The 25 Best New Restaurants In Houston in 2014
These spicy, smoky, sticky ribs coated in morita chile sauce came from our No. 24 pick.
Photo by Troy Fields
Houston, you had a banner year for new restaurant openings. It was a delightful struggle to rank the best and most significant openings of the year. Quality has become the name of the game in Houston and competition is fierce.
2014 provided a wealth of restaurant riches over a broad span of cuisines. It feels like a golden age. Southern, nouveau Korean, burgers, Texas barbeque and New American are just a few of the areas represented by the new crowd of establishments.
To compile this list, we considered restaurants with opening dates as early as December 1, 2013 to have a full year's worth of coverage.
See if your favorites made our list of The 25 Best New Restaurants in Houston.
This lovely toasted cumin chicken dish was just one of the menu items that landed Lillo & Ella in our No. 25 spot.
Photo by Phaedra Cook
25. Lillo & Ella, 2307 Ella Opened May 2014
Chef Kevin Naderi's Roost restaurant has a little brother now, but the personalities are very different. Naderi saw a lack of good Asian food in the lower Heights area and opened Lillo & Ella in the former El Gran Malo location. It seeks to fill the gap with delicate, battered calamari, flavorful crab fried rice, curried mussels and charred Brussels sprouts. There's a well-developed cocktail program with hits like the Chinatown-inspired "Crawling Through Bellaire," a cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee) with cognac and bitters that diners should take advantage of.
24. El Big Bad, 419 Travis Opened December 2013
Interestingly, 24 and 25 have a bit of shared history, as Lillo & Ella took over the former space of El Gran Malo. After its demise, it was a bit of a tough ride for younger sibling El Big Bad to find its identity. While it is no clone of the original, it has held onto a few aspects of the much-loved establishment, including the wide range of infused tequilas and the meaty, flour tortilla-encased tacos. Chef Jonathan Jones, though, stepped in and helped El Big Bad with a unique culinary identity, partly with an infusion of dishes from cult foodie favorite Xuco Xicana. Rib-sticking posole, chicken wings doused in chile de arbol sauce and pumpkin seed hummus are just a few of the great additions to the menu.
23. Punk's Simple Southern Food, 5212 Morningside Opened March 2014
Chef Brandi Key established a solid Southern menu at Punk's. It's rare to find outstanding fried chicken on the menus of full-fledged restaurants but diners can find it here, along with golden biscuits with tender interiors. The menu also features pickled shrimp, outstanding chicken fried steak, a different homestyle pie each week and there are good cocktails and wine to be had here as well. Diners seeking good comfort food won't leave disappointed.
22. Prohibition Supperclub & Bar, 1008 Prairie Opened November 2014
Talk about a strong start out of the gate! Prohibition Supperclub & Bar may have ranked higher on this list if it weren't still so young. With that aside, many dishes there are already evoking ooohs and ahhs from diners. Chefs Ben McPhereson and Matt Wommack seem to have found their true calling in the elegant Southern dishes that complement the Moulin Rouge environment better than anyone could anticipate. Roasted oysters come in a variety of renditions, like Rockefeller (with green herbs, breadcrumbs and a touch of anise from Herbsaint liquor) and Bienville (with shrimp, mushrooms, béchamel and bacon). A stellar cocktail program headed up by The Pass & Provisions and Double Trouble Caffeine and Cocktails alum Lainey Collum seals the deal.
21. Dish Society, 5740 San Felipe Opened January 2014 From the get-go, Dish Society--founded by UT alums and fraternity brothers Aaron Lyons and Trent Patterson--knew what it was and what it wanted to be. The clean, warehouse-y space with its bright yellow accents, and pretty, yellow gingham-clad servers, wanted to be a friendly, affordable neighborhood spot serving locally sourced food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It succeeded. Dishes such as their avocado stuffed with quinoa or their Black Hills Ranch pork tenderloin served with whipped sweet potatoes and braised collards--have helped them build a strong clientele, with a look to the future: They already have plans for a second location in Katy, slated for first quarter 2015.
Crowdpleasing, grill-it-yourself fun in Midtown landed Gyu-Kaku in the #19 spot.
Photo by Troy Fields
20. Ramen Jin, 11181 Westheimer Opened December 2013 People are driving from all over town these days to Ramen Jin for owner Brian Chen's hearty, scratch-made tonkotsu ramen. The hip, trendy space is the real deal, offering some of the best ramen Houston has to offer at the moment. It has been a labor of love for Chen, who designed everything himself, right down to the custom-carved wooden napkin and spoon holders which adorn the custom-crafted tables. The short menu offers three types of ramen -- miso, spicy miso, and a mixed tonkotsu/shoyu (soy) -- and one cold ramen for just $9. There are some small rice bowls and appetizers on offer as well, but the star is definitely the hot bowl of noodles. Chen says that he works on making his ramen better every day, and it shows.
