Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: URBE Opens, Chivos Will Replace Calle Onze

URBE has a dedicated bread and pastry program.
URBE has a dedicated bread and pastry program. Photo by Paula Murphy
URBE, 1101 Uptown Park, opened  August 27 for breakfast and lunch. The Mexican street food concept comes from James Beard Award-winning chef Hugo Ortega and restaurateur Tracy Vaught of H Town Restaurant Group. It's the fifth concept for the married couple and their restaurant group. Urbe means 'city' in Spanish and the new restaurant honors the cities of Mexico and the street food that is a central part of Mexican culture and cuisine.

URBE its first fast-casual venture for the H Town group, though the same quality standards and professionalism will be evident in the newest restaurant. It is also Ortega's first concept to be open for breakfast with a robust bread and pastry program. Other firsts include frozen drinks and a coffee program.  Another big first is the fact that Vaught and Ortega’s daughter Sophia is part of the team. Sophia Ortega received her undergraduate degree at Tulane University and recently graduated from the University of Houston Hilton Hotel School Graduate Program. She wrote URBE’s training manuals, made key design decisions and set-up the reservation system and third-party delivery system.

And while there have been many female cooks and chefs in the kitchens at H Town restaurants throughout the years, URBE will be the first of the hospitality group's concepts to have a female executive chef, Paula Leguizamon, who has a degree in Culinary Arts from Culinary Institute LeNotre. She has worked at Hugo’s for three and a half years with experience in the savory and sweet side of the kitchen.

click to enlarge Campechana Estilo D.F. at URBE is filled with a variety of seafood. - PHOTO BY PAULA MURPHY
Campechana Estilo D.F. at URBE is filled with a variety of seafood.
Photo by Paula Murphy

The concept for URBE evolved from Ortega's travels with his brother, executive pastry chef Ruben Ortega, throughout Mexico, learning and discovering the foods of each region. Those travels resulted in their cookbook, Street Food of Mexico, published in 2012. However, the plan to open a casual street food concept was put on the back burner as Ortega and his team opened Caracol and Xochi instead. The concept still remained a desire for Ortega. It just took longer than expected.


Vaught was also behind the new concept. "We wanted to show a new side of our team and bring new ideas to the Houston food scene and to embrace changes that have taken place in the restaurant industry post-COVID, such as a bigger emphasis on to-go and delivery. As many restaurateurs know, you have to constantly evolve to stay relevant and successful, and that is what we have done with URBE."

Ortega's journey with street food began as a young boy selling street foods such as gelatinas and flan from a neighborhood stand. On the streets, he and his cousin David sold Canels gum to motorists. The markets of Mexico also played an important part of Ortega's destiny as an ambassador for authentic Mexican cuisine.
click to enlarge This chicharron could nourish a whole village. - PHOTO BY PAULA MURPHY
This chicharron could nourish a whole village.
Photo by Paula Murphy
Ortega said in a press release, "Street food nourishes the many people who make lengthy treks from the surrounding countryside and villages to the bigger cities of Mexico. It is ‘fast food’ at its finest, because the only thing fast about it is how it is served. Mexican street food is actually ‘slow food,’ prepared in someone’s home kitchen with little to no shortcuts from family recipes handed down through the ages." He added,  "I had a lot of ideas in my head of what would be on the menu... I realized we would have to come to terms with how to make some of the most traditional dishes in a health department-approved way and still get an authentic result."

One of those adaptations is barbacoa, a dish Ortega's family in Mexico usually made underground, taking up to 20 hours. At URBE, the meat is given a smoky, peppery marinade, wrapped in banana leaves and then put in a smoker. Other slow-roasted meats on the menu include birria, carnitas, cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork), trompo and pecho de res (beef brisket). Guests will find an array of ways to enjoy the meats including  tacos, huaraches (the dish, not the shoe), tortas and egg dishes. The meats are also available in bulk to-go.

Seafood items like Baja-style fish tacos, pulpo al carbon (grilled octopus), campechana and oysters bring flavors from the coastal regions of Mexico to the menu.

