First Look at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse Downtown

It’s been named one of the Top Five Steakhouses in America by the Food Network; one of the Top 10 Best Fine Dining Restaurants in the United States; and has won several Best Of titles from the Houston Press, including this year’s award for Best Service. Of the 50 or so Pappas-owned restaurants in Houston — among them, Pappadeux, Pappasito’s, Pappas BBQ, Pappas Burgers, and Yia Yia Mary’s — Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in the Galleria has always been the flagship.

And now, after three years in the making, Houston can call itself home to not just one flagship, but two. Located on McKinney at San Jacinto in the heart of downtown in the former Strip House location, while it’s probably more correct to characterize the new Pappas Bros. Steakhouse downtown as a younger sibling to the original, it looks and feels a lot more like a fraternal twin.

“For the design, we struggled with whether we wanted it to be an exact replica of the old, or something completely new,” says director of marketing, Christina Pappas, who invited us for a media tasting. “In the end, we decided on a mix of the two.” Patrons of the Westheimer location will recognize familiar elements such as the meat case just inside the entrance, filled with house-butchered cuts of mouthwateringly marbled USDA prime beef so you can see the quality and size of what you’re buying.

The walls and ceilings are covered in rich, rosewood-colored wood paneling that evoke that timeless, Rat Pack-esque steakhouse feel. An impossibly long marble-topped bar — ideal for singles and diners who want to be close to all action —fronts the open kitchen, another signature design detail taken from the Galleria location. 

The biggest recognizable differences between the two restaurants are in the layout and the assignation of space. Where the Westheimer location is like a collection of small rooms, the new Pappas Bros. has a much more open design. The main area is one large room that is partitioned, with the bar and cocktail area occupying the right section of the restaurant, a large, open dining room in the center, and the open kitchen on the left.

The kitchen’s location is at once functional as it is decorative. Diners in the main dining room all have a view of the kitchen, which takes on the the quality of a living, breathing work of art. As the backdrop for the overall space, it casts this soft, glowing light over the entire room, while black-vested servers can be seen rapidly moving to and fro as if in a moving canvas. A private dining room sits to the far back of the restaurant, where it can be closed off completely for private parties, or left open as an extension of the main dining area. And almost hidden away in the far back section, is what Pappas calls “the best part of the restaurant,” a large banquet space, the wine cellar, and a glass-enclosed, “working” private wine room available for intimate private parties.

Cosmetic differences aside, at its core, the genetic print of the downtown spot is almost identical to its older sibling. The menu by executive corporate chef Michael Villardi, composed of starters, salads, dry-aged prime beef, seafood and sides not only looks the same, but tastes the same. Service from top to bottom is seamless, effortless. Part of the reason why it took three years for the restaurant to open can be attributed to the company’s insistence on quality. To ensure that they would be providing the highest quality service and food from day one, “We started hiring our key management staff a year ago,” Pappas says. “The kitchen and floor staff have been training for the last six months.”

The evidence of that training manifested itself in a “first” dining experience so impeccable, it’s really hard not to simply gush about how amazing it was. Warm welcome from the hostess? Check. Reservation easily found in the system? Check. Table ready as soon as we arrived? Check.

Our server was knowledgeable and friendly. Water glasses were filled so discreetly and quickly, you barely even noticed that it happened. Our food — from the king crab leg starter that arrived at the table in one piece, then was broken down table-side for us to enjoy; to the steakhouse salad that was split and plated into two portions before it arrived at our table without us having to ask; to my companion’s delectable, perfectly cooked cold water lobster served with drawn butter; and my own signature, 28-day, in-house dry-aged bone-in ribeye steak that came with that just-seared crust that cuts open to reveal a flawlessly prepared medium-rare center — was nothing short of fantastic.
And what would a steakhouse dinner be without the perfect glass (or bottle) of wine? The original Pappas Bros. Steakhouse has won the coveted Grand Award — the highest level attainable — from Wine Spectator for five consecutive years thanks to it’s roughly 4,000 bottle wine selection and inventory of 50k bottles.

Pappas Bros. Downtown, though smaller in scale, is still just as impressive. With three advanced sommeliers on the floor at any time, the wine program, overseen by Bill Elsley, boasts 2,000 selections from every major wine producing region in the world, and a total on-hand inventory of 15k bottles. If cocktails are more your flavor, you can’t go wrong either. The cocktail list is overseen by Matt Tanner, a industry veteran whose resume includes a long stint at Anvil Bar & Refuge. Whiskey lovers will also appreciate the whiskey cart, presented table side before the conclusion of your meal.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse is open for dinner 5 p.m.- 10 p.m. Monday - Thursday 5 p.m. - 11 p.m. Friday & Saturday. For details and more information, visit
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham