The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants to Visit in May 2021
This spring, April showers bring not only May flowers but also more food, as more Houstonians are fully vaccinated and ready to get out and get eating. This edition of the Hit List still includes some favorites from last month, plus newcomers such as an East East wine bar and the Houston outpost of a New Orleans’ favorite.
Acme Oyster House – Houston, 1201 Westheimer: This New Orleans staple, which has served oysters since 1910, opened its doors this April in the former El Real Tex-Mex Café spot at 1201 Westheimer. Inside the expansive former movie theater, Houstonians can now dine on Acme favorites such as Oyster Rockefeller Soup and Boo Fries, French fries topped with roast beef gravy and cheese. Tapping into Houston’s local culinary scene, Acme worked with the folks at Bread Man Baking Company to create the bread for its famed po-boys and added new menu items just for the this location. These new dishes include the Crawfish Dip, which blends crawfish tails with cream cheese, onions, garlic, celery and Romano cheese, and assorted tacos such as the Boom Boom Tacos, made with Acme’s Boom Boom shrimp, chipotle ranch slaw and green onion. To sip alongside your oysters, Acme has an ample wine and beer list and cocktails such as the Killer Buzz made with Sugar Island rum, Hiram Walker Blue Curaçao, Sierra Mist and pineapple juice.
Degust/Diversión, 7202 Long Point: Chef Brandon Silva and bar director Steven Salazar of The Kirby Group (which owns Wooster’s Garden, Heights Bier Garten, and Holman Draft Hall) opened tasting-menu restaurant Degust and next-door cocktail bar Diversión in mid-January. Each concept is poised as a destination. Diversión offers a rotating cocktail list and Degust’s menu draws influences from Spanish, Mexican and Southern cuisines and Japanese culinary techniques. The result is quite interesting. The current menu has two options: the Green Pill for vegetarians and Purple Pill for omnivores. Both menus have recurring seasonal items (that are subject to change based on quality and availability of the ingredients) such as Meyer Lemon Nori and kohlrabi with peas and carrots. Diners can also add upgrades to their meal, including osetra caviar, bluefin tuna, fresh black truffles and foie gras. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Fegen’s, 1050 Studewood: Lance Fegen and his restaurant group, F.E.E.D. TX, have converted the former Heights location of Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar into the chef’s first eponymously named restaurant. Fegen’s is serving classic American fare that leans heavily into Southern Italian cuisine. Diners can start their meal with appetizers such as Meatballs & Fennel Sausage with tomato-veal gravy, basil, cherry pepper and salted bread and then order Linguine & Clam Sauce with a choice of red or white sauce. Sicilian-style pizza is also on the menu with familiar staples such as Margherita and signature combinations like Purple Rain with fried eggplant, fresh ricotta, tomato gravy, basil and Sicilian olive oil. Those looking for meatier fare can choose from a selection of steaks, chicken dishes or a love-it-or-hate-it classic: liver and onions. To accompany dinner, Nicole Meza, whose bar experience includes stints at Weights + Measures and Julep, has curated a cocktail list of classics such as the Sazerac and original concoctions like the Staycation with bourbon, lemon juice, passion fruit and grapefruit bitters.
Gatsby’s Prime Steakhouse, 4319 Montrose: Housed in the former Pax Americana space, Gatsby’s Prime Steakhouse’s opened its lavish doors in March. If you haven’t been yet, don’t worry this intimately focused dining experience is hitting its stride as more and more Houstonians are now going out for special occasions. The decadent menu (don’t say we didn’t warn, you dinner will be on the pricier side) features two indulgent options for deviled eggs: fried or topped with fried shrimp and bacon jam. There is also a customizable seafood towers and a bevy of steak options such as a 24-ounce Potterhouse and the 40-ounce “Tomahawk” Ribeye. Since no steakhouse is complete without sides, Gatsby’s offers up a dozen to accompany your steak, from the usual suspects such as steak fries and baked potatoes to specialties like Cream Corn Brûlée. From the bar, Gatsby’s offers over 20 wines by the glass, a large selection of wines by the bottle and housemade cocktails such as the Great Gatsby, made with Wheatley vodka, Lillet, and grapefruit juice, and the Plain James with Presidente brandy, honey, spice and ginger beer.
March, 1624 Westheimer: There’s long been one final business planned for Goodnight Hospitality’s corner of Kuester and Westheimer — and it debuted on the last day of its namesake month. After giving diners a taste of what to expect as a pop-up lounge in 2020, March finally opened alongside Rosie Cannonball and Montrose Cheese & Wine as chef/co-owner Felipe Riccio’s tasting-menu restaurant. March’s initial menu focuses on the Barbary Coast through dishes such as Tuna Ventresca and Fifth Quarter Tagine — a take on the Moroccan slow-cooked, savory stew.
