Let's have a moment of silence for some of the restaurants that Houston lost this year. Some were good. Some were great. Some were decidedly not great, but still hold a special place in our hearts for reasons other than the food.
The good news is that several of the restaurants on this list have a surviving sibling. Others have a good chance of returning someday in a different spot.
First off, a few honorable mentions:
- Boneyard Drinkery was not a restaurant. It was a bar, but patrons could often get food from a food truck parked on-site. The combination bar-dog park helped blaze a trail for other pet-friendly dining establishments. Eventually, the City of Houston passed an ordinance allowing restaurants to offer dog-friendly patios if they wanted to do so. It was places like Boneyard Drinkery that influenced that decision. It will be missed.
- The award for "Chef With The Worst Luck Keeping Restaurants Open" goes to Chris Kinjo, who opened MF Sushi in December 2012. The place didn't even make it a year before a fire shut it down at the end of September 2013. Kinjo, along with brother Alex, rebuilt. MF Sushi finally reopened this past spring and critics and sushi fans alike rejoiced, only to be crushed again when it once again closed in October for "reorganization."
It's open again, but without chef Kinjo. He's opening his own location in the Museum District, hopefully by May of next year. That sounds like the best idea for everyone involved, especially for fans of his pristine Japanese food.
10. Lucky Burger
Lucky Burger was a landmark on Richmond at Mandell. It was hard to miss the big blue barrel-shaped roof and many patrons were pleasantly surprised at the reasonably-priced burgers, fries and milkshakes. Were they the greatest burgers ever? No, but it was a cozy, unpretentious, family-ran fast food dive--a dying breed inside the Loop these days.
This place wasn't what you'd call great, but how many times did you end up here with friends because it was one of the few places open after 2 a.m. near Montrose? Bartenders and partygoers alike spent time here noshing on lemongrass tofu and egg rolls. Fortunately, the Montrose location of BB's Café has stepped in to fill the late-night gap. It's now open 24-hours. As for Hollywood, it's expected to reopen next spring just around the corner on Grant Street.
8. Van Loc
Twenty-eight years ago, there were very, very few Vietnamese restaurants, especially downtown. Van Loc was one of the first, offering family recipes for bún thịt nướng (pork on vermicelli), cơm chiên thập cẩm (house special fried rice) and more. It offered Chinese food as well, which was more familiar to patrons at the time. It stayed family-owned until the owners decided to retire. Van Loc closed this past October.
7. Sandy Witch
Food trucks used to regularly park in front of Grand Prize Bar until neighbors complained. At that point, food trucks took turns running the kitchen, including The Modular and Yaki Snack Attack (which didn't have a truck at the time, but does now). It was a nice arrangement, but no one could hold down the fort full time until Anthony Calleo of Pi Pizza Truck took it over. He opened Sandy Wich, and besides great burgers, it had pulled pork sandwiches and vegetarian-friendly options like falafel. Regrettably, not enough people went inside Grand Prize to check out the new little restaurant. Calleo gave up the struggle in August, but at least you can still have his mindblowing pizzas (and the occasional sandwich special) at Pi Pizza Truck.
6. El Gran Malo
Many a Sunday afternoon was spent on the big porch of El Gran Malo sipping margaritas and Bloody Marias with beef-jerky infused tequila (aka "Maria Is A Jerk"). Tables were adorned in baskets of chips and queso, pork belly tacos and tortas. Inside, elaborate murals of luchadores and big bad wolves kept watch. El Gran Malo closed in February, but fortunately not before the owners opened sibling restaurant El Big Bad in December of 2013. El Big Bad is no clone of El Gran Malo, but at least some of the food, the infused tequilas and the spirit live on in some ways. With that being said, don't count out the possibility of a new El Gran Malo being born in the coming months.
Go to the next page to see our Top 5 places that will be missed the most.
The bar inside Haven was converted into a little restaurant unto itself. It was conceived as a raw bar to capitalize on the ceviche trend that seemed to be taking the city by storm at the time. Perhaps most importantly, Cove gave Haven sous chef Jean-Philippe Gaston his own place to shine. When Haven closed, so did Cove, taking a host of critically-acclaimed raw seafood options with it. Watch for Gaston to re-emerge at The Azuma Group's forthcoming izakaya on Gray Street in Midtown. He'll be working under chef Manabu "Hori" Horiuchi of Kata Robata.
Coppa was a funny mix of classy restaurant and casual, eclectic bar. There was also a covered patio that was lovely to dine on when the weather was nice. It was the first time many of us got to know chef Brandi Key and her creative, hearty food. Key had spent a decade with Pappas before being asked by the Clark Cooper group to take over the former Catalan spot. Her carbonara was so good it had near-addictive properties, as did the crispy, Mediterranean-spiced chickpeas and hearty, saucy meatballs. Fortunately, you can still get all of those things at the newer Coppa Oesteria. Here's the funny thing, though: we still don't really know why Coppa closed. The statement from Clark Cooper Concepts said only that it was due to "building maintenance issues." What does that even mean?
Sometimes, especially toward the end of its run, Philippe Restaurant + Lounge stopped working. It started leaning too heavily on trends and what "should" sell instead of the modern French cuisine for which it was known. Instead of escargot fritters and duck confit with foie gras, dishes like barbeque sliders started making their way onto the menu. Even for chef Philippe Schmit, the self-styled "French Cowboy," something didn't seem quite right. It seemed like perhaps he was being pushed somewhere he didn't want to go.
That may have indeed been the case. He left the restaurant bearing his name in September 2013. Soon after, sommelier Vanessa Treviño-Boyd followed. Table on Post Oak now resides where Philippe used to be and it's not quite as interesting. As for chef Schmit, he's currently a consulting chef at Drexel House.
2. Goro & Gun
The story of Goro & Gun is partially a marketing lesson. Before opening, it was heralded as "Houston's first ramen shop." The problem? Out of the gate, the ramen ranged from awful to okay. It improved under chef J.D. Woodward (who is now at Plonk! Bistro), but the other offerings, like crispy skinned, meaty ham hocks, fish sauce glazed Brussels sprouts and hot wings named after dead rappers proved to be where it was really at. So, what was Goro & Gun? Former co-owner Joshua Martinez said it best on a day, many months after it opened: "It's an izakaya. It's always been an izakaya." If only it had been marketed that way from the get-go. In its place is Goro bartender Alex Gregg's ambitious Moving Sidewalk. It's an excellent bar, but the food from Goro & Gun will be missed nonetheless.
Find out on the next page which restaurant we'll miss the most.
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When Brennan's of Houston was destroyed by a fire that happened during Hurricane Ike, executive chef Randy Evans seized the moment to strike out on his own. Haven was the result: a lovely, sensible, glass- and wood-accented restaurant designed by Houston architect Jim Herd. Dishes were accentuated with fresh herbs and vegetables from a garden behind the restaurant. In time, Haven even was able to use honey from its own beehive. (There were two beehives, in fact. Thieves stole the first one and that incident made national headlines.) After just a few years, though, the main investor decided to retire and sold the property. Haven closed on July 31, 2014. Paul's Kitchen is now where it used to be.
Evans is currently a consulting chef for JCI Grill, H-E-B and others. He recently competed on Food Network's "Kitchen Inferno" to try and win $25,000 to put towards opening another restaurant of his own. He didn't win, but we bet he'll have his own place again someday anyway. It would be a delight to see the return of shrimp corndogs; peanut-crusted tofu and vegetables; hot rolls brushed with butter and sprinkled with translucent flakes of salt; and some of the best fried chicken livers and gravy we've ever had.
Which restaurant will you miss the most? Let us know in the comments.