The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants to Visit in December 2018
Houston’s restaurant scene had quite a year with more than 100 high-profile places opening over the past 12 months. For our final Hit List of 2018, we include some of our favorites from last month like B.B. Lemon, SING and Indianola alongside newcomers like Finn Hall downtown and the Fox Restaurant Concepts import Blanco Tacos + Tequila in The Galleria. In addition, Houstonians can enjoy innovative cocktails in EaDo at the new Miss Carousel, a bowl of Japanese noodles at Ishin Udon or a steak fix at TRIBUTE at The Houstonian. In other words, the city has your appetite covered.
Indianola, Vinny’s and Miss Carousel in EaDo, 1201 Saint Emanuel: Ryan Pera, Morgan Weber and Vincent Huynh fulfilled their ambitious goal of unveiling three spots just east of downtown almost concurrently. Indianola is named for a historic Texas port that no longer exists. Executive chef Paul Lewis oversees the culinary program that uses influences from all over the world, resulting in standout menu items such as Hoja Santa Goat Cheese with Persian cucumbers, radish, toasted rice, and chili agua fresca; Panzanella salad with charred sourdough, French feta, cucumber, tomato, olives, endive and bacon vinaigrette; and larger plates like the Ricotta Gnudi with blistered tomatoes, mushrooms, vegetable brodo and breadcrumbs. Indianola’s sourdough is made in-house, so the bread service to start is worth the few bucks. There is also a whopper of a steak: the 60-ounce Strube Ranch bone-in Wagyu ribeye. Finally, Indianola’s beverage director, Marie-Louise Friedland (formerly of State Bird Provisions and The Progress), curated a wine list that examines how certain varietals traveled to North America.
Miss Carousel sports over 5,000-square-feet of cocktail bar space lushly decorated with accents of wood and metal. The best feature might be the ample number of comfy leather couches and chairs that are going to tempt guests to linger over the wide array of cocktails, beer and wine. On the drink menu, cocktails are divided into familiar categories like sours, Collins, and highballs as well as new categories like the “refreshing, bitter Italian” and “spiritous, bitter Italian”. Some of the standouts include the Red Eye To San Cristobal made with Oaxacan rum, apertif, vermouth, amaro, black garlic and grapefruit oil and the Jimmy Rig made with Pan Pacho 8 year, Bardstown 90, pineapple-tarragon syrup, lime juice and Topo Chico. A light food menu features items like crispy duck wings, marinated olives and, for those looking for heartier fare, Texas Wagyu Burger and chicken and shrimp meatballs.
B.B. Lemon, 1809 Washington Avenue: This new, casual restaurant from Benjamin Berg is across the street from B&B Butchers. While the shotgun space is much smaller than Berg’s steakhouse, B.B. Lemon has its own a‑peel. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) The beautifully remodeled space that used to be Caddy Shack bar is now a bustling Irish pub in the front with a quieter back room outfitted with green leather booths that evoke a modest Irish steakhouse. Recently promoted sous chef, Emily Trusler (formerly chef de cuisine at Emmaline) now helms the kitchen. In addition to raw bar seafood selections like oysters on the half shell and shrimp cocktail, there are soups and salads, burgers and sandwiches plus hearty entrées and a large menu of classic desserts. It’s indeed worthy of the steakhouse pedigree. Can’t-miss comfort bar food includes French onion soup, Hog “Wings”, the BLT and a decadent lobster roll. On the beverage side, Berg has tapped Monique Cioffi-Hernandez to direct the worthy cocktail program accompanied by a rotating beer and wine selection.
Bisou Restaurant, 4444 Westheimer: Bisou Restaurant opened at the end of October in the glitzy River Oaks District. The sleekly designed, 5,000 square foot space allows diners to enjoy both a fine dining experience and a little night life, which makes sense given that Bisou is owned by Clé Group which also operates nightclubs Spire and Clé. Frédéric Perrier, a Maîtres Cuisiniers de France (Master Chef of France), designed the continental menu which includes highlights like Yellowtail sashimi with foie gras, marinated tuna, and duck with couscous. Other seafood selections include halibut with scallops and crab cake with shrimp in creamy lobster sauce. Steak fans can order the Tomahawk Ribeye which comes in both a single- and double-size with all the trimmings. The cocktail menu includes offerings like the vodka-based Marilyn Monroe and the whiskey-based Room Key, along with bottle service ranging from $300 for Grey Goose all the way up to a $1000 for a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label.
