New Underbelly Hospitality Restaurant at Farmers Market Aims to Please the Texan Heart

chicken fried steak on white plate

Chef Chris Shepherd’s Houston restaurant empire, Underbelly Hospitality, is ready to unveil its newest restaurant, Wild Oats, located at the Houston Farmers Market at 2520 Airline in the Heights. It opens in time for dinner Friday, February 11 (and is already taking reservations online). It’s the second of the group’s restaurants at the Houston Farmers Market, as Underbelly Burger debuted about a month earlier.

The latest venue is led by Underbelly Hospitality culinary director and Wild Oats chef/partner Nick Fine, who aims to serve fresh takes on Texas cuisine to the state’s unique flavors and ingredients. Sous chef Cristian Canales and wine director Matthew Pridgen are also on the core team.

To create the menu, Fine drew inspiration from his travels and cooking background, along with his native Texan heritage. “Texas food is easy to stereotype,” he said, “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. 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.” 

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.

Dishes include familiar flavors with intriguing twists. Choose from 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 (the first rendition features Atkinson Farms Brussels sprouts and mole almendrado). Warm up with a bowl, cup or shot (!) of chili — and if you’re feeling generous, you can even buy a round for the entire restaurant for $99. There are also salads that incorporate seasonal produce found onsite at the farmers market, such as Wild Oats Market Salad and Oak Grilled Romaine Salad

Entrées hit all the essentials, — albeit with upgrades when it comes to ingredients and preparation (Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue fame, and his team from Franklin Barbecue Pits designed the custom live fire grill). There is Wagyu Chicken Fried Steak, Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Quail, Shrimp And Grits Diablo and Redfish On The Half-Shell. Legendary pitmaster Tootsie Tomanetz is honored with the Tootsie’s Pork Steak. There are Short Rib Fajitas, too, and The Small Texan. The latter is inspired by The Big Texan in Amarillo that offers the famous 72-ounce steak challenge. (Finish it and it’s free). Wild Oats’ offering is smaller (and not free, regardless of your leftovers or lack thereof). It will change periodically, but the opening selection is a 16-ounce bone-in ribeye from 44 Farms, twice-baked potato and ranch salad. 

Desserts include Banana Pudding, Peach Cobbler, Texas Sheet Cake and Abuelita’s Tres Leches. Prices reflect both the ingredients and the chefs’ pedigrees, with starters averaging around $15 and entrées around $35 (excluding the fajitas and The Small Texan). 

The beverage program sets the bar high, too, with cocktails and wine leaning towards Texan producers and natural makers whenever possible. Of the 60 wines, 15 have Texas ties, such as C.L. Butaud in the High Plains and Alta Marfa in the Davis Mountains. “I’m really excited about the Texas wine scene right now,” said Pridgen, “and I feel like this is the perfect concept to showcase Texas wines alongside Nick’s take on Texas cuisine.”

The spirits program integrates Texas products, too, with a particular focus on agave. Cocktails include mainstays such as Ranch Water and Palomas, plus frozen Cadillac Margaritas. The Fancy Seasonal Cocktails menu highlights ingredients sourced from the market.

dining room with natural light and wood fixtures
For Wild Oats, designer Amanda Medsger created a warm, bright space with elements reflecting the varied communities and landscapes of Texas. Photo by Claudia Casbarian.

Inside, designer Amanda Medsger created a space that would appeal to Texans from all areas of the state, with a warm energy thanks to wood fixtures and golden-hued stained glass. There are nods to the East Texas woods, bull-riding, Hill Country themes and the wide skies of West Texas. Decor includes antique-style schoolhouse lighting, a patterned Linoleum floor and family-style seating made extra stylish with oilcloth table coverings inspired by San Antonio Chili Queens. Texas compositions from Houston photographer Ralph Smith adorn the walls alongside a collection of Stetson hats, and there are vintage pieces from the iconic Gilley’s bar to lend a taste of nostalgia. 

Guests can choose from the main dining room, generously sized patio or reserve the private dining room, which seats up to 24.

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. 

Comments (0)

Share Your Thoughts on This Article