The Hit List: A Crazy Number of New Houston Restaurants To Visit In September 2018
Houstonians had better be hungry this month, as the number of notable restaurant openings this September requires a Texas-sized appetite. These include chef-owner Ford Fry’s double launch of Superica and La Lucha in the Heights, Agricole Hospitality’s Indianola, Miss Carousel, and Vinny’s trio east of downtown, chef-owner Chris Shepherd’s latest incarnation of One Fifth and also his new steakhouse, Georgia James. In other words, there are heavy hitters up to bat this month. Asian cuisine also dominates the list with the first brick-and-mortar from local favorite Pokeology and newcomers in familiar spots like Blackbird Izakaya, Flying Pho and Kau Ba Kitchen from acclaimed chef Nikki Tran.
Agricole Hospitality’s “Triple Threat” in EaDo, 1201 Saint Emanuel: Agricole Hospitality’s Ryan Pera, Morgan Weber and Vincent Huynh fulfilled their ambitious goal of opening three spots concurrently east of downtown mid-month. With its name taken from a historic Texas port, Indianola’s culinary program, helped by executive chef Paul Lewis, blends culinary influences from across the globe with dishes such as Shakshukah (a Turkish egg dish), Huevos Rancheros, Som Tom (Thai green papaya salad) and Santa Maria steak from California. Indianola’s beverage director, Marie-Louise Friedland (formerly of State Bird Provisions and The Progress) is curating a wine list showcasing the origin and how each of the wines traveled to North America.
The second new place, Miss Carousel, is a 5,000-square-foot cocktail bar offering 25 to 30 mixed drinks. On the menu, these are divided into familiar categories like sours, Collins, and highballs. Under these overriding categories, beverage director and co-owner Morgan Weber aims for the majority of the drinks to be original cocktails, leaving the remainder as classics. A light food menu features items such as Lemon Poppy Dip and Carrot & Beet Tartare.
Last but not least is Vinny’s, a casual in-and-out spot serving pizza by the slice, sandwiches such as chicken and meatballs and small salads. The restaurant’s tagline is “A Slice is Nice,” so pizza is the star attraction. The selections include M.C. Ham’r’d made with Benton’s Country Ham, Wisconsin brick cheese, caramelized onions, mushrooms, oregano and black pepper; and the Señor Salvador with chorizo, pickled jalapenos, smoked cheddar, guajillo chili sauce and red onions.
Blackbird Izakaya, 1211 West 11th: Local restaurateur Ken Bridge’s fourth incarnation in this Heights strip center opened at the end of August. Teaming up with chef and operating partner Billy Kin, Blackbird Izakaya developed a pub-style Japanese menu focusing on small shareable hot and cold dishes including beef, chicken and seafood skewers with a wide array of noodles, rice and hot pot dishes. Must-haves on the dinner menu include the Foie Hot Pot that continues to cook the rice to a crispy perfection once served and the Uni Carbonara (warning: this dish is quite popular as they ran out twice since opening). While the main menus offer a lot of unique choices, bar seating with Kin working the line is the real attraction at Blackbird. Just be hungry and remember to ask him about the sake wall.
Flying Pho, 3434 Ella: Given that owner Christopher Huang also helms Ninja Ramen, Houstonians should know walking in that Huang does phở his way. Flying Pho is dedicated to only serving the phở bắc version (also known as the original phở) with roots in northern Vietnam. The menu offers a traditional version — with beef broth, wide rice noodles, beef and onions — and our pick, a phở gà trộn variation with dry wide rice noodles, chicken, onions, shallots and a side of chicken broth. In addition to the two phở choices, Huang also serves Vietnamese-style Fried Chicken (brined and twice-fried drumsticks served with congee, a soft egg, pickles and crispy shallots), pineapple-fried rice and pork egg rolls. Flying Pho is also about to start their “Give A Flying Pho” program allowing customers to purchase a bowl at cost, to be donated weekly to a local charity.
Superica and La Lucha, 1801 North Shepherd: Anticipation is high for Ford Fry’s double opening of Superica and La Lucha, officially scheduled for September 17 in the sister spaces formerly filled by Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s. State of Grace Bobby Matos and general manager Matt Crawford are overseeing the proceedings. Influenced by Fry’s affection for the now closed San Jacinto Inn, La Lucha’s atmosphere is designed to have a 1970s living room feel with a central bar and a limestone hearth for roasting oysters. The menu includes seafood crowd pleasers like wood-roasted Gulf oysters, peel-and-eat shrimp, Fried Oyster “Loaf” (with Duke’s mayonnaise, Mrs. Baird’s, crystal hot sauce and dill pickles) and Chowder Fries. Other highlights include the Pollo Especiale fried chicken and biscuits and La Lucha’s take on a classic Pharmacy Burger. The beverage program includes craft beers, unique tequila, mezcal and an array of signature cocktails. The latter includes Why Not with Champagne, sugar cubes, bitters and grapefruit essence and You’re Welcome with bourbon and rye, two types of vermouth and bitters.
