Openings and Closings: Kau Ba Saigon and Indigo Debut

Is that pho me?
Is that pho me? Photo courtesy of Kau Ba Saigon

Kau Ba Saigon Kitchen & Bar
, 2502 Dunlavy, had its grand opening July 31, according to Houston Food Finder. Chef and restaurateur Nikki Tran became known to American foodies after her restaurant, Ca Ba Quan in Ho Chi Minh City, was featured on the first season of David Chang's Netflix special, "Ugly Delicious" as well as " Somebody Feed Phil".

Born in Vietnam, Tran spent a few years in Houston and took home to Saigon some of the cuisine elements that have become part of the city's dining portfolio, including the Viet/Cajun fusion that all started with crawfish and is crazy popular with H-town diners. Now, she is back in Houston bringing her cooking philosophy and technique which made her Saigon restaurant renowned.

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Tuna of the sea meets flower garden.
Photo courtesy of Kau Ba Saigon

With the Brits, the French and Americans having occupied Vietnam in some form in the past hundred years, one could argue that fusion cuisine has always been a thing in Vietnam, many times out of necessity. While Tran's menu includes a number of traditional Vietnamese dishes like pho and banh mi, there are touches of French techniques and her signature Viejun flavor in more adventuresome dishes.

Tran does not use MSG and limits the use of white sugar in her cooking, while focusing on fresh ingredients and colorful plating.

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The table is set for tasting at Indigo.
Photo courtesy of Restaurant Indigo

Restaurant Indigo, 517 Berry Road, has opened after nearly two years since the news that chef Jonny Rhodes and wife Chana were planning a five-course tasting restaurant based on the pop-ups that he started in 2015, according to CultureMap Houston.

Rhodes, a former marine, has worked in restaurants such as Oxheart, here in Houston, and Gramercy Tavern, in New York. He classifies his cooking as soul food and neo-soul food, with many of the dishes being almost statement pieces culturally, bearing the heritage of African slaves and Indigenous Americans in the ingredients and the names he has chosen for his dishes. His style focuses on the evolution of the cuisine created in the American South out of the New World crops mixed with ethnic dishes and the foods available to people who were living in poverty and under oppression.

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Chef Jonny Rhodes is creating something new.
Photo courtesy of Restaurant Indigo
The current tasting menu includes a watermelon soup (Kool Aid) with blueberry preserves called "Affirmation of a Stereotype". The menu also shows a penchant for pickled and preserved dishes like smoked pickled carrots, peach skin preserves and cauliflower pickles.

The five-course tasting is $79 and there is a choice of the omnivore or herbivore (vegetarian) menu. Reservations are required and there are only 13 seats at the U-shaped communal table. There will be two evening seatings, one at 6 p.m. and the second at 8:45 p.m., with each seating lasting an hour and a half.

For now, the restaurant is BYOB. According to the website, patrons can rent wine glasses at $2 apiece, with a new glass required for each bottle opened. It sounds a bit confusing as a corkage fee, but the website does offer some recommended wine pairings for each course, so you'll have to stop at the wine store beforehand with your list. The permits for liquor and wine should come through in late August or early September.

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It's coming, eggheads!
Photo by Fajar Hassan

Egghaus Gourmet, 2042 East TC Jester, is expected to open late August or early September. The upcoming breakfast joint from father/son duo Hans and Philip Sitter is still under construction next to their King's BierHaus. Their first Austrian/German concept, King's Biergarten, opened in Pearland in 2011 and the interesting history of how it evolved from a carwash business to a German beer garden can be found on the website.

The family's kolache pop-ups have been so successful for the past couple of years that they decided to offer the sweet and savory kolaches (we are not going to get into the kolache/klobasnek debate), egg sandwiches and breakfast tacos in a dedicated space. Favorites like Drunken Chicken, made with shredded chicken simmered in Stiegl lager with buffalo sauce, will be on the menu as well as fruit kolaches like Oma's Peach.

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Bow down to the Egg King.
Photo by Fajar Hassan
The jams will be house-made, the eggs cage-free and the sausages preservative-free. A number of the meats will be simmered in different beers, sure to make beer lovers hoppy.

The breakfast/lunch restaurant will be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. After that, you can wander over to King's BierHaus for happy hour.

Genki Poke, 18052 FM 529, opened July 5. There are create-your-own options as well as signature poke bowls, sushi rolls ($3.95) and a four-piece option called a sushi sandwich for $7.25. The restaurant is done in refreshing blues and whites, with drawings of fish and whales decorating the walls.

