yelo, March and the artfully presented Le Jardinier (from the same company as La Table) at the Museum of Fine Arts.
With so many current choices and new ones continuously on the horizon, it is no wonder Houstonians are so passionate about dining out. Here are some of the newer restaurant openings that merit your attention.
You will find more than just oysters at Acme Oyster House, such as this creamy Crawfish Dip. Courtesy photo.
Acme Oyster House – Houston, 1201 Westheimer: This New Orleans staple, which has served oysters since 1910, opened its doors this April in the former El Real Tex-Mex Café spot at 1201 Westheimer. Inside the expansive former movie theater, Houstonians can now dine on Acme favorites such as Oyster Rockefeller Soup and Boo Fries, or French fries topped with roast beef, gravy and cheese.
Tapping into Houston’s local culinary scene, Acme worked with Bread Man Baking Company to create the bread for its famed po’ boys and added new menu items just for the this location. The latter include Crawfish Dip, which blends crawfish tails with cream cheese, onions, garlic, celery and Romano cheese, and assorted tacos such as Boom Boom Tacos, made with Acme’s Boom Boom shrimp, chipotle ranch slaw and green onions.
To sip alongside your oysters, Acme has an ample wine and beer list as well as cocktails, such as the Killer Buzz made with Sugar Island rum, Hiram Walker Blue Curaçao, Sierra Mist and pineapple juice.
Hot Smoked Salmon Tartine with pickled onions, tomatoes, capers and labneh on sourdough at Agnes Cafe & Provisions. Photo by Kirsten Gilliam Photography.
Agnes Café & Provisions, 2313 Bissonnet: This new Mediterranean cafe and grocery in Rice Village springs from two longtime Houston friends and veterans of the restaurant scene, Molly Voorhees and Carolyn Dorros. Another person familiar with the scene, Brendon Fetzer, formerly of Canopy, is serving as general manager. The café serves Greek-influenced meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner that also incorporate ingredients from locally sourced purveyors, such as Houston Dairymaids. There is also a specialty grocery section and to-go items.
Breakfast choices include Baklava Granola, made with oats, pistachios, walnuts, Bulgarian yogurt and honey, and the Breakfast Mezze with a nine-minute egg, labneh, hummus, pickled tomatoes, cucumbers, dates and flatbread. Dinner hours are forthcoming, but guests can look forward to options such as half-roasted chicken with turmeric-green olive vinaigrette and saffron rice. To sip alongside meals, diners can choose from a current menu of assorted non-alcoholic items; there’s a curated wine and cocktail list coming soon. Once it arrives, guests can enjoy libations and wine selections from John Mason, the current wine and beverage manager at River Oaks Country Club and formerly of Camerata. Planned cocktails include Elderflower Spritz, Rosemary Paloma, Blood Orange Mezcal Margarita and Tomato Martini with vodka and fresh tomatoes.
Just a few of the new dishes at Da Gama. Courtesy photo.
Da Gama, 609 North Shepherd (M.K.T. Development): This restaurant, situated inside The M‑K‑T mixed-use development in the Heights, is from chef Shiva and Rick Di Virgilio, the industry veterans behind Oporto in midtown and the now-closed Queen Vic Pub. Poised as the “next level” of the Queen Vic, the Portuguese- and Indian-inspired menu harkens back to their combined heritage.
Da Gama is still in its soft opening phase and currently offers a selection of tapas-style shareables broken out into four categories: do Quinta (vegetables), do Mar (seafood), do Carne (meat), and Pao (breads). We suggest the Tandoori Roots made with tandoor-roasted carrots and beets, whipped honey ricotta and pistachios, and the hearty Pork Vindaloo with braised pork curry, Kashmiri chili, peas and sweet potatoes. On the bar side, diners can get wine on tap as well as unique cocktails, such as the Cashew Milk Punch with Old Monk Rum, cashew milk, sweet chai and passion fruit.
Fegen’s Classic Martini – Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, dry vermouth, orange bitters with a lemon twist or olive garnish. Photo by Carla Gomez.
Fegen’s, 1050 Studewood: Lance Fegen and his restaurant group, F.E.E.D. TX, have converted the former Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar in the Heights into the chef’s first eponymous restaurant. Fegen’s is serving classic American fare that leans heavily into Southern Italian cuisine. Diners can start their meals with appetizers such as Meatballs & Fennel Sausage with tomato-veal gravy, basil, cherry pepper and salted bread and then order Linguine & Clam Sauce with a choice of red or white sauce.
Sicilian-style pizza is also on the menu, with familiar staples such as Margherita and signature combinations like Purple Rain with fried eggplant, fresh ricotta, tomato gravy, basil and Sicilian olive oil. Those looking for meatier fare can choose from a selection of steaks, chicken dishes or a love-it-or-hate-it classic: liver and onions. To accompany dinner, Nicole Meza, whose bar experience includes Weights + Measures and Julep, has curated a cocktail list of classics such as the Sazerac and original concoctions like the Staycation with bourbon, lemon juice, passion fruit and grapefruit bitters.
Steak is on the menu at Gatsby’s Steakhouse. Courtesy photo.
Gatsby’s Prime Steakhouse, 4319 Montrose: Housed in the former Pax Americana space, Gatsby’s Prime Steakhouse opened its lavish doors in March. This intimately focused dining experience is hitting its stride as more and more Houstonians are now going out for special occasions. The menu is decadent and rich, as in, pricey. Start with two indulgent options for deviled eggs: fried or topped with fried shrimp and bacon jam. There are also customizable seafood towers and a bevy of steak options such as a 24-ounce Porterhouse and the 40-ounce “Tomahawk” Ribeye. Since no steakhouse is complete without sides, Gatsby’s offers up a dozen to accompany your steak, from the usual suspects such as steak fries and baked potatoes to specialties like Cream Corn Brûlée.