19. Gyu-Kaku, 510 Gray Opened April 2014 Well-known Japanese barbecue chain Gyu-Kaku had such a large following that they were mobbed from the minute they opened their doors. More than half a year later, the Midtown restaurant--the first in Houston--is still a hugely popular spot for grill-at-the-table marinated meats and more. With more than 30 locations in the United States and Asia, it's not surprising that their food is generally super consistent. Their most popular cuts of meat -- the harami skirt steak and the kalbi short ribs -- always deliver, and the experience, once you're seated, is a pleasure thanks to the well-trained, upbeat, helpful staff.
18. Sal y Pimenta, 818 Town & Country Opened May 2014 There's no dearth of steak restaurants in Houston, but Sal y Pimienta, which bills itself as South American, is bringing another brand of steakhouse to the mix. The brainchild of owner Gianfranco Percovich (one of the original founders of Tango and Malbec in the Galleria area), this modern parrilla, or grill, is fashioned much like the modern steakhouses in South America. Percovich has taken great care to source the highest quality meats -- from grassfed tenderloin from Uruguay to Niman ranch dry-aged tomahawk ribeye -- so that there are numerous cuts from which to choose. Food aside, the ambiance is also delightful. The colorful, bright space, decorated in a palette of oranges and creamy whites, is inviting and modern, yet comfortable a the same time, with an open kitchen showcasing orange-uniformed cooks tending to the meats on the mesquite wood grill.
17. Preview Modern Seafood, 4645 Texas 6 Opened May 2014 Granted, you have to trek more than halfway to Missouri City to find Preview Modern Seafood, but it's worth it for a taste of chef Jasion Liao's creations. The young chef, who cut his teeth at sushi restaurants in Austin, returned to his hometown to open up his first restaurant, and though it's small, its aspirations are big. Here, you get sashimi-style creations like his brilliant take on chips and dip -- tuna ceviche nestled next to grilled scallops and finished with avocado puree and chips made of fresh snapper fried to a crisp. A reasonably priced tasting menu is also on offer, as well, but the best thing about this place is the fact that Liao refuses to compromise on quality, ensuring that whether you come in on Tuesday or a Saturday, you'll be happy with the everything that he sends out from the kitchen.
16. Main Kitchen, 806 Main Opened September 2014
Chef Erin Smith earned a following at Plonk! Bistro and bolstered it when she reworked the menu at Anvil Bar & Refuge. Her follow-up act? Working with barista David Buehrer to create the well-received menu for Blacksmith's maiden voyage. At Main Kitchen, located in the new, sleek J.W. Marriott Hotel, she's winning new fans with guajillo pork tacos and crispy, delicate pizzas that taste like they came from a stone oven. Most plates are ideal for sharing. Main Kitchen will make you rethink how you look at hotel restaurants.
Dining at Vallone's, our #15 pick, always feels like a celebration.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography
15. Vallone's, 947 North Gessner Opened December 2013 Named after one of Houston's most enduring restaurateurs--Tony Vallone--Vallone's was always destined for greatness. The beautiful designer restaurant, decorated in rich chocolate tones, and boasting a fire sculpture and a two-story glass-enclosed wine vault takes staid American steakhouse fare and adds pizazz. Can't decide what cut of meat you want to get? Gaze upon their proprietary wheel of meat, an elaborate round display that can be rolled to your table to help you decide. House-made pastas, and specialty dishes such as their four-hour French onion soup, Berkshire pork osso bucco, or an excellent lunchtime offering of chicken fried steak, embellish on the classic steakhouse menu. Service is impeccable, and the bar program, helmed by Joe Hausner, offers a fine mix of classics as well as creatively crafted cocktails.
14. Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 3201 Louisiana Opened July 2014
If you're looking for the best gumbo in town, look no further than Holley's Seafood Kitchen and Oyster Bar. Mark Holley, an alumnus of Brennan's of Houston and Pesce, has returned to Houston's dining scene, this time in his very own restaurant in Midtown. The menu is thoughtful, with culinary nods to history from several Southern states. Other standouts include an oyster program that brings in the briny beauties from other coasts and blackened grouper that will fulfill every Creole desire you've ever had.
