Longtime Houston residents are well aware of how much Montrose has changed over the past two or three decades. However, it’s surprising to see how much it has changed just in the past five years.
Former Houston Press restaurant critic Katharine Shilcutt wrote an article about the “restaurant gentrification” of Montrose in August 2011. It was a retrospective that looked all the way back to 1997. Obviously, many restaurants have come and gone since then, but when Houston Press staffer Abrahán Garza happened to come across the article again, it was a little shocking to realize how many have closed in only five years. Some were practically institutions. Others were just blips on the radar.
Anyone who believes the restaurant business isn’t fraught with peril might change his mind after seeing the churn of comings and goings. For the restaurant owners who have survived all of this: Pat yourselves on the back today. You deserve it.
September 2011: Greatfull Taco, 2411 South Shepherd. It didn’t even last a year before selling out to Torchy’s, but it will be forever memorable for sending one of the weirdest press releases ever to the Houston Press. (The owner's referring to himself as a "soldier of fortune and mercenary" was one of the least-weird statements.) They just don’t write ’em like they used to. Talented chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio ended up at underrated restaurant Hawthorne, which had a similarly short life span. To the best of our knowledge, he hasn’t helmed a restaurant kitchen since, which is a pity.
November 2011: Café Moustache, 507 Westheimer. This restaurant space has been nothing but trouble ever since restaurateur Manfred Jachmich closed SoVino in 2010. (See also: Roots Bistro and Radical Eats.) He reopened it as Café Moustache, which proved a great disappointment for diners and restaurant critics alike, so it was no surprise when it shuttered.
December 2011: Fabio’s Italian Bar & Grill, 212 Westheimer. Owner Fabio Milano closed his restaurant to focus on his fresh pasta business at 2129 West Alabama. (By the way, if you’ve never stopped by to purchase some fresh ravioli or the tiramisu, remedy that oversight right away.) The former space is now home to Njoy Thai Restaurant.
December 2011: Ruggles Grill, 903 Westheimer. In one of the most controversial restaurant closings ever, Ruggles Grill shuttered amid scandal as employees clamored for chef-owner Bruce Molzan to pay back wages and tips that he owed them. Molzan admitted he needed to “catch up” on $14,000 or $15,000 but the situation had been “blown out of proportion.” It’s unknown whether the back wages were ever paid, but what’s for sure is the building was demolished in October 2012. Supposedly, a second concept by the owners of Triniti was going to be built there, but that never happened. All that’s there now is a vacant lot.
March 2012: Kraftsmen Café, 4100 Montrose. Chef Scott Tycer’s Montrose cafe closed, but really only to get a new life in the former Textile spot adjacent to the big Kraftsmen Baking facility in The Heights. The next place to take over the spot, Eatsie Boys, didn’t stay long, but that was for a pretty good reason. (See below.)
September 2012: Concepción, 819 West Alabama. This restaurant originally opened as Oceans in 2010, then rebranded in 2012. Chef Jonathan Jones, fresh off his critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful stint at Xuco Xicana (later Cook & Collins and now Stoked Tacos & Tequila), got to work on expanding the seafood-driven menu in April 2012. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived relationship. Only five months later, Jones was out and Concepción was closed. As far as we know, the space was never a restaurant again, but Jones eventually landed on his feet at El Big Bad, where he’s been for the past two years. Some of his “greatest hits” from his Xuco Xicana and Concepción years, like the pumpkin seed hummus and excellent ceviche, made it onto the menu there, too.
October 2012: Ziggy’s Healthy Grill, 302 Fairview. This one is nothing to be blue over. It was only a temporary closing so it could be rebranded to Gratifi, which we just featured earlier this week as having one of Houston’s most dog-friendly restaurant patios.
April 2013: Bocados, 1312 West Alabama. The popular brunch and steak night spot closed and the owners went on to open Red Ox (a restaurant that we don’t hear much about). Louisiana-based The Brick & Spoon took over the space, but, as discussed later on, didn’t find good fortune there.
May 2013: Café Adobe, 2111 Westheimer. The beloved spot for margaritas and Tex-Mex shuttered after 32 years of business following the death of owner Scott Cragin. CEO Bob Borochoff decided to focus on two remaining locations, in Sugar Land and at the Marq-E Center.
June 2013: Roots Bistro, 507 Westheimer. Remember what we said about 507 Westheimer and that it’s not been good for any restaurateur since 2010? Even well-regarded chef German Mosquera’s well-executed, vegetarian-friendly menu couldn’t overcome the bad voodoo. He and the owners parted ways before the end, and chef Chandler Rothbard (now at Animal Farm) stepped in. One thing that certainly didn’t help the restaurant’s reputation was an ill-conceived marquee slogan that compared beer to domestic violence. After that, the feeling among some diners was, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”
June 2013: Feast, 219 Westheimer. Many Houstonians loved the British nose-to-tail establishment that took up residence in the house where chef Georges Guy’s Chez Georges used to be — but not enough to keep it open long-term. After a bittersweet final feast and a veritable "garage sale" of dishes, decor and supplies the following day, two of the principals moved. However, chef Richard Knight stayed in Houston, where he now oversees Hunky Dory in The Heights. Maybe it's not Feast, but we love it just the same.
