The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants to Visit in October 2021
Fall 2021 arrived in Houston with a round of blissful cool fronts, and you know what that means: it’s time to go out and get some fresh air. Need a destination? As always, there are plenty of new restaurants in Houston to try. Whether you are in the mood to sample additions from well known establishments such as Hugo Ortega’s latest Galleria eatery, or venture to CityCentre to take part in a tasting menu at a 20-seat restaurant, there are plenty of options.
Concura, 4340 Westheimer: In the works for almost a decade, this coastal Italian spot from fashion and design consultant Jessica Biondi is now open. Bondi, a native of Fano in the Marche region of Italy, tapped chef and fellow countryman Angelo Cuppone to helm the kitchen. (He’s spent the past few years satisfying Houstonian’s cravings for authentic Italian food at Roma in Rice Village.) Concura offers a cozy aesthetic and features a rotating menu of small and large plates. The current offering features starters such as Foie Gras Di Baccala with cod liver foie gras and squid ink Easter bread, and mains like Gnocchi Zafferano E Gamberi with housemade gnocchi, saffron and shrimp. Concura also has a focused wine list with over a dozen wines by the glass along with a variety of bottled wines from across the globe.
Feges BBQ Spring Branch, 8217 Long Point: The first of two Spring Branch entries on this month’s list, this family-friendly eatery is the second outpost from chefs and owners Patrick Feges and Erin Smith. The couple’s original location in The Hub at Greenway Plaza quickly became a Houston favorite with the one-two punch of Feges’s smoked meats and Smith’s one-of-a-kind sides such as Moroccan Spiced Carrots and Elote Corn Salad.
The Spring Branch location offers a larger kitchen and dining room, giving the the couple a chance to expand the menu with mains like Southern Fried Chicken, served with charred slaw, buttermilk biscuit, gochujang BBQ sauce and Alabama white sauce, and Porcini Crusted Hanger Steak with roasted cauliflower and romesco sauce. Of course, diners will also find an array of expertly smoked meats, including the Texas trinity: brisket, pork ribs and sausage. There is also a large selection of sides, several that were introduced at the first location and a few new ones such as Spicy Korean Braised Greens and Hog Fat Cornbread. The new space also offers diners the chance to sip adult beverages with their barbecue, with the addition of wine, beer and a frozen margarita. For more details, check out David Leftwich’s First Bite article.
Georgia James Tavern, 737 Preston: Located on the first floor of downtown’s Market Square Tower in the former Coterie space, this casual outpost is the newest restaurant from Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly Hospitality. With a menu and decor inspired by Shepherd’s acclaimed steakhouse Georgia James, the new location has some Underbelly veterans at the helm. Former Georgia James sous chef Matthew “Tally” Coburn is the chef de cuisine, while Matthew Pridgen is wine director and Westin Galleymore is overseeing the bar.
Tavern-goers can indulge in steaks such as a Cast Iron Seared Wagyu Ribeye served with potato hash, crispy tobacco onions and G1 sauce and small plates like Viet-Cajun Confit Chicken Wings with candied peanuts. A good casual joint needs sandwiches, and this well-appointed eatery doesn’t disappoint. There are currently four on the menu, including Tally’s Cuban made with mojo roasted pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, yucca fritta and island sauce.
As one would expect from a tavern helmed by this esteemed team, the beverage list is extensive. There are over a dozen wines by the glass and over 65 by the bottle. Creatively named signature cocktails include the Tortoise + The Hare, made with a blend of rums, lime, green tea, mint and housemade bitters, and the Two Who Flew made with dry gin, Basil Eau de Vie, lemon, blanc vermouth, raspberry, Peychaud’s and egg whites.
Gratify Neighborhood Bistro, 5212 Morningside: From Clark Cooper Concepts comes Gratify Neighborhood Bistro, which is housed inside the former Punk’s Simple Southern Food spot in Rice Village. Currently open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays (lunch is in the works), Gratify’s menu is comprised of posh fare such as Lobster and Crab Mac n’ Cheese made with gruyère, gouda, manchego, garlic butter and the Taglierini and Truffles, which Houston Food Finder’s Sandra Crittenden tried on her recent visit and indeed found gratifying.
