What are Houston’s hottest restaurants this month? Here are the places with the new, the notable and the most coveted tables. For convenience, we've listed them by formality so you know when to dress up and when you can get away with showing up in jeans.
We also give a nod to the ones leaving the list — for now, at least. Restaurants that we're carrying over from prior months are denoted as "Still Hot," and new additions are indicated as well.
La Table, 1800 Post Oak
Still Hot. The group behind L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon has done nothing less than transform the former Table On Post Oak location into the kind of restaurant that Houston wants and needs. Standards for service and food here are very high, especially upstairs at formal (but not stuffy) Château. Having rack of lamb or whole chicken rolled out on a wooden cart and carved tableside is an affordable indulgence. Downstairs, the area called Marché is perfect for the ladies who lunch (yes, gentlemen, you can lunch here, too), and it is all too tempting to grab a beautiful pastry from the bakery counter on your way out. We recently featured La Table in our new Best Patios list, too. If you have not already, read our full, glowing review.
Nice But Not Fussy
Bernadine’s, 1801 North Shepherd
Still Hot. Creative, upscale takes on Southern comfort food and one of the most winning brunches in town are keeping Bernadine’s on our hot list for at least another month. Must-try dishes include the ever-changing selection of Gulf coast appellation oysters (an “appellation” means these are specific, identifiable kinds with particular characteristics, not just the large, generic Gulf oysters usually served). In fact, the notable seafood selection here was recently featured in our list of the best raw bars in Houston. On the hot side, try the Creole-style gumbo and the cochon de lait au presse, which comes across as like the pork equivalent of duck confit.
Foreign Correspondents, 4721 North Main
New to the List. The recent recipient of a positive review from Houston Press freelance restaurant critic Nicholas Hall, Foreign Correspondents is getting hotter by the moment. Yes, that description could apply to one or two of the full-flavored and rarely seen Northern Thai dishes. However, what we really mean is that thanks to being joined by some notable next-door neighbors — cocktail bar Canard and soon-to-open Morningstar Coffee & Donuts — the formerly sedate shopping center is suddenly more of a destination. Try chef P.J. Stoops’s excellent food now before you have to start fighting for a parking space.
Ginger & Fork, 4705 Inker
New to the List. The Hong Kong-style Cantonese restaurant in the former La Fisheria space just off I-10 and Shepherd is serving the authentic fare normally found only in Chinatown. It’s run by Mary Li, a 20-year veteran who garnered plenty of restaurant and bar experience at Tony Mandola’s. What sets Ginger & Fork apart from other Cantonese restaurants is its sophistication, including a craft cocktail menu that incorporates spirits and liqueurs from all over the world. Houston Press freelance writer Mai Pham recently wrote a First Look. She enjoyed entrées such as the seabass in soybean sauce and the filet mignon strips, but found that some of the small plates still need work. Similarly, the feedback received so far from multiple readers has been mixed on everything from portion sizes to pricing. On the other hand, that inside-the-Loop restaurant space doesn’t come cheap.
Helen Greek Food & Wine, 2429 Rice
Still Hot. Helen was a James Beard award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant (that’s in America, pal, not just in Houston). While it didn’t make it to the finals, that was the first time — ever — that a Houston restaurant has been named to that category. Folks are still reveling in meaty lamb ribs, trios of dips that range from smoky eggplant to lemony ones infused with carp roe, and flower-like phyllo pastry filled with greens and Greek cheese. The Greek wine list is as refreshing on warm days as it is unpronounceable, and the entire staff of Helen is happy to help translate words into flavors.
Restless Palate, 2643 Commercial Center, Katy
New to the List. Eatsie Boys’ chef Matt Marcus consulted on the menu of this Katy restaurant with a focus on healthy, fresh and local foods. It just opened on March 31 and is serving both lunch and dinner. Among the most intriguing menu items are the Black Hill Ranch smoked cheddar burger, the ahi tuna tacos that incorporate wild-caught sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna, and the strawberry rhubarb and fresh berries parfait.
State of Grace, 3258 Westheimer
Still Hot. This is still on our hot list for the month because diners are still headed to Houston native Ford Fry’s first hometown endeavor in droves. There’s great affection for Houston food culture evident in the menu choices. It comes through in the execution of gems like the twice fried hot chicken (a.k.a. Korean fried chicken) and the cheese enchilada a la Felix. A selection of raw oysters are only one dollar at happy hour, and that’s one of the best restaurant bargains in town. (State of Grace was recently featured for its outstanding raw bar.) This is a nice place, but don’t be afraid to eat with your hands.
