The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants to Visit in January 2022
The new year brings new challenges and new opportunities. It also brings new restaurants for Houstonians to enjoy, whether you’re dining in or taking out. Recent additions offer a variety of options, from casual burger joints to a high-end, omakase-style chef’s counter.
To help our readers navigate the Bayou City’s ever-evolving culinary scene, here is our first Hit List of 2022. Enjoy!
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 earlier this month, 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 buns 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, that are cooked on the grill.
There are also non-burger options such as falafel — which are locally-made by Rani Francis, formerly of Oddball Eats — and a hot dog with a Nathan’s 100% beef frank. There are are also a few specialty burgers and sides such as fries (French, curly or sweet potato), spring mix salad and loaded tater tots. Houston Food Finder’s Phaedra Cook has more details; click for the full article.
Chivos, 222 West 11th: This modern Mexican restaurant from Night Moves Hospitality, which also operates Space Cowboy and Trash Panda Drinking Club, is bringing delights both simple and complex to the Heights and was recently named one of Houston Food Finder’s Best New Restaurants of 2021. Chef Thomas Bille is helming the kitchen, after garnering attention for his prior restaurant, Belly of the Beast in Spring. Diners can expect creative dishes such as Pozole Dumplings served with pork broth, almond salsa macha (a salsa made with fried nuts or seeds, dried chiles and chile oil), Napa cabbage and thinly shaved radish; the simple but elegant handmade flour tortillas with truffle butter and salmon roe spread; and shrimp aquachile. Behind the bar, Leesly Valdez (formerly of Monkey’s Tail, Calle Onze and Space Cowboy) is mixing up cocktails that showcase under-appreciated Mexican liqueurs and spirits. Try the D.F., a riff on the Manhattan with Mexican whiskey and tamarind bitters, or the West Tejas made with tequila and Nixta Licor de Elote, a corn liqueur from Jilotepec. For more on this eatery, check out Phaedra Cook’s “First Bite.”
Clique Bistro, 120 Westheimer: From the team behind EaDo’s recently opened J-Bar-M Barbecue comes a cozy spot with a dog-friendly patio in Montrose. The menu by chef Justin Santellana features a selection of bar bites such as Clique Korean Sliders (three to an order) made with kimchi, gochujang mayonnaise, pickled daikon, and Asian slaw, and Braised Pork Empanadas with manchego cheese, lime crema, pickled red bell peppers and cilantro sauce. Vegetarians can try Tofu Fried Egg Rolls with marinated tofu, chiffonade cabbage, and pickled carrots, which are served with sweet and sour sauce. In addition, there are a few entrées such as Broiled Miso Salmon with basmati rice, garden peas, carrots, red bell pepper, black sesame seeds and coriander leaves.
The bar program is a collaboration between Christophe Paul (Cafe Rabelais and Bistro 555), Eric Boyd (of The Boyd’s Bar) and Coretta Wintz (from Houston staple The Richmond Arms Pub). It features a seasonal selection (the current offerings are part of the Winter Signature Cocktails list) that includes the Whiskey Fig Cobbler made with Jim Beam, simple syrup, lemon juice and ginger beer and the Sleigh Ride made with Maker’s Mark, orgeat, Cointreau, lime juice and Canton ginger. The wine list, which Paul helped develop, is broken out into easily navigated, taste-oriented groups like Various Zesty & Somewhat Spicy Reds and Esoteric Whites.
d’Alba Craft Kitchen & Cocktails, 3715 Alba: Industry veterans Daut Elshani (of Underground Hall, Beer Market Co.), chef Geoff Hundt (Local Foods and Benjy’s), chef Mike Hartley (Brasserie 19) and bar manager Kehlen Selph (formerly of Anvil Bar & Refuge) joined forces this year to bring this neighborhood restaurant to Garden Oaks. The menu features shareables such as Alba Balloon Bread made with pesto, garlic and truffle honey and Chile and Lime Roasted Cauliflower. There are also larger plates like Gulf fish served with roasted sunchokes, English peas, bell peppers, cilantro and grilled corn chutney and the Falcon Lakes Burger served on a brioche bun with Fontina, aioli, arugula, house pickles and bruléed onions.
d’Alba also features a selection of rotating housemade pastas such as campanelle tossed with basil pesto, Parmesan, English peas, cherry tomatoes, basil and summer squash and wood-fired pizzas that emphasize meatless options like wild mushroom and sweet potato with béchamel, cacio e pepe, truffled arugula and lemon zest.