13. Museum Park Cafe, 1802 Binz Opened September 2014
The Museum District-area restaurant, helmed by former Stella Sola chef Justin Bayse and dessert wizard Chris Leung, has already earned some good reviews. On the menu, look for creative takes on New American dishes like steak tartare with pickled mushrooms, capers in a preserved egg yolk; locally-sourced pork roast and knock-your-socks-off scallion and cheddar biscuits.
12. Dosi Restaurant & Soju Bar, 2802 South Shepherd Opened July 2014
Did anyone imagine that elevating Korean cuisine to modern fare could work? We had our doubts until we reviewed Dosi. The food is a creative take on Korean fare, but as is traditional, almost every dish is shareable. Dosi is an easy place to celebrate over glasses of fruit-infused soju with a group of friends. Chef Jordan Asher is constantly playing with the menu, but the delightful tofu with sparklingly-fresh tomatoes and shiso, as well as the addictive scallion pancakes are some of the best go-to dishes.
11. Songkran Thai Kitchen, 1101-08 Uptown Park Opened April 2014 Exotic and sultry, the decor at Songkran Thai Kitchen, with its larger than life hand-painted murals set against dark wood, is the perfect setting for a meal showcasing the talents of chef Jett Hurapan. The Thai chef, who was raised in Thai kitchen, has really poured his heart into the menu, creating dishes that appeal to a wide range of palates while staying true to his roots. Dishes like his Nam Tok (Thai beef salad), Son-in-law eggs, or three-flavor fried fish, are authentic and real without burning the palate. Those wanting more spice can always specify a higher degree. The location in Uptown Park is also a huge plus -- no need to venture out to the westside to find good Thai eats -- this one is in town and fabulous.
Radio Milano's elegant presentations secured a high-ranking spot at #7.
Photo by Mai Pham
10. KUU, 947 N. Gessner Opened February 2014
Chef Adison Lee uses the craft he learned under modern Japanese cuisine master Nobu to bring fine fare to the Memorial City area. The sashimi and sushi at KUU are of some of the best quality around thanks to fish that is flown in fresh from Japan. Dishes tend to be layered with multiple flavors and colors from garnishes and light, savory sauces, delivering a fine feast for the eyes as much as for the mouth.
9. Common Bond, 1706 Westheimer Opened May 2014
Houstonian Roy Shvartzapel traveled the world, gained experience at top restaurants and then came home to open a café and bakery recognized almost immediately as one of Houston's best. In the mornings, people line up at Common Bond to dine on ethereal croissants with crisp hulls and craft coffee, while afternoon diners enjoy top-notch soups, sandwiches and artistic desserts. It's quality food worth waiting for.
8. Bernie's Burger Bus, 5407 Bellaire Opened June 2014 There's a saying that "All good things must come to an end," but Bernie's Burger Bus is definitely defying the odds. The school-bus themed food truck's first brick and mortar location in Bellaire is a more of new beginning for owner Justin Turner, who has created a welcoming diner space -- complete with a school bus inside -- to showcase his delectable school-house themed gourmet burgers. The family-friendly location is well-priced and has allowed Turner to take more creative license with his menu, creating new dishes like his awesomely-filled lobster roll. Another thing we love about this place? His milkshakes. Together, a Bernie's Burger Bus burger + fries + mikshake = One helluva happy meal.
7. Radio Milano, 800 Sorella Opened October 2014 Executive chef Jose Hernandez (formerly of Bistro Moderne, Philippe, Triniti and La Balance) worked on the menu for Radio Milano, located inside the Hotel Sorella at CityCentre, for months before it opened. One look at the contemporary Italian menu, and it shows. You could literally order every single appetizer on the menu to share among friends and be happy. Crab ravioli sound good? If it sounds good, then one bite of this intensely creamy crab ravioli will surely win your heart. The house "Milano" pizza, topped with a house-made cream of fresh truffle, prosciutto di parma, and arugula is impossible to stop at just one slice. The tagliatelle (all pastas are house-made) with uni cream and lobster is to-die-for, and all this before dessert. If you know one thing about Hernandez, know this: He is a master pastry chef, so his desserts are fantastic. He is also very intense and strives for perfection, which translates into food that you can't help but love.
