Last year -- at the tail end of 2011 -- it seemed as if half the restaurants we were excited about in 2010 for the upcoming year still hadn't opened yet: Uchi, Triniti, Underbelly and The Hay Merchant were all a very long time in the making, but finally opened this past year to great acclaim all around.
This year, however, we're excited about a slew of brand-new restaurants. And although some of those have also been in the works for a while, others have just had their grand opening in the last week or so and hold huge promise for the year ahead. Below are the restaurants we're most excited about in 2013.
If you're a fan of Triniti -- the year-old "contemporary New American" (I kind of made that up, but I think it works) restaurant from Ryan Hildebrand -- then you'll be excited to hear about his next project, in the works for late next year. Brande will open in the old spot where Ruggles once stood, near the corner of Montrose and Westheimer. Brande has been described as "a contemporary building with a rustic farmhouse feel," and plans to offer an extensive selection of charcuterie, crafted breads, pastries and dry-aged meats. On the beverage side, Brande will feature "craft cocktails and an eclectic wine and beer list focusing on American producers." Hildebrand promises to have a more casual restaurant in Brande, with richer, darker woods to contrast against Triniti's lighter, airier look and feel.
Although yesterday's round-up of the most notable restaurant closings of 2012 could have you believing that downtown is death for restaurants, a group of young restaurateurs and bar owners would beg to differ. Starting with OKRA's Charity Bar -- which opens this month -- at least one stretch of downtown is looking to change Houstonians' attitudes about the area.
In the former location of the ill-fated Korma Sutra and laidback manor, one restaurant is determined to make a go of it: The Burger Guys, which opened a second location at 706 Main after achieving critical acclaim with their first venture in far west Houston. The new space seats three times the patrons as the original, which is a good thing -- it's been packed every time I've walked by since it opened last month.
Next door to Charity Bar, Batanga plans to open within the next few months at the corner of Travis and Congress. Owners Maya Fasthoff -- the blogger behind Restaurant Traveler -- as well as brother-in-law Brian Fasthoff and husband Hank Fasthoff have thoroughly renovated the space inside and out, including work on a new patio that looks more promising by the day.
Down the street, three brand-new bars will be moving in along Main, looking to revitalize what was once a popular nighttime destination. Two will be from a couple of well-known Houston bartenders (and bar owners), while the third will be a somewhat quieter dark horse -- and I'm excited for them all.
And along that same stretch of Main Street, look for another new restaurant from a popular food truck operator that many food fans are calling "Houston's worst-kept secret."
From Mobile to Mortar
At least four different food truck operators are busy making their brick-and-mortar dreams real, with one of those opening any day now: the Eatsie Boys, who have moved into the old Kraftsmen Bakery space on Montrose and totally transformed the little restaurant into something all their own. Look for favorites from the food truck itself as well as a slew of new dishes and a coffee program set up by David Buehrer of Greenway Coffee & Tea -- and, of course, plenty of E-Boys ice cream.
Pi Pizza and Bernie's Burger Bus are also scouting for permanent locations of their own, which they hope to have open this year. And that worst-kept secret? That would be the downtown location of The Modular, run by Joshua Martinez and one of his old cohorts from the truck. We'll let you guess who...
Can't Pass It Up
I've already heard people saying that The Pass -- the second part of The Pass & Provisions, which opened earlier this month -- is the best Texas restaurant to come along in years, although I've yet to go myself. Paula Disbrowe of Southern Living called The Pass & Provisions "[t]he most refined and disarmingly delicious meal I've had in recent memory." Houston food writer Joanne Witt called her dinner at The Pass the "best meal I have had in Houston this year." And my friend Peggy Lane -- who is possessed of a silver palate, and whose palate I trust implicitly -- said of chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan's food: recently on Twitter: "The Pass [is] exemplary in taste, texture, presentation, beverage, service. Skip the plane ticket, stay in HTX and eat here."
Crafts & Drafts
Between not-so-newcomers Premium Draught, Cottonwood and Oak Forest Chill, even-newer-newcomers Witchcraft Tavern & Provision Co. and Crisp Wine Bar & Eatery are making the Greater Heights a hotspot for craft beer lovers.
Both Witchcraft and Crisp only opened this month, but I'm already excited to see if the two restaurants/bars keep up the quality that's already apparent at each establishment. The owners of both places are well-established Houston restaurateurs in their own right, however, so I expect both to be welcome additions to the area.
