The Hit List of New Houston Restaurants to Visit for March 2022

chili shots at Wild Oats

With spring just around the corner, Houston’s dining scene is ramping up for one of its busiest yet. (Speaking of spring, be sure to check our recommendations for Houston’s best restaurant patios to enjoy it on.) As Houstonians are getting back into the swing of the “new normal”, the city’s most recent openings bring a plethora of options, including the newest Underbelly Hospitality restaurant, a new home for an old favorite and a highly anticipated Heights location of an Austin restaurant.

breakfast baguette at Le Cafe Josephine
The wholly satisfying Breakfast Baguette at Le Café Joséphine, with eggs, beef bacon, avocado and shallot cream cheese. The sandwich is also available with smoked salmon. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

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.

Brisket French Dip at the Daily Gather
Brisket French Dip at the Daily Gather. Photo by Kimberly Park.

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.

Kenny & Ziggy mishmosh soup
Kenny & Ziggy’s mishmosh soup with golden noodles and a big matzo ball is downright healing. Photo by Phaedra Cook.

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. The restaurant’s delving into the new-to-them arena of cocktails, with varying degrees of success, but The Spritzer Bar is a nice addition as a casual area for dropping in and hanging out for a while. A few drinks to try include 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.

The classic dishes are just as good as they’ve always been, including 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) and comforting soups, such as the Mishmosh with both golden noodles and a big matzo ball. As was the case with the previous location, there’s also a full-sized deli offering dips, sliced meat to go and much more. The forthcoming K&Z Cakeworks will offer Houstonians plenty of one-of-a-kind desserts to go, too.

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. Watch for a forthcoming article about the new digs from Phaedra Cook.

Potato Potato starch-crusted, red snapper semen, or shirako at Kinokawa.
Potato starch-crusted, red snapper shirako (semen) at Kinokawa. Yes, really. Photo by Ryan Baker.

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.

The Loro Burger with red onion-brisket jam, muenster cheese, lettuce and chili aioli. Courtesy photo.

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, a Mango Sake Slushee just might hit the spot as the Houston weather heats up.

Saigon Hustle’s New Garden Oaks Digs. Courtesy Photo.

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 like Honey Glazed Lemongrass Salmon Roll (salmon baked and broiled in honey and lemongrass glaze, then wrapped with rice paper, vermicelli, lettuce, pickled carrots & daikon, and mint) and the Vegetarian Egg Rolls made with shredded taro, jicama, onion, peas, carrots, and glass noodles. Main courses like the 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 just in time for spring weather.

The Polpo Arrosto at Trattoria Sofia
The Polpo Arrosto at Trattoria Sofia. Photo by Kirsten Gilliam.

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 chefs counter
The chefs’ counter at UME. Photo by Phaedra Cook

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. 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

burgers and more at Underbelly Burger
Chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and, of course, burgers await at the new Underbelly Burger at the Houston Farmers Market. Photo by Julie Soefer.

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.

overhead view of multiple dishes and drinks
The Wild Oats menu includes dishes inspired by and named for iconic areas of Texas. Photo by Claudia Casbarian.

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.

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