6. Bistro Menil, 1513 West Alabama Opened October 2014 Even before you step in the doors of Bistro Menil, you get a sense that this is a place that's done right. "We wanted to be able to anticipate people's needs," says chef and owner Greg Martin, who can be seen walking the floor greeting patrons when he's not in the kitchen. The ambiance of this built-from-the-ground-up design space is light and airy during the day. In the evening, when the lights dim, the focus is on the food. Martin's menu is well thought out and full of options that can please worldly, sophisticated palates without being too hoity toity. Your meal can start with something as simple as his brilliantly conceived eggplant fries with aoili, progressing to a salad of finely shredded zucchini strands, and finish off with a homey duck cassoulet, or a beautiful red snapper topped with crab. We haven't tried anything we didn't like, and that includes the wine. Overseen by Sean Essex --the well-priced list is full of hidden gems chosen to exceed expectations. And the best part? On the days that Menil Collection is open, the restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, making it easy to stop by anytime the whim hits.
Killen's Barbeque, our No. 3 pick, draws crowds nearly every day who are after giant, meaty beef ribs and succulent smoked brisket.
Photo by Mai Pham
5. Coltivare, 3320 White Oak Opened January 2014
Whether you had experienced chef Ryan Pera's food from his prior work at The Grove, met rancher Morgan Weber at the Urban Harvest Farmer's Market at Eastside and tasted the succulent meat from his heritage breed pigs, or had lunch at the duo's locally-focused grocery store, Revival Market, you knew something good was coming when they announced they were opening a restaurant together. The result, Coltivare, is Italy-Meets-Texas. Pera uses a classic Italian approach to use what is fresh, local and in-season. The results include crispy pizzas from the stone oven and fresh vegetables brightened with Texas citrus.
4. BCN Taste & Tradition, 4210 Roseland Opened September 2014
Even though it's barely been open for three months, BCN Taste & Tradition is rapidly making a name for itself for two reasons. The first is the elegant beige-on-white setting that speaks of sophistication and romance. The second reason is the top quality ingredients-like melt-in-your-mouth Jamón ibérico, fragrant fresh truffles and boquerones--used to produce a true and traditional Spanish cuisine experience. There's a reason for the authenticity: chef Luis Roger moved to Houston from Spain with his family.
3. Killen's Barbeque, 3613 East Broadway, Pearland Opened February 2014
Chef Ronnie Killen definitely upped the ante when he opened Killen's Barbeque in Pearland. "I want to put Houston on the map as the best barbecue place. Not Austin. So that's my main goal," he has stated. From the look of things, he's well on his way to making this happen. Fans regularly endure waits of close to an hour -- even in the rain -- for a taste of his 'cue. He moves more than 2,000 pounds of barbecue a day, and all you have to do is watch as he slices through a piping hot brisket, smoked until it's black on the outside, but still oozing in its juices, to see why. It's a thing of beauty, second only to the utter gloriousness of actually tasting his food. Everything is amazing, from his just-crisped bone-in pork belly, to his gigantic beef ribs, to the house made sausage, smoked turkey, sides such as the creamed corn and barbecue beans, to his three custom barbecue sauces. His motto is "The Best Barbecue Period." And to that we say, "Hell, yeah!"
2. Caracol, 2200 Post Oak Boulevard Opened December 2013
Celebrating its one year anniversary this month, Caracol--chef Hugo Ortega and restaurateur wife Tracy Vaught's temple to coastal Mexican cuisine--quickly rose to the top of the list of all-time best restaurants (not just new restaurants) in the city. Just one step into the gorgeously-decorated space, which features large-format, aquatic-themed reproductions of pieces by American artist Charlie Harper, and you'll see that Caracol has it all: creative Mexican cuisine by chef Hugo Ortega (get the chipotle butter grilled oysters, warm octopus salad); a kicking bar area with stellar by-the-glass wine options and killer cocktails by beverage director Sean Beck (try the Zihuatanejo, made with mezcal, Crème de Violette liqueur, lime, salted margarita foam); a welcoming patio for cooler nights when you want to dine alfresco; a memorable dessert program (the El Coco, which comes with its own wooden hammer, is not to be missed); and a fabulous all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch to boot.
Elegant platings and an understanding of how to elevate a simple ingredient to greatness makes Pax Americana our No. 1 Best New Restaurant of 2014 in Houston.
Photo by Mai Pham
1. Pax Americana, 4319 Montrose Opened August 2014
Chef Adam Doris' ability to take simple, fresh, local ingredients to their pinnacle of existence meshes incredibly well with sommelier Chris Fleischman's and restaurateur Shepherd Ross' celebration of wines from all across America. Pax Americana's identity is unique and the cuisine has won hearts and minds of diners and reviewers alike. Some of the dishes, such as eggs in a cast iron pan and covered in local herbs, smoky brisket and sanguinaccio fritters, create new food memories in diners' heads that keep them coming back over and over again. To top it all off is an outstanding cocktail program. Pax Americana is a valuable and significant addition to Houston's dining landscape that is likely to endure.
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