Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Burger-Chan and Underbelly Burger Open, Chi'Lantro Coming

Burger-chan has returned with its umami burgers.
Burger-chan has returned with its umami burgers. Photo by Conor Moran/onmedia.com

Burger-Chan, 5353 W. Alabama, softly opened its location in the Galleria January 3. Terming it burger-chan 2.0, the new restaurant was meant to be a second location for the concept from Diane and Willet Feng. Unfortunately, in August 2020, the couple decided to close the Greenway Plaza food court location during the COVID pandemic and focus on reopening a flagship restaurant in the future. Its arrival in the new year of 2022 is a hopeful one but the Fengs admit that there are still supply chain issues and staffing shortages which are currently affecting hours of operation and menu item consistency.

The concept began in 2016 when chef and co-owner Willet Feng was determined to open his own restaurant. He used his fine-dining training to turn the office lunch spot at Greenway Plaza into a burger mecca, receiving glowing reviews that turned the food court into a dining destination along with another successful couple-owned business, Feges BBQ.
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Burger-chan's 2.0 version is here.
Photo by Diane and Willet Feng
However, the pandemic sent many office workers to their homes and diners to their kitchens. With the opening of the brick and mortar burger-chan, guests will once again be able to sate their burger cravings, whether they be classic or adventurous. The restaurant uses 44 Farms ground chuck for its meat patties and the sauces are made in-house. The burgers are topped with a special Asian-inspired glaze that heightens the umami flavor of the beef. There are also sauces like Willet's scallion aioli and sambal mayo for spreading on the burgers or for dipping fries into.

Because the restaurant is still in soft opening mode, it is asking that diners be patient with wait times and menu availability as it completes the training and hiring process. Customers can check its website for the updated opening hours here.

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Looks like a well-balanced meal to us.
Photo by Julie Soefer

Underbelly Burger, 2520 Airline, opened January 6 at Houston Farmers Market. The much-anticipated burger joint from Chris Shepherd will feature Angus beef from 44 Farms and Wagyu beef from R-C Ranch, which conveniently opened its R-C Ranch Butcher Shop at the market as well December 17, 2021.

Its standard burger is a slightly updated version of Hay Merchant's Cease and Desist Burger, which was popular at the craft beer spot from Underbelly Hospitality. It offers two meat patties, two slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickles on a potato bun. For fans of Shepherd's bacon sausage, there will be a version in hot dog form. Hay Merchant regulars who will be devastated when it closes January 22, can find solace in the chicken sandwich at UB Burger that similarly uses black pepper buttermilk as the Hay Merchant version did. For veg-heads, there's a house-made veggie burger, too.
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Underbelly Burger is open for in-your-belly business.
Photo by Julie Soefer
A great burger needs great fries and the Sidewinder Fries at the new burger eatery are crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and are dusted in ranch powder. For beverages, there are milk shakes and a small selection of beer and wine.

The dining area is small as well, offering 14 seats in the 1,200 square-foot space but there are plenty of outdoor tables throughout the market so customers can pick up orders at the side window to enjoy a burger en plein air. Those who opt to eat in the restaurant will find a classic diner space designed by Amanda Medsger with vintage burger memorabilia collected by Shepherd as well as a hand-painted "burger guys" on the wall by local artist Matt Tabor. 
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Korea meets Mexico with lots of flavor and spice.
Photo by Christine Wong
Chi'Lantro BBQ, 1324 N. Shepherd, is expected to open in summer 2022. Based in Austin, Texas, this will be the first permanent Houston location of the brand, known for its world famous Original Kimchi Fries. The award-winning restaurant also operates a successful catering company. It started its journey as a food truck when founder and CEO Jae Kim maxed out his credit cards and emptied his savings in order to pursue his dream of running a Korean-Mexican fusion food truck in 2010. Eleven years later, the company now has 8 brick and mortar locations with three more planned for 2022.

