Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Phat Eatery Woodlands Opens, ISHTIA is Official

The Phat Eatery Woodlands will have an expanded menu.
The Phat Eatery Woodlands will have an expanded menu. Photo by Jenn Duncan

Phat Eatery Woodlands, 2290 Buckthorne Place, opened June 26 in The Woodlands. The debut of the much-anticipated second location of Alex Au-Yeung's popular Malaysian restaurant is a poignant one because Au-Yeung is not here to see the completion of his vision and dream restaurant. In March 2024, Au-Yeung tragically lost his brief battle with cancer, stunning many in the Houston restaurant community who had no idea he was ill.
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The late Alex au-Yeung stands in his dream.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
To say the James Beard Award semifinalist was beloved by fellow chefs and loyal customers is not hyperbolic. With the opening of the original Phat Eatery in Katy Asian Town in 2018, Au-Yeung introduced Houstonians to his hawker-style Southeastern Asian cuisine and garnered much praise and respect, not only for his food but also for his humanity. It is with this spirit that his proteges are going forward. Directors of Operations Kevin Lee and Marvin He will honor his memory by providing the same warm service and delicious fare that Au- Yeung was known for.

The journey to this moment began when the Phat Eatery Woodlands location was announced in fall 2022. There were delays caused by supply chain issues for the custom equipment, the challenge of bringing a 40-year-old building up to code and the toppling of a 35-foot tree onto the roof of the restaurant during the recent storms. Then, of course, there was the loss of Au-Yeung himself leaving his friends, family and co-workers to deal with their collective grief.
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Marvin He and Kevin Lee are carrying on the legacy.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
The continuation of Chef Au-Yeung's dream lies in the hands of his co-directors Lee and He and also with the long-time employees who Au-Yeung trained on-site for the new location. Both Lee and He are hospitality veterans whose families were also in the restaurant industry.
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The famous neon yellow sign glows over the new dining room.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
The menu at The Woodlands location will be familiar to Phat Eatery's clientele with favorites such as roti canai, satay skewers, kerabu prawn, curry laksa and Malaysian curry chicken remaining on the menu. And of course, there will be Au-Yeung's famous Beef Rendang. There are plans to expand the menu in the future to include Cantonese-style barbecue, a craft that became a passion project for Au-Yeung who had teased food writers about its inclusion on the new menu. Lee and He also plan to elevate the selection of dim sum, a traditional Chinese meal service that both men are well practiced in. Peking duck will be added to the menu later this year along with set lunch specials and bar food.

The new location will also offer a full bar with craft cocktails with Southeast Asian inspiration like a lychee margarita and a coconut espresso martini.
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Which one should we try first?
Photo by Jenn Duncan
Guests to The Woodlands restaurant will see the familiar neon sign describing Phat Eatery as "highly attractive and gratifying" along with neon night market signs designed by Au-Yeung, Lee and He. With 24-foot vaulted ceilings and exposed brick and natural cedar, the interior will be illuminated by overhead Chinese lanterns.

The core design of the stand-alone structure was done by architecture firm Tramonte Design Studio. The 8,200 square-foot restaurant accommodates 194 guests in total with seating in the dining room, two private dining areas, a 16-seat bar and floor-to-ceiling glass atrium. The Chef's Table room has a 15-person party table complete with a built-in electric Lazy Susan. There's also an open-concept kitchen, much of it constructed and outfitted to Au-Yeung's specifications.

When questioned about what Chef Au-Yeung would say about the new restaurant's completion, Lee responded, " I think he would be relieved and very proud of us and how far we've come." His co-director He added, "If Alex were still with us, he'd say, 'Finally. We got it open. Dreams really do come true.' "
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The Chef's Table at ISHTIA is a coveted spot.
Photo by JIA Media
ISHTIA, 709 Harris , officially opened June 27 in Kemah. The dining destination from acclaimed chef and restaurateur, David Skinner, takes over the former space of his modern and creative tasting concept, eculent. ISHTIA promises to be just as unique and innovative as Skinner's much-praised eculent with live fire cooking that showcases Skinner's own Choctaw heritage as well as food cultures of other Indigenous Peoples. We find it interesting that eculent was always written in lowercase ala e.e. cummings while ISHTIA gets all caps.

