By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Mai Pham
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
Many have said that 2013 was a disappointing year for restaurant openings in Houston. Writers and eaters alike lamented the fact that there was no Uchi last year, no Underbelly, no Oxheart. Plenty of great restaurants opened, to be sure, but nothing with the immediate star power of some of 2012's best newrestaurants.
Fret not, though, for there are exciting things on the horizon for Houston. There's already buzz surrounding a number of high-profile openings, and we're sure that as the year goes on, eateries will pop up that we didn't even see coming.
Based on news from chefs and restaurateurs, we've compiled a list of the ten most anticipated restaurants that should be opening in 2014. As is the case with all restaurant openings, there can be setbacks and shuffles that delay the eventual debut. Most of these are looking good for 2014, though, and we're pretty excited to see what the year has in store.
Here are our top picks in alphabetical order:
Bradley's Fine Diner/Ogden Pour Society
Two-time James Beard Award-winner Bradley Ogden recently opened Funky Chicken, an American comfort-food restaurant, but he's not stopping there. The recent transplant to Houston is planning to open Bradley's Fine Diner (BFD) in March and Ogden Pour Society in April. Both will be slightly more upscale than Funky Chicken, with BFD featuring a Midwest-meets-California menu and Ogden Pour Society offering craft beer in a pub environment. All the food at both restaurants will be made from scratch in-house featuring as many organic products as possible. BFD will be located in the Heights and Ogden Pour Society will be in Gateway Memorial City.
Christine Ha's Restaurant
Okay, yes, it seems pretty presumptuous to put a restaurant that doesn't even have a name on our list of the most anticipated openings, but we've got faith that Ha will create something awesome in the new year. Ha, a MasterChef champion, has said she does plan to open a restaurant in her hometown of Houston with help from MasterChef judge Joe Bastianich, but there are no further details regarding where and when. We were able to get a possible preview of the type of food that will be served when Ha held a pop-up featuring dishes from her cookbook, Recipes From My Home Kitchen, in September.
Coltivare Pizza & Garden
The owners of Revival Market, Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber, are planning to open a new restaurant on White Oak called Coltivare, which means "cultivate" in Italian. And by planning, we mean they announced it in September 2012 and said it would probably be open by spring 2013. Obviously that didn't happen, but we have a good feeling 2014 is the year! The menu will be authentic, casual Italian with a focus on small plates and dishes to share, most of which will be $15 or less. It will also have a pizza oven and a 3,000-square-foot garden, which will supply produce to both Coltivare and Revival.
If you regularly drive down Westheimer between Montrose and Shepherd, you've likely seen the buildout happening in a spacious brick building on the corner of Westheimer and Dunlavy. We've been watching it for months, hoping for a sign of croissants or the smell of fresh bread, but so far, no luck. Pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel of elBulli, Cyrus and Bouchon fame will be joined by Drew Gimma, Tony Stein, Jillian Bartolome and Alec Bartee, a talented group of chefs. In a press release, Shvartzapel explained that he is the "common bond" among this diverse crew and that good food bonds people together from all walks of life. As of now, the restaurant/bakery is expected to open in early 2014.
The Web site says "opening January 2014," and describes Dish Society as "a casual farm-to-table restaurant featuring local ingredient-driven and chef-inspired options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch." Restaurateur Aaron Lyons and chef Johnny Romo originally planned to open in Austin but found rent too high there. They've since settled on a spot in the Galleria.
Foreign Correspondents/Hunky Dory
Two restaurants, same lot. Treadsack, the restaurant group behind Down House and D&T Drive Inn, is set to open two new but differing concepts in 2014. Foreign Correspondents will be an authentic northern Thai restaurant with a farm-to-table mentality helmed by PJ Stoops, who will serve as head chef. Richard Knight, formerly of Feast, will be stepping in as head chef at Hunky Dory, which will focus on simple gourmet food with a British edge. Neither restaurant has provided a timetable for opening, but we expect to see both in the new year.