Superica is the third location of Fry’s Tex-Mex restaurant that first launched in Atlanta and has a second location in Charlotte, North Carolina. Chef Kevin Maxey (Fry’s vice president and a Gramercy Tavern alumni) and former Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s manager Glenn Johnson are at the helm. With the menus’ emphasis on tacos, tamales and enchiladas, Maxey and Fry have referred to it as the “Tex-Mex Playbook”. As nothing compliments Tex-Mex like a good tequila cocktail, the bar program includes margaritas like the El Frio crafted with El Jimador Blanco Tequila, Stirrings Triple Sec and freshly squeezed lime juice and the Matador with pineapple and cilantro. In addition to cocktails, expect a curated wine list, Mexican lagers and American craft beers plus non-alcoholic daily agua frescas.
Georgia James, 1100 Westheimer: Chef-owner Chris Shepherd’s spin on the steakhouse inside the former Underbelly spot debuts later this month. Steaks seared in cast iron take front and center on the forthcoming menu. There is also cold seafood and plates such as Uni Panna Cotta, off-menu baller boards and a cellar featuring a staggering selection of 500 wines.
International Smoke, 800 Sorella: Sprung from a pop-up collaboration between superstar chef and cookbook author Michael Mina and TV host Ayesha Curry, International Smoke’s menu blends flavors from Mexico, India, Thailand, Korea and Vietnam. They tapped E.J. Miller (formerly of Riel, Clark Cooper Concepts, and Down House) as executive chef to incorporate some local influences into the menu. With “smoke” in the name, it’s no surprise the menu emphasizes wood-fired cooking. Standout dishes include the Double Duck Wings appetizer with jerk spices and sticky mango and Smoked Korean Short Ribs with kimchi, scallion and sesame. Both pair perfectly with the “Boozy and Bougie” part of the cocktail list. The latter includes the Southern Charm with peach-spiced tea, lemon, mint and Wild Turkey.
Kau Ba Kitchen, 2502 Dunlavy: This restaurant from chef Nikki Tran opened at the end of August in the former Bacchus wine bar space in Montrose. After earning her street credentials in Vietnam with features on both Netflix’s Ugly Delicious and Somebody Feed Phil Tran lives by her motto of “If I won’t eat it, I won’t serve it”. The Vietnamese-Cajun menu includes appetizers and salads like the Chefs Special Dumplings (shrimp and pork dumplings with vinegar, sesame and chili sauce) and the Happy Salad (pineapple, Thai eggplant, mandarin, mint and lemongrass with stir fried beef, sesame seeds topped with a passion fruit dressing). Tran serves six variations of phở including oxtail and red wine beef. To get the full experience of Tran’s Viet-Cajun style, we suggest the Chef’s Special and the new Seafood Vumbo, a Vietnamese take on gumbo with Asian eggplant, pineapple and turmeric noodles instead of rice.
One Fifth Mediterranean, 1658 Westheimer: The third incarnation of chef Chris Shepherd’s rotating restaurant concept, One Fifth, opened the first week of September. One Fifth Mediterranean draws influences from local Lebanese cuisine and chef de cuisine Matt Staph’s work with refugees from Iraq and Syria. Shepherd, Staph and Underbelly Hospitality culinary director Nick Fine also found inspiration at James Beard Award-winning Israeli restaurant Zahav. The seven-section menu blends homages to the traditional staples of Mediterranean cuisine with Shepherd’s love of using the whole animal. Can’t-miss items include the I Dip, You Dip, We Dip (assorted dips with fresh pita bread) and wood-grilled fresh fish and meat selections. For One Fifth Mediterranean, wine director Matthew Pridgen curated a list of wines from Morocco, France and other Mediterranean countries. The signature cocktails include The Forty Princes with rye, amaro, chocolate and angostura bitters and the Tigris with gin, white vermouth, lemon, cantaloupe, cucumber and soda.
Pokeology, Sawyer Yards 2313 Edwards Street: Pokeology is slated to open mid-month at the Sawyer Yards mixed-use center. Executive chef Jason Liao and co-founder Charlie Chang developed a loyal following for poke bowls like the Applemachi with hamachi, white shoyu, green apples, sesame and onions at their previous tiny kitchen space in the back of a bar. The Sawyer Yards location offers an previous dishes plus an expanded menu with shareables like karaage with sea salt, cracked pepper and gochujang honey and kimchi fried rice balls with mozzarella and kimchi mayonnaise. Vegetarian poke bowls as well as those with new meat and fish options are also new to the menu. In addition, guests will now have the option to sip on sake and beer.
