The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants to Visit for April 2022
This month, the new Houston restaurants to potentially visit are as fresh as the season. Spring 2022 brings new Vietnamese delights, happy hour specials, modern takes on global dishes and more. Also, a world-renowned chef who hasn’t had a restaurant in the Bayou City for 15 years is giving it another go with a new swanky place in the Texas Medical Center.
Use this month’s Hit List to map out your must-visit restaurants this month — some have stellar patios too, just right for seasonal enjoyment!
III by Wolfgang Puck, 6550 Bertner Avenue: Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck has returned (so to speak) to Houston nearly 20 years after closing his last area location. The new restaurant is and is located in the former Third Coast Restaurant space on the top floor of the John P. McGovern Commons Building at 6550 Bertner in the Texas Medical Center, right above the fountain.
III’s kitchen is run by chef Ronald Proano, who’s serving seasonal menus for lunch and dinner. There’s also a happy hour that runs from 3 to 6 p.m. and features bar bites such as the Smoked Brisket Sliders with Caramelized Shallot Jam, Parmesan Arancini with Spicy Tomato Sauce and Crispy Chicken Wing Karaage with yuzu kosho (a Japanese condiment of peppers, yuzu peel and salt) and honey.
III’s current menu offers some globally influenced mains like the flat iron steak with blistered peppers and spicy red chimichurri, a garlicky Argentinian condiment, and grilled salmon salad that clearly received Japanese inspiration by way of its unagi glaze and pickled vegetables. Learn more about the new restaurant in Phaedra Cook’s article.
Le Cafe Joséphine, 210 E 20th: The Chaabi family owns and operates this locale, which they opened in the space that housed their previous restaurant, Neo Baguette. The new café is managed directly by daughter Noor. Le Café Joséphine’s menu, like Neo Baguette’s, places emphasis on artisan baguette sandwiches, but now it highlights the family’s Moroccan heritage, too.
The updated menu incorporates internationally inspired cuisine while retaining connections with local food and businesses whenever possible. Houston’s Kraftsman Baking creates the custom baguettes, for example, and the coffee program, which includes dessert-inspired lattes, is made with locally roasted Katz Coffee. The baguette sandwiches include include Maine Lobster (a take on the classic lobster roll), Italian-inspired Capri and Fig and Brie with fig jam, fresh brie, arugula, and honey. There are also all-day brunch and breakfast dishes, such as pain perdu (brioche French toast), avocado toast and the terrific Breakfast Baguette with eggs, avocado, shallot cream cheese and the optional addition of either beef bacon or smoked salmon. Learn more about the menu in Ryan Kasey Baker’s “First Bite” article.
Le Café Joséphine is open daily from 10 a.m to 8 p.m., and online ordering is available through the company website, or through Ubereats and GrubHub.
Daily Gather, 800 Sorella Court: From Five 12 Restaurant Concepts, the hospitality group behind Dish Society, comes this new restaurant in CITYCENTRE. The 6,000-square-foot space is outfitted with stylish-yet-cozy furniture and room for up 150 diners. There is also a spacious, 100-seat patio, complete with lounge areas.
The seasonal menu, developed by culinary director Brandi Key (formerly of Alice Blue and Clark Cooper Concepts) puts an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, leveraging the restaurant group’s relationships with farmers, ranchers and fishermen. Current appetizers include Deviled Eggs made with seeded mustard-egg yolk, Tabasco-bacon crumble, green onion and smoked salt, and Elote Cornbread topped with warm chili-lime butter sweet corn, crema and cotija. The lunch menu also offers a variety of salads, soups and sandwiches such as Brisket French Dip, made with house-smoked beef brisket, horseradish sauce, caramelized red onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese on a pretzel bun. It’s served with au jus for dipping and pommes frites. There are also entrées, like Spaghetti Lola made with spinach pasta, garlic-basil tomato sauce and burrata.
The dinner menu adds raw bar items, such as Oysters on the Half Shell and Coconut Tuna Aguachile, and the entrées include braised short ribs served with Parisian gnocchi, carrots, roasted mushrooms and gremolata.
