The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants to Visit in June 2019
Summer is here and with the rising heat comes many new choices for dining out in Houston. Seafood lovers are in luck with the opening of Loch Bar and Ouzo Bay in the River Oaks District and fajita aficionados can enjoy a sizzling plate at The Original Ninfa’s new uptown location.
1751 Sea and Bar, 191 Heights: Sambrooks Management Company, the new restaurant group formed by Michael Sambrooks of the popular barbecue joint The Pit Room, has transformed Star Fish in the Heights into 1751 Sea and Bar. Culinary director Lyle Bento and head chef J. D. Woodward developed a seafood menu that includes Gulf oysters, New Zealand rainbow clams and uni from the raw bar and the 1751 Charcuterie Board. Rather than traditional meat options, the board features salmon gravlax, cured tuna, scallop conserva, pistou mussels, smoked oysters, and boquerones. From the small plates, the Crawfish Soufflé and Char Siu Pork Belly are must-haves but save room for entrées such as the Crispy Snapper and the Tom Yum Hot Pot with lobster, langoustines, rock shrimp, New Zealand clams, mussels and scallops. The gin-focused cocktail program includes sip-worthy standouts such as Gin Lane, a cocktail centered around rhubarb-infused Sipsmith gin, and the Storm’s End, which features apricot-infused ROXOR, a gin developed by Houston chef Robert Del Grande.
B.B. Italia, 14795 Memorial Drive: The latest restaurant from Berg Hospitality Group (the team behind B&B Butchers & Restaurant and B.B. Lemon) is serving hungry Houstonians classic Italian-American fare. Housed in the former Carmelo’s space, it offers diners a brighter dining room as well as a brand-new bar and patio. Open for lunch (with convenient to-go pizza and sub sandwich options) and dinner, the menu features appetizers such as the whipped ricotta (as luscious as butter) with Sicilian oregano, olive oil and bread and Bacon Parmigiana, thick cut slices of bacon layered with tomato sauce and mozzarella that debuted at B.B. Lemon. Housemade pastas include traditional dishes such as carbonara and bolognese and new selections like Grandma’s Ravioli stuffed with short ribs and topped with mushroom marsala ragù. Those looking for something besides pasta or Italian classics can try the Italian fried chicken or pork ribs made with a hot Italian cherry pepper glaze.
Watching the artistry at the new Kubo’s at 1902 Washington, just across from @julephou. #Houston #houstonrestaurants #japanese #sushi #sashimi @houstonfoodfinder #houstonfoodie
Posted by Phaedra Cook on Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Kubo’s Sushi and Washoku, 1902 Washington: It has been a little over two years since Kubo’s popular Rice Village location closed, but the restaurant is now reincarnated with a slightly modified name — Kubo’s Sushi and Washoku — and a new location next door to Tacodeli. Under the helm of Yoichi Ueno, the traditional kaiseki-style menu features shareable small plates, entrées (some for duo diners), sushi rolls and sashimi. Familiar items like the Kubo’s Roll — shrimp tempura and spicy mayo topped with fresh salmon, avocado, eel and tobiko — work nicely alongside new, well-executed dishes such as the Hassan (chef’s choice of seven appetizers) and the kamo rosu (roasted duck). Leave room for dessert and order the Red Bean and Matcha. For the moment at least, this new Kubo’s is Houston’s most underrated and under-the-radar Japanese restaurant gem.
Loch Bar Restaurant and Ouzo Bay, 4444 Westheimer: From the Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group comes Loch Bar and Ouzo Bay, now open in the River Oaks District. At Ouzo Bay, brothers Eric and Alex Smith are offering Houstonians a menu focused on Mediterranean cuisine. Committed to fresh sourcing, they fly in fish daily: langoustines from Norway, jumbo prawns from Madagascar, Dover sole from Holland and branzino from the Aegean. While seafood is the menu’s focal point, there are still ample selections for meat lovers with options like locally raised lamb shank, with toasted orzo and roasted vegetables, as well as steak and chicken dishes. There is also an ample selection of mezes such as the House Spreads served with toasted pita. To accompany the hearty fare at Ouzo Bay, the Smiths tapped local sommelier Evan Turner to develop the drink program, which features Greek wine and cocktails such as the Phanes Poison made with Belvedere citron vodka, honey, basil, and lime and Milos’ Flame with Rittenhouse bonded rye, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Lapsang souchong foam and Angostura bitters.
