The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants to Visit in February 2022
Looking for our latest Hit List? Check out the new one for March 2022!
As we go full-steam ahead into 2022, Houston’s dining scene is clearly back to its typical, frenetic pace of new restaurant openings. This month’s list includes a new Heights sushi spot from the owner of a different popular sushi restaurant and two new places for burgers (of which Houstonians just can’t get enough).
With spring right around the corner and a promising outlook for the year in dining, this is a great time to get out and explore fresh new destinations. Fortunately, there is no shortage of hot spots to satisfy any food lover. (For the lover in all of us, be sure to also check out our list of Houston’s most romantic restaurants to visit any time of year.)
burger-chan, 5353 West Alabama: Willet and Diane Feng have opened their first street-level burger joint, which was about two-and-a-half years in the making. burger-chan “2.0” debuted with a soft opening in January, and it replaces the former location in the underground food court at Greenway Plaza — a spot with a reputation for serving some of the best burgers in Houston but that was forced to close due to the pandemic.
With a larger kitchen, a sleek, modern dining area and covered patio, the new space offers burger enthusiasts some familiar favorites, as well as welcome additions. The expanded menu still features the classic the smash-style, two-ounce 44 Farms ground-chuck patty cooked on a flat top. It can be ordered with one, two or three patties, your choice of bun and an array of toppings from basics such as lettuce and tomato, to premium additions like cheddar, sautéed mushrooms and notable sauces such as scallion aioli and sambal mayo. New offerings include thicker, five-ounce patties made with the same 44 Farms ground chuck.
There are also non-burger options such as falafel — locally-made by Rani Francis, formerly of Oddball Eats — and a Nathan’s 100% beef frank hot dog. Rounding out the menu are a few specialty burgers and sides such as fries (French, curly or sweet potato), spring mix salad and loaded tater tots. Read more in this article from Phaedra Cook.
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 feet 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 relationship with farmers, ranchers and fisherman. 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, 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 like 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.
J-Bar-M Barbecue, 2201 Leeland: This expansive barbecue joint on Houston’s east side was named one of Houston Food Finder’s Best New Restaurants of 2021. Phaedra Cook described it as “one of the best-designed barbecue restaurants” featuring a dining room enclosed with tall windows that let in plenty of natural light and “a spacious outside seating area and a centerpiece bar built half inside the dining room and half on the patio.” The massive Moberg smokers are tended by pitmaster Willow Villarreal (formerly of the well-received Willow’s Texas BBQ food truck), who expertly slow-cooks hundreds of pounds of brisket, ribs, sausages, pork butts and turkey every day. Be sure to save room for sides like mac and cheese, red cabbage slaw and marinated tomatoes, as well as desserts. The banana pudding and Chocolate Ganache Pie are qualified home runs.
Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen Restaurant, 1743 Post Oak: This tried-and-true Houston favorite has reopened in its new location at 1743 Post Oak Boulevard. It offers roughly double the seating in the main dining area, more than 30 extra seats in the private Schmooze Room and outdoor seating on two covered patios. The interior is not the only thing that got a revamp. Cocktail lovers will enjoy The Spritzer Bar serving the classics as well as several signature drinks such as The Maven’s Old Fashioned, the Hammeredtashen Spritz, Rushashanah and the Lansky’s New York Sour. Those looking to sip on something nonalcoholic can grab a stool at the new soda fountain and coffee bar.
While the menu still focuses on the large-enough-for-sharing sandwiches like The One and Only Reuben (served with corned beef, melted Swiss, hot sauerkraut and Russian dressing, and presented open-faced New York-style upon request), the full-sized deli and forthcoming K&Z Cakeworks will offer Houstonians plenty of one of a kind to-go items.
Kenny & Ziggy’s is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Breakfast is served all day. For more information, call (713) 871-8883 or go to the website.
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. Kin has created an omakase-style tasting menu served at an intimate chef’s counter that he 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.
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 makes appearances on the menu, 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.
Maize, 14795 Memorial: This new, progressive Mexican restaurant in the Memorial area is from longtime Houston chef Mark Cox (who operated his eponymous restaurant in Montrose for 19 years), Carmelo Mauro (who owned his own namesake restaurant at this same address for 38 years) and chef-owner Fabian Saldana. Just a few years ago, Mauro went into partnership with Ben Berg, who owns B&B Butchers and several other Houston restaurants. Ultimately, Carmelo’s turned into B.B. Italia with Berg’s brother as chef and then closed. Now it’s returned to Mauro’s oversight, but the restaurant concept is now entirely different.
Utilizing his extensive experience as a chef at Hugo Ortega‘s acclaimed Oaxacan restaurant Xochi, Saldana’s first solo venture features dishes that incorporate housemade masa. The menu is broken out into sections: Crudos/Ceviches, Masa Antojitos, Ensaladas Y Sopa, Platos Fuertes and Inscectos. Oyster- and spice-lovers will enjoy the Jalapeño Ostiones: Gulf oysters with jalapeño, cilantro and lime served by the half- or full-dozen. Other standouts include the empanadas de camarón, two shrimp empanadas with cotija cheese and bright “guacasalsa”; gluten-free flautas de puerco made with pork confit carnitas, salsa verde, crema and housemade queso fresco; and ensalada de quelites with purslane, candied pistachio, oranges and onion-and-honey-pasilla pepper dressing.