That success has led Chi'Lantro to be featured on the Food Network, the Cooking Channel and even an episode of ABC's Shark Tank in 2016. Kim's "Original Kimchi Fries" are one of the reasons behind the popularity of the brand. The hot French fries are topped with caramelized kimchi, Korean bbq, onions, cilantro and sesame seeds, then finished with its signature magic sauce. Kim estimates that the restaurants serve more than 200,000 orders a year.

Also on the menu are its Korean fried chicken wings, rice and noodle bowls plus Ssams, a Korean-style wrap. 
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Jae Kim is back and this time, it's for good, with a brick and mortar restaurant.
Photo by Christine Wong

As for choosing to make a permanent foray into the Houston dining scene, Kim says, " To me, Houston being one of the most creative and diverse cities in America makes it the perfect setting for serving Korean BBQ cuisine approachable and fast. I have been wanting to open a physical location in Houston for a very long time since we left with our food trucks in 2014. The timing is right and I can't wait to serve our beloved customers in Houston."
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Sherman Yeung, Jio Dingayan, Ashely Castro and Le Chau are money.
Photo by Kimberly Park
Money Cat, 2925 Richmond, is currently in buildout mode for a summer 2022 opening. The new Japanese cuisine and sushi restaurant comes from young chef and restaurateur Sherman Yeung, who assumed ownership of Tobiuo Sushi & Bar in Katy in 2019. With the existing leadership, Yeung transitioned the restaurant to fit his vision of a modern suburban sushi restaurant with minimum staff turnover while increasing the restaurant's appeal not only to the locals but also drawing in crowds from across Houston and beyond.

Now, Yeung and his team are eager to bring a new restaurant to life, this time within the inner loop. It will also focus on sushi and Japanese cuisine but with an adventurous and forward-thinking menu. Yeung says the timing is good as Tobiuo itself is doing well and that his team is strong. In fact, several of the Tobiuo staff will make the move to Money Cat, including general manager and founding partner at Tobiuo,  Le Chau (Roka Akor, Oporto, RA Sushi). He will use his cocktail and wine background to lead the beverage program at the new venture as he has done at Tobiuo.
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Someone did not get the joke.
Photo by Kimberly Park
Jiolo "Jio" Dingayan will serve as chef de cuisine at Money Cat. At 21 years of age, the young chef is a 2020 graduate of Culinary Institute Le Notre and is responsible for creating the pastry program at Tobiuo. At Money Cat, he will lead the pastry program as well as building out the entire menu with Yeung, who will return to the kitchen as executive chef.

Money Cat will open for dinner service only with tasting menu options and a balance of cold preparations and cooked items. Yeung has been experimenting with koji fermentation so guests can expect some interesting flavors.
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Avonak Distillery opens a classically hip tasting room.
Photo by Dylan McEwan
Old Tom Bar at Avonak Distillery, 3831 Golf, opened January 5. Avonak was founded in 2016 as a family-owned small-batch distillery and has now opened its brick and mortar location with the capability of hosting distillery tours and operating an on-site tasting room. Owner and head distiller Kyle Wray has brought in Night Moves Hospitality owner, Greg Perez, as managing consultant for the opening of the tasting room, named after an underground style of gin popular in 18th century England. The slightly sweeter Old Tom gin is now seeing a resurgence within the craft cocktail movement.
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The year 2022 needs New Beginnings.
Photo by Dylan McEwan
Perez will oversee the 3,500 square-foot space which will also be used for events. Wray and his partners will continue to operate the distilling business. For now, Old Tom Bar will be open Saturday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Bar manager Erika Velazques, formerly of another Night Moves concept, Space Cowboy, has developed a bar menu with Perez that incorporates  Avonak's products, including a line of six small batch spirits.