On the Loch Bar side, the brothers are unveiling one of the largest raw seafood selections in town. The menu focuses on traditional New England fare such as lobster rolls and Maryland-style crab cakes, while also incorporating locally influenced dishes such as Viet-Cajun crawfish. Loch Bar also plans to showcase over 400 whiskeys (at press time, they were at 350 and counting), local craft beers, and curated cocktails like The Olive Branch made with The Botanist gin, olive-infused vermouth and salt and the Foregone Conclusion with Tito’s vodka, Pimm’s No. 1, peach, lemon and soda.
MAD, 4444 Westheimer: From the duo behind BCN Taste and Tradition and veteran general manager and sommelier Sébastien Laval, comes MAD, opening later this month. Also in the River Oaks District, MAD features two kitchens surrounding a central bar and a full-service patio. Chef Luis Roger‘s menu includes standouts such as the Foie Gras Cornetto, the Cigala Tio Pepe and a rotating selection of paellas. Partners Rogers and Ignacio Torras tapped cocktail consultant Jerry Arguelles to develop a drink menu that focuses on gin — a section titled Gin Revolution includes signature libations such as the Green Tea Gin & Tonic and experimental creations like the Paella Gin & Tonic made with Gabriel Boudier Saffron Gin, tomato, lemon, egg whites, smoked paprika, 1724 tonic water and a candied dried shrimp garnish. Late-night service is also offered on select nights of the week. Check out the full pre-opening article for details.
The Original Ninfa’s Uptown, 1700 Post Oak: The new outpost from Houston classic, The Original Ninfa’s, which was founded on Navigation in 1973 by “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo, opened its doors June 10 in BLVD Place, in the space that was occupied by Peska. With over 6,000 square feet, three covered patio areas and a flexible 50-seat private dining room, there will be plenty of room to enjoy the menu, which mirrors the original and includes favorites like the marinated and grilled skirt steak fajitas and tacos al carbon. There are plans for an additional happy hour menu in the bar with cocktails developed to draw inspiration from the surrounding Uptown area. The new location is currently open for lunch and dinner during the week, with brunch on Saturday and Sunday. There are also plans to launch Ninfa’s first ever breakfast service later this year.
The Rice Box, 1111 Shepherd: The third location of owner John Peterson’s kitschy, casual Chinese-American concept is now open in the former Tila’s location in River Oaks, just across from Backstreet Cafe. The Blade Runner-inspired space accented with new wave lighting boasts a shaded outdoor patio and is about three times larger than the Heights location. The larger restaurant means a larger kitchen, which allows Peterson, who runs the restaurants with his fiancé Jenny Vo, more room for putting his unique stamp on classic American-style Chinese food. Standouts include the signature General Tso’s Chicken, Cumin Beef made with 44 Farms meat and chopped green onions; and the Chinese eggplant with green beans in fresh garlic sauce. For some exciting small bites, try the Salt & Pepper Cauliflower and the fried pork dumplings.