After making waves in New York and Las Vegas, the California-based ramen chain JINYA is coming to Houston, with two franchises opening in 2014. One will be on Louisiana in Midtown, and the other will be located way outside the Loop in Webster. JINYA is known for its tonkotsu ramen and izakaya concept, and it's garnered much praise from food writers in L.A. With the ramen scene exploding here in Houston, we have two words for JINYA: Bring it.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated openings of 2014 is Ronnie Killen's new barbecue restaurant. Killen has been holding pop-ups since the summer, and Houstonians have fallen in love with his juicy brisket, smoky ribs and spicy sausage. The brick-and-mortar spot in Pearland is making headway, according to photos on the restaurant's Facebook page, but until it's open, expect Killen to be outside, rain or shine, slinging brisket to hungry folks who've driven 30 minutes or more just for some meat. It's that good.
Last May, former Blue Fish and Sushi Raku chef Adison Lee announced his plans to open Kuu in Gateway Memorial City in the fall. The restaurant was supposed to open in the same development as Vallone's Steakhouse and the new Churrascos a couple of months ago, but the debut date has been pushed to January. Kuu will differ from other Japanese restaurants in town by offering upscale tapas instead of tasting menus. Lee recently told Eater that kuu means both "'the art of eating' and 'something that's delicious and tasty.'"
This one is a big ol' maybe, but that doesn't mean we're anticipating it any less. For months, rumors have circulated that the restaurant that made ramen hip in Austin has plans to expand to our fair city. Back in June, we reported, "An inside industry source states Ramen Tatsu-ya chefs/owners Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya 'Tako' Matsumoto have been negotiating a lease for their first Houston location at 11138 Westheimer at Wilcrest." Clearly, we haven't seen any new moves to make Ramen Tatsu-Ya a reality, but we're not abandoning the idea until we get a definitive "no" from on high. We'd rather start the new year with happy dreams of ramen, anyway.
Top 12 saddest restaurant closings of 2013.
A few weeks ago, we brought youa slideshow of the best restaurantsthat opened in the past year. But in the midst of celebrating all the great new places to chow down in the Bayou City, we are reminded of those we lost in 2013.
As you get a start on the new year, why not sit down with a drink and pour a little out for our buddies who are no longer slinging burgers or tacos or sushi?
Check out our full list of 2013 Openings & Closings online to see every notable (and less notable) restaurant that shuttered in the past 12 months. Who were you most sorry to see go?
These are the restaurants we'll miss the most (in alphabetical order).
The Burger Guys
Even after the downtown location shuttered earlier in the year, we were still shocked by the sudden closure with no fanfare of The Burger Guys's flagship Westchase restaurant. By the time anyone figured out they were closing, owner Jake Mazzu had already served his last burger at the shop. He blames the high overhead and lack of support for small business owners in Houston for the demise of The Burger Guys. No word on what Mazzu will be up to next, but he'll likely continue to sell burgers out of a mobile trailer in Beaumont for the time being.
The Chili Shak
Much like The Burger Guys, The Chili Shak closed without any sort of announcement. One day, the space was dark and the phone number was no longer working. The chili-centric restaurant opened in 2011, when Bernard Montgomery finally gave in to years of demands from his family to open a restaurant that would showcase his chili recipe. After he got great reviews from Houstonians (ourselves included), it seemed The Chili Shak would become a Houston institution, but that was not to be. After it closed in September, Montgomery took to Facebook and explained that he was looking for a new space and seeking more customer support.
Farrago World Cuisine and Sweet Lola
These two eateries are listed together because they were next door to each other, and both were forced to close due to rent hikes in Midtown. Farrago, known for its great brunch, closed in late July after 13 years. On Facebook, the owners of Farrago wrote, "We endured the construction, paid parking and towed customers. Alas, the over double rent was more than we could bare [sic]." Only a few months later, frozen yogurt shop Sweet Lola closed, too, also because the rent became too high. Gentrification is all well and good when it benefits the community, but 2013 saw a few too many restaurants pushed out to make way for the new and (supposedly) better.