The bar offers regionally focused spirits such mezcal, sotol and tequila, as well as creative takes on classics like margaritas and signature cocktails such as the El Caldero, made with Espolòn blanco tequila, pomegranate juice, La Pinta pomegranate liqueur, apricot giffard, lime juice, simple syrup, and pomegranate smoke. There is also an extensive wine list, which features a number of selections from Mexico.
Trattoria Sofia, 911 West 11th: The latest from the rapidly growing Berg Hospitality Group (B&B Butchers & Restaurant, BB Lemon, The Annie Cafe & Bar, Turner’s, NoPo) aims to transport diners to a street-side eatery in Italy. Named after the eldest daughter of Benjamin Berg (the group’s founder and CEO), and located in the former Presidio, the space has a rustic feel with décor designed by architect Issac Preminger and Sam Governale, operating partner for The Annie Cafe & Bar and Turner’s (and formerly with now-closed Emmaline).
The kitchen is overseen by executive chef L.J. Wiley (previously the chef of well-regarded but long-closed Yelapa Playa Mexicana). He and his team are whipping up appetizers such as Crostini Di Gamberi Arrabiata made with crispy shrimp, spicy tomato sauce, smoked labneh, dill and fennel pollen; and Polpo Arrosto, wood fire-roasted octopus, Sicilian tomato pesto, crispy potatoes, salsa verde, basil, parsley and lemon. They are also serving heartier fare like the Vitello Alla Milanese comprised of veal Milanese, castelfranco (a prized variety of chicory) salad and lemon. Carb lovers will find pasta dishes such as cacio e pepe and bread from master bread maker Magnus Hansson.
Berg brought in Julep owner Alba Huerta to develop cocktails with Italian twists on classics such as Modena Cup made with Pimm’s, gin, strawberry, blood orange syrup and white balsamic vinegar and the Bergamot Margarita with tequila, lime and bergamot liqueur. In addition, there is also a focused list of wines by the glass. You can read more from Houston Food Finder’s Lauren Bebeau in her “First Bite” article.
UME Sushi, 2802 White Oak: This new Japanese restaurant in the Heights from MF Sushi owner Chris Kinjo is more casual and lighthearted than the original. It’s not that it’s any less beautiful. The interior design includes ethereal lotus bloom lights hanging from the ceiling and walls lined in hinoki wood (Japanese cypress), which Kinjo says he cut and sanded himself. It’s the menu that reveals a restaurant that’s a bridge between the dead-seriousness that often goes along with the exacting execution of Japanese fare, and the congeniality of dishes that pretty much everyone knows, including miso soup, salad with ginger dressing and sushi rolls. Yes, all of those things are available, but the execution is far above restaurants that specialize in such things. (The rice, for example, is perfect — one of Kinjo’s calling cards.)
That said, it’s not as if Kinjo and the excellent team at UME have entirely eschewed the finer aspects of Japanese cuisine. The “box” rolls, or hako sushi, are petit-four-like and absolutely captivating sushi squares that are like a marriage of sushi rolls and nigiri. Speaking of nigiri, the chef’s choice is a reasonable $23 and on one recent evening included sea bream with ponzu and scallion, salmon nikiri (a thin glaze of soy, dashi, mirin and sake) with truffle aioli and black pepper and amberjack with yuzu and sea salt, just to name a few. While it doesn’t offer omakase right now, there are plenty of other delicacies to soothe the savage gourmand soul. — Phaedra Cook, editor & publisher
Underbelly Burger, 2520 Airline: James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd and his team at Underbelly Hospitality are starting 2022 on a high note at the recently opened Underbelly Burger at the Houston Farmers Market. With green and white tile and Shepherd’s collection of vintage burger memorabilia, the space is reminiscent of mid-century roadside burger stands. The signature burger has the classic two beef patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. Customers can either choose Wagyu patties from the R-C Ranch butcher shop located next door or Angus from longtime Underbelly Hospitality supplier, 44 Farms.
Other options include a crispy chicken sandwich with black pepper buttermilk dressing, Swiss cheese and pickles, the Bacon Sausage Hot Dog (featuring Chris Shepherd’s housemade Bacon Sausage) with pickled jalapeño mustard and a housemade veggie burger with avocado, lettuce and corn relish. Vegetarians can also enjoy a salad made with kale, which has been marinated for extra flavor and tenderness, candied pecans, Parmesan cheese and golden raisins. There are also fries, shakes, beer and wine. Underbelly Burger is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dine in, to-go and delivery orders are all options. Order online at the website. You can read more about these tasty burgers in Phaedra Cook’s article about the opening.
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.