While all of the H Town restaurants bake their own breads, pastries and desserts, none have a dedicated, on-site bakery like URBE which bakes fresh product throughout the day. Traditional Mexican pastries and breads like conchas, cuernitos, trenzas and orejas are just some of the treats on offer. There will also be fresh breads for tortas and toasts and  fresh corn tortillas from the comal. As a master pastelero (pastry maker), Ruben Ortega knew that the restaurant would need a panadera (bread maker) and he brought in Yesenia Mondragon to help with the bakery program. Guests will also find desserts like churros, made in large spirals like in the mercados of Mexico, served with dulce de leche and chocolate dipping sauces.
click to enlarge Huevos en Hoja Santa is on the breakfast menu. - PHOTO BY PAULA MURPHY
Huevos en Hoja Santa is on the breakfast menu.
Photo by Paula Murphy
Other popular Mexican street food like elote (Mexican street corn), gorditas and chicharrones are just a sample of the casual snacks. There are also extensive menus for breakfast and brunch.

H Town Beverage Director Sean Beck has created a bar program unique from the group's other programs, known for their extensive, award-winning wine lists. At URBE, the focus is on cocktails and beer, though there will still be a modest wine list. Guests can also enjoy Micheladas, frozen drinks and shots.

The restaurant's design model is also new for the team. It will be a combination of fast-casual at breakfast and lunch and table-service for dinner and weekend brunch. Currently, the restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch with dinner and brunch to be added later.
click to enlarge Greg Perez, Leesly Valdez, Thomas Bille, Celi Perez and Chris Manriquez are the young faces of Chivos. - PHOTO BY DYLAN MCEWAN
Greg Perez, Leesly Valdez, Thomas Bille, Celi Perez and Chris Manriquez are the young faces of Chivos.
Photo by Dylan McEwan

Chivos, 222 W. 11th, will open in October, replacing the current Mexican restaurant, Calle Onze. It is the third concept from Night Moves Hospitality to open this year. Owner Greg Perez is partnering with Chris Manriquez, owner of Calle Onze, to launch the new concept. Perez is a former beverage director at Calle Onze. The duo's new venture will be a modern representation of the Mexican-American experience serving dishes that are neither Tex-Mex nor traditional Mexican fare. Instead, the menu will reflect the inventive and creative cooking of executive chef Thomas Bille who plans items like pozole dumplings and duck with fig mole. Bille, originally from Los Angeles, came with his family to Houston in 2018 and worked briefly at Hugo Ortega's Oaxacan restaurant, Xochi, before opening his now-shuttered taqueria, Belly of the Beast, in Old Town Spring.

The team at Chivos, which is Spanish for goats, are all of Mexican-American heritage. Joining Perez, Manriquez and  Bille at Chivos will be Celi Perez who is currently the executive chef at Calle Onze. She will transition to the front of house as general manager at Chivos. Leesly Valdez, who is currently a bartender at another Night Moves concept, Space Cowboy, will take on the role of bar manager. She also has a history at Calle Onze, having once been a bartender there.

Just as the food at Chivos will be a creative twist on Mexican-American cuisine, the cocktail program will  go beyond the tequila and mezcal offerings of many Mexican restaurants to include other Mexican spirits like rum, gin, and liqueurs. The team also plan to focus on flavors from childhood foods and candy.

Calle Onze, 222 W. 11th, will close October 1, to make way for Chivos. There will be a "See You Later" party prior to the Chivos opening.
Hay Merchant's taps will run dry at the end of 2021. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER PHOTOGRAPHY
Hay Merchant's taps will run dry at the end of 2021.
Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

Hay Merchant, 1100 Westheimer, will close at the end of 2021 as we reported earlier this week. The craft beer bar and restaurant from Underbelly Hospitality has been a popular fixture in Montrose since chef and owner Chris Shepherd opened it in February 2012. It was a more casual concept from the James Beard Award-winning chef with bar snacks like Crispy Pig Ears and the Cease and Desist Burger with two patties made with 44 Farms beef. The Korean Braised Goat and Dumplings that was a favorite at Shepherd's first restaurant, Underbelly, made it onto the entrees list at Hay Merchant. Shepherd closed Underbelly in 2018.
click to enlarge Chef  and former press writer, Kate McLean, loved the Crispy Pig Ears. - PHOTO BY KATE MCLEAN
Chef and former press writer, Kate McLean, loved the Crispy Pig Ears.
Photo by Kate McLean
The decision to close Hay Merchant comes at a time when major changes are happening at its parent company, Underbelly Hospitality. Later this fall, Shepherd will open Underbelly Burger at Houston Farmers Market. At the end of the year, he will close Hay Merchant and relocate the adjoining Georgia James steakhouse, leaving the 1100 Westheimer spot up for grabs as Underbelly Hospitality exits the space. Calling the move bittersweet, Shepherd said there were many factors including the end of the current lease, the economic cost of renovations and the street improvements in the area which would directly affect business.