Present Company, 1318 Westheimer: It’s not unusual these days for businesses to have an Instagram wall where patrons can snap selfies, but Present Company is a vibrantly hued venue where every spot is a hot spot. The kitchen serves a limited menu until 10 p.m. daily with dishes like the Chicken Parm Sandwich and an ample burger selection. (Note: unlike at owner Shawn Bermudez’s other restaurant, The Burger Joint, these burgers are not available to-go.) The cocktail menu is as Instagram-worthy as the décor. Houston Food Finder’s Josh Armendariz recently visited and cited Stranger Danger and Principal Kisses Alligator — the latter served in topless La Croix cans — as standouts. The real attention-grabber, though, is the Whispering Eye, a tequila-based cocktail with ginger liqueur, lavender syrup and a hot pink elixir made with blue butterfly pea flowers. There is also an ample wine and beer selection.
Phat Eatery, 23119 Colonial Parkway: This sleek new Malaysian restaurant is bringing some seriously swoon-worthy food to Katy. Phat offers a diverse selection of menu items like the Roti Canai (Indian flatbread with curry dip), Beef Rendang (shank in coconut curry) and CK Teow (flat noodles, shrimp, calamari, Chinese sausage, bean sprouts and chives in smoky soy). Phat Eatery also offers red and white wines by the glass, Texas draft beers from Karbach and Saint Arnold, and imported, bottled beers like Tiger and Tsingtao. The fresh young coconut, though, is a great drink (and snack) for those seeking a non-alcoholic beverage option.
Restaurant Indigo, 517 Berry: Johnny and Chana Rhodes worked for years to make Restaurant Indigo a reality and it is finally open Lindale Park. It features a five-course tasting menu that leverages Johnny’s prior experience at the likes of Oxheart, The Inn at Dos Brisas and Gramercy Tavern. Indigo offers two seating times Wednesdays through Saturdays at 6 and 8:45 p.m. Each seating offers both an “Omnivore” and “Herbivore” menu for $79 per person with the option to add wine pairings. The intriguing dishes include Chilled Watermelon “Kool-Aid” with blueberry preserves and mint, Aged Smoked Pastrami with Carolina heritage brown mustard and sorghum-stewed beets and Magnolia Blossom Ice Cream with peach skin preserves, butterscotch and thyme.
Saint Arnold Beer Garden, 2000 Lyons: After almost five years of planning, Saint Arnold opened a cathedral-inspired beer garden and restaurant next to the brewery at the end of July. The indoor space is full of vibrant murals by local artists like Mario E. Figueroa (aka @Gonzo247) and the landscaped outdoor space is outfitted with picnic tables, ceiling fans, bocce ball courts and Adirondack chairs for seating. Craft beer lovers can sip on the full range of Saint Arnold beers as well as rotating seasonal specialties and experimental brews. While the food menu is somewhat limited inside the brewery itself, executive chef Ryan Savoie has rolled out more than 40 items for the new spot. Options include cheeseburgers, ribeye steaks, TX Hot Fried Chicken and pizzas like the Major Mushroom.
Vibrant, 1931 Fairview: The brainchild of Houstonian Kelly Barnhart and Instagram wellness guru Alison Wu lives up to its name with truly vibrantly designed dishes with an emphasis on healthy eating. Incorporating adaptogens (a current trend of using non-toxic plants, herbs and roots as ingredients for their wellness properties) the gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free menu is designed so that that even a gluten-eating cheese lover can enjoy dishes. Vibrant is currently only serving breakfast and lunch (dinner is forthcoming) and the menu includes creative items like the Baked Egg Skillet with purple cabbage, shallots, caraway, avocado, housemade chicken sausage and sunflower seed ricotta and the Za’atar Socca with sunflower seed ricotta, chickpea flatbread, eggplant, caramelized onions, herbs, pine nut dukkah and castelvetrano olives. The drink menu gets the same attention to detail with elixirs like Sesame Rose and Golden Mylk plus a coffee program curated by Fernando Aciar of Fefo. Aciar also curated the restaurant’s ceramic collection.
About the author: Beth Levine writes about food, drinks, lifestyle and travel for local and national publications including My Red Glasses, Houstonia, Local Houston Magazine, Charlotte’s Book and Houston Food Finder. An executive assistant by day and freelance writer by night, Beth is originally from both New Jersey and California, but currently calls Houston home. You can follow her on IG @Yogaspots.