Blanco Tacos + Tequila, 5115 Westheimer: Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts, which initially entered the Houston market with North and True Food Kitchen, (one of which it no longer owns and the other is being divested) is opening another restaurant: Blanco Tacos + Tequila. Like its predecessors, it is in the Galleria District. Unlike its predecessors, the focus is on upscale Tex-Mex. The dishes include like Snake River Wagyu Carne Asada Tacos with charred scallion relish, crushed avocado and spicy garlic butter and short rib with caramelized peppers, onions and cilantro topped with sour cream and cotija cheese. There are also grilled fish tacos and grilled avocado tacos for diners seeking lighter options. Snacks include Hamachi & Watermelon Ceviche, grilled Mexican street corn and guacamole made with roasted poblano chiles, Anaheim chiles, caramelized onion and cotija cheese. The bar menu consists of craft cocktails, Mexican beers and local craft brews along with over 45 tequilas and mezcals. The cocktails are indeed quite good; try the Blackberry Clementine margarita made with white tequila and hibiscus sea salt. As far as the food — it’s very good but upscale Tex-Mex was tried in that area before. It remains to be seen if Blanco is going to succeed where Añejo did not.
Coterie HTX, 737 Preston: This recently opened all-day café from Sean Marshall of Southside Espresso and Charles “Chaz” Lusk is serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner in downtown. Chris Welsley (formerly of Eatsie Boys, Better Luck Tomorrow and Oxheart) is in charge of the farm-to-table cafe that is poised to be a destination for both early and late risers thanks to a drink list of “coffee, wine, cocktails and everything in between”. Breakfast is served daily until 3 p.m. and features offerings like the (Hey Now!) You’re an ALL-STAR Plate with two eggs any way, daily-ground pork sausage, fried hash and toast with Satsuma jam and the Eggs Benny, Coterie’s take on eggs Benedict. All of the pastries are made in-house and include delights such as sweet and savory scones, kolaches and cinnamon rolls. The rest of the still-developing daily menu includes honey butter fried chicken, housemade pasta and brick oven pizzas like Cacio e Pepeand mushroom. Coffee service is available from open to close and there is also a selection of Be Very Kind wines by the glass and bottle, over a dozen beers and a cocktail program by Michelle Dinh (formerly of Greenway Coffee and Dish Society). The drink list includes familiar classics like the Coterie Manhattan alongside new recipes like Sweater Weather with rye whiskey, honey and bitters.
Finn Hall, 712 Main: Downtown’s newest food hall opened in the JP Morgan Chase & Co. building and is home to 10 independently operated dining establishments serving an eclectic range of Texas and global fare and complemented by two full bars. Local favorites Dish Society, Mala Sichuan, Goode Co. Taqueria, Craft Burger and Amaya Coffee all have counters along with Oddball Eats, Korean-inspired Yong, and Vietnamese Sit Lo. Find Gulf coast seafood at Low Tide (from Alli Jarrett, the owner of Harold’s Restaurant & Tap Room) and pizzas from Mr. Nice Pie. The hall’s primary bar St. Jac’s on the ground floor serves specialty cocktails and wines on tap while the upstairs lounge Swallow’s Nest is an intimate hideaway with a great view of the goings-on below. Finn Hall is open Mondays through Thursdays from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fridays from 7 a.m. to midnight, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to midnight and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Jack and Ginger’s, 2416 Brazos: The Houston location of the Austin-based Irish pub Jack & Ginger’s opened in Midtown around the end of November. There are more than 70 beers on tap, over 50 whiskeys and a cocktail menu with selections like the Violet Crown made with Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain, lavender and rosemary. The pub serves food, too, including traditional Irish fare like shepherd’s pie and Guinness beer-battered fish and chips alongside standard American bar grub like potato skins and chicken wings. Jack & Ginger’s also offers a daily full English Breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, potatoes, beans and toast.
Ishin Udon, 9630 Clarewood: Restaurateur Mike Tran continues his takeover of the plaza on Clarewood with his latest venture, Ishin Udon. Located next to Tran’s Ohn Korean Eatery, Blkdog Coffee, Mein and Night Market, this Japanese udon spot opened in early December. On the menu are traditional udon bowls and the standouts include Niku Tana Ankake, a thick, egg-based soup with sliced beef and scallions; and the very spicy Tan Tan Udon with Szechuan-style minced pork. Interestingly, there are also untraditional, Italian-inspired noodle dishes such as crab meat truffle cream udon and carbonara udon. Ishin also offers a selection of curry rice and udon selections like the brisket curry rice and the creamy curry udon with bacon, onion, mushroom, potato cream and cracked pepper. Those looking for a little more to eat with their noodles can choose from two dozen extras and appetizers such as the pumpkin tempura or Takowasa (marinated raw octopus, sesame and roasted seaweed). While there are currently no alcoholic beverages, local craft beer from Saint Arnold, 8th Wonder and Karbach —as well as regional beers like Kirin Ichiban and Asahi and a selection of cold and hot sake — are supposed to be coming soon.
