For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? Well, for all the new restaurants that disappointed us in 2010, there are many more coming in 2011 that we're awaiting with baited breath.
Whether they be old favorites revived or entirely new restaurants, whether they be from established Houston chefs or ballsy out-of-towners, here are the restaurants we're most looking forward to in 2011.
El Real Tex-Mex Cafe
When Robb Walsh finally broke the news of the new restaurant opening in the old Tower Theater location, we became even more excited for this joint venture between our former food critic and Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd. The two men behind REEF and Little Big's know seafood and how to run successful restaurants; Walsh knows Tex-Mex and what diners are looking for in a meal. The pairing should be the culinary equivalent of gasoline and a match, and we can't wait.
The excitement for this Austin import coming to town is two-pronged: First, the Austin sushi restaurant from Tyson Cole is one of the best in the country, which should only serve to up the game of existing Houston sushi strongholds like Kata Robata and Soma Sushi. Second, it's exhilarating to see this corner of Montrose reinvigorated with restaurants moving in to old, partly dilapidated buildings like Felix (and the Tower Theater, as previously mentioned), and it gives us hope for the Tower Community Center across the street.
We're excited for any restaurant that purports to put equal emphasis on its dessert and wine/beer/cocktails sides as it does its savory side, and that's what Ryan Hildebrand intends to do at Triniti when it opens next year. While it was somewhat disappointing to hear that Hildebrand doesn't plan on hiring a full-time pastry chef despite his interest in a solid sweets side to the place, the idea of Textile-style menus at more approachable prices has our interest highly piqued nevertheless.
The highly anticipated restaurant from Philippe Schmit -- former chef at Bistro Moderne, closed by the Hotel Derek before its time -- didn't quite make its November opening date, but it should be open by the end of the year at the latest. As excited as Houstonians were to hear that the talented Schmit would be staying in town after Bistro Moderne's untimely death, they should flock to the upscale French Galleria-area restaurant that will be keeping neighbor RDG + Bar Annie company.
The restaurant is still far too young to be included on any list of Best New Restaurants, but that doesn't mean we don't have high hopes for the international pizza chain, whose first location in Texas is already packed with crowds every night. The beautifully constructed, thin crust, Italian-style pizzas, the freshly-made gnocchi and the well-stocked bar with a fabulous happy hour seem to all be huge winners so far, and not just in our book.
Tango & Malbec
Just like Piola, it's far too soon to include Tango & Malbec -- which just opened in early December -- on any best-of lists. And despite its odd name and somewhat snakebit location, we're willing to bet that this Argentinean restaurant with an emphasis on Rio de la Plata-area and Uruguayan cuisine in addition to Buenos Aires favorites will be an overwhelming success once patrons taste dishes like the short ribs with chimichurri sauce (seen above).
Whatever Chances is going to become
When Houston's iconic lesbian bar closed in November, its owners promised that something amazing would take its place soon:
As for the new tenants, Vastakis says that they just recently signed a deal with a group that will turn it into a high-end restaurant, with a superstar chef that they are keeping under wraps for now.
"It's going to blow Montrose out," Vastakis said. "It's going to be great."
Our contacts indicate that this will be the future location of a Hell's Kitchen restaurant that will be awarded to the "winner" of the next season of Gordon Ramsey Yells At People Who Don't Know What A Spoon Is. One can only hope these rumors are false.
After being all but destroyed by a grease fire that spread to the entire restaurant in February, Mai's has rebuilt itself entirely -- even the mysterious upstairs, which has been converted from offices to banquet space. This new incarnation of Mai's will feature a bar (the old Mai's, though open till the wee hours, did not have a liquor license) and an updated menu to match its updated, modern interior and hopes to open in February.
Speaking of rising from the ashes, Agora -- which was devastated by an inferno on Halloween Eve -- has painted a phoenix on the side of the building that was most damaged when its neighbor, an antiques warehouse, caught fire. The owners plan to have the cafe open again by New Year's Eve. Here's to auld lang syne and fire insurance.