From the extensive raw bar, diners can go decadent with choices like the Plateau de Fruits de Mer (in both grand and “gratify” sizes) or keep things on the lighter side with dishes like the Yellowfin Crudo with capers, onion and lemon olive oil.
Gratify’s wine list offers a good range of bottles and selections by the glass. There are also classic cocktails like the Negroni and the Manhattan and, on the Traveler’s List, drinks inspired by bars from around the country, such as The Good, the Bad and the Hombre from the legendary Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, made with Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Montenegro amaro and fresh squeezed lemon.
JOEY Uptown, 504 Westheimer: This new restaurant is from the Vancouver-based team behind JOEY Restaurant Group. JOEY transformed the former Yauatcha “jewel box” space at the Galleria into a tropical retreat with plenty of green space (including a living green ceiling), walls adorned with artwork from Texas based Jon Flaming, and a retractable roof.
Executive chef Chris Mills and executive director (and a Top Chef Canada winner) Matthew Stowe developed an array of dishes aimed at having a little something for everyone. Under the “Smalls + Sharing” section, dinners will find dishes such as Roasted Corn Guacamole and Korean-Fried Cauliflower made with sweet and spicy Korean chili miso paste and toasted sesame seeds. Those looking for heartier fare can choose from mains like Cajun Blackened Chicken served with warm potato and bacon salad, creamy coleslaw and the Sake-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass served with wok-fired vegetables, gold potatoes and dashi broth.
The wine list features over 20 by the glass, while those in the mood for a cocktail can try one of the signature cocktails such as the JOEY Manhattan made with Maker’s Mark.
Mahesh’s Kitchen, 6019 City Walk, Sugar Land: Fort Bend County gets a spot on this month’s Hit List with the opening of Mahesh’s Kitchen. Currently serving lunch and dinner, this upscale Indian restaurant is serious about their spice, reportedly receiving over 300 pounds every month directly from India. Newcomers Neelesh and Shubhangi Musale dedicated this sophisticated space and menu to Shubhangi’s late brother Mahesh, who passed away before realizing his dream of attending culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Diners can choose from an ample selection of appetizers such as traditional samosa (which come two to an order) and pani puri, spiced green peas potato, mint, sweet and spicy chutney. Entrées include murgh makhani (aka butter chicken), made with fresh tomatoes, free range chicken, butter, garam masala, and cashew nuts and Goan Sear Halibut made with coconut, chili, cashew nut, curry leaf, and malabar sauce. Mahesh’s also features a full bar, cocktails, and a wine list featuring a selection of organic options. For more, read about Houston Food Finder’s Sandra Crittenden recent visit.
Shoot the Moon, 8155 Long Point: The second Spring Branch debut on this list is the new self-service bar and gastropub concept, Shoot The Moon. This is the first venture from STM Hospitality, which is comprised of Kevin Floyd and chef Dax McAnear, both formerly of The Hay Merchant and 1100 Restaurant Group (which also owned Underbelly) and Cecil’s Pub owner Jonas Herd.
So how exactly does a self-serve gastropub work? Guests receive a special card that adds to their tab each time they pour themselves a drink from a tap wall that features over 75 beverages: craft beers, wine, spirits and four batched cocktails, such as a boozy Old Fashioned and a Oaxacan Viejo, a margarita with mezcal and jalapeño simple syrup.
McAnear’s food menu is focused, offering pizzas, small plates, salads and entrées. The appetizers include classics you’d expect to find at a modern pub: housemade hummus, waffle fries, chicken wings and fried calamari. However, McAnear is also cooking up more creative fare such as fried cheese curds and Pimento Cheese-Stuffed Mushrooms. Other innovative offerings include Deep Dark Mushroom Pizza, with raclette, a blend of roasted mushrooms, arugula and both red and white sauces, and Grains & Things, a salad that blends farro, wild rice, arugula, feta, cherry tomato, radish, avocado, jicama, cucumber, apricots and carrots with dukkah, a lemon-apricot dressing and tahini drizzle. For more details, read about Ryan Kasey Baker’s recent visit.