Jonathon’s The Rub at Memorial Green,12505 Memorial: For the dishes at his new location, owner and chef Jonathan Levine was inspired by travels to Oaxaca and Mexico City. While some of the food, such as the chicken mole poblano, reveal those Pan-Latin influences, there are also customer favorites from the original location on Gaylord. New menu items include the Denver Steak and redfish on the half shell. There is even a dry-aged meat and steak program. Really, just about anyone should be able to find a favorite on the appealing, unpretentious menu. While the original will remain B.Y.O.B., the new location offers a full beverage program instead. Guests can look forward to excellent selections from Shepard Ross’s wine list or bartender Linda Salinas’ cocktail list. (Ross is known for his work at Pax Americana and several other Houston restaurants while Salinas’ experience includes developing cocktail programs for Hungry’s in Rice Village and La Grange.) The latter includes the shareable Pimm’s Cup, the gin-based Greenback and the rye-based 38 Special.
Shun Japanese Kitchen, 2802 South Shepherd: Chef and owner Naoki Yoshida (whose family operated the popular Nippon Restaurant in Montrose) and executive chef Nick Hill (of now-closed Triniti and the original Beaver’s), opened Shun Japanese Kitchen in October. The menu emphasizes Japanese-inspired dishes made with sustainable produce and locally sourced ingredients. As reported by Carlos Brandon, “Yoshida follows the traditional Japanese style of preparing rolls and hand-pressed nigiri behind the counter in view of guests. He forms the delicate cuts of fish around mouthfuls of soft, warm rice one bite at a time.” Intriguing dishes include small plates like Tako Dogs made with octopus sausage, Wagyu steak and kobocha purée and Yuzu Ceviche that features salmon, octopus, cilantro and wasabi foam. Heavy-hitters from the sushi bar include the sugar-crusted fatty tuna Toro Brulee and the Sashimi Warrior, which is a build-your-own sushi platter. Shun is B.Y.O.B until November 23 when beverage consultant Aki Hagio (Bad News Bar) will launch the cocktail program with an all-day Black Friday happy hour.
SING, 718 West 18 Street: SING brings a much-needed stop for great, authentic Asian fare to the Heights. It is a collaboration between cook and former Houston Press restaurant critic Cuc Lam (previously also of several pop-up meals around town) and Jerry Lasco of Lasco Enterprises (Max’s Wine Dive, Tasting Room). The menu reflects Singapore’s melting pot of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and Malaysian cuisines. The dishes include soups and light bites such as Prawn Crackers (flash-fried shrimp puffs); appetizers such as Lemongrass Pepper Riblets (marinated pork with lemongrass, chili and garlic); and wok-fired noodle dishes like Laksa, a Malay curry noodle soup with chicken, and Curry Noodz, sweet potato noodles with chicken, shrimp, carrots, bell peppers and onions. There is also a selection of rice & stir-fried dishes. To drink, there are wines by the glass, local craft and Asian brews plus some unique jelly sake, which has a texture kind of like boba tea.
TRIBUTE at The Houstonian, 111 North Post Oak Lane: The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa unveiled its new restaurant, TRIBUTE, on October 26. Longtime Houston chef Neal Cox, who earned his experience at Pappas Bros Steakhouse, Trevisio and Américas, has developed a Texas-centric menu that is also influenced by near neighbors Louisiana and Mexico. He’s calling it Tex-Lex cuisine and that idea takes shape in the form of fresh Gulf Coast oysters cooked on a wood-burning grill, redfish on the half shell, braised cabrito, smoked Wagyu beef ribs and rib eye steaks. To accompany the fare, sommelier Vanessa Trevino-Boyd (formerly known for her work at Philippe and the Houston Country Club) curated a beverage program intended to appease a variety of palates, drawing “inspiration from Houston itself with a little something for everyone, from new trends to the tried and true.” The program includes Bordeaux Crus Bourgeois wines and there are also cocktails that make good use of a collection of 25 rye whiskeys.
See you next year!
About the author: Beth Levine writes about food, drinks, lifestyle and travel for local and national publications including My Red Glasses, Houstonia, Local Houston Magazine, Charlotte’s Book and Houston Food Finder. An executive assistant by day and freelance writer by night, Beth is originally from both New Jersey and California, but currently calls Houston home. You can follow her on IG @Yogaspots.