Thanks to general manager/sommelier Mark Sayre‘s thoroughly developed wine cellar, there are over 11,000 bottles from which to choose. These hail from around the globe, with a focuses on small, independent producers. The cocktail program from Alex Negranza (formerly of Tongue-Cut Sparrow and Anvil Bar & Refuge) features unique, complex cocktails with deceptively simple names such artichoke, made with calvados, cinnamon, fig and orgeat, and thyme, which combines tequila with vermouth, bitters and celery.
The Nash, 1111 Rusk: This downtown restaurant located inside the old Texaco building, which as been remolded into luxury apartments, opened earlier this year. It boasts an impressive, dog-friendly outdoor space, floor-to-ceiling bar and an open kitchen centered around a wood-fired pizza oven. Chef Omar Pereney, best known locally for his work as executive chef of now-closed Peska when he was a mere 21 years old, developed The Nash’s menu as a consultant. Offering dinner and happy hour for now (with brunch and lunch slated for the coming weeks as more downtown businesses return to the new normal), standout snacks and starters include the Forbidden Eggs served crunchy, sweet and spicy with tamarind sweet chili sauce, cilantro, Thai basil, and crispy shallots, and the Korean Bacon Bao with gochujang barbecue sauce, cucumber, pickled onions, peanut, cilantro. The Cauliflower Paneer Curry entrée with peas, jasmine rice, spiced tomato gravy, garlic flatbread is definitely worth a visit.
Since every good patio needs a good custom cocktail, try the Red Book Journal made with vodka, lime, prickly pear syrup and marigold liqueur. For more details, check out Phaedra Cook’s first impressions.
Roots Wine Bar, 3107 Leland: Wine lovers have a new destination in the East End, one where they can even pour their own wine. With a rotating list of over 50 wines on tap available in one, three and five ounce pours, Roots Wine Bar aims to provides guests with an interactive, “try-before-you-buy” experience. In addition, patrons can purchase wines by the bottle for both dining in and taking home. Poised as a destination for both wine and food, Root’s kitchen, led by executive chef and general manager JD Fouché, who has cooked at Houston favorites Reef and Riel, focuses on locally sourced Gulf Coast cuisine with roughly a dozen items that regularly rotate. (Word is new dishes are coming out this month, including two new crudo dishes.) Current selections include lighter fare such as roasted beets with caraway roasted beets, whipped goat cheese, fennel and arugula topped with sunflower seeds and fried Galveston Bay oysters with cornmeal, sugarcane-crystal crema, peppadew relish and cilantro. Heartier options include Chicken Ballotine served with pea puree, turnips, oyster mushrooms and jus de viande.
Tiny Champions, 2617 McKinney: The second endeavor from chef Jason Vaughan and Sean Jensen of Nancy’s Hustle has received early buzz for its pizzas and pastas—thanks to the dough making skills of bread-and-pastry chef Julia Doran. But that’s not all the restaurant serves. In addition to the whey-brined fried chicken pictured above, the menu also offers shareables such as fried mussels with saffron and lemon aioli and Smoky Fried Mozzarella Balls with marinara. Bridget Paliwoda, formerly of Oxheart, is handling the wine, so you know you can’t go wrong there. By the way, don’t miss the housemade desserts, including sesame cake, Chocolate Angostura “Salami” and ice cream, current flavors include Malt with Hazelnut Praline and Toasted Almond. Get a free sprinkling of Maldon salt upon request or pay $2 for a luxurious topping of Pedro Ximenez sherry, toasted meringue, cold brewed coffee or something else equally divine.
YELO, 23119 Colonial Parkway, Katy: Good news: Yelo, from Phat Eatery‘s Alex Au-Yeung and Cuc Lam, who established her reputation with private dinners via ChefsFeed, doing pop-ups chef, briefly, as the driving force of the short-lived restaurant SING, is now open next door to Phat Eatery. That means its head-turning bánh mì is available every day, including the Char Siu Xiu Mai Bánh Mì that Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook cited as a favorite dish of 2020, when it was available at the short-lived Phat Kitchen ghost kitchen at Blodgett Food Hall. Other must-orders include Lam’s excellent crab rangoon and specialty drinks like the Pandan Iced Latte and freshly pressed juices such as the Green Goddess with celery, cucumber, green apple, pear and lemon.
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