Openings & Closings: Time for El Tiempo's Big Debut and More Crawfish in Chinatown

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Are you in this for the long-haul? Good, because this week was chock-full of restaurant news -- and most of it happy news. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a long post, starting with recaps of a few stories from earlier this week.

Ryan Rouse and Brad Moore of Grand Prize Bar in Montrose and Big Star Bar in the Heights are making a push for downtown: The two barmen are helping friends Joshua Martinez and Justin Burrow open two new spots near the Charity Saloon at Main and Congress. Martinez is opening Goro & Gun, the first ramen shop in Houston, with chef David Coffman while Burrow is opening a nearby cocktail-centric spot tentatively called "Bad News Bar."

In other upcoming news, Alison Cook at the Houston Chronicle reports that Pizaro's Pizza is looking to open a second spot inside the Loop. The popular Napoletana-style pizza place in Memorial is swamped every night as it is; a second location would be welcomed by its fans. First, though, Pizaro's owner Bill Hutchinson has to pick up the 8,000-pound oven he's ordered from Italy.

Opening today in Chinatown is Crawfish Cafe (11209 Bellaire, inside the Hong Kong Mall), which features -- you guessed it -- crawfish, but also much more. The menu includes "all of the usual Cajun food," says owner Kiet Dong, such as boudin, gumbo, oysters, etouffee and blackened fish. Dong also promises a slew of boiled seafood, too, including blue crab, snow crab legs, king crab legs, lobster and shrimp. For today's grand opening, Crawfish Cafe will open its doors at noon, but regular hours will be 3 to 10 p.m. daily.

In grocery store news, Swamplot reports that yet another new Trader Joe's location may be on the horizon -- this one on Washington Avenue of all places. A tipster tells the real estate website that a fourth TJ's is planned near the traffic circle on the Rice Military end of the busy thoroughfare, although the grocery store chain has not yet confirmed this.

Speaking of chains, three additional national chains are putting down roots: Corner Bakery opened its fourth Houston location this past Monday at 107 Yale in the Heights. The fifth Houston location of Jersey Mike's Subs plans to open Wednesday, February 13 at 8001 West Main Street (the third Jersey Mike's run by franchise operator Terry Nordenstrom, who also operates the locations at 1635 Eldridge Parkway and 103 Yale Street). And Zoës Kitchen is opening its sixth Houston location in Rice Village on Thursday, February 14 at 5215 Kelvin.

La Casa de Caballo -- the Mexican steakhouse from Carlos Abedrop -- is getting close to opening at 322 Westheimer in the old La Strada space. Abedrop recently hired both a chef and a general manager for the restaurant, which will serve both Tex-Mex and steaks in a fine dining atmosphere. Roger P. de la Fuente III -- previously of Capital Grille and Las Alamedas -- has been named as GM. Kirby Smith, a 20-year veteran, will be the chef de cuisine. Look for La Casa to open in late February.

Also opening in late February will be the fifth El Tiempo Cantina yet at 2814 Navigation, smack-dab next door to the original Ninfa's. It's a return to the neighborhood that started it all for the Laurenzo family, which first opened Ninfa's in 1973. Mama Ninfa's son Roland Laurenzo opened the first El Tiempo Cantina in 1988 after parting ways with the Ninfa's chain, and this new El Tiempo will mark the restaurant's fifth location.

"What a great way for our family to celebrate 64 years in the food business," says Laurenzo of the new location. "It's fitting that this restaurant is located between the two original tortilla factories that my parents, Domenic Tommy (DT) and Ninfa Laurenzo built when they moved to Houston in 1949." Laurenzo calls the years "when Daddy and Mama were toiling in the tortilla factory making tortillas, taco shells and pizzas...the best days of our lives. That's why the East End is truly where our heart resides."

Last but not least, if you've been on the look-out for chef Amanda McGraw since she left Brasserie 19 last month, you don't have to look far: McGraw is now helming the kitchen at another River Oaks favorite, Tiny Boxwood's, where she once worked as a sous chef four years ago. She plans to make some updates to the menu, including mussels baked in its wood-fired oven, and hopes to incorporate even more of the fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs that are grown on-site at the adjoining Thompson + Hanson nursery.

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