While we don't know what Hay Merchant dishes may make their way onto other Underbelly Hospitality menus, a press release said that a version of the Cease and Desist Burger will be on the Underbelly Burger menu when it opens.
Georgia James offers decadent dishes like Shaved Wagyu Short Rib. - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Georgia James offers decadent dishes like Shaved Wagyu Short Rib.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Georgia James, 1100 Westheimer, will relocate to Regent Square in the first quarter of 2022. The new mixed-use development will be located along the Allen Parkway corridor, conveniently located near downtown and Buffalo Bayou Park. Regent Square is expected to debut this December with a mix of retail, restaurant and residential spaces in an area designed to be pedestrian-friendly.

Shepherd's upscale steakhouse, named for his parents Georgia and James, will reopen in a space designed by Houston-based interior designer Amanda Medsger. Guests can expect a blend of masculine and feminine touches inspired by Georgia and James themselves. The new space will also allow for far more seating than the Montrose location with 220 seats downstairs, 120 upstairs in The Lounge and an additional 50 seats on the terrace.

Underbelly Hospitality is also planning a second concept for Regent Square in the near future.

Cheesy and saucy just like Nonna used to make. - PHOTO BY TAYLOR HALL
Cheesy and saucy just like Nonna used to make.
Photo by Taylor Hall
One Fifth Red Sauce Italian, 1658 Westheimer, will run its course at the end of December. The final iteration of Chris Shepherd's multiple concept restaurant is the chef's take on Italian-American cuisine with dishes like Toasted 4 Cheese Ravioli, The Double Handle Chicken Parm, Spaghetti and Meatballs and Veal Chop Marsala. One Fifth first opened as One Fifth Steak in January 2017. The concept allowed Shepherd and his team to try out a new concept every year for five years, or at least that was the plan. Sometimes, certain ideas were scrapped as others sprang up. While Red Sauce is more than likely how One Fifth will end its story, a source close to Shepherd told the Houston Press that there's a pretty good chance that there may be some "greatest hits" as the concept comes to a close. So if you loved Mediterranean,  Romance Languages, or any of the other concepts, you might want to save your pennies for an end of the year splurge, just in case.
click to enlarge Tenders are made for dipping. - PHOTO BY SLIM CHICKENS
Tenders are made for dipping.
Photo by Slim Chickens
Slim Chickens, 8940 Spencer Highway, opened August 30 in La Porte. The newest franchise location in the Houston area is owned by COO Andrew Miller of Garza Management which currently operates three Slim Chickens stores in the Houston area with four more planned in the next eight months. The La Porte location will provide 85 to 95 jobs in the community.

Baso, 627 W. 19th, is currently under development, according to CultureMap Houston. The Basque-inspired restaurant is a collaboration from chef Fernando Recio and co-executive chef and business partner, Jacques Varon. Both chefs are experienced in working in highly-acclaimed restaurants, some Michelin-starred. The chefs met while working at Angler in Los Angeles.

The restaurant will offer Spanish and Basque flavors with touches of Peruvian, Scandinavian and Japanese influences from the chefs' combined experiences. While well-heeled Houstonians can satiate their desires for Spanish cuisine at fine dining concepts like MAD and BCN, Recio told CultureMap's Eric Sandler that Baso, the Basque word for forest, will be more affordable with an a la carte menu that allows diners to create their own experience in the 50-seat restaurant. There will also be an additional ten seats at the chef's counter with a tasting menu available.

