Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Big Chicken Opens, Picnik Debuts Soon

Photo by Big Chicken
Shaquille O'Neal has all the chicken feels.

Big Chicken
, 9660 Westheimer, opened April 11 with a grand opening celebration. This is the first Houston location and is a franchise operation from Fazil Malik, Frank Malik and Noordin Jhaver.

One of the stars behind the business is Shaquille O'Neal, the legendary NBA player and Hall-of-Famer whose roster of former teams includes the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics. O'Neal is one of three owners, helping to found the brand in 2018 in Las Vegas with JRS Hospitality and Authentic Brands Group. It is now located in more than a dozen states and the Houston store is the first for Texas.
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Big Chicken has arrived in Westchase.
Photo by Kelli Maruca/Big Chicken
Like Shaq himself, the sandwiches are big in size. The Big & Sloppy is a bun filled with fried chicken breast, mac & cheese, crispy fried onions and dressed with roasted garlic bbq aioli. The Shaq Attack chicken sandwich gets loaded with pepper Jack cheese, jalapeno slaw and spicy chipotle bbq sauce. Other mains include the Crispy Chicken Grilled Cheese, popcorn chicken, tenders and a couple of fried chicken-topped salads. Side options include Sweet Potato Fries, BC Fries, Dirty Fries, Jalapeno Slaw and the Lucille's Mac N Cheese with a Cheez-It crust.
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Order your sandwich, then belly up to the bar.
Photo by Kelli Maruca/Big Chicken
There are milkshakes made with all natural ice cream from Scotts Bros. Dairy plus ice cream sandwiches and The Big Cookie, a chocolate chip cookie the size of Shaq's hand.

The Houston restaurant also offers adult beverages along with a full bar.
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Picnik will have an outdoor terrace surrounded by greenery.
Photo by Picnik
Picnik, 888 Westheimer, will open  April 24 in the Montrose Collective. The concept was first realized by Naomi Seifter in 2013 when she founded her healthy, inclusive and approachable food business out of a 150 square-foot trailer in Austin, Texas. The brand developed into a full service restaurant and bar and now has two locations in Austin. Houston will make number three.

Open for lunch, dinner and brunch, the menu at Picnik begins with Dips + Starters, Salads + Bowls + Marketplaces and there is an All Day Brunch menu. The sustainable list of delicious items includes its popular Bacon Jam Burger. It's made with a grass-fed beef patty, raw organic cheddar, a generous topping of house-made bacon jam along with mustard and pickles. Even its sesame seed bun is made from scratch.
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Healthy or not, this burger looks amazing.
Photo by Picnik
There are seasonal dishes as well including Spring Hash with fresh vegetables and scratch-made sausage from grass-fed beef and heritage pork. Brunch plates include the Picnik Benedict made with a house-made biscuit, organic cream cheese, no-sugar bacon, Vital Farms eggs and a creamy hollandaise.

The food at Picnik is prepared without refined sugar, seed oils, gluten or peanuts. Guests are welcome to add functional ingredients including superfoods and adaptogens like CBD, Reishi or Lion's Mane (medicinal mushrooms) and Sharp for energy.
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This is our kind of picnic.
Photo by Picnik
Its focus on clean ingredients spills over to its drink menu with cocktails such as the Pitaya Margarita with natural flavors like dragonfruit, honey, lime and tequila or the Southern Charm made with bourbon, citrus, banana and spice. There are sustainable and ethically-sourced wines, gluten-free beers, local cider and hard kombucha. It offers a selection of zero-proof drinks as well.

The vibrant and airy space was inspired by nature and designed by HapstakDemetriou+ Architecture Design.

Guests of Picnik receive two free hours of validated underground garage parking.
Victoria Elizondo knows her tacos and wrote a cookbook about them.
Photo by Victoria Elizondo

Cochinita & Co., 5420 Lawndale, is now firmly established in the #500 suite space that it previously shared with Kickin' Kombucha's Kickin' Market, as reported by Houston Food Finder. Kickin' Kombucha, meanwhile, has returned to its original space a few doors down at suite #100.

Founded by James Beard Award Emerging Chef 2023 semifinalist, Victoria Elizondo, Cochinita & Co. originally operated at the food hall Politan Row receiving rave reviews. However, the COVID pandemic took its toll on food halls and Politan Row shuttered in 2020, leaving Cochinita & Co. without a home.
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Victoria Elizondo poses with some of the local products.
Photo by Maria Alducin
Elizondo continued her brand with pop-ups and catering, eventually joining up with Kickin' Kombucha in 2021, doing the food program for the local kombucha brand's cafe. Once the contract was over, Elizondo decided to stay in the space with her Cochinita & Co. while Kickin' Kombucha decided to return to its original spot.

Now, Elizondo is going full steam with a cafe that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus an in-house market with a variety of packaged goods. She is also doing catering and released her cookbook Taco-tastic: Over 60 Recipes to Make Taco Tuesdays Last All Week Long last October.

Kickin' Kombucha is also making some major changes, with founder Robert Lopez deciding to keep the original location for manufacturing while making some tweaks to the distribution side of things. He has opted out of selling the fermented sparkling tea to grocery stores such as Whole Foods Market, going with local independent purveyors like Blacksmith and Black's Bodega instead.
Will the third concept be a charm for the Emiliani siblings?
Photo by Becca Wright
Louie's Italian American, 3401 Harrisburg, had its last dinner service April 10, according to the Houston Chronicle. However, that's not the end of the venture from Lucianna "Louie" Emiliana and brother Angelo Emiliani. The siblings are transforming their Italian restaurant into a pizza-forward concept, Angie's, which is shooting to open in May 2023.