East End Eating
After many months of patient waiting, hot doggery Moon Tower Inn expects to reopen in 2013 after initially closing for a three-month remodel in October 2011. In keeping with its infamous "shut up and wait" attitude towards anyone expecting fast food, Moon Tower posted on its Facebook page in November:
3 days! 3 months! 3 years! who gives a shit!?! we'll be back open as soon as she's perfect and not a second before. you obviously don't have anywhere to be, or you wouldn't still be here. just SHUT UP AND WAIT.
But a grand reopening isn't all that owners Brandon Young and Evan Shannon have planned for their East End home. The pair have also been hard at work opening two additional projects: The Gift Horse Lounge and The Slice and Foam Co..
"The lounge will be a small neighborhood bar with good drinks and great prices," says Young of The Gift Horse, "as well as the best jukebox in H-town." And nearby, the pizzas at The Slice and Foam will come in two sizes only.
"The Slice and Foam Co. will be big New York-style slices as well as extra large pies only," says Young. "Carry out or dine in (for now). We'll also have some taps and a shit pile of cans -- all, of course, good beer -- as well as a stage for some local shows and maybe even some surprise guests passing through."
Wonder Twin Powers, Activate! Form of...a Steakhouse!
What do you get when you take two Houstonians most known for their magical meat powers and combine them into one powerhouse restaurant? CK's Steakhouse from Ronnie Killen and Ricky Craig. The steakhouse plans to open in Heights -- not too far from Hubcap Grill, owned by Craig, and will incorporate many of the techniques employed to great acclaim at Killen's Steakhouse in Pearland, owned by Killen.
The new steakhouse serves, in a way, to replace the plans that Killen had to open an outpost of that popular Pearland restaurant -- plans which fell through when negotiations with the landlords at the proposed location (the site of the former Bedford and Stella Sola) didn't work out. According to Alison Cook at the Chronicle, CK's Steakhouse will offer "more adventurous dishes that don't necessarily play well at the Pearland location."
A planned second location of Coppa Ristorante Italiano in Rice Village brings an infusion of fresh blood to an area in which restaurants seemingly open and then stay open for life. But owners Charles Clark and Grant Cooper have even bigger plans for the restaurant in the long run, hinting to CultureMap's Sarah Rufca that they want Coppa to be the next Carrabba's.
Another young restaurant with big plans for expansion (although probably not as big as Coppa's...yet) is Liberty Kitchen, which announced plans to move into the old Vida Sexy Tex-Mex space on San Felipe. In a press release, owners Lee Ellis and Lance Fegen called Liberty Kitchen Bar & Oysterette "a "big brother to the original Liberty Kitchen," and said that it "should be described as 'similar but not the same.'"
And the brand-new, free-standing Facundo Cafe at 3713 Alba Road will soon offer an alternative to getting your breakfast taco and burger fix inside the car wash on Ella at the original Facundo Cafe. (Although, let's be honest -- isn't that part of the charm in the first place?)
Makeovers in Montrose
Two promising but underperforming spaces in Montrose are set to have strong new tenants from proven showrunners -- just what the area needs to continue dominating the rest of the city when it comes to the biggest and brightest new restaurants. Brooklyn Athletic Club plans to use the underused bocce ball court and welcoming outdoor space when it opens inside the former Zimm's Little Deck on Richmond. "It's like a country club where everyone is a member, minus the pretension, or an icehouse spun on its side and made more upscale," owner Shepard Ross -- a partner in Glass Wall and BRC Gastropub -- told CultureMap's Sarah Rufca.
And in the old Nabi space, Pistolero's will be moving in soon. According to Eater Houston editor Eric Sandler, Pistolero's will offer "a menu of Latin and Mexican flavors that will delight and pair well with tequila and lime." It's owner is Shawn Bermudez, who also runs the popular Boondocks and Royal Oak bars just down the street and who is a partner in the equally popular Koagie Hots food truck.
MF Sushi, Houston's newest upscale sushi restaurant, could very well shake things up on the serious sushi scene. Chef Chris Kinjo operated MF Buckhead in Atlanta to much critical acclaim before moving to Houston this year. MF Sushi, located next door to Nazar's at Westheimer and Fountainview, is billing itself as "sushi tapas and lounge" and an "elite escape." And although the menu section of its Web site is still under construction, MF Izakaya says that it plans to offer "flown-in Japanese fish to almost-unattainable sake."
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Kinjo told Eater Houston in a long but worth-reading interview: "Every cut of fish, when I make sashimi, it's, literally, everything's aligned. It's like an architectural drawing. When I move, I'm thinking 10 steps ahead. It's a flow. I don't pause when I work. My head doesn't move. It's just my hands and my body. It's speed and accuracy. Trying to perfect everything."
Watch out Uchi. MF Sushi is gunning for you.