When Houstonians are polled about the restaurants they miss the most, Feast frequently comes up. The final feast took place on June 14 with a sold-out crowd eager to get one final taste of some offal from the skilled hands of chefs James Silk and Richard Knight. Feast helped raise awareness of nose-to-tail dining in Houston, but a failed concept in New Orleans spelled the beginning of the end for the restaurant. In our coverage of the end of Feast, Phaedra Cook wrote, "The same foodies and writers who waved the banner of Feast so ardently when it first started were now down the road chasing the new hotness, as we do. During the last night of service, Chef Silk said, 'If every night had been like tonight, we wouldn't be closing.'"
Flora & Muse
In one of the most surprising — yet epic — ways for a restaurant to close, Flora & Muse informed its customers it would no longer be open for business...and did so during a Greek Wine Dinner. Talk about going out with a bang! In late October, the general manager, Evan Turner, informed guests that the restaurant would be closing for good that night after service. Rather than wasting away with no customers, Flora & Muse went out on its own terms. Props to them for doing so in style.
The beloved Belgian bistro from half of the duo that brought us Café Montrose made a temporary closure permanent in May. On its Facebook page, the Belgian bistro wrote, "We've sadly decided to close, and wanted to thank all our friends & patrons for their support during the past 4 years. You were the reasons we were here & want you to know that you were appreciated. We will miss you all, as well as our staff tremendously!" Jeannine's was renowned for its moules in every variety from marinières to congolaise, as well as its perfect frites.
Katsuya was a favorite among athletes and socialites hoping to see and be seen in the chic space in West Ave, so it wasn't a lack of business that caused the sushi restaurant to close. Instead, it was conflict among the managing partners, particularly master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi, who no longer wanted to be involved in the restaurant. It closed over the Fourth of July weekend. Late this year, Donald Chang's new Korean and Japanese restaurant, Nara, opened in its place, and though Nara, too, is an Asian restaurant, it's a little more subdued and less...um...gaudy than Katsuya. Nara has already been getting great reviews, so hopefully it will last longer than its predecessor.
Perry's Italian Grille
Fans of the Perry's Steakhouse empire were sad to see Perry's Italian Grille close in late June. Residents of Clear Lake, where the restaurant was located, took to Yelp to lament the closure of the neighborhood favorite, reminiscing about date nights and pre-dance dinners that took place at the Italian eatery. Perry's Steakhouse is still open across the country, as is Perry & Sons Market and Grille. Why they spell grill with an "e" in every restaurant name remains a mystery.
A mere two months after Roots caused a stir with an ill-advised sign outside that read "Beer should be like violence: Domestic," the popular vegetarian restaurant bid Houston adieu in June. According to reports from CultureMap, a "disengaged investor" was behind the closure, not, as many people assumed, a drop in business after the tasteless domestic violence joke. Eric Sandler, at the time reporting for Eater, did point out a positive aspect to Roots's closure: "no more having to overenunciate the words 'Roost' and 'Roots' when talking about the two different, but very similarly named, restaurants." Indeed.
The modern Upper Kirby Mexican restaurant closed at the end of May, when its 15-year lease was up, due to increases in rent in the popular neighborhood. At the time, Candice Schiller of the Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group, which owned and operated Taco Milagro, told the Chronicle's Greg Morago: "(Kirby) has become a street of upscale restaurants; most of them well financed multi-unit groups. Our littler counter service taco shop can't pay those kinds of rents." The space once occupied by Taco Milagro at the corner of Kirby and Westheimer remains empty.
