Rest of the Best 2013

The top 10 late-night dining restaurants in Houston.

Maybe. I asked some of the bartenders at wine bar Camerata — where I noticed several folks smoking e-cigarettes — if people's using the contraptions indoors bothered them. I also asked staff at new bar Lowbrow and at Underbelly, and everyone pretty much had the same sentiment: "I don't care."

I've noticed a slight odor from e-cigarettes when my friends smoke them around me. It's not an offensive smell, more of a sickly sweet aroma. I've also witnessed smokers of e-cigarettes blowing vapor any which way they want, rather than turning away as smokers of traditional cigarettes might so as not to blow smoke in a friend's face. But with e-cigarettes, it's just vapor, so people seem less careful.

I've yet to see someone use an e-cigarette at a restaurant like Tony's or Brennan's, but it's probably only a matter of time. In my mind, smoking an e-cigarette at an upscale restaurant is no more offensive than chewing gum at the table. But eventually, it will be up to the city and state to make the final judgment.

Nothing wards off a hangover like Tex-Mex at Spanish Flowers.
Jeff Balke
Nothing wards off a hangover like Tex-Mex at Spanish Flowers.
The Melting Pot does fondue right.
Minh T. Truong
The Melting Pot does fondue right.

What do you think, readers? Should e-cigarettes be allowed in bars and restaurants?

Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Another pie shop shutters and highly anticipated restaurants open softly.

Molly Dunn

Even though the week began with the devastating fire-forced closure of a Houston pie shop landmark, the rest of the week has been filled with openings and announcements of future openings. But let's begin with the sad news.

Just two days after Thanksgiving, another pie shop caught on fire, forcing it to close. My Dee Dee's Pie Shoppe sold 2,000 pies to customers on Thanksgiving Day, and burned down on November 30. Houston restaurants and chefs teamed up to raise money for owner Bella-Katherine Curtis on December 7 at Haven. Ronnie Killen provided barbecue, Randy Evans of Haven and Kevin Naderi of Roost cooked up the sides, and Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar, along with Michael's Cookie Jar, Paulie's Cookies, Samantha Mendoza of Triniti and many other chefs, provided sweets and treats for a bake sale. Curtis doesn't want to stop making pies, so the Houston restaurant community is helping her continue baking and selling her delightful homemade pies throughout the holiday season.

Viva Sports Cantina, which is next door to Viva Cinema, announced via Facebook on November 26 that the restaurant had closed its doors. When the restaurant was open, patrons could take food from the sports bar to the adjacent movie theater; that, however, is no longer an option.

That's it for closings; let's take a look at the restaurants that have announced soft openings, grand openings and future plans.

Commenter Chic_Chick_Eats mentioned that AddicTEA Cafe opened in Midtown on December 2. The cafe and bakery serves bubble tea, macarons — including green tea macarons — a variety of tea drinks and other baked goods.

Last week we announced that the Cordúas were opening another Churrascos (in Memorial City!) with a menu featuring a variety of new items. The restaurant officially opened on December 4.

Another big-name restaurant officially opened on December 5. According to the Houston Chronicle, El Big Bad held its soft opening then and served only dinner until December 9; on that date the restaurant added a lunch service. Greg Morago describes "El Big Bad as El Gran Malo supersized." It's a two-story Mexican restaurant that's said to be five times larger than El Gran Malo.

Bradley Ogden's Funky Chicken had a soft opening on December 5; it will serve only dinner until its grand opening, which will take place on December 18. According to a press release, the James Beard Award-winning chef and his son, chef Bryan Ogden, created Funky Chicken as a farm-to-table restaurant featuring, of course, fried chicken, chicken pot pies, chicken sandwiches and chicken fingers. This casual, counter-service restaurant is located in the developing Heights Boulevard shopping center where Salata recently opened.

Big Freeze Ice Cream opened during the week of Thanksgiving on Washington Avenue in the location previously occupied by Berripop, and it already has a five-star review on Yelp. The Yelp reviewer says the pistachio, brownie-batter and bourbon-vanilla flavors are excellent options.

Although Vuelve a la Vida Mariscos held its soft opening on November 22, it celebrated its official grand opening on December 6. According to a press release, the Mexican seafood restaurant has a "contemporary sports bar atmosphere" complete with 50 HD TVs for group parties, a 36-foot bar and happy hour every day from 3 to 7 p.m.

For those who can't get enough of Hugo Ortega's restaurants, Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe, the chef and restaurant owner is opening another establishment. Caracol, which according to the B4-U-Eat newsletter means "conch, as in chowder, ceviche and fritters," will open on Post Oak Boulevard sometime this week. Eater reports the menu will include seafood items such as campechana, fish tostadas and sea snails. The executive chef will be Daniel Bridges, from Las Vegas; Ruben Ortega (Hugo's brother) will be the pastry chef; and Sean Beck will serve as the beverage director.

University of Houston students (and those who live near the campus) should be excited, because a new coffee shop officially opened December 6. The Nook Café serves coffee drinks, espresso, pastries and snacks from vendors such as Sinfull Bakery, Take the Cake and French Riviera Bakery. The long-awaited coffee shop and cafe (originally scheduled to open in July) will be serving throughout the winter break.

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