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Sorry, Dr. Atkins. Bikini season is almost over anyway.
Photo courtesy of The Empanada Company
The Empanada Company, 15754 FM 529, had its grand opening July 14, for its second location. The family owned business opened its first location at 2925 West TC Jester. Owner Rosy Paz hails from Michoacan, Mexico and her Mexican-style empanadas are made fresh all day.

There are many tasty empanada choices, savory and sweet, baked or fried. Meat lovers can try the Chicken Tinga or the Beef Piccadillo. Vegetarians have plenty of vegetable options, including Aguacate, an avocado and cheese pastry. That's three of our favorite things put together for less than $2.

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Empanadas and smiling staff will make you happy, too.
Photo courtesy of The Empanada Company
There are also fruit empanadas, sausage kolaches and desserts like flan and tres leches. With prices from $1.59 to $2.19, you can have a three course meal of from-scratch empanadas and still not break a ten spot.

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It's a bustling crowd at PJ's.
Photo courtesy of PJ's Coffee Cypress
PJ's Coffee, 11930 Barker Cypress, opened July 25 and is having a grand opening event August 4. Originally founded in New Orleans by Phyllis Jordan in 1978, who pioneered the special cold drip process which produces a much less acidic cup of coffee. The chain has a previous Houston location at Royal Sonesta off West Loop South and an upcoming store at 12640 Broadway in Pearland. The PJ's Coffee in the Heights closed this year.

The coffee is direct-trade and small batch-roasted, using the top 1 percent of Arabica beans. Coffee lovers can opt for a classic cup of joe or have their usual favorites like lattes, espresso and granitas. The store also sells chai tea, green tea lattes and smoothies for non-coffee drinkers. Yes, those people exist.

There is also a drive-thru for on-the-go mocha maniacs. Just don't put the cup between your legs.

Retro Cafe, 27200 US-290, opened in July. The petite restaurant sells Vietnamese subs, fresh juice blends and pho. Those with the munchies can try snacks like chicken wings with green spicy sauce or the Korean fried chicken. There are also vegetarian options with tofu, vegetables and even veggie ham.

There are action figures on display for the geeks out there, like my husband.

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Photo courtesy of Bryant Up in Smoke BBQ
Bryant Up In Smoke, 10142 Jones, opened June 16 at Linh Dao Plaza. Owners  Roshawn and Dalana Bryant  began by catering barbecue and selling their special bbq salsa. Wanting a legacy for their children, they felt it was God's plan for them to follow their dream of owning their own restaurant.

If Yelp is any indication (and occasionally it is), they are serving up some Heaven-sent barbecue and at  reasonable prices. The Bryants say that it's not just about profit. It's about serving people. If you want to be served try the " Up In Smoke" special, though you might need a friend to help you with the brisket, sausage, rib, and chicken with two sides. Unless you're a greedy pig.

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Chopped brisket sandwiches are a Texas favorite.
Photo courtesy of Bryant Up In Smoke
There are other smaller plates and sandwiches, plus meat by the pound for larger groups. Customers will find that the prices at this food truck don't pinch as much as some of the others around town. And it's still really good barbecue.

L&L Hawaiian Grill, 2404 Texmati, began its soft opening June 26. The Hawaii-based chain which blends Asian and American cuisine, has more than 200 locations across the United States, Japan and New Zealand.

Those seeking Hawaiian comfort food will find it in the chicken katsu, pork Lau Lau, and the ultimate Hawaiian indulgence, the loco moco, a hamburger steak covered in gravy and topped with a fried egg. There's plenty of Spam here as well.

The restaurant also serves burgers, fries and milkshakes.

If you missed out on your Hawaiian vacay this year, take your best Aloha shirt out of the closet and drive out to Katy for the restaurant's Aloha Fridays with live music, starting at 7 p.m.

Margherita pizza the way it should be.
Photo courtesy of Pizza4You
Pizza4You, 5200 Louetta, had its grand opening June 25. The pizzeria uses unique Neapolitan  ovens imported from Italy to cook the perfect crispy crusts.

Owners Vlad Mironescu and Dragos Chetraru are longtime friends. Chetraru came to the United States two years ago from Romania and suggested Mironescu come too. Mironescu, who worked in London for ten years as the catering manager for Alexandra Palace, decided to join Chetraru in creating the pizza restaurant. The space they found was previously a Greek restaurant and had to be completely remodeled.

Using dough that grows naturally for 92 hours with no additional yeast, Pizza4You offers signature pizzas from $12 to $14 and the basic starter pizza (sauce and mozzarella) at $8, with toppings for an additional cost.

