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Nabi-Hood Hangout

This Montrose spot is serving up beautifully constructed modern Asian cuisine, at small prices.

Chalkboards and an open kitchen make Nabi a cozy place to enjoy a meal. See more in our slideshow.

The bowl of ramen that arrived on my table at Nabi last week looked and smelled like a minor masterpiece, even if it wasn't really traditional ramen. Like every other dish on the menu at this new Montrose restaurant, the soup was a rather astounding mash-up of traditional ramen styles: the thick, nutty broth and fatty shreds of pork shoulder from a tonkotsu ramen were topped with the green onions, pink-and-white kamaboko and the curly noodles of a shoyu ramen. And even though the broth was creamy and rich with the flavor of pork belly and pork shoulder, it had that signature black pepper bite of a much thinner shoyu ramen.

At the booth next to me sat Ryan Rouse and Brad Moore, the proprietors of Grand Prize Bar — the hipster hangout that's one of the nerve centers of young Montrose — over a working lunch. I'd ordered the extra-spicy ramen at the suggestion of Rouse, who pronounced it one of his favorites on the pan-Asian menu. He and Moore joked to me that Nabi had become their office since it opened in November of last year.

The ramen isn't traditional, but it's remarkable.
Troy Fields
The ramen isn't traditional, but it's remarkable.

Location Info

Map

Nabi

1517 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Montrose

Details

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Chili edamame: $5
Grilled romaine hearts: $7
Brisket potstickers: $8
Calamari: $9
Veal tongue: $9
Ramen: $11
Warm mushroom salad: $11
Breakfast roll: $12
Shrimp and short rib fried rice: $12


READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: Welcome To The Nabi-Hood
BLOG POST: Montrose Welcomes Nabi to the Neighborhood


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"We eat here probably five times a week," Moore laughed. I chuckled to myself, remembering the last time Moore and I had talked about Nabi, in January. He'd chased me out of a Heights art gallery in the middle of a bartending competition specifically to ask me one breathless question: "Have you been to Nabi yet?"

I had, and the two of us spent a few good minutes gushing to each other about the new restaurant, which had become a mutual favorite in only a few short months. "You have to help me blow it up," I remember saying to Moore.

"No, you have to help me blow it up!" he joked back. Now here we both were, by coincidence, all of us trading secrets about the best dishes we'd tried so far. Before long, the two barmen had left and my ramen — with extra spice — had arrived.

The extra spice at Nabi costs a dollar more, and is comprised of two ramekins each brimming a raucous red. One contains shichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice blend that's mainly comprised of ground red chile peppers kicked up with Sichuan numbing peppers, sesame seeds, ginger, roasted orange peel and more. The other contains a wet spice mixture that's mostly pickled ginger. Together, they set the pork ramen on fire.

I gulped one blazing bite after another and cooled off in between with sips of Kirin ­Ichiban, a Japanese lager that's made for the kind of stifling humidity this spring has brought us. As I ate my way through it, I marveled over the fact that I was finally eating a truly remarkable bowl of ramen in Houston in the most unremarkable of settings. Nabi is not a see-and-be-seen hotspot. It is not a high-end Japanese restaurant. It is not a cafe in Chinatown populated by fellow ramen ­aficionados. It's simply a warm and cozy neighborhood restaurant serving small plates of beautifully constructed modern Asian cuisine with correspondingly small prices, wholly unassuming yet full of exciting possibilities.

Even more remarkable is the fact that Nabi nearly didn't happen at all.
_____________________

Chef and owner Ji Kang never meant to move to Houston. In fact, he likes to joke, Houston was a last resort.

Kang made a name for himself in Dallas as chef de cuisine at Dish, the enormous Oak Lawn spot that's half restaurant, half nightclub. Its restaurant half has garnered plenty of acclaim for both its affordable fare and uniquely modern dishes that more often than not feature seasonal produce and locally raised meat. Kang clearly took a few of Dish's concepts to heart when he decided to open a restaurant of his own, although Nabi's understated, clean-lined dining room is miles away from that of Dish, which D Magazine's Nancy Nichols once called "garishly chic."

Kang first tried to open his restaurant in Austin — his hometown — but was stymied by the high rent of the places that interested him. He then looked back to Dallas, back to his friends in the industry, back to the city where he'd attended culinary school at the Art Institute. But Dallas didn't suit his needs, either. And at just the right time, Tomo — which previously occupied Nabi's space along one of the Lower Westheimer curves — shut its doors. Kang moved on the spot quickly.

Only a few months in, he's still a bit shaken up by the move to a city he barely knows. "I only get to eat within two miles of here," he told me one day as we talked ramen. But so far, he's impressed with both the city itself and his own determination to stick it out in unfamiliar territory. And he's glad he chose Houston after all.

"If I'd stayed in Dallas or Austin, I would have been too comfortable," Kang said. Being in a new city has forced him to meet new people.

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12 comments
ChrisMarker
ChrisMarker

I love the food here, but anyone who's been to or lived in New York City as I did, should recognize the Nabi Ramen and steamed buns as direct copies of David Chang's work at Momofuku Noodle Bar. Everything else seems very inspired by Chang's type of fusion, which is great, and I'm happy to be able to experience this in Houston.  More people should check it out.  It's too bad the place is for sale and may close soon.

A Good Cup
A Good Cup

i have been to nabi several times and am very glad to see a good write up on them. their seasonal dishes have at times blow me away like the oxtail dumplings. while overshadowed by many new restaurants in the area i think in many ways nabi outshines some of the new much more pricey places charging double for the same less complete dish.

ALG
ALG

I was so excited about this place but was so disappointed. Went on Saturday for late lunch. Service was slow because only 1 server was working the place. They were out of a few items and the ice cream machine was broken... mochi sundae was half the reason we were there. Probably won't be back.

Jodie E
Jodie E

Yep ... it's easy to love, isn't it? Great write-up. Y'all go check it out!

Sam Brown
Sam Brown

Brisket potstickers ftw. So good.

mike
mike

Nabi is great. Service may be sparse, but I've never found it lacking and has always been super friendly. It's also incredibly useful and is just as good for sharing some snacks with friends as it is a full meal.

Corey
Corey

Nabi see you soon! Had I known I'd have already been there.. <3 Togarashi.

Don
Don

Well... if it hasn't already blown up... it will be now. Good for Nabi.

CMN
CMN

It hasn't. Last Friday night there were about 6 tables occupied at 7:00p. Support this place people!

My bowl of ginger duck noodles was perfect - I hope thats the norm and your under-salted version the exception. Will find out soon enough!

Marc
Marc

It is rodeo season. I went about a week prior to the rodeo and they were so packed I was stunned.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Rodeo season plays havoc with Houston restaurants. Go to some of the fancier places and you'll see incredibly thinned crowds. On the bright side: It's a great time to eat out without having to battle for parking or reservations!

 
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