Thelma's Bar B Que
Thelma's Bar B Que won accolades year after year for its smoky brisket, sausage and pork chops, but after a fire in 2009 felled the downtown location, a new shop that sprung up in the Third Ward just wasn't as good. In a Houston Chronicle article from 2010, Alison Cook called Thelma "cantankerous" and lamented that the restaurant wouldn't allow any changes or substitutions without a surcharge. Thelma's was quickly replaced with Abdel's BBQ, which describes itself as "a small black owned bbq bussiness thats hopefully gonna blow up...God willing [sic]." We're still waiting for that to happen.
Top 10 Projected Houston Food Trends of 2014
What will be on the menu this year?
Looking back at 2013, the foods that really stick out in our minds are the trendy ones: Cronuts. Sriracha. Pretzel buns. Kale. These dominated the discussions on food blogs, in culinary magazines and on morning talk shows.
So with 2014 here, we thought we'd get ahead of the game by predicting what epicurean themes will emerge. Will Dominique Ansel invent another amazing pastry hybrid? (Probably not.) Will pretzel buns be usurped by something better? (God, we hope so.) Will the world end when we run out of Sriracha? (Entirely possible.)
We'll revisit these predictions at the end of the year to see how spot-on or way off we were. Some of the trends have already begun taking shape, but we expect them to really explode this year. Of course, no one can predict how big an impact a simple breakfast item or hot sauce will have. But we like to think we're pretty clever.
Here are our picks for the top food trends of 2014.
10. Korean food
Houston is already on top of this one with the recent opening of Donald Chang's Nara, an upscale Korean and Japanese restaurant in West Ave. We expect to see Korean flavors in everything from hamburgers to grilled cheese to ice cream next year, particularly thanks to the growing popularity of kimchi and gochujang hot sauce. Not only will Korean food inundate the food-truck and fast-casual realm, but we'll also start seeing more upscale takes on Korean cuisine, as at Nara.
9. Bycatch and invasive species at upscale restaurants
Local fishmonger and chef PJ Stoops has been selling bycatch to local restaurants for years, but we see this trend catching on in the rest of the country as well this year. Bycatch is an industry term for fish caught unintentionally when fishermen are trying to catch other specific species. But rather than throw back or throw out these fish, chefs are finding new ways to incorporate lesser-known species into their menus. The same goes for invasive species. What better way to keep our waters from being overrun with lionfish, Asian carp and the northern snakehead fish?
8. Heirloom vegetables
We all know that heirloom tomatoes are beautiful and delicious, but farmers are starting to cultivate much more than tomatoes. The designation "heirloom" refers to old cultivars that were grown prior to the industrialization of agriculture. When we started growing crops commercially, we picked just a few that had the qualities we were looking for, leaving some of the tastier and more unique plants to the family farms that have been keeping these heirloom varieties growing in spite of a lack of interest from the general population. Now people are growing more interested, though, in everything from heirloom corn and peas to okra and watermelon.
7. Breakfast for dinner
Yes, as long as there has been breakfast, there has been breakfast for dinner, but this year, we predict you'll see many more omelets, waffles and savory pancakes on menus after dark. When we eat breakfast foods for dinner, it feels like a special occasion, as if we're getting away with something we shouldn't necessarily be doing. Chicken and waffles and waffle buns for burgers are already growing in popularity, but I suspect it won't be long before pancakes stuffed with pork or shrimp and dinner-size omelets find their way to our tables.
Move over, coffee. This is tea's year! Houston is already home to a number of great teahouses, but many people are just starting to realize all that tea has to offer. Almost as much caffeine as coffee? Check. Unique flavor combinations? Check. Organic and exotic? Check and check. Look for more gourmet and artisan tea on menus this year, the emergence of upscale tea bars and tea replacing coffee (to an extent) as our morning beverage of choice.
5. Fancy cauliflower
Oxheart was way ahead of this trend, giving vegetables a prime place on menus and treating them with the care and respect most often reserved for a steak or pork chop. In New York, there's a restaurant serving a $30 "cauliflower steak," and that's probably just the beginning. We predict more upscale roasted cauliflower, foams, purées and hashes. And, of course, it's only a matter of time before cauliflower steaks make their way to Houston. We probably won't go for it (meat-lovers that we are), but go on, chefs. Hit us with your best shot.
