More great news for the Heights this week as it was announced that D'Amico's Italian Market has set its sights on White Oak Boulevard for its second location. The popular restaurant has been operating at 5510 Morningside in Rice Village since 1996 and has never expanded until now. Citing the "neighborhood-driven" vibe of the Heights as its reason for expansion, D'Amico's is expected to open early next year at 2802 White Oak. Joining it along this stretch will be Tacos A Go-Go (at 2912 White Oak) and Christian's Tailgate next year, while Hubcap Grill plans to move into its second location at 1133 West 19th St. as soon as possible.
In openings, Leon's Lounge (1006 McGowen) finally had its grand reopening this past Sunday after far too long of an absence. When I spoke to owner Pete Mitchell back in May, he lamented the length of time it was taking to get the necessary repairs done to get the bar up to code while still retaining that old charm that makes Leon's the beloved dive bar it's always been. Were you at the reopening? Then you're probably in our slideshow.
In other news, Pearland is getting a Chipotle. The fourth such fast-casual burrito joint to open in Houston this year, it will be the first in Pearland and will be located at 10645 Broadway, for easy burrito access from Highway 288. It isn't open quite yet, but head over next Tuesday afternoon, December 14, for its grand opening.
And speaking of grand openings -- very grand openings, in this case -- Einstein Bros. Bagels is opening a new location in Missouri City this Saturday, December 11, and it's doing so in style. The first 100 people in line when the bagel store opens at 6:30 a.m. that day will receive the bagel equivalent of a Wonka Golden Ticket: coupons good for one free breakfast sandwich every week for a whole year. If you're a bagel fan, head out to 6261 Highway 6, Suite 100 (at the corner of 6 and Murphy Road) early this Saturday and get ready to wait. (But Black Friday should have prepared you for this, right?)
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In kitchen news, four -- count 'em, four! -- restaurants have new chefs this week: benjy's in the Village (2424 Dunstan) has both a renovated dining room and patio as well as a brand new executive chef. Louisiana-born Joseph Stayshich has worked in some of Houston's best kitchens, including *17 and Cullen's, and is now the man in charge at the first (and still our favorite) benjy's.
Down on Washington Avenue, Laurenzo's has lost Mike Nutt to Montrose's Cafe Moustache (507 Westheimer). That has to be a blow to Laurenzo's, where Nutt was chef de cuisine under executive chef Jeff Hilson; the two had been working on an organic garden for the restaurant, as Nutt is well-known as a passionate advocate for eating local, seasonal foods. But perhaps that passion will translate to the rather bored, staid kitchen at '70s throwback Cafe Moustache. One can only hope.
Way up north, La Toretta del Lago (600 La Torretta Boulevard, Montgomery) has hired Jason Weaver as its executive chef, although not for Chez Roux. Weaver -- who left Dallas hotel The Adolphus in 2009 for Las Vegas's Mandarin Hotel but has winged his way back to Texas -- will be in charge of food for the hotel itself, not the smaller restaurant that was Chef Albert Roux's first in the United States.
And in the ultimate twist of fate, Michael Dei Maggi -- who was most recently the executive chef at Tony Vallone's Caffe Bello in Montrose, and at Vallone's Ciao Bello before that -- is the new executive chef at Mo's, a Place for Steaks (1801 Post Oak Boulevard) in the Galleria area. Which, as many Houston diners will remember, was the first location of Tony's before it moved to Greenway Plaza. It's the circle of liiiiiiiiiife.