January 2014: Mo Mong (later Dua), 1201 Westheimer. Rebranding to Dua didn’t save this Montrose staple, tucked away in the corner of the strip center anchored by El Real Tex-Mex that now houses Mala Sichuan. The gay-friendly establishment was known for its guest DJs, bellinis, cosmopolitans and acceptable if not mind-blowing pan-Asian fare.
August 2014: Sandy Witch at Grand Prize Bar, 1010 Banks. We were in the middle of a nice chat with Anthony Calleo when he decided to close his top-notch sandwich shop inside Grand Prize Bar. While it wasn’t a stand-alone restaurant, it was still a loss. That said, Calleo, who also owns Pi Pizza Truck, will finally have a brick-and-mortar to call his own very soon (in about two weeks, according to the Facebook page), and that seems well-deserved. No one ever said the path to success is smooth.
November 2014: Hollywood Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant, 2409 Montrose. The significance of Hollywood closing wasn't that it served amazing Asian food. It was that it was a beloved late-night hangout for late-night workers and partiers. Despite promises that it would reopen at its former location of 2409 Grant, it never did. That’s now the site of Bayou City Bar & Grill. Fortunately, the Montrose location of BB’s Café stepped up to a 24-hour schedule, which has helped fill the lack of late-night options.
May 2014: Lucky Burger, 1601 Richmond. After 40 years, the burger place with the distinctive blue barrel roof decided to call it quits when the lease was up for renewal. The old building has been demolished to make room for Oui Banh Mi, which should be open very soon.
December 2014: La Casa Del Caballo, 322 Westheimer. When Mexican steakhouse La Casa Del Caballo closed, some thought the old La Strada building might be cursed. Tony Vallone’s Caffe Bello didn’t survive there, either. However, La Casa Del Caballo re-emerged, somewhat intact, as Saltillo Mexican Kitchen in the Bellaire Triangle area. The El Tiempo that opened in the old La Strada space seems to have broken the curse, probably thanks in part to some pretty extensive remodeling that added a patio.
January 2015: Berryhill Baja Grill, 3407 Montrose. This location of Berryhill, a reliable standby for fish tacos and margaritas, turned out to be a franchise spot. There are several other corporate Berryhill Baja Grills in the Houston area — but that’s not to say this one isn’t missed.
April 2015: Eatsie Boys, 4100 Montrose. Houstonians rejoiced when it was announced that one of the most popular food trucks was going brick-and-mortar. It wasn’t long for this world, but not for a bad reason. The owners decided to focus on their rapidly growing brewery, 8th Wonder. For a while, it looked like Melange Creperie would take the space, but next-door pub The Black Labrador ended up with it instead.
May 2015, Radical Eats, 507 Westheimer. Yes, kids, we’re back to the spot with the dubious honor of having three restaurant closings in a mere four years. Chef Staci Davis was at first probably relieved to have a less cramped space in Montrose for her restaurant, Radical Eats. However, it shuttered only two years later. Davis told Culturemap Houston, “The landlord offered me an out and I took it.” Considering that it’s never been a restaurant since then, that’s probably for the best. At least it stopped the string of closings at that address. According to her Facebook page, Davis is now based in San Leon at Top Water Grill.
May 2015, Eleven: Eleven, 507 West Gray. In a more uncomfortable than usual closing, a tenant-landlord dispute (and perhaps other financial issues) may have ultimately shut down Eleven: Eleven (formerly known as Eleven XI). The building is owned by the Bibas family (of the long-closed but affectionately remembered Bibas One’s A Meal), who decided to lock out their tenants “to prevent vandalism.” That move denied the staff a final night to say good-bye to their customers. It’s now the site of Skinny Rita’s Cantina.
August 2015, The Brick & Spoon, 1312 West Alabama. The former Bocados space didn’t prove a good fit for this Louisiana import. Even over-the-top Bloody Marys and a focus on brunch couldn’t save it. It was open for less than two years. The owners told Eric Sandler of Culturemap Houston they were “looking for a new location.” Apparently not in Houston, because they’ve never reopened here.
September 2015, Akamaru, 315 Fairview. No one, other than perhaps the owners, was sorry about Akamaru closing, least of all the poor restaurant critic (me) and her dining companions (who still talk to me for some reason) who “enjoyed” one of the worst “sushi” dinners ever (and we’re using the term “dinner” loosely). It’s been replaced by Szechuan café Cooking Girl, which is approximately a million times better.
March 2016, Georges Bistro, 219 Westheimer. Oddly enough, after Feast closed, Georges Guy returned to the space and opened the eponymous Georges Bistro. That didn’t last long, though: only two years. Guy and his wife, Monique, sold the place and moved back to France. Even stranger: The new owners of the new restaurant are still operating under the Georges Bistro name, but it’s now serving Italian and Greek food in addition to French.
May 2016, Mark’s American Cuisine, 212 Westheimer. Longtime fans of chef Mark Cox were shocked to hear that his restaurant, a staple of Montrose fine dining for 19 years, was closing. It was one of the focuses of Shilcutt’s 2011 article and part of the restaurant generation that includes Indika and Da Marco (both of which are still open).
July 2016, Maria Selma, 1617 Richmond. Soon, longtime Montrose Mexican restaurant Maria Selma will join the list of the closed. It’s been in business for 14 years. According to Houstonia magazine, it will reopen as Texas Shrimp Shack.
Did we forget a dearly departed Montrose restaurant? Let us know in the comments below.