Republic Diner + Sojubang, 1221 West 11th
New to the List. The word has been mum about Republic Diner + Sojubang since it opened in the former Witchcraft Tavern & Provisions space in October. Well, we visited on a Thursday night, and you know what? It was packed. This is all part of a Heights conspiracy to keep this excellent concept that combines great craft beer with authentic Korean dishes, like bibimbap and jjigae, a secret. The dog-friendly patio is a bonus for pet lovers and recently was the site for two German shepherd showdogs in training. We’re onto you, now, Heights residents. Scoot over and pass the gochujang.
The Burger Joint, 2703 Montrose
New to the List. The Burger Joint has actually been open for about five months — but now it's springtime. That means it's prime burger-and-patio time! The Burger Joint is in Little Bigs' original location on Montrose near Westheimer. On the menu are thick milkshakes and floats in both grownup and non-alcoholic varieties, burgers with ten different topping combinations, hot dogs, fries, onion rings, and macaroni and cheese. Check out Mai Pham's First Look article for more details.
The Dunlavy, 3422 Allen Parkway
New to the List. Alison Cook at the Houston Chronicle recently wrote a lovely musing on some of the newer, more sophisticated options for weekday breakfast. Among the intriguing restaurants featured was The Dunlavy, the bright, chandelier-lit space right in the midst of the greenery at Buffalo Bayou Park. In the mornings, diners can snack on refined quiches and avocado toast. Breakfast service segues into lunch, but there’s no dinner here since The Dunlavy is reserved as a private event space in the evenings. Cook noted that the casual, self-service model seems a little weird considering the lush surroundings, but it’s still high on the list of new spots to check out.
Pappa Charlie’s Barbeque, 2012 Rusk
Even Hotter This Month Than Before. “Crushed again today!” is something owner Wesley Jurena of Pappa Charlie’s Barbeque must be getting used to writing on social media. After positive reviews from both the Houston Press and the Houston Chronicle , fans of smoked meat have made the trek to — and heartily embraced — the downtown barbecue spot near BBVA Compass Stadium. The ribs are tender, with just the right touch of seasoning, and daily specials like smoked meatloaf and masala smoked leg of lamb simply add to the fun. Fun fact: The band members of Maroon 5 stopped by for some fine Texas barbecue during the recent Final Four festivities.
Hot Food Trucks
New to the List. It looks like chef Shannon Tune’s big win on Food Network's Chopped has gained him an even bigger following. Everywhere the truck goes, a line forms of hungry people drawn in by menu items like the morning after burger, spicy yardbird and lamb poutine with hand-cut french fries. The current schedule was posted on the truck’s Facebook page when we checked.
The Lucky Fig
New to the List. The bright blue truck is run by the season four winner of MasterChef, Luca Manfé. Yes, he’s actually in the truck making food and hasn’t shunted that duty off to someone else. His Italian food, much of which is based on recipes passed down for generations, is often so beautiful that it seems like a shame to have to serve it in disposable containers. He makes his pasta from scratch. Don’t miss out on that. Also on the menu are very dense meatballs of grassfed Texas beef with tomato aioli and a selection of panini. Manfé usually even has some kind of fancy dessert on the menu. The schedule is kept up-to-date on the website, something that’s very important for a successful food truck.
Oldie But A Goodie
The Pass, 807 Taft
Helen Greek Food & Wine wasn’t the only Houston restaurant to break a barrier with the 2016 James Beard nominations. The Pass (the fine-dining, tasting menu half of The Pass & Provisions) was a semifinalist in the Outstanding Service category. Like Helen, The Pass didn’t make it to the finals, but it certainly did make a step in the right direction for Houston. Choose from a five-course or eight-course menu with or without wine or cocktail pairings, then sit back and prepare for a real experience.
Previous “Oldie” But a Goodie: Mark’s American Cuisine.
Off the Hot List (for now, at least)
Hunky Dory, 1801 North Shepherd: We don’t want to take the outstanding brunch and congenial atmosphere for granted, but Richard Knight’s new restaurant seems to be chugging along smoothly, service and food alike.
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Southern Goods, 632 West 19th: The laid-back place from restaurateur Charles Bishop, executive chef Lyle Bento, chef de cuisine J.D. Woodward and pitmaster/sous chef Patrick Feges has simply settled so nicely into the neighborhood, it feels as if it’s always been there.
KA Sushi, 1901 North Shepherd: We haven’t heard much buzz about KA Sushi over the past several weeks, so it’s dropping off the hot list — for now. Still, we can vouch for its very large, interesting and overall successful menu of Japanese cuisine both traditional and modern.
The Halal Guys, 3821 Farnham: Not everyone in town is slamming the place every open hour for a New York-style fix of chicken and gyro doused in the famously garlicky white sauce and flaming-hot pepper sauce. In other words, now the sensible people can go.
Tejas Chocolate Craftory, 200 Elm, Tomball: Off the hot list for now, but don't let that dissuade you from heading out for barbecue, beer and chocolate. Really, nothing should ever dissuade you from that combination.