The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants to Visit in November 2018
As we head into the holiday season, Houston’s restaurant scene is gearing up to keep our plates and glasses full. The long awaited “triple threat” in EaDo from Agricole Hospitality — pizza joint Vinny’s, restaurant Indianola and cocktail bar Miss Carousel — opened earlier this month. With new ventures from familiar favorites like BB Lemon in The Heights, and newcomers like Bisou Restaurant in River Oaks and Coterie HTX downtown, hungry Houstonians have a lot of fresh options to choose from this month. Here’s our roundup of places we think you should be hitting up at least once.
Agricole Hospitality’s “Triple Threat” in EaDo, 1201 Saint Emanuel: Ryan Pera, Morgan Weber and Vincent Huynh fulfilled their ambitious goal of unveiling three spots just east of downtown almost concurrently. Indianola is named for a historic Texas port that no longer exists. Executive chef Paul Lewis oversees the culinary program that uses influences from all over the world, resulting in standout menu items such as Hoja Santa Goat Cheese with Persian cucumbers, radish, toasted rice, and chili agua fresca; Panzanella salad with charred sourdough, French feta, cucumber, tomato, olives, endive and bacon vinaigrette; and larger plates like the Ricotta Gnudi with blistered tomatoes, mushrooms, vegetable brodo and breadcrumbs. Indianola’s sourdough is made in-house, so the bread service to start is worth the few bucks. There is also a whopper of a steak: the 60-ounce Strube Ranch bone-in Wagyu ribeye. Finally, Indianola’s beverage director, Marie-Louise Friedland (formerly of State Bird Provisions and The Progress), curated a wine list that examines how certain varietals traveled to North America.
Miss Carousel sports over 5,000-square-feet of cocktail bar space lushly decorated with accents of wood and metal. The best feature might be the ample number of comfy leather couches and chairs. That’s going to tempt guests to linger over the a wide array of cocktails, beer and wine. On the drink menu, cocktails are divided into familiar categories like sours, Collins, and highballs as well as new categories like the “refreshing, bitter Italian” and “spiritous, bitter Italian”. Some of the standouts include the Red Eye To San Cristobal made with Oaxacan rum, apertif, vermouth, amaro, black garlic and grapefruit oil and the Jimmy Rig made with Pan Pacho 8 year, Bardstown 90, pineapple-tarragon syrup, lime juice and Topo Chico. A light food menu features items like butter bean hummus, marinated olives and, for those looking for heartier fare, Texas Wagyu Burger and slow-cooked pork ribs.
Vinny’s is a very casual late night spot that looks like a stripped-down diner and is open till 3 a.m. on the weekends. It serves pizza by the slice. The methodology may be a different than some are used to as rather than being made to order the lineup is on display on a counter behind glass. There are also sandwiches— including a chicken and a meatball version — and small salads. 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 jalapeños, smoked cheddar, guajillo chili sauce and red onions.
B.B. Lemon, 1809 Washington Avenue: This new, casual restaurant from Benjamin Berg is across the street from B&B Butchers. While the shotgun space is much smaller than Berg’s steakhouse, B.B. Lemon has its own a‑peel. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) The beautifully remodeled space that used to be Caddy Shack bar is now a bustling Irish pub up front with a quieter back room outfitted with green leather booths evoking a modest Irish steakhouse. Head chef Eric Johnson, who ran Brick & Mortar Kitchen in Katy back when it was still open and ambitious, is turning out the food. In addition to raw bar seafood selections like oysters on the half shell and shrimp cocktail, Johnson is also serving up one heck of a burger with a coarse grind patty (that still holds together) and remarkable flavor that only comes from top-quality beef. It’s indeed worthy of the steakhouse pedigree. The menu also weaves in traditional and non-traditional comfort bar food like French onion soup, Hog “Wings”, a BLT, and a decadent lobster roll. On the beverage side, Berg has tapped Monique Cioffi-Hernandez to direct the worthy cocktail program with a rotating beer and wine selection alongside.
Bisou Restaurant, 4444 Westheimer: Located in the old Taverna spot inside the glitzy River Oaks District, Bisou Restaurant opened at the end of October. The sleekly designed 5,000 square foot space allows diners to enjoy both a fine dining experience and a little night life, which makes sense given that Bisou is owned by Cle Group, which also operates nightclubs Spire and Cle. The menu was designed by prestigious chef Frédéric Perrier, a Maîtres Cuisiniers de France (Master Chef of France) and includes highlights like Yellowtail sashimi with foie gras, marinated tuna and duck with couscous. Other fish selections include halibut with scallops and crab cake with shrimp in creamy lobster sauce. Steak lovers are also well taken care of with a Tomahawk Ribeye that comes in both a single- and double-size with all the trimmings. The cocktail menu has offerings like the vodka-based Marilyn Monroe and the whiskey based Room Key, along with bottle service ranging from $300 for Grey Goose all the way up to a $1000 for a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label.
