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Go West, Young Man

The top 10 restaurants in Westchase.

Restaurant News

OPENINGS AND CLOSINGS
Time for El Tiempo's big debut.

Katharine Shilcutt

With news this week of two big downtown developments, it seems as if Main Street and Market Square Park are becoming hot commodities once again.

Ryan Rouse and Brad Moore of Grand Prize Bar in Montrose and Big Star Bar in the Heights are helping to redevelop the long-­dormant area: The two barmen are helping friends Joshua Martinez and Justin Burrow open two new spots near the Charity Saloon at Main and Congress. Martinez hopes to open Goro & Gun, the first ramen shop in Houston, with chef David Coffman within the month. Burrow is opening a nearby cocktail-centric spot tentatively called "Bad News Bar," which will also feature cheap beers and fun frozen drinks.

In other upcoming news, Alison Cook at the Houston Chronicle reports that Pizaro's Pizza is looking to open a second spot inside the Loop. The popular Napoletana-style pizza place in Memorial is swamped every night as it is; a second location would be welcomed by its fans. First, though, Pizaro's owner Bill Hutchinson has to pick up the 8,000-pound oven he's ordered from Italy.

Crawfish Cafe (11209 Bellaire, inside the Hong Kong Mall) hosted its grand opening last week and is now offering — you guessed it — crawfish, but also much more. The menu includes "all of the usual Cajun food," says owner Kiet Dong, such as boudin, gumbo, oysters, etouffee and blackened fish. Dong also promises a slew of boiled seafood, including blue crab, snow crab legs, king crab legs, lobster and shrimp. Hours are 3-10 p.m. daily.

In grocery store news, Swamplot reports that yet another new Trader Joe's location may be on the horizon — this one on Washington Avenue, of all places. A tipster tells the real estate Web site that a fourth TJ's is planned near the traffic circle on the Rice Military end of the busy thoroughfare, although the grocery store chain has not yet confirmed this.

Speaking of chains, three additional national chains are putting down roots: Corner Bakery opened its fourth Houston location this past Monday the 11th at 107 Yale in the Heights. The fifth Houston location of Jersey Mike's Subs planned to open Wednesday, February 13, at 8001 West Main Street (the third Jersey Mike's run by franchise operator Terry Nordenstrom, who also operates the locations at 1635 Eldridge Parkway and 103 Yale). And Zoës Kitchen is opening its sixth Houston location in Rice Village on Thursday, February 14, at 5215 Kelvin.

La Casa de Caballo — the Mexican steakhouse from Carlos Abedrop — is getting close to opening at 322 Westheimer in the old La Strada space. Abedrop recently hired both a chef and a general manager for the restaurant, which will serve both Tex-Mex and steaks in a fine dining atmosphere. Roger P. de la Fuente III — previously of Capital Grille and Las Alamedas — has been named as GM. Kirby Smith, a 20-year veteran, will be the chef de cuisine. Look for La Casa to open in late February.

Also opening in late February will be the largest El Tiempo Cantina yet at 2814 Navigation, smack-dab next door to the original Ninfa's. It's a return to the neighborhood that started it all for the Laurenzo family, which first opened Ninfa's in 1973. Mama Ninfa's son Roland Laurenzo opened the first El Tiempo Cantina in 1998 after parting ways with the Ninfa's chain, and this new El Tiempo will mark the restaurant's fifth location.

"What a great way for our family to celebrate 64 years in the food business," says Laurenzo of the new location. "It's fitting that this restaurant is located between the two original tortilla factories that my parents, Domenic Tommy (DT) and Ninfa Laurenzo, built when they moved to Houston in 1949." Laurenzo calls the years "when Daddy and Mama were toiling in the tortilla factory making tortillas, taco shells and pizzas...the best days of our lives. That's why the East End is truly where our heart resides."

Last but not least, if you've been on the look-out for chef Amanda McGraw since she left Brasserie 19 last month, you don't have to look far: McGraw is now helming the kitchen at another River Oaks favorite, Tiny Boxwood's, where she once worked as a sous chef four years ago. She plans to make some updates to the menu, including mussels baked in its wood-fired oven, and hopes to incorporate even more of the fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs that are grown on-site at the adjoining Thompson + Hanson nursery.

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