Get a Rope
Trying out a new Tex-Mex concept in Houston is always a risky venture, as so ably demonstrated by three restaurants that flamed out in spectacular fashion this past year. The first, Vida Sexy Tex-Mex, was roundly panned by critics (including the Houston Press) for its rather poorly executed "adults-only" policy, which left the place feeling like a swinger's club that served subpar Mexican food. It closed in November to make way for a second location of Liberty Kitchen. No word on whether or not Liberty Kitchen will keep the pole.
The second, Maggie Rita's, was equally derided upon opening for two chief reasons: (1) taking over several old Ninfa's locations in July and (2) being owned and operated in part by comedian Carlos Mencia, who is neither Texan nor Mexican. (What can I say? People are hardliners here.) Maggie Rita's served none of the old Ninfa's recipes, but served its own ham-fisted versions of Tex-Mex food that somehow cost even more than the already overpriced Ninfa's that came before. One of the "new" Maggie Rita's locations -- this one at Kirby and Richmond -- closed last month.
The third was critical darling Xuco Xicana, owned by Jon Deal and manned by chef Jonathan Jones, which was meant to bring old-school Houston institution El Patio into the 21st century. Xuco Xicana -- or El XX, as it quickly came to be called thanks to a confusing-to-spell-and-pronounce name -- moved into the El Patio location in Midtown in early 2011 and served Jones's take on classic Mexican dishes, including stunning Gulf Coast ceviches and fiery chicken wings. But the new concept never caught on and Jones was asked to leave a year later. He ended up at the equally ill-fated Concepcion, and El XX quietly closed this past summer.
Everyone knows that downtown is a tough market for on-street restaurants, with tunnel traffic sucking most people underground during the day (seriously, folks -- live a little and check out the sunlight once in a freaking while) and many office workers fleeing back to the suburbs at night. And no one knows that more than the slew of restaurants that closed this past year, including Korma Sutra and Bibas Brooklyn Express.
Normally, however, steakhouses do quite well downtown thanks to business lunches and dinners -- but not so for Samba Grille and the Strip House, both of which closed in back-to-back shockers in July. There were rumors that Samba Grille -- which was our 2011 Best of Houston® award-winner for Best Steakhouse -- would reopen in a new space, but that chatter has so far proven untrue.
The Strip House, meanwhile, suffered a rather ignominious death after being locked out by its landlord for non-payment of rent. A Pappas Steakhouse is slated to take its place. Also locked out downtown was Yao Restaurant & Bar, which was one of the original anchors in the still-underpopulated Houston Pavilions.
And just down the block from Korma Sutra, Ziggy's Healthy Grill closed in October after struggling with foot traffic for over a year. The original Ziggy's location in Montrose rebranded itself shortly afterwards as gratifi.
Another rebranding of sorts took place at perennial patio favorite Cabo's, where the Tex-Mex spot closed in May and was quickly taken over by Pepper Jack's (owned by the landlords of the spot, who -- I'm assuming -- thought that simply reopening another Tex-Mex spot in the space would be easy) Initial reports indicate that Pepper Jack's is rocky at best, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it on next year's closings list...