Cocktail lovers can expect offerings like Spanish-style gin and tonics, martinis, cosmopolitans, Tom Collins and a mint julep. Besides classic drinks, there will be house cocktails such as New Beginnings made with Avonak vodka, mixed berry shrub, house-made orgeat and lemon juice. For something a little stiffer and more unusual, the True Texan Old Fashioned uses brown butter fat-washed Avonak whiskey, toasted pecan syrup and black walnut bitters.
Will chicken parm show up at Pastore?
Photo by Taylor Hall

One Fifth Red Sauce Italian, 1658 Westheimer, closes January 22 and with it goes the One Fifth concept that Chris Shepherd began as an experimental restaurant with partners Kevin Floyd, Whitney Mercilus and Steve Flippo in 2017. The plan was Five Years/Five Concepts. However, over the past five years, some plans changed and concepts were scrapped as new ideas were constantly popping up from Shepherd and his team, much of it during the COVID pandemic.

Starting out as One Fifth Steak, the One Fifth concept went through iterations such as Romance Languages, Gulf Coast, Southern Comfort, Mediterranean and also as a brief pop up for another Underbelly Hospitality restaurant, Georgia James Tavern.

When One Fifth Red Sauce departs, Georgia James steakhouse will move into the space after it closes its 1100 Westheimer spot January 23. It will remain at the 1658 Westheimer location until its future home is ready at Regent Square, 1203 Dunlavy.

Underbelly Hospitality announced in November that it is not completely foregoing the red sauce fare. Its second concept at Regent Square will be an Italian family restaurant, Pastore. Unless something changes in the next year, which is always a possibility with Chris Shepherd.

Osaka, 515 Westheimer, will relocate to 500 Westheimer across the street January 6. It closed the previous Westheimer location January 2 in order to make the move. The upscale Japanese restaurant has been in Houston for over 20 years.
First the removal of a beloved tree, now renovations at Backstreet.
Photo by Paula Murphy
Backstreet Cafe, 1103 S. Shepherd, temporarily closed for renovations January 3. Owners Tracy Vaught and Chef Hugo Ortega are having the foundation leveled on the 1920s building and are replacing the kitchen floor. It's a big job that is expected to take about a month. As Vaught said in a press release, " It's not how we wanted to start the new year and our 39th year of business, but it is important and we decided, let's start the year off right!"
Photo by Joel Bordelon
Raising Cane's, 13480 Northwest Freeway, opens January 8  January 11 (there was a delay to the actual opening date). This is the 46th Houston area location for the chicken finger chain, known for its ONE LOVE chicken finger meals. The new location will offer ordering through its mobile app and a double drive-thru plus dine-in and take-out. There's also an expansive outside patio for social distancing from other Caniacs.
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Chefs for Seniors offers a healthy meal program.
Photo by Aaron Rudloff/Chefs for Seniors Boise
Chefs for Seniors has opened two new franchises in Houston to provide meal services for seniors, most recently in November in Central Houston from franchisee Nasyim Segal. Another opened in September in the Sugar Land/Katy area from Heidi Duty. The first in our area opened in 2018 from Shonah Jefferson and covers the North Houston area.

The company was founded by longtime restaurant owner Barrett Allman and his son Nathan in 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. It now has franchised locations in 65 markets. The company uses local, professional chefs to prepare affordable meals for the week in the homes of their clients. The menus are customizable and take into account food preferences and dietary concerns of the individuals that are being served.

The program offers convenience for seniors and also an interactive experience and social time for the clients, giving them freedom to remain in their homes while receiving nutritious meals. For more information, check out its website.
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Clutch City Lager gets a smooch from the Kiss of Death himself, Mario Elie.
Photo by Karbach Brewing Co.
Karbach Brewing Co., 2302 Karbach, launched its Clutch City Lager in partnership with the Houston Rockets and the Clutch City Foundation this past October. Now, the beer is available in 6 can packs at grocery and liquor stores and at participating bars and restaurants. The beer has a 4 percent ABV so it's light enough to enjoy with sports-friendly foods like nachos, chicken tenders, burgers and popcorn.

A portion of the proceeds from sales will go to the Clutch City Foundation which was started in 1995 by former Rockets owner Leslie Alexander as a community outreach with youth initiatives and education programs for those less fortunate.
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.