We wouldn't jerk you around. This is authentic Jamaican food. - PHOTO BY JEREMIAH JONES
We wouldn't jerk you around. This is authentic Jamaican food.
Photo by Jeremiah Jones
Jamaica Pon Di Road, , 2213 S. Victory, opened the first weekend of August. This is the first brick and mortar location for the food truck which serves Jamaican street food made by chef Gareth Powell. Located in the Acres Home community, the new restaurant serves jerk chicken, braised oxtail, curry chicken, plantains in dark rum and classic Jamaican beef patties. There's also the Insane Bolt Burger with a spiced patty which is currently a lunch special for $10, according to a Facebook post.
click to enlarge Chef Gareth Powell and wife Danielle are bringing island flavors to Acres Home. - PHOTO BY JEREMIAH JONES
Chef Gareth Powell and wife Danielle are bringing island flavors to Acres Home.
Photo by Jeremiah Jones
Powell, who is from Jamaica, honed his culinary skills working at island resorts such as Sandals Royal Plantation, Grand Lido Braco and the Riu Hotel. He first opened his food truck in 2017 in Spring, taking it on the road to different parts of Houston for festivals and events. Jamaica Pon Di Road also provides catering services.
click to enlarge Beautiful eggplant gets a lift from spice and garlic. - PHOTO BY JESSIE JIA
Beautiful eggplant gets a lift from spice and garlic.
Photo by Jessie Jia

Lao Sze Chuan, 510 Mason, opened quietly in late July, as reported by EaterHouston. The Sichuan restaurant first opened in Chicago in 1998 with celebrity chef Tony Hu, at the helm. Just a year later, the restaurant was named "One of the Best" by The Chicago Tribune with Lao Sze Chuan receiving a three forks rating. The location in Katy is the first for the Houston area with another planned for 3407 Montrose. The company plans to open 10 locations in Texas within the next few years. The expansion into Texas will be led by Xiaowei Liu in partnership with Hu. Xiaowei, a local businessman, has years of experience in restaurant operations.
click to enlarge Vegetarians, look away. - PHOTO BY EMILY LE
Vegetarians, look away.
Photo by Emily Le
Hu has been nicknamed "Mayor of Chinatown" in Chicago and received national acclaim for his traditional, yet creative and modern, Sichuan cuisine. However, in 2016, Hu was sentenced to a year in federal prison for doctoring receipts in order to avoid paying sales tax in Illinois, as reported by The Chicago Tribune. Despite the brief interruption, Hu has continued to own and operate successful restaurants all over Illinois.
Lao Sze Chuan also has locations in Connecticut and Minnesota.

Dishes at Lao Sze Chuan include its authentic Peking duck, handmade soup dumplings and chef classic series like salted egg paste, green peppercorn, tender tofu, Lalala spicy dry pot and house made sour pickle with a choice of different proteins. There is a dim sum menu as well as fried rice and noodle options.
 
click to enlarge The deciding is the hardest part. - PHOTO BY AKIL BENNETT PHOTOGRAPHY
The deciding is the hardest part.
Photo by Akil Bennett Photography

The Baker's Man, 3622 Main, will celebrate its grand opening September 4. James Ephraim, a former marine, has been selling his from-scratch bundt cakes at venues like Urban Harvest Farmers Market and through Click Virtual Food Hall. Now, Ephraim has found a permanent spot for his business which was inspired by his mom. Ephraim says that when he was young he would act as his mother's personal assistant during the holidays as she baked beautiful carrot cakes for friends and family. He would measure ingredients and help with the stirring and mixing. His favorite part, however, was the taste testing. He says his mother's rich, moist cakes were a hit with everyone who received them.
click to enlarge Chocaholics can get their fix at The Baker's Man. - PHOTO BY AKIL BENNETT PHOTOGRAPHY
Chocaholics can get their fix at The Baker's Man.
Photo by Akil Bennett Photography
In an email to the Houston Press Ephraim wrote, " My mother taught me everything I know. I used her carrot cake recipe as the template for the rest of the flavors I offer and the opening of this business is a testament to her techniques...Although she is not present to see this day come to fruition, I know that she is right next to me in spirit and I hope that she is proud."

