The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants To Visit In October 2018
September was an ambitious opening month for Houston restaurants — so ambitious, in fact, that several openings slated for last month were pushed to October. Our monthly roundup of essential dining destinations includes those locations plus a range of exciting newcomers that serve Cajun, Asian and Gulf Coast-inspired menus. Here are the new Houston restaurants to check out this October.
Agricole Hospitality’s “Triple Threat” in EaDo, 1201 Saint Emanuel: Ryan Pera, Morgan Weber and Vincent Huynh expect to fulfull their ambitious goal of opening three spots east of downtown by the end of the month. Indianola is named for a historic Texas port. Executive chef Paul Lewis oversees the culinary program that takes influences from all over the world, resulting in dishes such as Shakshukah (a Turkish dish of eggs baked in tomatoes and spices), Huevos Rancheros, Som Tom (Thai green papaya salad) and Santa Maria steak from California. Indianola’s beverage director, Marie-Louise Friedland (formerly of State Bird Provisions and The Progress), is curating a wine list that examines how certain types traveled to North America.
Miss Carousel is a 5,000-square-foot cocktail bar offering 25 to 30 mixed drinks. On the menu, these are divided into familiar categories like sours, Collins, and highballs. Under these overriding categories, beverage director and co-owner Morgan Weber aims for the majority of the drinks to be original cocktails, leaving the remainder as classics. A light food menu features items such as Lemon Poppy Dip and Carrot & Beet Tartare.
Vinny’s is a casual in-and-out spot serving pizza by the slice, sandwiches — including a chicken and a meatball version — and small salads. The restaurant’s tagline is “A Slice is Nice,” so pizza is the star attraction. The selections include M.C. Ham’r’d made with Benton’s Country Ham, Wisconsin brick cheese, caramelized onions, mushrooms, oregano and black pepper; and the Señor Salvador with chorizo, pickled jalapeños, smoked cheddar, guajillo chili sauce and red onions.
Diana American Grill, 800 Bagby: As we reported in September, Diana American Grille is now open in the former Artista space at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Spectrum Concessions and Catering manages the restaurant while James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Del Grande created the menu. Del Grande took inspiration from short order cooks, applying simple preparation techniques to high-quality ingredients. The end result satisfies guests without loading them down with heavy fare prior to attending shows. Standout shareable starters include the Texas Pimento Cheese dip made with sharp cheddar cheese and the Texas Gulf Crab Cocktail with remoulade sauce. The Gulf Red Snapper main is light but still rich with flavor thanks to a crab sauce with saffron while the hearty veal chop is sized to share. The beverage menu boasts an extensive selection of New World wines and supper club style craft cocktails.
Eunice, 3737 Buffalo Speedway: Eunice opened in Greenway Plaza at the end of September and is the first Houston restaurant from acclaimed New Orleans group BRG Hospitality. The kitchen is helmed by executive chef Drake Leonards and chef de cuisine Daniel Blue, formerly of Hunky Dory. Longtime Houston dining scene fans might also recognize sous chef Steve Marques as one of the founders of The Burger Guys, the West Houston restaurant that closed in 2013 and is still missed for its cereal shakes and duck fat fries. Marques joined Eunice after a stint at Momfuku’s Las Vegas location.
Eunice’s menu is said to reflect Leonards’ culinary roots and his Louisiana hometown, the latter of which is also the restaurant’s namesake. The contemporary styled coastal-themed restaurant has a fresh raw bar for oysters and crudités plus a chilled seafood menu, shareable dishes such as the New Orleans BBQ Lobster and large plates representing both sides of surf and turf with fish, steak, chicken and gumbo. The bar program places a heavy emphasis on hand selected whiskies and bourbons.
Diners considering a reservation should know that the Cajun-inspired restaurant was originally set to open last fall but was delayed amidst many serious sexual harassment allegations against celebrity chef and restaurateur John Besh. BRG Hospitality — formerly Besh Restaurant Group — changed its name to try and step out of Besh’s shadow. However, according to Food & Wine, it appears that he still has a financial stake in the group. Quality-wise, Houston Food Finder editor and publisher Phaedra Cook had an unexpected early look during the soft opening and says that both food and drink are excellent right out of the gate. So, just like with Aqui when a legal cloud used to hang over chef-owner Paul Qui’s head, Houston diners are going to have to make decisions on whether or not to visit Eunice based on their own consciences.