Chung Wang Chinese BBQ, 23119 Colonial Parkway, Katy: Located in the Katy Asian Town development (also home to the new H-Mart), Chung Wang Chinese BBQ offers up tasty regional fare like Peking Duck, roasted honey pork and dumpling soup. Other can’t miss items include Sichuan-style sliced beef in chili sauce and the chicken prepared with soy and scallions. It’s a modest but thoughtful space next door to Malaysian restaurant Phat Eatery and one of several making the Katy Asian Town shopping center one of the hottest dining destinations in the area.
Coterie HTX, 737 Preston: This recently opened all day café from Sean Marshall of Southside Espresso and Charles “Chaz” Lusk is serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner downtown. Still in its soft opening phase, with Chris Welsley (formerly of Eatsie Boys, Better Luck Tomorrow and Oxheart) in charge of the farm-to-table menu, Coterie is poising itself to be a destination for both early and late risers, with “coffee, wine, cocktails and everything in between”. Breakfast is served daily until 3 p.m. with current offerings like the (Hey Now!) You’re an ALL-STAR Plate with two eggs any way, daily ground pork sausage, fried hash and toast with Satsuma jam; and the Eggs Benny, Coterie’s take on eggs Benedict. The remarkable pastries are all made in-house. The rest of the daily menu (which is still in development) includes fried chicken, chicken liver pate, and creative pizzas such as the Cacio e Pepe. With coffee service from open to close, Coterie also has a selection of Be Very Kind wines by the glass and bottles, over a dozen beers to choose from and a cocktail program by Michelle Dinh (formerly of Greenway Coffee and Dish Society). The drink list includes familiar classics like the Coterie Manhattan alongside new recipes like Sweater Weather with rye whiskey, honey and bitters.
Eunice, 3737 Buffalo Speedway: Eunice opened in Greenway Plaza at the end of September and is the first Houston restaurant from acclaimed New Orleans group BRG Hospitality. The kitchen is helmed by executive chef Drake Leonards and chef de cuisine Daniel Blue, formerly of Hunky Dory. Longtime Houston dining scene fans might also recognize sous chef Steve Marques as one of the founders of The Burger Guys, the West Houston restaurant that closed in 2013 and is still missed for its cereal shakes and duck fat fries. Marques joined Eunice after a stint at Momfuku’s Las Vegas location.
Eunice’s menu is said to reflect Leonards’ culinary roots and his Louisiana hometown, the latter of which is also the restaurant’s namesake. The contemporary styled coastal-themed restaurant has a fresh raw bar for oysters and crudités plus a chilled seafood menu, shareable dishes such as the New Orleans BBQ Lobster and large plates representing both sides of surf and turf with fish, steak, chicken and gumbo. The bar program places a heavy emphasis on hand selected whiskies and bourbons.
The Cajun-inspired restaurant was originally set to open last fall but was delayed amidst many serious sexual harassment allegations against celebrity chef and restaurateur John Besh. BRG Hospitality — formerly Besh Restaurant Group — changed its name to try and step out of Besh’s shadow. However, according to Food & Wine, it appears that he still has a financial stake in the group. Quality-wise, Houston Food Finder editor and publisher Phaedra Cook had an unexpected early look during the soft opening and says that both food and drink are excellent right out of the gate. So, just like with Aqui when a legal cloud used to hang over chef-owner Paul Qui’s head, Houston diners are going to have to make decisions on whether or not to visit Eunice based on their own consciences.
Superica and La Lucha, 1801 North Shepherd: Ford Fry’s double opening of Superica and La Lucha took place on September 17 in the adjacent spaces formerly filled by Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s. State of Grace Bobby Matos and general manager Matt Crawford are overseeing the new spots. 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 fourth location of Fry’s Tex-Mex restaurant that first launched in Atlanta with two locations and has a third 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 menu’s 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, there is a curated list of wines, Mexican lagers and American craft beers plus non-alcoholic agua frescas. Does Houston need an out-of-town chain Tex-Mex restaurant? It’s hard to say, but Superica definitely has its fans.
Georgia James, 1100 Westheimer: James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd’s steakhouse at the former Underbelly location opened to the public on October 11. The menu includes selections like the 18-Month “The Hammery” Country Ham; raw bar items; salads and soups (including a take on classic French onion soup); entrées such as wood-fired redfish and Tejas Heritage Chicken and, of course, steaks either seared in cast iron or flame-grilled over hardwood. There is also a selection of shareable sides and the off-menu baller boards. The wine list features over 500 selections. Spirits director Westin Galleymore has created a drink list that includes classic steakhouse cocktails as well as creative originals such as The Alimony, made with gin, grapefruit, cranberry, lime, and amaro. Diners should know that Georgia James is not the place for a budget meal. The crab fingers pictured above, for example, are $16 and there are a couple of $18 cocktails on the list. The quality, though, is what one would expect from a restaurant of this caliber. Even the interior design by Collaborative Projects featuring fanned brickwork is a conversation starter.