For brunch, which is currently only on the weekends, diners can order dishes like Cheesy Bacon Benedict served on an English muffin with American cheese, crispy bacon, poached eggs, lemon hollandaise and chives. Seasonal wines, local beers, cocktails and mocktails are available during all current hours of operation, which are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more details, read Cuc Lam’s “First Bite” article.
Kinokawa, 3119 White Oak: Billy Kin, previously chef at Blackbird Izakaya and Hidden Omakase, has opened the first of his two concepts in the former Golden Bagel location. Kinokawa serves omakase at an intimate chef’s counter that Kin partly designed and built himself.
What’s on the menu? “Food-wise for Kinokawa: you can call it omakase, or you can call it prix fixe,” Kin said. “It’s a set price for the chef’s choice that’s entirely centered around what I can get my hands on. That’s what we will serve to the guests. For the most part, about 90% of our ingredients will be sourced directly from Japan.”
Since the menu is solely focused on the omakase experience, dishes and ingredients can differ from day to day. You can read more about the dining experience at Kinokawa in Ryan Kasey Baker’s “First Bite” article, where some of the highlights were ceviche made of pasta neck clams and Uni Carbonara.
Kinokawa is currently BYOB with no corkage fee while the establishment waits to receive its liquor license. Reservations are required and can be made online.
Lees Den, 2424 Dunstan: Local Foods owner Benjy Levit is opening this new wine bar later this month. Located in the former lounge space that was once part of Benjy’s in Rice Village, the new “den” offers guests ample but intimate seating for over 50. Brittany Vaughan of Garnish Designs, the company that also worked on other unique spaces, such as Theodore Rex, is working on the interior. The wine list (created by GM certified sommelier Chrisanna Shewbart) highlights selections by the glass and bottle (den-goers can also grab a bottle from Local Foods Market) designed for pairing alongside locally sourced seasonal bar bites and entrées. Those looking for a cocktail can choose from a rotating list, such as the Spring Thyme Spritz made with a peach and thyme vermouth.
For the bites and mains, Chef Maria Gonzalez (of Benjy’s and Local Foods) offers outside-the-box bites such as Benjy’s Hurricane Popcorn with Korean red pepper salt and chocolate covered peanuts and Caviar Butter Milk Bread, made with Japanese milk bread, smoked trout roe, and European-style butter. Those looking for a heartier meal can choose from entrée-sized mains like the Roasted 44 Farms Steak and Potato or Midnight Pasta with tomato sauce, Calabrian chilies and olives.
Loro Houston, 1001 West 11th: The Houston outpost of the Austin based Asian smokehouse, Loro (a collaboration of James Beard Award winners chef Tyson Cole and pitmaster Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue) opened up this February. It offers an eclectic array of Asian-American fusion bar bites, smoked meats, rice bowls and signature desserts. Housed inside the former 11th Street Church of God, the 1940’s décor has been updated with modern touches and ample outdoor seating.
Lunch and dinner service includes smaller items like the Smoked Salmon Dip With Yuzu, Sriracha Aioli and Togarashi and the Crunchy Sweet Corn Fritters (with sriracha, aioli and cilantro) alongside heartier dishes like Loro Cheeseburger (topped with red onion-brisket jam, muenster cheese, lettuce and chili aioli) and the Smoked Baby Back Duroc Pork Ribs served with cauliflower pickles and green onions (note this item, as well as other items are only served at certain times and/or certain times of the day, so check the menu before you go). Writer Lauren Bebeau went to the soft opening, and while there appear to still be some kinks to work out (most especially with the counter ordering process), a Mango Sake Slushee just might hit the spot as the Houston weather heats up.
Marmo Italian, 888 Westheimer: Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group, which also operates Loch Bar and Ouzo Bay, debuted a lively, Italian chophouse in mixed development hub Montrose Collective. The vibrant 120-seat dining space also features a 10-seat lounge and U-shaped bar. The menu from executive chef Eli Jackson and Julian Marucci includes Italian classics such as chicken and eggplant parmigiana and chicken marsala next to innovative dishes like squid ink campanelle with blue crab, uni cream sauce, basil and chile, and a colorful hamachi dish topped with basil, avocado and squid ink rice chips served over passion fruit ponzu.
