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Fresh, homemade pasta at Mina's Ristorante.EXPAND
Fresh, homemade pasta at Mina's Ristorante.
Photo by Shawn Chippendale

Openings and Closings: Kubo's Rises Again, Mina Debuts, Balls Out Closes

Mina Ristorante, 3641 W. Alabama, will debut April 8 in the former Borgo Food Station space. Husband and wife Luis Mancera and Chef Monica Fallone have transformed their casual, European-style eatery into a destination Italian restaurant with an intimate setting while keeping some of the popular menu items at Borgo.

The 2,000 square foot space was designed by Erin Hicks.  The new restaurant will seat 50 with banquettes, tables, and a new bar area.

The menu at Mina will include a variety of antipasti, house-made pastas, entrees and desserts. The curated
wine list will include both traditional and organic options. 

Lunch will feature a casual counter service where customers  can choose from different antipasto and dishes like lasagna Bolognese. There will also be rotating chicken dishes and catch of the day specials. Mina’s take on classic Italian sandwiches, "on the bun", will be quick and easy for the lunch crowd. Through May 8, a special to-go only lunch option will be offered called “10 in 10.” Any of these select lunch options will be ready in less than 10 minutes at a 10 percent discount.

Dinner brings table service and a full waitstaff. Diners can begin with antipasti selections like warm, creamy Brie served with golden crostini and  puff mushroom crostata with caramelized shallots and goat cheese or salads like the Burrata di Capri, served with baby tomatoes & gazpacho vinaigrette. Pastas are made fresh in-house daily like tortelli and ravioli. Linguini ceci e pepe, a specialty of chef Fallone's, is prepared with chickpeas for an added twist.

Desserts like panna cotta al limoncello and fior de latte affogato tempt patrons to the sweet side of the menu.

The couple has established successful restaurant concepts in Miami and Caracas as well as an industry consulting service in Latin America and Europe.  Now, they are excited to share their customs with Houston.

“I have always created spaces where I can present my Italian family’s traditional recipes to friends and restaurant-goers that love to eat... For me this is the best way to connect with my family’s Italian roots and introduce it to all who fill my restaurant.” says Chef Fallone in a press release.

Kubo's sushi is art on a plate.EXPAND
Kubo's sushi is art on a plate.
Photo by Shawn Chippendale

Kubo's Sushi and Washoku, 1902 Washington, softly opened March 22, two years after closing its Rice Village location. The new restaurant takes over the building previously housing Kukuri, the now you see us, now you don't sushi spot once helmed by renowned chef Shimao Ishikawa. It closed in March 2018 after less than seven months.

Now, another former sushi restaurant is reemerging in its place. Kubo's Sushi was a popular spot in Rice Village for 14 years, but it closed a couple of years ago, despite being a launching pad for some of Houston's top sushi chefs. The new version comes from Yoichi Ueno, according to Eater Houston. It will be serving some high end fare like the traditional kaiseki-style, multi-coursed Japanese meal, but will still offer some of the simple and common sushi favorites which made it popular.

Join the sushi club at Kubo's.
Join the sushi club at Kubo's.
Photo by Carl Rosa

Dishes like Wagyu ishiyaki with four ounces of Texas Wagyu beef cooked on a hot stone and kamo rosu, a pure and simple duck dish, will go beyond the expectations of Kubo's former patrons.

For now, the restaurant has tentative opening hours Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Downstairs at Penny Quarter.EXPAND
Downstairs at Penny Quarter.
Rendering by Garrison Design

Penny Quarter, 1424 Westheimer, is on track to open in early June. The Montrose cafe and bar comes from the energetic team of Houston notables and partners, Justin Yu, Bobby Heugel, Steve Flippo and Terry Williams. Tommy Ho will serve as General Managing partner with Justin Vann as Wine Director and Alex Negranza as Coffee Director.

The new cafe will be located behind Heugel's much lauded Anvil Bar and Refuge. The building has undergone some major renovations to open up the dark space which once housed Etro nightclub and Firestone Tire. Garrison Design has maximized the two-story space which will feature a giant window and a new storefront, letting in light in the formerly dark space.

Upstairs at Penny Quarter.EXPAND
Upstairs at Penny Quarter.
Photo by Garrison Design

There will be a lengthy bar for coffee service in the morning and bar service in the evening. The concept draws on the longtime cafe and bar culture of the eclectic Montrose scene. The team wants to serve casual drinks with a modest food menu that is simple and delicious. Yu, who has established relationships with farmers and local vendors since his early days at his former signature tasting restaurant, Oxheart, wants to bring a morning menu of dishes like pistachio and burnt honey toast and a spicy, fried egg and bacon sandwich, plus larger plates that can easily be taken to go. For the evening, he plans light snacks, sandwiches and simple, substantial dinner items.

Negranza will develop the coffee program using his experience in Seattle's coffee industry and relationships with roasters, both local and nationwide. He also has experience managing several of Heugel's bars. Vann, who has created the wine lists at Theodore Rex, Public Services and Better Luck Tomorrow will now turn his attentions to the wine program at Penny Quarter. He plans a rotating wine list of more than 100 selections with pricing at every level and a well-curated beer list and a small selection of spirits. For fancy cocktails, there's always Anvil next door.

Hu's Cooking, 2502 W. Holcombe, opened softly March 21 and there are plans for a grand opening, soon. The Chinese fusion restaurant serves typical dishes like Kung Pao, General Tso's and orange chicken, but the extensive menu offers much more for those willing to be adventurous. The chef's specials include dishes like spicy Bass with pickled cabbage and duck soup with bamboo shoots. There's also Szechuan stir-fried lamb for something different.