At the new shop, customers can get a taste of that inspiration with three different bundt cake sizes, including personal sized for a self-indulgent treat. The Baker's Man offers seven flavors including Red Velvet, lemon, Strawberry, Funfetti with sprinkles, Chocolate Fudge and his mother's specialty, Carrot Cake. This writer is dreaming about the Blondie, a vanilla cake with caramel cream cheese icing and crumbled toffee. And for vegans, The Baker's Man has four options.

Ephraim told the Press that he will only be selling bundt cakes for now but may add other items in the future.
click to enlarge There will be plenty of food trucks to choose from at Comida Park in Pearland. - RENDERING BY NADEEM BATTLA
There will be plenty of food trucks to choose from at Comida Park in Pearland.
Rendering by Nadeem Battla
Comida Park, 1014 N. Main, will open at Cole's Flea Market in Pearland in late fall 2021, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Cole's is operated by United Flea Markets, the owner of the largest portfolio of flea markets in the country. It is based in Denver, Colorado.

The new food park will be an addition to the flea market and offer up to 40 food trucks from across the region, offering a unique and diverse selection of cuisines. There will be onsite seating and live entertainment.
click to enlarge Comida Park will have seating for diners. - RENDERING BY NADEEM BATTLA
Comida Park will have seating for diners.
Rendering by Nadeem Battla

Rob Sieban, President and CEO of UFM said that the company is currently seeking food truck vendors who want a lively and high traffic site in which to operate. Sieban said, " Comida Park will substantially expand the food and beverage offerings at Cole's Flea Market and create an even stronger connection to the community."

Adriatic Cafe, 27700 Katy Freeway, is nearing completion. According to a Facebook post August 17, the newest location is expected to be completed in six to eight weeks. This will make the fourth location for the Italian restaurant which has locations in Spring, Tomball and Jersey Village. The Jersey Village location, however, is still closed temporarily for repairs due to a fire. We have reached out for a reopening date but have yet to receive a response.

McDonald's launched its Glazed Pull Apart Donut September 1. This is the first limited-edition offering to join the McCafe Bakery line-up. In 2020, the fast food giant introduced its Bakery line with three treats: the Apple Fritter, Blueberry Muffin and Cinnamon Roll. The new item, however, has the dreaded "limited time" designation so early birds get the donut.
click to enlarge A free samosa is available on World Samosa Day. - PHOTO BY TRACI LUONG
A free samosa is available on World Samosa Day.
Photo by Traci Luong
Ember & Greens, 9403B Katy Freeway, is offering everyone who dines in September 5 a free samosa for World Samosa Day. Guests can choose its best seller, Maman Shookouh's samosa, with seasoned ground turkey, potatoes and parsley, served with cucumber yogurt or go vegetarian with the E&G Veggie samosa with cauliflower, chickpeas, spinach and ginger with lemon tahini. Either one is a delicious crispy fried snack. And if your pooch likes samosas, you can share one on the dog-friendly patio at this Persian-influenced modern American restaurant owned by chef Nadereh Ahly and son Iman Yarjani.

Restaurants Reported Open August 2021:

Asado Burritos and Bowls, 4700 Calhoun, opened August 2
Big Owl Craft Beer House, 1848 Airline, opened September 4
Concura, 4340 Westheimer, opened August 17
Fadi's Mediterranean Cuisine, 6365 Westheimer, opened August 16
Ixim, 409 Travis, opened July 20
Jersey Mike's Subs, 14044 Grant, opened August 18
Kale Me Crazy, 718 W. 18th, opened August 5
The Loop Churros, 5216 Morningside, opened August 2
Miami Grill, 11626 TC Jester, opened June 29
Postino Wine Cafe, 791 Town and Country Boulevard, opened August 9
Project Pollo, 514 S. Mason, opened July 28
Railway Heights, 8200 Washington, opened August 4
Tea Bear Teahouse, 6622 Durango Creek, opened early August
Walk-On's, 23213 Grand Circle Boulevard, opened August 9

Restaurants Reported Closed August 2021:

Adriatic Cafe, 17402 Highway 290, closed temporarily August 3
Divino Italian Restaurant and Bar, 1830 W. Alabama, closed July 30
Soto's Cantina, 10609 grant, closed temporarily June 30
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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.