Superica and La Lucha, 1801 North Shepherd: Ford Fry’s double opening of Superica and La Lucha took place on September 17 in the adjacent spaces formerly filled by Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s. State of Grace Bobby Matos and general manager Matt Crawford are overseeing the new spots. Influenced by Fry’s affection for the now-closed San Jacinto Inn, La Lucha’s atmosphere is designed to have a 1970s living room feel with a central bar and a limestone hearth for roasting oysters. The menu includes seafood crowd pleasers like wood-roasted Gulf oysters, peel-and-eat shrimp, Fried Oyster “Loaf” (with Duke’s mayonnaise, Mrs. Baird’s, crystal hot sauce and dill pickles) and Chowder Fries. Other highlights include the Pollo Especiale fried chicken and biscuits and La Lucha’s take on a classic Pharmacy Burger. The beverage program includes craft beers, unique tequila, mezcal and an array of signature cocktails. The latter includes Why Not with Champagne, sugar cubes, bitters and grapefruit essence and You’re Welcome with bourbon and rye, two types of vermouth and bitters.
Superica is the third location of Fry’s Tex-Mex restaurant that first launched in Atlanta and has a second location in Charlotte, North Carolina. Chef Kevin Maxey (Fry’s vice president and a Gramercy Tavern alumni) and former Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s manager Glenn Johnson are at the helm. With the menu’s emphasis on tacos, tamales and enchiladas, Maxey and Fry have referred to it as the “Tex-Mex Playbook”. As nothing compliments Tex-Mex like a good tequila cocktail, the bar program includes margaritas like the El Frio crafted with El Jimador Blanco Tequila, Stirrings Triple Sec and freshly squeezed lime juice, and the Matador with pineapple and cilantro. In addition to cocktails, there is a curated list of wines, Mexican lagers and American craft beers plus non-alcoholic agua frescas.
Georgia James, 1100 Westheimer: James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd’s steakhouse at the former Underbelly location opened to the public on October 11. The menu includes intriguing selections like the 18-Month “The Hammery” Country Ham; salads and soups, including a take on classic French onion soup; entrées such as wood-fired redfish and Tejas Heritage Chicken and, of course, steaks either seared in cast iron or flame-grilled over hardwood. There is also a selection of shareable sides and the off-menu baller boards. The wine list features over 500 selections. Spirits director Westin Galleymore has created a drink list that includes classic steakhouse cocktails as well as creative originals such as The Alimony, made with gin, grapefruit, cranberry, lime, and amaro.
Jonathon’s The Rub at Memorial Green,12505 Memorial: For the dishes at his new location, owner and chef Jonathan Levine was inspired by recent 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. While the original will remain B.Y.O.B. the new location offers a full beverage program instead. Guests can look forward to selections from Shephard 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’s 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.
Kau Ba Kitchen, 2502 Dunlavy: This restaurant from chef Nikki Tran opened at the end of August in the former Bacchus wine bar space in Montrose. After earning her street credentials in Vietnam, and being featured on both Netflix’s Ugly Delicious and Somebody Feed Phil, Tran lives by her motto of “If I won’t eat it, I won’t serve it.” The Vietnamese-Cajun menu includes appetizers and salads like the Chef’s Special Dumplings, made with shrimp and pork and accompanied by a vinegar, sesame and chili sauce, and the Happy Salad with pineapple, Thai eggplant, mandarin, mint, lemongrass, stir-fried beef and sesame seeds topped with passion fruit dressing. Tran also serves variations of phở, including oxtail and red wine beef. To get the full experience of Tran’s personalized Viet-Cajun style, try the Seafood Vumbo, a Vietnamese take on gumbo with Asian eggplant, pineapple and turmeric noodles instead of rice and recent additions like Grandmas Subsidy and The French Invasion, a hearty meat and egg dish created by Tran and her restaurant partner.
One Fifth Mediterranean, 1658 Westheimer: The third incarnation of chef Chris Shepherd’s rotating restaurant concept, One Fifth, opened the first week of September. One Fifth Mediterranean draws inspiration from both local Lebanese cuisine and chef de cuisine Matt Staph’s work with refugees from Iraq and Syria. Shepherd, Staph and Underbelly Hospitality culinary director Nick Fine was also influenced by James Beard Award-winning Israeli restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia. The seven-section menu blends homages to the traditional staples of Mediterranean cuisine with Shepherd’s love of using the whole animal. Can’t-miss items include the I Dip, You Dip, We Dip (assorted dips with fresh pita bread) and wood-grilled fresh fish and meat selections. For One Fifth Mediterranean, wine director Matthew Pridgen curated a list of wines from Morocco, France and other countries that border that sea. The signature cocktails include The Forty Princes with rye, amaro, chocolate and angostura bitters and the Tigris with gin, white vermouth, lemon, cantaloupe, cucumber and soda.