The 18-seat restaurant offers an intimacy that brings the focus on the 20-course tasting menu. Ancestral ingredients form both North and South America will take guests on a culinary journey with contemporary riffs on ancient dishes and cooking techniques. Aromas of sage and mesquite will transport diners to distant lands with smoked meats and roasted corn soaking up the flavors of the fire.
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Chef David Skinner has a personal story to tell in food.
Photo by JIA Media
The menu features plates from Chef Skinner's diverse and rich heritage. A proud member of the Choctaw tribe, he was inspired by his ancestors' stories to create dishes that immerse the diner in the indigenous culture, bringing culinary tales to life. The summer menu will include exotic and unique creations such as an edible smudge stick and "Deer in the Woods" made from venison cheek, designed to look like a caterpillar in a tall grass plant. Critics often describe Skinner's flavors as an explosion in the mouth and at ISHTIA, he has created a fried corn sphere that does just that.
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The Three Sisters dish gets Chef Skinner's magic touch.
Photo by JIA Media
Other culturally important foods include Chukfi Vihboni, a fire-roasted rabbit. Chukfi is the Choctaw word for rabbit. There's also Tanchi Labona, a corn and pork dish considered by many to be one of the most important dishes of the Choctaw. Skinner is also working with indigenous producers for ethically-sourced ingredients.

There is only one seating per evening and reservations should be made well in advance. The three hour journey begins on the second floor of Skinner's onsite winery and distillery behind ISHTIA, Clear Creek Vineyard and Meticulous Spirits.
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A croissant and egg sandwich is part of the breakfast menu.
Photo by Brian Kennedy
The Sylvie, 845 Texas, is celebrating its grand opening June 28 at Texas Tower, also known as T2. The charming French-European bistro is the newest concept from Berg Hospitality which has been rolling out successful dining hotspots across Houston since its debut in the city with B&B Butchers & Restaurant in 2015.

Owner and CEO of Berg Hospitality, Benjamin Berg says of the newest restaurant, "We are thrilled to embark on this venture with our esteemed partners Hines and Ivanhoe Cambridge to provide an exceptional dining experience that not only fuels their tenants for a productive workday but also establishes a premier destination for upscale dining in the heart of downtown."

With an appeal to business clientele, pre-theater diners and downtown residents, the restaurant offers both convenient grab and go breakfasts and dine-in service, for those enjoying a more leisurely morning. Along with a full-service coffee bar, the breakfast offerings include pastries, Belgium Buttermilk Waffles and Avocado Tartine.
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Tender lamb meatballs get a flavorful punch from Romesco sauce.
Photo by Brian Kennedy
Lunch service includes a menu of fresh salads, gourmet pizzas and handheld choices such as Caprese Panini, Thai Chicken Wrap and Prosciutto Sandwich on sourdough bread. The dinner menu features entrees like Lamb Meatballs in Romesco sauce and Honey Roasted Chicken Breast plus indulgent sides like Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes. There's also an array of cocktails beer and wine to pair with the elevated bistro fare.

The interior imparts a feel of glamour with its brass, rust and rose color palette and dark mauve marble flooring. The sphere-shaped restaurant seats 85 guests in its 3,267-foot square space with a floor-to ceiling tree-like sculpture, lit from within, serving as a stunning centerpiece.
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Authentic food and a pretty patio make for a Greek-style staycation in The Woodlands.
Photo by Kian Chance
Niko Niko's, 922 Lake Front Circle, opens to the public July 1 in The Woodlands.  The Greek family-owned restaurant has been serving Houstonians its delicious gyros, tender lamb shank and killer fries since 1977. Its website tells the story of matriarch Eleni Fetokakis who learned many of the recipes as a child growing up in her father's restaurant in Athens, Greece. She, with her third husband, Chrisanthios Fetokakis, eventually settled in the then heavily Greek area of Houston's Montrose, first opening a fruit stand before opening a walk-up window gyros restaurant.