ReikiNa, 799 Town & Country: Recently opened above Urban Outfitters at CityCentre, this intimate tasting menu restaurant has seating at one large table for only 20 diners. Chef Thomas Stacy, formerly of Uchi, built the 11-foot communal table himself from 200-year-old white oak barn siding. Guests at ReikiNa are served an eight-course tasting menu (that changes roughly every 6 weeks).
Joining chef Stacy is pastry chef Carla Briseño and chef de cuisine Jacob Larimore, both alumni of Spanish restaurants MAD and BCN Taste & Tradition. The current tasting menu offers selections such as Bluefin Akami Tartare made with passionfruit, ginger and beet tartare with goat cheese, and Pig Head Torchon made with pickle-berry jam, cornbread and miso carrots. Reservations can be booked via Resy, and the cost is roughly $150 per person.
Those looking to sample ReikiNa with less commitment can visit the new, in-house café Thursday through Saturdays from 4:30 through 10:30 p.m. Reservations are not required, and guests can order sashimi, charcuterie or a Wagyu burger served with koji pickles, Boston lettuce, miso jam, lemon aioli and white cheddar.
Soto, 224 Westheimer: Housed in the former Bistecca spot, this Austin-based sushi restaurant recently finished its soft opening. The ample, contemporary-style space includes a dining room, sushi bar and private dining area. Soto’s menu, developed by executive chef Yoshi Katsuyama (formerly of Uchi Houston), is focused on nigiri and sashimi such as Red Sea Bream with lemon oil, shio kombu, shiso and yuzu zest, and Ora King Salmon with moromi miso, garlic scallion oil and lemon zest. There is also an ample selection of of hot and cold appetizers like Wagyu Gyoza and Smoked Tuna Tataki.
For those who want to get the full chef’s experience, there are two levels of omakase (regular and premium at $150 or $250 per person respectively). In addition to the regular menu, diners can also choose from the Japan Express, happy hour, takeout and vegetarian menus. The drink list includes a solid selection of sake and Japanese whiskey.
URBE, 1101 Uptown Park: Chef Hugo Ortega and restaurateur Tracy Vaught’s newest eatery recently opened in the Galleria area. It finally gives Houstonians a chance to visit an Ortega restaurant dedicated to his love of causal Mexican street fare. Housed inside the former Café Express, the location is unique to the H Town Group because it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as frozen and non-frozen drinks created by beverage director Sean Beck. URBE serves breakfast Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Diners can choose from smaller items, such as breakfast tacos, as well as more substantial dishes, like pambazo torta or Chilaquiles Gordos.
Lunch options, also served Tuesday through Friday, include the blue corn tortilla quesadilla made with squash blossom, squash, corn, quesillo and mole Amarillo, and assorted tacos (three per order with corn tortillas) such as tacos al pastor (trompo pork in achiote with charred pineapple, onion, cilantro and habanero salsa) and tacos de birria (braised beef in adobo consommé with and quesillo).
The dinner menu, served Tuesday through Saturday features many of the lunch menu favorites along with a few larger mains. Brunch is also served Saturdays and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. respectively. Read more about URBE in Ryan Kasey Baker’s “First Bite” article.
Winnie’s, 3622 Main: Housed inside the former Natachee Supper & Punch space (which closed during the pandemic) Winnie’s (named for nearby Winbern street) gives former Bernadine’s alumni — Graham Laborde, Benjy Mason and Chris Roy — a chance to turn their Peacemaker po-boys pop-ups into a full-time gig.
In addition to po-boys, the new menu features snacks such as Pimento Queso served with housemade tortilla chips and fried pickled okra served with reaper remoulade, and salads, including the Muffaletta Chopped Salad.
Garrett Jones, formerly of Johnny’s Gold Brick, and Tina Marie Brackett, formerly of ‘93 Til and The Sugar Room, created a cocktail list that includes classics, frozen drinks, and cocktails on tap. A few of the creative libations include H-Town Irish Coffee, a frozen riff on Irish and iced Vietnamese coffees inspired by the Erin Rose in New Orleans, and Ranch Claw, a ranch-water-meets-White Claw creation that employs tequila and grapefruit. Day-drinkers might be thrilled to hear that all house cocktails are a mere $5 until 5 p.m. daily.