Angelo Emiliani is not new to the world of pizza. He brought a wood-fired, 3,500 pound pizza oven with him when he returned to Houston in late 2020 and immediately began doing Angie's as a pop-up, an easier feat than opening a restaurant during the COVID pandemic. Angelo has restaurant experience with places such as Uchi Houston and has also worked with culinary greats such as Thomas Keller and pizza master Chris Bianco.

Eventually, the Emiliani siblings opened their first restaurant, Cafe Louie, in May 2022 as an all day cafe, showcasing Louie's pastry skills. However, that all original concept switched to Louie's Italian American in December 2022 with dinner-only service, taking its cue from the siblings' Italian heritage.

However, Angelo's success with the pop-up pizza concept was always in the background and now the duo will transition once again. Angie's Pizza Pies will serve a cross between New York-style pizzas and Neapolitan pies. The menu will also feature a few favorites from the Louie's Italian menu.
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Not only can you pick toppings at Hungry Howie's, but you can pick a flavor for the crust.
Photo by Hungry Howie's
Hungry Howie's, 6940 Katy Gaston Road, opened March 29 and is celebrating its grand opening beginning April 17. Customers who place the first 50 orders that day will receive free pizzas. The following day, April 18, there will be a ribbon cutting. Hungry Howie's will donate 10 percent of sales at the location April 19 to Hubenak Elementary. It is also offering a weeklong promotion of 50 percent off any pizza at regular price for online carryout orders.

Hungry Howie's is known for its flavored crusts and has over 550 locations across the U.S. Claiming to be the home of the Original Flavored Crust Pizza, it has eight options for the pizza crusts including butter, butter-cheese, Asiago cheese, ranch, Cajun, sesame, garlic herb and Italian herb.

In addition to its deep dish or thin crust pies, there are flatbreads, oven-baked subs, fresh salads and wings. There is also a No-Dough Bowl for those going crust-less and desserts such as the Howie Cookie or Cinnamon Howie Bread.
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Starbucks is everywhere and now, it's at Lyric Market.
Photo by Becca Wright
Lyric Market, 411 Smith, has announced several new vendors at the downtown food hall, just ahead of its grand opening celebration April 22 from noon to 3 p.m.  Café JuJu, Francis' Cafe and Mama’s Texas Smokehouse join the lineup while Starbucks is opening a satellite location in Press Waffle Co.

Cafe JuJu is a health-centric concept from Julia Hogan-McNeil who founded the business after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2013. It serves cold-pressed juices plus plant-based comfort food such as burgers, boneless wings, chicken and waffles and vegan tacos.
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April is wellness month and the new Cafe JuJu has the delicious food and fresh juices to get it started.
Photo by Becca Wright
Mama’s Texas Smokehouse offers authentic Texas barbecue sandwiches and meat plates plus meats by the pound. Not only will owner Francis Jones be operating the new barbecue joint but he is also opening Francis' Cafe at Lyric Market,  his personal spin on an all-day cafe with a selection of sandwiches, salads and soups.
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However you like your barbecue, Mama's Texas smokehouse has you covered.
Photo by Becca Wright
The market's current list of vendors includes 1929 Po-Boy Kitchen, Horu Sushi, Kati Roll Wala, Mexology, and Rhapsody Bar.

For the grand opening, guests can expect some exciting pop-ups and cooking demonstrations, live music, face painting, vendor sampling and more. Cocktails will be available for purchase at its chic, centrally located bar.

Lyric Market is connected to Lyric Tower and the Lyric Garage, the most technologically advanced garage in the world. Parking is free for up to two hours with your purchase.

The Ginger Mule, 449, W. 19th, softly opened at Heights Waterworks in late March. The new vegan concept from brothers-in-law Robert White and Victor Litwinenko takes the place of the previous vegan restaurant, Verdine, which closed in July 2022 after more than three years. White and Litwinenko also own and operate Jupiter Pizza & Waffle Co., Guru Burgers & Bowls and Japaneiro's Sushi Bistro & Grill, all in Sugar Land. They previously has another concept in Sugar Land, The Ginger Mule Tonics & Meals, which closed in 2018.

The vegan menu at The Ginger Mule has starters like Avocado Toast, Cauliflower Bites and Cheesy Tofu Sticks plus a selection of pizzas with gluten-free cauliflower crust. There is a variety of soups and salads including a South American-style Sancocho. For mains, there are plates such as butternut squash lasagna, Portobello mushroom fajitas and Cozy Curry, a Massamman Thai dish of cauliflower, squash, carrots and chickpeas in coconut milk and spicy tomato sauce.

The restaurant also offers a full bar and a variety of cocktails.

Himari, 1223 W.34th, opened softly in late March at Stomping Grounds. The newest concept from chefs Patrick Pham and Daniel Lee has a soft opening menu of tempura and robata items along with makimono (sushi hand rolls), specialty maki plus nigiri and sashimi.

Pastelitos El Zuliano, 11718 Grant Road, opened in March. The Venezuelan food truck serves a variety of pastelitos including beef, chicken, ham and cheese and potato with extra cheese. It also has mandoca, a Venezuelan cornmeal fritter, tequenos (Venezuelan cheese sticks) and a selection of empanadas. There are also Venezuelan candies and soft drinks.

Sushi Ichii, 20900 Katy Freeway, opened April 1. The All-You-Can-Eat Japanese restaurant offers both a lunch ($18.99) and dinner buffet of sushi, sashimi, tempura, appetizers, soups and more. There are also lunch specials and a la carte menu items. There is a kids menu and bento box specials, too.

The restaurant has non-alcoholic beverages as well as beer, sake and cocktails.