The Niko Niko's on Montrose has been one of Houston's go-to Greek restaurants for decades with long lines snaking around the building and guests desperate to snag a free seat. In 2010, Niko Niko's opened a satellite location in a small kiosk in Market Square. Owner Dimitri Fetokakis, son of Eleni and Chris, says the the kiosk was more a "labor of love" than a moneymaker. In 2016, it expanded to the Memorial City area with an even bigger restaurant. Last year, the kiosk at Market Square closed as Dimitri began to focus on The Woodlands spot.
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The new Niko Niko's is nestled among the trees of The Woodlands.
Photo by Kian Chance
When asked why he chose The Woodlands, Dimitri told the Houston Press that the pop-ups during the pandemic were successful as Niko Niko's went to different parts of town, but The Woodlands people "ordered fast and we sold out quickly." Dimitri also said that guests were always requesting that the restaurant come to The Woodlands and he always listens to his guests. He said, "We like to own our properties, so I'm patient. It took us over a year to get that property, though."

That property turned out to be a former Luby's restaurant. However, a lot of major changes have been made to the structure. The former porte cachere for Luby's is now an extensive outdoor seating area spanning the entire front of the building equipped with fans and televisions plus heaters in the winter. Dimitri added, " I've always been a patio guy. It's kind of a Greek thing for us."

The Woodlands location will be larger than its two other spots and boasts a couple of rooms that can be used for private dining which is a new thing for Niko Niko's. The menu, however, remains the same as does the counter service model. There will also be curbside pick-up and customers are encouraged to order ahead of time for quick service.
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Holman Draft Hall is ready for a change.
Photo by Emily Vitek
Holman Draft Hall, 820 Holman, is closing its doors July 1 in order to transform into Solarium which will be a multi-faceted full service drinking and dining establishment. Details are still in the works for the new concept which is shooting to reopen this August.

After 7 years in operation Holman is ending on a positive note with a weekend of fun to commemorate its run. The BRB (Be Right Back) event will have happy hour specials June 28 through June 30 including $4 select beer, $6 select frozen drinks and half-off wines by the glass and decanter.
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This is the last weekend to enjoy Holman Draft Hall in its current form.
Photo by Emily Vitek
The three-day goodbye begins June 28 with happy hour specials 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and DJ Pete from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. The farewell continues June 29 with happy hour all day and brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Starting at 5 p.m., guests will have the opportunity to win giveaway prizes such as Houston Astros tickets and a $100 Kirby Group gift card. plus, DJ Pete returns for another evening 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The last day, June 30, will be its last brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and happy hour specials from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. DJ Pete will help bid adieu to Holman Draft Hall with tunes from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

For guests who want to have a final Brunchuterie Board, orders must be made in advance. The half board ($100) feeds 4 to 8 while the full ($200) will satisfy 8 to 12 people.

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The colorful bakery hints at the treats inside.
Photo by Andrew Hemingway
El Bolillo, 3507 Fountain View, opened June 24 near the Galleria area. The 9,500 square-foot space was previously occupied by Firehouse Saloon. Known for its authentic Latin breads, cakes and pastries, the bakery has been operating in Houston for 26 years and recently, it has been expanding to reach more of the community. This is the fifth location for the locally-owned business which most recently opened its largest store in Mission Bend in November 2023.

Its location near Highway 59 and the 610 Loop allows easy access for a number of south-of-Houston neighborhoods and towns such Richmond, Rosenberg, Missouri City, Stafford and Bellaire. And COO Andrew Miller is excited to introduce El Bolillo and its products to a wider community. He said in a press relaes, "At El Bolillo Bakery, we believe in inclusivity and accessibility, whether you're celebrating a special occasion with one of our exquisite specialty cakes or simply stopping by for a freshly baked bolillo, there's something here for everyone."
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El Bolillo has different stations for satisfying carb cravings.
Photo by Andrew Hemingway
And those somethings include freshly-made tortillas from the on-site tortilleria, an array of pan dulce, award-winning tres leches, a variety of Latin cookies and even tamales.

