The summer heat in Houston makes venturing outside uncomfortable. When people leave their air-conditioned cocoons, they want the potential sweating to be justified by what they left the house.
Thankfully, an eclectic selection of new (and new) restaurants has emerged to satisfy people’s cravings. This month’s list includes two nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Best New Restaurant, Most In-Demand Place to See and Be Seen this year, and Chris Shepherd’s first business outside of Montrose.
Before diving into the restaurants, there is one caveat to keep in mind: staffing issues mean most restaurants don’t work with as many people as they’d like. This sometimes results in food taking a little longer or refills not serving as quickly as they would otherwise. Please be patient with the staff and appreciate the services they can provide. A little empathy goes a long way.
As always, these are roughly ranked by the priority I would give it to try, but all of the items on the list have something to offer. The write-ups are based on actual experience of eating in the listed restaurants (sometimes more than once). They’re less formal reviews than a guide of what to expect along with some suggestions on what to order and what to avoid.
Georgia James Tavern
Chris Shepherd’s newest establishment has a more casual, bar-forward twist at his upscale Montrose Steakhouse. The long, narrow dining room – certainly its best-looking project to date – has received an Art Deco makeover to match its luxurious surroundings on the first floor of the Market Square Tower downtown skyscraper.
Under the direction of Chef Matt “Tally” Coburn (who is from Tallahassee, Fla.), The tavern holds some of Georgia James’ staples like a cast iron wagyu ribeye (for a premium crust) and signature platter that goes with houstons very best versions of a classic wedge, but the restaurant also has affordable options that can be enjoyed more frequently, like a club sandwich and fried chicken. The Underbelly Hospitality team contributes spicy cocktails, an affordable wine list with traditional and unusual dishes and reduced versions of Georgia James’ tasty desserts.
A recent dinner showed that a cast-iron, medium-rare wagyu ribeye is a very delicious way to satisfy a steak craving, but fire-fried golf fish and a lightly prepared spinach salad have shown that a diner doesn’t have to break the bank, to eat well here. When Houstonians discover the restaurant, expect to find a Georgia James tavern in their neighborhood as well.
If a full house on weekdays is an indication of a restaurant’s popularity, Clark Cooper Concepts has a big hit with this stylish new bistro. Recently opened in the former punk restaurant next to the Coppa Osteria, the gratify seafood menu focuses on well-executed versions of classic dishes like shrimp cocktail, crab cakes, and oyster rockefeller. Other highlights of a recent visit included tuna crudo and steak au poivre (with extra au poivre sauce to dip in the crispy Belgian fries suggested by co-owner Grant Cooper).
A sophisticated service is just as natural in every Clark Cooper operation as the company’s consumer-friendly surcharges. No wonder West U. residents (and fans of the company’s River Oaks restaurant, Brasserie 19) made it one of the city’s most sought-after reservations.
Of all the new tasting menu concepts that came out last year, none is more fun than Chef Brandon’s Silva restaurant with 20 seats in Spring Branch. The dining room pulsates to a soundtrack personally selected by the chef / DJ, and the room is adorned with various trinkets from his hobbies and interests. When not dancing in their seats, guests can turn to Silva and his team as they carefully arrange and serve each dish.
But of course the food is the real star of the nine-course menu for USD 115 per person (plus taxes, service fee, optional wine pairings and side dishes such as caviar and truffles). Silva draws heavily on his Mexican heritage, travels to Spain, and time at restaurants like Uchi to create an experience that showcases the ingredients of each dish, some of which are harvested from a local urban farm. Whether tender mussels in an edible “shell”, scallop crudo or golf fish steamed in Hoja Santa leaves, Degust shows a skilful note that makes its ingredients shine.
In this intimate eatery near the Galleria, chef Niki Vongthong (Uchi, Aqui) and her team serve a 12-course menu for USD 150 of Japanese-inspired dishes. Those who have had similar experiences will recognize the evolution that begins with oysters and ceviche before moving on to various pieces of nigiri that culminate in the toro and wagyu beef flavor of any fish. Precise technology and close interaction with the chefs make this an unforgettable experience for sushi lovers.
Reservations open at midnight two weeks before each service, making them difficult to get. People with flexible schedules should follow the restaurant on Instagram for last minute cancellations.
Homestead Kitchen & Bar
This recently opened restaurant in The Heights serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all day, featuring Texan home cooking – an eclectic mix of dishes drawing on elements of Southern, Cajun Creole, and Tex-Mex. Breakfast options range from iconic American dishes like benedicts, pancakes, and chicken and waffles, to foods inspired by the upbringing of chef Fernanda Alamilla in Mexico like hurache, chilaquiles and entomatadas. A fully stocked bar offers many cocktails for a relaxed start to the morning.
That so many different elements work well together makes a certain amount of sense; After all, Houstonians tend to resort to a breakfast taco to start their morning rather than a bagel. The recent introduction of a dinner service offering enchiladas and fajitas alongside fried chicken steak and blackened redfish should only add to the appeal of the restaurant.
Ixím and Margeaux’s Oyster Bar in the Bravery Chef Hall
Bravery Chef Hall’s reputation as a culinary destination is already well established – as evidenced by James Beard’s semi-finalist nomination for Christine Has The Blind Goat – and these two new additions, replacing Cherry Block and Atlas Diner respectively, should garner similar attention draw.
At Ixím, Chef Tim Redding and Sous Chef Rebecca Aguirre apply the lessons they learned while working for Hugo Ortega at Caracol and apply them to their own take on local Mexican cuisine. For example, the Fideo de Marisco is loaded with octopus, shrimp, fish, and lobster. The chefs also deliver flavorful ceviche and a filling plate of lamb and pork balls that get a little chipotle kick.
In addition to fried oysters, raw and cooked seafood and even a few sandwiches, Margeaux’s offers a selection of half-shell oysters from the Gulf and East Coast. Most importantly, the restaurant is committed to serving the cheapest grilled king crab legs in Houston, which is more than sufficient reason to visit.
Agnes Café & Provisions
Recently opened in the former Tropicales section, this all-day café brings Mediterranean-inspired cuisine to the Boulevard Oaks / Rice Village neighborhood. Run by Molly Voorhees, President of Becks Prime and passionate housewife Carolyn Dorros in the real estate space, Agnes offers a comfortable dining room for those who choose to stay in addition to a well-stocked selection of pre-prepared items and hostess favors for those who take them away and want to go.
A visit at lunchtime provided the opportunity to try dishes such as roasted pepper and tomato soup, a well-seasoned steak kebab with saffron rice, and a juicy lamb kofta burger that is made even more powerful by the garlic and tahini sauce. The recently introduced evening menu offers a more sophisticated experience with appetizers such as redfish on the half-shell and filet mignon with duck-fat potatoes – both can be paired with wine, beer or cocktails.
Badolina Bakery & Café
The bread service in the Doris Metropolitan has always been one of the highlights of the Israeli-inspired steak house. Now pastry chef Michal Michaeli has a special place for sweets, pastries, bread and more. Though the setup is meant to be takeaway rather than to eat, customers will find ready-to-eat sweet and savory items like croissants and a fluffy quiche with root vegetables. Don’t miss the bakery’s Bourekas, a hearty spinach and cheese puff pastry that’s incredibly popular in Israel but rarely found in Houston. On Fridays, Badolina offers a laminated batter babka, which is a significant improvement in texture and taste over more traditional versions.