With a wine list spanning over 20 pages, Marmo also offers ample beer, Italian aperitifs and both signature and classic cocktails Happy hour also features Peroni beer on tap from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those looking to dine al fresco can take advantage of Montrose Collective’s shared outdoor area, which houses Marmo’s covered patio.
Moon Rabbit, 605 West 19th: This new Vietnamese hot spot in the Heights is still in its soft opening phase and only open for dinner, but we are already good things about it. According to team member Rosie Puccio, diners can look forward to traditional Vietnamese cuisine with a southern influence from co-chefs Tam Nguyen and Rudy Vasquez. Dishes include Veggie Spring Rolls, Bun Bo Hue and Banh Xeo Tostada.
Additional menu standouts include carpaccio made with thinly sliced beef tenderloin and drizzled with a spicy citrus cham cheo sauce and fresh greens, and the Miso Marinated Claypot Fish with Atlantic cod, roasted Brussels sprouts and caramel fish sauce.
The drink menu currently offers bar staples like the old fashioned and vodka or gin gimlet, and there is a rotating menu of signature cocktails. The latter include selections such as A Trip To Bird Island made with Cazadores Blanco Tequila, coconut matcha, lime and sugar served on the rocks, and the Hare With The Pear made with pear brandy, Spanish Cava and lemon served up.
Saigon Hustle, 3323 Ella: Coming a long way from the original ghost kitchen concept, Saigon Hustle’s new brick and mortar location (the latest project from Ordinary Concepts hospitality) is giving Vietnamese food lovers a new spot to keep enjoying their favorite dishes. With an emphasis on healthy and fast fare, the menu features fresh takes on rolls such as Honey Glazed Lemongrass Salmon Roll (salmon baked and broiled in honey and lemongrass glaze, then wrapped with rice paper, vermicelli, lettuce, mint and pickled carrots and daikon) and the Vegetarian Egg Rolls made with shredded taro, jicama, onion, peas, carrots and glass noodles. Main courses like banh mi, noodle, rice and salads let diners select the protein (chargrilled BBQ pork or ribeye, honey-soy BBQ chicken or honey-glazed lemongrass salmon or tofu) and then build as they go, ordering as little or as many add-ons as they want. While Saigon Hustle does not currently offer indoor seating, there is a 40-person patio perfect for spring weather.
Wild Oats, 2520 Airline: Chef Chris Shepherd’s newest restaurant Wild Oats has opened for dinner service at the Houston Farmers Market in the Heights. It follows on the heels of Underbelly Burger, also from Underbelly Hospitality and also in the same market building. Wild Oats chef/partner Nick Fine, sous chef Cristian Canales and wine director Matthew Pridgen plan to give Houstonian’s a fresh take on Texas cuisine.
Fine’s approach blends a background in cooking and traveling. “Texas food is easy to stereotype, and this restaurant is about rejecting those stereotypes and showing the underbelly of our state—the ingredients, the people and cultures who make it one of the most diverse in the nation,” he says. “My hope with this restaurant is to highlight Texas cuisine from Gulf Coast shrimp to the quail found in the Panhandle and everything in between.”
Menu items read like recognizable dishes, but with unique twists. There are starters such as Medina County Steak Tartare with serrano vinaigrette, shallots, chives, redneck cheddar and fried saltines, Bellaire Campechana with crab, shrimp, red onion, avocado and spiced tomatillo and Market Veg with Mole. Mains include Wagyu Chicken Fried Steak, Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Quail and Shrimp and Grits Diablo. Read more about the opening, decor and menu from Houston Food Finder’s Ellie Sharp.
The beverage program features roughly 60 wines with ties to Texas such as C.L. Butaud in the High Plains and Alta Marfa in the Davis Mountains, while cocktails include familiar sips like Ranch Water and Palomas, in addition to a rotating Fancy Seasonal Cocktails menu highlighting market sourced ingredients.
Wild Oats is located at the Houston Farmers Market, 2520 Airline Drive. It is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. Weekend brunch is still to come.