The colorful exterior and vibrant interior transport customers to a traditional Mexican bakery with murals handcrafted by artist Mariel Rascon, who has been an employee with El Bolillo for more than ten years.

Ruchi's Indian Cuisine,10618 Clay, opened softly in early May in Spring Branch. The extensive menu begins with vegetarian appetizers such as samosa and Paneer Pakoda along with non-veg starters such as Chicken 65 and Apollo Fish. There's a selection of different biryani, tandoori kabobs, curries both vegetarian and meat plus a variety of naan.

There's also an Indo-Chinese section of the menu with fried rice and noodles plus uttappam and dosa.
The PINCHO Burger gets topped with crispy potato sticks.
Photo by PINCHO

PINCHO Burgers and Kebabs, 2710 W. Grand Parkway N., opened in Katy June 7. The Miami-based Latin  restaurant first arrived in the Houston area with the opening of the Cypress store in June 2023, followed by locations in Memorial City in  December 2023 and most recently Conroe this past April.

Its menu features burgers with a Latin twist like the Toston Burger with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro sauce, tucked between two fried plantains instead of buns. The Pipo's Choice has smoked gouda, applewood-smoked bacon, maduro bits, grilled onions, potato sticks and guava ketchup. There are basic burgers, too, along with a Veggie Burger. The menu also offers kebab plates, protein bowls and hot dogs plus chicken sandwiches.

For sides, there are fries, sweet potato tots, black beans and tostones (fried green plantains). Each Pincho does local collaborations and monthly specials as well.

Biff's Banh Mi & Pho, 12105 Jones, had its grand opening celebration June 15 in Cypress. The casual Vietnamese restaurant offers starters such as egg rolls, Rocket Shrimp, fried dumplings and a selection of chicken wings and sauces. There are ten different banh mi sandwiches to choose from including cold cuts, grilled pork, tofu and meatballs.

The pho menu offers a variety as well from pho dac biet (rare beef, brisket, flank, tendon, tripe and meatballs) to pho ga (chicken). Most of the soups are available in medium ($10.99) and large ($12.49) except for the pho dac biet which is available in large only for $13.49 due to the amount of meat.

The menu also offers dry noodles (vermicelli), soup noodles, and a selection of rice dishes. Customers can also check out its East Meets West section with hamburgers, chicken strips and Hot Skillet Steak & Eggs.

There are sodas, smoothies, lemonades and an array of teas like fruit, milk and boba. For a sweet finish, the store has bubble and pandan waffles along with ice cream and chuoi nep nuong, a banana rice cake with coconut milk.

DR Delicacy, 1291 N. Post Oak, is closing its storefront temporarily through July 16 for renovations. Its online store will continue in its operations as usual.

Restaurants Reported Open June 2024:

Aye Candy, 1849 Bingle, opened June 4
Bagel Shop@The Museum, 5401 Caroline, opened in April
Bruster's Real Ice Cream, 3210 FM 1463, opened June 21
Eat This, 442 sawdust, opened May 19
Granger's, 1200 Binz, opened June 17
Haywire, 947 Gessner, opened June 3
Houston TX Hot Chicken, 23501 Cinco Ranch Boulevard, opened June 15
Katy Beer Garden, 5345 E. 3rd, opened June 17
Main Squeeze Juice Co., 1541 N. Shepherd, opened June 3
The Marigold Club, 2531 Kuester, opened June 25
Midpoint Bar and Eatery, 25600 Westheimer, reopened early June
Taco Cabana, 22340 Kuykendahl, opened June 14
Thai Tail, 1402 Westheimer, opened June 20
Toca Madera, 1755 Allen Parkway, opened June 18

Restaurants Reported Closed June 2024:

Comalito, 2520 Airline, closed June 16
Eau Tour, 5117 Kelvin, closed for rebranding June 2
Low Tide, 2030A Bingle, closed June 2
Xin Chao, 2310 Decatur, closed June 8
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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.