Pokéology, Sawyer Yards 2313 Edwards Street: Pokéology is slated to open at the end of the month at the Sawyer Yards mixed-use center. Executive chef Jason Liao and co-founder Charlie Chang developed a loyal following for poké bowls like the Applemachi with hamachi, white shoyu, green apples, sesame and onions at their previous tiny kitchen space in the back of a bar. The Sawyer Yards location offers previous dishes plus an expanded menu of sharable items like karaage with sea salt, cracked pepper and gochujang honey and kimchi fried rice balls with mozzarella and kimchi mayonnaise. Vegetarian poke bowls as well as those with new meat and fish options are also new to the menu. In addition, guests will now have the option to sip on saké and beer.
Shun Japanese Kitchen, 2802 South Shepherd: From chef and owner Naoki Yoshida (whose family was behind the popular Nippon Restaurant in Montrose) and Executive Chef Nick Hill (formerly of Triniti and the original Beaver’s), comes Shun Japanese Kitchen, which opened with a media only preview this past weekend, with their soft opening phase beginning Tuesday, October 16th. The planned menu emphasizes Japanese-inspired dishes utilizing sustainable produce and locally sourced ingredients. Intriguing dishes include small plates like the Tako Dogs (with octopus sausage, Wagyu steak and kobocha puree) and the yuza ceviche. Toro Brulee (sugar-crusted fatty tuna) and the customizable build-your-own platter Sashimi Warrior are heavy hitters from the sushi bar. While Shun is B.Y.O.B. during the initial rollout, beverage consultant Aki Hagio (Bad News Bar) is introducing a cocktail program in the coming months.
SING, 718 West 18 Street: SING arrives in the Heights this month with fresh spins on Asian classics. It is a collaboration between chef and former Houston Press restaurant critic Cuc Lam and Jerry Lasco of Lasco Enterprises (Max’s Wine Dive, Tasting Room). The menu reflects Singapore’s melting pot of of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and Malaysian cuisines. SING’s current menu features a selection of soups and light bites like Shrimp Chips (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 sake on tap and specialty saké cocktails like the Saké Sunrise.
TRIBUTE at The Houstonian, 111 North Post Oak Lane: The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa is set to unveil their new restaurant, TRIBUTE, on October 26 and is already taking reservations. Longtime Houstonian chef Neal Cox, who earned his experience Pappas Bros Steakhouse, Trevisio and Américas, has developed a Texas-centric menu that is also influenced by near neighbors Louisiana and Mexico. 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.
Vibrant, 1931 Fairview: The brainchild of Houstonian Kelly Barnhart and Instagram wellness guru Alison Wu lives up to its name with naturally vibrant, healthy dishes. Incorporating adaptogens (a current trend of using non-toxic plants, herbs and roots as ingredients for reputed wellness properties) the gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free menu is designed so that that even a gluten-eating cheese lover can enjoy the food. These include creative items like the Baked Egg Skillet with purple cabbage, shallots, caraway, avocado, housemade chicken sausage and sunflower seed ricotta and the Za’atar Socca with sunflower seed ricotta, chickpea flatbread, eggplant, caramelized onions, herbs, pine nut dukkah and Castelvetrano olives. The drink menu gets the same attention to detail, including elixirs like Sesame Rose and Golden Mylk, plus a coffee program developed by Fernando Aciar of Fefo. Aciar also curated the restaurant’s ceramic collection. Vibrant is currently only serving breakfast and lunch; dinner is forthcoming.
Honorable Mention: Chung Wang Chinese BBQ, 23119 Colonial Parkway, Katy: Lovers of Chinese barbecue have a new must go to destination. Located in the Katy Asian Town development (also home to the new H-Mart), Chung Wang Chinese BBQ offers up tasty regional fare like Peking Duck, roasted honey pork and of course, dumpling soup. Other can’t miss items on the menu include the cold served Sichuan-style sliced beef in chili sauce and the chicken prepared with soy and scallions.
Coming soon: Here are just a few of the new restaurant openings expected during the upcoming holiday season: Vinegar Hill, Savoir and Toasted Coconut from the team at Nobie’s. In other words, Houstonians are going to have plenty of new dining experiences ahead before the end of the 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.