From the bar, Gatsby’s offers over 20 wines by the glass, a large selection of wines by the bottle and housemade cocktails such as the Great Gatsby made with Wheatley vodka, Lillet, and grapefruit juice, and the Plain James with Presidente brandy, honey, spice and ginger beer.
Artfully prepared dishes at Le Jardinier. Courtesy photo
Le Jardinier, 5500 Main: As part of the overhaul process in the MFAH’s Kinder Building, Houstonian’s can now snack on baked items from bakery-café Café Leonelli and fine dining from Le Jardinier. Helmed by French chef Alain Verzeroli, the menu features an emphasis on locally sourced items and influences. With seating alongside artful views of the Cullen Sculpture Garden, the dishes at Le Jardinier are almost as pretty as the views. A la carte selections like the cured red snapper with blue poppy seeds, Persian cucumbers and mango and the ricotta agnolotti with spiced tomato coulis, pinenuts and herbs deliver on taste as well as presentation. Specialty cocktails like the Noguchi Garden with Meyer lemon vodka, sake, cucumber & tomato water, lime and soda and the Cromosat & Tonic with gin, butterfly pea flower, lemongrass, lime and tonic are both refreshing and sip-worthy.
The Tuna Ventresca at March. Photo by Abbie Arnold.
March, 1624 Westheimer: After giving diners a taste of what to expect as a pop-up lounge in 2020, March recently opened alongside Rosie Cannonball and Montrose Cheese & Wine as chef/co-owner Felipe Riccio’s tasting-menu restaurant. The initial menu focuses on the Barbary Coast through dishes such as Tuna Ventresca and Fifth Quarter Tagine — a take on the Moroccan slow-cooked, savory stew.
Thanks to general manager/sommelier Mark Sayre‘s thoroughly developed wine cellar, there are over 11,000 bottles from which to choose. These hail from around the globe with a focus on small, independent producers. The cocktail program from Alex Negranza (formerly of Tongue-Cut Sparrow and Anvil Bar & Refuge) features unique, complex cocktails with deceptively simple names such artichoke, made with calvados, cinnamon, fig and orgeat, and thyme, which combines tequila with vermouth, bitters and celery.
Forbidden Eggs at The Nash. Photo by Phaedra Cook.
The Nash, 1111 Rusk: This downtown restaurant located inside the old Texaco building, which has been remodeled into luxury apartments, opened earlier this year. The Nash boasts an impressive, dog-friendly outdoor space, floor-to-ceiling bar and an open kitchen centered around a wood-fired pizza oven. Chef Omar Pereney, best known locally for his work as executive chef of now-closed Peska when he was a mere 21 years old, developed The Nash’s menu as a consultant. Offering dinner and happy hour for now (brunch is being offered on Father’s Day, and the regular brunch and lunch schedule are anticipated for the future) standout snacks and starters include the Forbidden Eggs served crunchy, sweet and spicy with tamarind sweet chili sauce, cilantro, Thai basil, and crispy shallots, and the Korean Bacon Bao with gochujang barbecue sauce, cucumber, pickled onions, peanut, cilantro. The Cauliflower Paneer Curry entrée with peas, jasmine rice, spiced tomato gravy and garlic flatbread served alongside is definitely worth a visit.
Since every good patio needs a good custom cocktail, try the Red Book Journal made with vodka, lime, prickly pear syrup and marigold liqueur. For more details, check out Phaedra Cook’s first impressions.
The Fish Dumplings at Roots Wine Bar. Photo by Emily Jaschke.
Roots Wine Bar, 3107 Leland: Wine lovers have a new destination in the East End; one where they can even pour their own wine. With a rotating list of over 50 wines on tap available in one-, three- and five-ounce pours, Roots Wine Bar aims to provides guests with an interactive, “try-before-you-buy” experience. In addition, patrons can purchase wines by the bottle for both dining in and taking home.
Poised as a destination for both wine and food, Root’s kitchen, led by executive chef and general manager JD Fouché, who has cooked at Houston favorites Reef and Riel, focuses on locally sourced Gulf Coast cuisine with roughly a dozen items that regularly rotate. (Word is that new dishes are coming out this month, including two new crudo dishes.) Current selections include lighter fare such as roasted beets with caraway roasted beets, whipped goat cheese, fennel and arugula topped with sunflower seeds, and fried Galveston Bay oysters with cornmeal, sugarcane-crystal crema, peppadew relish and cilantro. Heartier options include Chicken Ballotine served with pea puree, turnips, oyster mushrooms and jus de viande.
Banh mi from Yelo, bottom to top: Char Siu Xiu Mai (meatball), Pho-rench Dip and Spam & Egg. Photo by Phaedra Cook.
YELO, 23119 Colonial Parkway, Katy: Good news: Yelo, from Phat Eatery‘s Alex Au-Yeung and Cuc Lam, who established her reputation by hosting private dinners via ChefsFeed, then later as the driving force of the short-lived restaurant SING, is now open next door to Phat Eatery. That means its head-turning bánh mì is available every day, including the Char Siu Xiu Mai Bánh Mì that Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook cited as a favorite dish of 2020. Other must-orders include Lam’s excellent crab rangoon, specialty drinks like the Pandan Iced Latte and freshly pressed juices such as the Green Goddess with celery, cucumber, green apple, pear and lemon.
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