4. Gourmet chicken wings
Much of the potential 2014 trends involve fast, inexpensive or undervalued food moving up in the culinary world to places of prominence on fancy menus. Goro & Gun has already created upscale chicken wings, and as we saw at this year's Wingtoberfest, Uchi and Underbelly are just as capable. Expect to see elegant (read: expensive) wings in unique sauces at some of the more fashionable restaurants around the country. Inevitably, of course, fast-food restaurants will follow suit with their takes on mala wings with blue cheese sauce or cilantro- and cashew-crusted drumsticks.
3. Sea vegetables
What's more healthful than kale, more abundant than spinach and more exotic than bok choy? Seaweed, of course, and kelp and sea lettuce and wakame. The ocean is a veritable cornucopia of healthful plants, fresh, crisp, nutritious and ready to eat. The Japanese have been eating various forms of seaweed for thousands of years, and sea plants have been written about by both the Vikings and the ancient Greeks. We're a little behind on this trend here in the United States, but someday soon we imagine more seaweed salads will be finding their way to our tables.
2. Biscuit buns
Yes, pretzel buns were delicious when made correctly by an artisan baker, but fast-food restaurants ruined that. Expect pretzel buns (already waning in popularity) to be replaced by biscuit buns on everything from hamburgers to BLTs to veggie sandwiches. Breakfast foods have long been sandwiched between two buttery biscuit halves, but these mounds of flaky dough will soon be enveloping lunch and dinner, too. Biscuits have weathered perversion by fast-food restaurants, and they're poised for a slightly more high-end comeback.
1. Classy versions of a boilermaker
If you don't know what a boilermaker is, go back to hipster school. Actually, the boilermaker, or "a shot and a beer," was popular long before hipsters decided it wasn't cool and was therefore cool. Here in America, a boilermaker is most often a shot of whiskey and a cheap beer like Budweiser, though the term refers to something different in England, where the combo was presumably invented and named in the 1920s. Hip bars are now endeavoring to class up the boilermaker, though, with craft beer and expensive shots. A shot of Fernet and a Saint Arnold Winter Stout, coming right up!
Openings and Closings
Long-awaited Fish & The Knife might be no more.
The year 2014 is here, and we are gearing up for a multitude of restaurants to open and bring their culinary styles to the Houston dining scene. For most, it'll be awhile before they open, but two are almost ready.
In Kaitlin Steinberg's post about the ten highly anticipated restaurants of 2014, she lists Dish Society, which was supposed to open in December 2013 but now is scheduled to open this month. The casual farm-to-table restaurant "features local ingredient-driven and chef-inspired options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch," according to its Web site.
According to the B4-U-Eat newsletter, Fish & The Knife at 7801 Westheimer might be no more. Its construction process has been long overdue — it began construction in 2010 — and the Facebook page has disappeared.
The Whole Foods at Kirby has opened an indoor bar, Kirbside Bar, according to the Houston Chronicle. The bar includes eight taps by the glass or growlers to go as well as a bar menu. The bar will hold specials throughout each week: Mondays from 6 to 8 p.m., Kirbside Bar will offer a slice of pizza and a pint of beer for $5; Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m., there are $3 select pints, $4 select wines by the glass and happy hour foods during Hump Day Happy Hour; Fridays from 3 to 6 p.m. will feature $3 local pints and half-price local cheese plates; and Sundays from noon to 2 p.m., they'll offer $3 mimosas. On the last Thursday of each month, from 6 to 8 p.m., Kirbside Bar's sales will benefit conservation efforts at the Houston Zoo.
No restaurants officially closed last week. However, Mo Mong has closed for renovations. The Chronicle reports that Mo Mong closed on New Year's Day to remodel. The Vietnamese restaurant has not announced a reopening date.