Now, that's an oven!
Photo courtesy of Pizza4You
There are also house-made doughnuts and "Bread4Home", a 2.2 lb. loaf that can be taken to go and includes macerated garlic and rosemary. There are several pastas to choose from and sandwiches like the Cubano panini.

The decor includes reclaimed wood tables, metal bar stools at communal tables and several four-top tables, plus an outdoor patio for the upcoming fall weather. Imagine eating a slightly charred Neapolitan pizza, drinking  a cold beer and enjoying 75 degree temps. Imagine really, really hard.

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Fajita Pete's got the meats.
Photo courtesy of Fajita Pete's
Fajita Pete's, 6719 Wesleyan, is closing August 15 at and reopening August 16 on the opposite side of Whole Foods Market. The original location opened in 2008, but the business has outgrown the space and is moving around the corner to better accommodate its fajita-eating customers.

The new location will offer 1,650 square feet of space compared to the previous 1,200. There will be a more spacious dining room with a fresher look resembling more of the newer locations in Tomball and Spring.

Fajita Pete's catering, pick-up and delivery service make up much of its business. It's a good day at the office when Fajita Pete's is delivered. Too bad the boss won't spring for the to-go margaritas.

Pho Q Long, 19752 Texas 249 Access Road, had its grand opening July 26. The Vietnamese restaurant serves pho. Duh.

It also has banh mi sandwiches, vermicelli, rice and egg noodle bowls. There are smoothies and Vietnamese iced coffee on the beverage menu. The restaurant is sparkling clean, with metal chairs, communal tables and a few comfy booths.

The pho menu offers the classic beef soup with various choices of cuts and meatballs, plus pho ga, (chicken) and vegetarian pho.

Just be careful when making dinner plans for this restaurant. Inviting someone to Pho Q Long might get you slapped. Or something else.

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Photo by Houston Press
Ciao Bello, 5161 San Felipe, closed August 1, according to Eater Houston. The Italian restaurant from one of Houston's premier restaurateurs, Tony Vallone and managing partner Scott Sulma, opened nine years ago. The closing of Ciao Bello follows right on the heels of the closing of  Vallone's, 1947 Gessner, an upscale fine dining steakhouse which the duo opened in 2013.

This leaves Tony's, 3755 Richmond, as the last restaurant standing for Vallone, 50 years after its more humble beginnings as a causal Italian restaurant. According to statements and Facebook posts, the choice was made to close the two other Vallone restaurants in order to put the focus on Tony's itself.

Ciao Bello.

Openings Reported For July 2018:

Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine, 1737 West 34th, opened July 12
Angel's Seafood, 6199 Griggs, opened May
Bayou Seafood and More, 10040 Veterans Memorial, soft opening June 4
Candy Shack Daiquiris, 5111 Washington, opened June 2
Cedars Tapas Bar, 403 W. Gary, officially opened July 18
Cobble and Spoke, 1900 Blalock, opened mid-June
De Dao Hunan Style Tapas, 25410 Northwest Freeway, opened July 23
Dunkin Donuts, 9405 Main, grand opening June 29
Dunkin Donuts, 2002 Yale, grand opening June 30
El Segundo Swim Club, 5180 Avenue L, opened July 4
Etro Nightclub, 114 Main, opened August 3
Fusion Eats, 9 Greenway Plaza, opened July 10
Hunan's, 19724 Texas 249, opened first week of June
La Villa Saint-Tropez,4315 Montrose, soft opening July 4
L3 Coffee, 10535 Fry, opened June 23
MONA Fresh Italian Food, 19355 Katy Freeway, grand opening July 26
Pokeworks, 21788 Katy Freeway, opened third week of June
QJD Peking Duck, 5901 Westheimer, grand opening July 20
Reveille Barbecue Co., opened late May
Saint Arnold Beer Garden and Restaurant, 2000 Lyons, opened July 23
Shahi Palace Restaurant, 2209 Highway 6, grand opening June 27
Wagyu Hibachi and Sushi Bar, 3239 Southwest Freeway, opened July 6

Closings Reported For July 2018:

Etro Lounge, 1424 Westheimer, closed July 28 to relocate
The Ivy & James, 4400 Bellaire, closed June 30
Harry's Restaurant and cafe, 318 Tuam, closed temporarily July 9, reopening August 14
One-Fifth Romance Languages, 1658 Westheimer, closed July 31 for new concept
The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen, closed July 15
Spaghetti Warehouse, 901 Commerce, will not reopen due to Hurricane Harvey
Southern Goods, 632 West 19th, will not reopen due to Hurricane Harvey
Vallone's, 947 Gessner, closed July 20
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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.