Cocktail enthusiasts can peruse a menu organized by spirits. There are takes on classics such as the upDated Old Fashioned made with Forester 100 infused with dates and roasted pumpkin seeds and the Callabria Collins made with Citadelle gin infused with lemongrass and lemon. In addition, there is an extensive wine list for by-the-glass and bottle options.
Daily Gather, 800 Sorella Court: From Five 12 Restaurant Concepts, the hospitality group behind Dish Society, comes Daily Gather located in CITYCENTRE. The new restaurant features 6,000 square feet, 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 Alice Blue, Clark Cooper Concepts) puts an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, leveraging the restaurant group’s relationship with farmers, ranchers and fisherman. Current lunch and dinner starters 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 like 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, such as 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, as well as entrées such as 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.
Idle Hands, 910 Westheimer: From Austin-based hospitality group Midas Willum Holdings (Idle Hands Austin, Found Texas, Taster’s Table Club and Eat. Drink. Texas) comes the Caribbean-influenced Idle Hands. Housed in the mixed-use project Montrose Collective, the space includes a downstairs bar and patio, an upstairs indoor bar and lounge area, and rooftop patio seating. The Cuban and Colombian bar offers snackable selections, such as guacamole with plantain chips and street corn made with roasted garlic butter, cotija cheese, crème fraîche and cilantro and mini chicken empanadas. Hungrier guests can order the Cubano sandwich or the Lover Boy Burger made with a beef and chorizo patty, guacamole, pickled red onions, candied jalapeños, a Mexican cheese blend and roasted-poblano aioli. Both sandwiches come with fries.
The bar offers wine, beer, seltzers and ciders, as well as specialty cocktails and frozen drinks like the Blue Hawaii made with Deep Eddy Vodka, Rumhaven coconut rum, blue curacao, pineapple and lemon and the Old Rosser made with Misunderstood Ginger whiskey, sweet tea and peaches.
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 the desserts such as two sweet home runs: banana pudding and Chocolate Ganache Pie.
Kinokawa, 3119 White Oak: Billy Kin, previously chef at Blackbird Izakaya and Hidden Omakase, has recently opened the first of his two concepts in the former Golden Bagel location. Kin has teamed up with another well-known Houston chef, Brandon Silva (opening chef of Degust), to create an omakase-style tasting menu served at an intimate chef’s counter, partly designed and built by Kin 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. Houston Food Finder’s Ryan Baker was invited to join for one of these “freestyle” dinners featuring highlights such ceviche made of pasta neck clams and Uni Carbonara. You can read more about the dining experience at Kinokawa in Ryan Kasey Baker’s “First Bite” article.
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.
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) and 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.
Toro Toro, 1300 Lamar: Chef Richard Sandoval recently opened the sixth location of his pan-Latin steakhouse inside the Four Seasons Houston. It’s actually his second concept inside the downtown hotel; the first being bourbon-focused Bayou & Bottle. Both are part of a phased hotel renovation project that’s spanned the past five years.
Sandoval’s menu emphasizes churrasco-style steaks, exotic game and seafood, with dishes such as the enormous 52-ounce Mezcal-Flambéed Prime Tomahawk and South Texas Antelope Tenderloin from Texas’ Broken Arrow Ranch. There is also Grilled Spanish Octopus and raw fish dishes such as Peruvian Ceviche: hamachi with leche de tigre, sweet potato, red onion and canchas (toasted corn).
Accompanying the hearty fare is an extensive wine list featuring several Latin American-based wineries in addition to cocktails like the Mercado Margarita with jalapeño-infused tequila, hibiscus, passionfruit purée and hibiscus-rosemary foam, and the Negroni Norte with mezcal, Campari and Carpano Antica vermouth. For more, read Lauren Bebeau’s article on the opening of Toro Toro.
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.
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.
Zalat Pizza, 510 Gray: Yes, we know this is a Dallas-Fort Worth based chain, but its first Houston location is offering tasty (and quirky) pizzas that might excite the palates of even the most diehard Cowboys haters. Plus, Zalat’s founder, Khanh Nguyen, grew up in the Bayou City and graduated from the University of Houston. He hopes his hometown’s food-savvy residents will embrace the brand. All of the pizzas are made from scratch (yes, even the dough) with ingredients like all-beef pepperoni and oven-roasted Roma tomatoes. Specialty combinations include Nashville Hot Chicken and Pickles, Pho Shizzle, Elote, Loaded Notato and Pineapple Express. As Houston Food Finder’s Phaedra Cook reported, Nguyen is so intent on promoting the quality of Zalat’s pizzas that staff members are called “Zealots” and a sign with the definition of the word “zealot” hangs in every store. With this kind of dedication and being open on Friday and Saturday until 4 a.m., Houston just might have a new go-to pizza spot.