Squable, 632 West 19th: This new restaurant in the former Southern Goods space in the Heights is backed by Bobby Heugel, James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Yu and Steve Flippo, but operated by co-chefs Mark Clayton (formerly of Oxheart), Drew Gimma (the opening baker for Common Bond) and operations manager Terry Williams. The menu showcases “European fare with American influences”, while incorporating locally sourced ingredients. Taking full advantage of Gimma’s baking experience, Squable features rotating seasonal breads and standout dishes like the Dutch baby pancake made with fresh cheese, black pepper and honey. For entrees, Clayton’s handmade pasta and the Pork Neck Schnitzel take center stage. The menu also includes a dozen or so shareable plates, such as the maltagliati (Italian for “badly cut”) pasta, and big plates such as the schnitzel and half a heritage chicken served with bread dumplings and chicory tossed with a Parmesan-soy dressing. Get more details in our full article on Squable’s opening.
Taste Bar + Kitchen, 3015 Bagby: From the team of chef Don Bowie and entrepreneur Kevin Kelley, comes Taste Bar + Kitchen, which offers elevated comfort food in the midtown space formerly occupied by Sterling House. The menu is dedicated to the classic duo of chicken and waffles and includes choices such as General Tso’s Chicken and Waffles; Jerk Chicken and Waffles made with Jamaican-inspired spices; and the hearty Cheeseburger Waffle stuffed with ground beef, Gouda and cheddar. For more details, read our full article on the opening.
Trendy Dumpling, 3285 Southwest Freeway: The team behind Spicy Girl recently transformed their West University location into Houston’s latest Chinese cuisine hot spot, Trendy Dumpling. With an assortment of pork and chicken soup dumplings sitting alongside Sichuan classics like salt and pepper shrimp, orange chicken and mapo tofu and fish, there is a lot to choose. Dumpling highlights include the Truffle Steamed Soup Bao, a special soup dumpling made with uni and shrimp, and the pan-fried pork bao. Appetizers such as the smoked eggplant, cucumber salad and couples tendon are standouts and great for sharing. Currently Trendy is B.Y.O.B and also offers a selection of wine and beer.
Tropicales, 2132 Bissonnet: The Latin-inspired Tropicales from Greenway Coffee-owner David Buehrer, Carlos Ballon of Morningstar, James Beard semi-finalist pastry chef Jill Bartolome and bartender Kenny Freeman, formerly of Julep, is already a neighborhood favorite. Located between Greenway Plaza and Rice University, the café was developed in conjunction with nearby residents Steve and Hilary Ybarra and offers diners a beautifully designed space resplendent with rich wood tones, muted pastels and a full-service outdoor patio. Standouts include the salmon ceviche made with sweet mango and sour red onions in a spicy jalapeño, lime, guava and coconut milk sauce. For cocktail lovers, Freeman has created drinks with Mexican, South American and Asian influences. Try the Powers of Peru — made with pisco, bell pepper extract, lemon, agave and cava. For more details, read our full article on the opening.
Verdine, 449 West 19th: Chef Stephanie Hoban has parlayed the success of Ripe Cuisine — her popular vegan food truck, which can usually be found at Urban Harvest’s Saturday Farmers Market — into a brick-and-mortar location in the new Heights Waterworks. The vegan offerings are already drawing big crowds on the weekends, so get there early. A case in point: the first Saturday of business, the restaurant completely sold out of food by 1:30 p.m. Word is there are now fewer sellouts, but the early bird still catches the most popular dishes, like the Bistro Burger made with an organic lentil-walnut-mushroom patty topped with roasted red pepper aioli, arugula, tomato, dill pickles, cashew “chèvre” and caramelized onions on a locally made wheat bun and the mac n cheese with a nut-free, vegetable-based cheese sauce, gluten-free pasta, and quinoa crumbs. The beverage menu features sustainable, organic or natural wines such as Trere ‘Re Famoso’ White Blend, Ravenna 2017 and Aberrant Cellars ‘Confero’ Pinot Noir 2015, and beer from local breweries like Eureka Heights and 8th Wonder.
Coming soon: Houston’s culinary scene shows no signs of slowing down. We are looking forward to Bravery Chef Hall finally opening its doors downtown, Mussafer by The Spice Route Company at the Galleria, and the new Tex-Mex-inspired Candente from Michael Sambrooks.
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.