The interior is contemporary and elegant with beautiful artwork decorating the walls. The dishes are just as beautiful to look at as the art.

Tapatio's Mexican Restaurant, 3327 Mangum, opened  March 11. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, everyday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Chilaquiles, heuvos rancheros and heuvos con jamon are just a few of the breakfast dishes available. Lunch and dinner offer authentic Mexican specialties like gorditas, mojarra frita and pozole. Its Facebook page even shows a birria estilo Jalisco, a stew typically made with goat or lamb for special occasions. You know it's authentic. Look at all the italics we used.

Calcio Cafe is currently taste-testing its coffee drinks.EXPAND
Calcio Cafe is currently taste-testing its coffee drinks.
Photo by Alvin Haynes

Calcio Cafe, 2202 Summer Street, has softly opened, on the down low at Sawyer Yards. The cafe serves Italian espresso drinks and other gourmet coffees plus smoothies and fresh pressed juices. The cafe is uniquely situated within the Toros Lifestyle Soccer Facilities. In fact there is a soccer viewing area which is also dog-friendly.

The turf fields at Toros Lifestyle Soccer Facilities.EXPAND
The turf fields at Toros Lifestyle Soccer Facilities.
Photo by Alvin Haynes

As of now, the cafe is tweaking its food menu and preparing for its soft opening event April 13. The Toros Facilities has adult leagues and kids training/leagues with turf fields. Calcio will stream soccer games (futbol, football, le foot) from every league in the world. Goal!

I Heart Boba, 10245 Kempwood, opened March 15. This makes the sixth location in the Houston area for the boba shop with one in Mesquite, Texas, one in Ontario, and most recently, a location in Vietnam. Along with boba teas, slushies, smoothies and coffees, it serves banh mi and other sandwiches.

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, 7748 Cypress Creek Parkway, softly opened March 21. This is the fourth Houston area location for the massive Japanese BBQ chain, which has more than 700 locations worldwide.

Diners are seated around a table grill and may order the meats and vegetables separately or order the BBQ courses, meant for sharing with the table. The courses include starters and various meats for barbecuing, ending with s'mores for dessert. We're not sure how s'mores fit in with Japanese barbecue, but it's a fun way to end a meal.

The restaurant conveniently offers a grilling guide for those new to the experience. There are also plenty of noodle, rice and cooked options as well.

The upstairs bar at Axis and Alibi.EXPAND
The upstairs bar at Axis and Alibi.
Photo by Shane Shannon

Axis and Alibi, 5701 Washington, is slated to premiere April 26. The two-story hybrid lounge will be housed in the former Wabash Feed and Garden Store. Owner and Operator Carlos Palomo has years of experience in the industry with such businesses as Sullivan's Steakhouse and Crome in his history. Palomo now wants to jump in on the evolving patio and lounge scene in Houston.

Carlos Palomo is bringing a two-story lounge to Washington Avenue.EXPAND
Carlos Palomo is bringing a two-story lounge to Washington Avenue.
Photo by Shane Shannon

The first floor will offer plush red patio lounge seating and bar stools with open windows and access to the inside bar. There will be high definition televisions for game watching. Inside will be more upscale lounging areas and spots with intimate seating for bottle service.

The lounge will offer a generous Happy hour, Tuesday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tracey's Fajita Restaurant, 21040 Highland Knolls, opened in early March. The restaurant serves fajitas, tacos, nachos and other Mexican favorites, but also has a small Salvadoran and Guatemalan menu with dishes like pupusas and yucca con chicharron.

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

After all of these amazing openings, we unfortunately must list more closings than usual. The restaurant business is notoriously difficult. From dramatic rent increases and failed lease negotiations to lack of business and sometimes just incompetence, we've seen it all. Oftentimes, customers are sad to see these restaurants close, even though they haven't patronized them for years. So, if you have a favorite local restaurant, give them your business. Before it's too late.

Balls Out Burgers are still available from its food truck.
Balls Out Burgers are still available from its food truck.
Photo by Troy Fields

Balls Out Burger, 1603 N. Durham, has closed permanently, according to CultureMap Houston. Ian Tucker, owner of Poitin, opened the burger restaurant in June 2017. It had a simple menu of burgers, fries and shakes, plus craft beer and wine.

In a town where burger joints are opening at a mad pace, Balls Out's simplicity seems to have not made an impression, though its food truck will remain in operation and will also be available for catering and events.

Padna's Cajun Eatery, 403 Westheimer, has closed. The business announced the official closing April 3 on its Facebook page, thanking all of its loyal customers for their support. Apparently, it needed more loyal customers. It's a darn shame, because its April crawfish specials looked very tempting.

Mr. Nice Pie, 712 Main, is the first vendor to close at Finn Hall, the downtown food hall which opened December 3, 2018. The food hall concept is in its infancy stage in Houston, with several concepts about to bloom in our city. With it, there will be growing pains.

As for why the popular pizza vendor, known for its mega slices, has parted ways with Finn Hall, the team at Mr. Nice Pie told CultureMap, "Pretty much just working under someone else's thumb just isn't for us."

The Counter is empty.
The Counter is empty.
Photo by Troy Fields

The Counter, 4601 Washington, has been reported closed on Yelp. Part of a nationwide burger franchise, the restaurant served custom built burgers with a multitude of build-your-own options. We reached out to the business for more details and were told that they regretted the closure in the Houston area, but that it was the decision of the franchisee.

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