Jonathon’s The Rub at Memorial Green,12505 Memorial: For the dishes at his new location, owner and chef Jonathan Levine was inspired by travels to Oaxaca and Mexico City. While some of the food, such as the chicken mole poblano, reveal those Pan-Latin influences, there are also customer favorites from the original location on Gaylord. New menu items include the Denver Steak and redfish on the half shell. There is even a dry-aged meat and steak program. While the original will remain B.Y.O.B., the new location offers a full beverage program instead. Guests can look forward to selections from Shepard Ross’s wine list or bartender Linda Salinas’ cocktail list. (Ross is known for his work at Pax Americana and several other Houston restaurants while Salinas’ experience includes developing cocktail programs for Hungry’s in Rice Village and La Grange.) The latter includes the shareable Pimm’s Cup, the gin-based Greenback and the rye-based 38 Special.
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 inspiration from both 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 were also influenced by James Beard Award-winning Israeli restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia. 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 countries that border that sea. 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. Readers should know that the first Houston Food Finder writer visit wasn’t great due to under-seasoned or overcooked dishes, a less than half-full $14 cocktail and overly intrusive service — but we’d give it another chance.
Pokéology, 2313 Edwards Street: Originally slated to open at the end of the summer, Pokéology finally just finished its soft opening phase this month. With a full size kitchen and expanded restaurant space, executive chef Jason Liao has kept some of crowd favorites from his previous spot like the Applemachi poke bowl made with Hamachi, white shoyu, green apples, sesame and green onions and added shareable items like the Dynamite Mussels with house spiced mayo, masago and green onions and blistered shishito peppers with truffle garlic aioli. Liao has also added new poke bowl selections to the menu, like vegetarian options with the Buddha Bowl and for meat lovers, the Aloha BBQ made with sliced ribeye. In addition to the larger menu, The Sawyer Yards location will soon offer guests the option to sip on saké and beer.
Shun Japanese Kitchen, 2802 South Shepherd: Chef and owner Naoki Yoshida (whose family operated the popular Nippon Restaurant in Montrose) and executive chef Nick Hill (of now-closed Triniti and the original Beaver’s), opened Shun Japanese Kitchen in October. The menu emphasizes Japanese-inspired dishes made with sustainable produce and locally sourced ingredients. As reported by Carlos Brandon, “Yoshida follows the traditional Japanese style of preparing rolls and hand-pressed nigiri behind the counter in view of guests. He forms the delicate cuts of fish around mouthfuls of soft, warm rice one bite at a time.” Intriguing dishes include small plates like Tako Dogs made with octopus sausage, Wagyu steak and kobocha purée and Yuza Ceviche that features salmon, octopus, cilantro and wasabi foam. Heavy-hitters from the sushi bar include the sugar-crusted fatty tuna Toro Brulee and the Sashimi Warrior, which is a build-your-own sushi platter. Shun is B.Y.O.B until November 23 when beverage consultant Aki Hagio (Bad News Bar) will launch the cocktail program with an all-day Black Friday happy hour.
SING, 718 West 18 Street: SING brings a much-needed stop for great, authentic Asian fare to the Heights. It is a collaboration between cook and former Houston Press restaurant critic Cuc Lam (previously also of several pop-up meals around town) and Jerry Lasco of Lasco Enterprises (Max’s Wine Dive, Tasting Room). The menu reflects Singapore’s melting pot of of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and Malaysian cuisines. The dishes include soups and light bites such as Shrimp Chips (flash-fried shrimp puffs); appetizers such as Lemongrass Pepper Riblets (marinated pork with lemongrass, chili and garlic); and wok-fired noodle dishes like Laksa, a Malay curry noodle soup with chicken, and Curry Noodz, sweet potato noodles with chicken, shrimp, carrots, bell peppers and onions. There is also a selection of rice & stir-fried dishes. To drink, there are wines by the glass, local craft and Asian brews plus some unique jelly sake, which has a texture kind of like boba tea.
TRIBUTE at The Houstonian, 111 North Post Oak Lane: The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa unveiled its new restaurant, TRIBUTE, on October 26. Longtime Houston chef Neal Cox, who earned his experience at Pappas Bros Steakhouse, Trevisio and Américas, has developed a Texas-centric menu that is also influenced by near neighbors Louisiana and Mexico. He’s calling it Tex-Lex cuisine and that idea takes shape in the form of fresh Gulf Coast oysters cooked on a wood-burning grill, redfish on the half shell, braised cabrito, smoked Wagyu beef ribs and rib eye steaks. To accompany the fare, sommelier Vanessa Trevino-Boyd (formerly known for her work at Philippe and the Houston Country Club) curated a beverage program intended to appease a variety of palates, drawing “inspiration from Houston itself with a little something for everyone, from new trends to the tried and true.” The program includes Bordeaux Crus Bourgeois wines and there are also cocktails that make good use of a collection of 25 rye whiskeys.
Coming very soon: There are still more restaurant openings expected during the upcoming holiday season. Stay on lookout for Blanco Tacos + Tequila, Finn Hall and the Houston location of Austin-based Irish Pub, Jack & Ginger’s. We’ll be back with a new Hit List in December to tell you the latest on these and other debuts.
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.