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Openings and Closings: Tarka Indian Kitchen Expands, Theodore Rex and Romano's Reopen Soon

Freshly-baked flatbreads are a yummy substitute for eating utensils.EXPAND
Freshly-baked flatbreads are a yummy substitute for eating utensils.
Photo by Angelica Sousa
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Tarka Indian Kitchen,10550 Westheimer, will open in June. Currently, it is hiring 30 team members for multiple positions. The CityWest Place location will be the fourth in Houston and the ninth systemwide. Founded in Austin in 2009, the fast casual Indian restaurant offers curries, biryanis (though none with goat), kabobs and fresh baked flatbreads like naan and roti. There are soups such as Mulligatawny and traditional snacks such as samosas and pakoras. Tarka also offers a good selection of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free items while still keeping under the $10 mark.

If you can't stand the heat, Tarka's kitchen can accommodate.EXPAND
If you can't stand the heat, Tarka's kitchen can accommodate.
Photo by Angelica Sousa

For beverages, there's beer and wine plus fresh fruit lassis and mango lemonade. Sweets include Gulab Jaman, deep fried milk  pastry with rosewater-honey syrup, and Ras Malai, cheese patties in sweetened cream infused cardamom.

The company has been recognized as a Green Restaurant by the city of Austin for its recycling efforts and its environmentally-friendly to-go packaging.

What sort of tomato toast will Yu create for us now?
What sort of tomato toast will Yu create for us now?
Photo by Eric Hester

Theodore Rex, 1302 Nance, will reopen May 23, according to CultureMap Houston. Justin Yu's critically-acclaimed restaurant had been on hiatus since this past February when Yu offered T. Rex's chef de cuisine, Kaitlyn Steets, the space for her French-inspired pop-up, Littlefoot. Steets, a James Beard Award Semi-finalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year had a nearly-sold out crowd every night. Now, its time at the space is over as her mentor reopens his acclaimed restaurant.

Theodore Rex replaced Oxheart, Yu's tasting menu restaurant, in 2017. Oxheart was where Yu earned his James Beard Award Best Chef: Southwest in 2016. There will be changes to the T. Rex menu along with some interior design differences as well. For the Littlefoot pop-up, Brittany Turcotte of Larder Lover had updated the interior in keeping with the Lightfoot concept. Yu intends to keep some of the changes while making some adjustments to others. Originally, T. Rex was more colorful than Oxheart. Now, Yu plans to find a balance between the two concepts with less color but more texture on the walls. The lighting will be spotted on the tables rather than artwork.

Justin Yu was a happy man at the James Beard Awards in 2016.
Justin Yu was a happy man at the James Beard Awards in 2016.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

A trip to Japan with other Houston industry veterans, Bobby Heugel, Terry Williams and Peter Jahnke, a couple of years ago inspired Yu to be a little more Asian stylistically and incorporate more of his own personality into the reopening.

What does that mean for the menu? For one, there will be $27 dumplings, a price Yu justifies by mentioning the hand-made dough wrappers and in-house ground stuffing and quality ingredients. When questioned by CultureMap's Eric Sandler about the return of the famous Tomato Toast, Yu replied that there would be "some sort of tomato toast."

Yu will appear on Gordon Ramsay's National Geographic Channel's Uncharted May 31 at 8 p.m., according to the Houston Chronicle. In the episode, Yu shows Ramsay a bit of South Texas hospitality with rattlesnakes, feral hogs and mesquite wood cooking.

Romano's Pizza, 1528 West Gray, will reopen its doors May 24, according to its Facebook post. The much-craved pizza restaurant closed in late October 2020 due to a fire at the nail salon next door. This past March, it announced that renovations were progressing and now the anticipation is nearly over as Houstonians eagerly await the return of its New York-style pies and its ricotta-filled calzones.

The family-owned business has been serving its pizza, subs and pasta since 1998. The founders are cousins from Calabria, Italy who immigrated to New York City in the 1970s. For 15 years, Francesco (Frank) Fragale and Vincenzo (Vinny) Quarto worked in neighborhood pizzerias honing their craft. Settling here in Houston with their families in the early '90s, the duo opened their own Italian restaurant and it's now a family operation with their sons on board.

We are thrilled to see them reopen. This writer's mother-in-law, who grew up in New Haven, Connecticut was impressed with their pizza. If you happen to know pizza snobs from that particular city, you know that's a hard thing to do.

Yia Yia Mary's reopens...kinda.
Yia Yia Mary's reopens...kinda.
Photo by Jeff Balke

Yia Yia Pappas, 2410 Richmond, is expected to open in the summer of 2022, as first reported by CultureMap Houston. Fans of Yia Yia Mary's Mediterranean Kitchen, one of five Pappas restaurants to close during the pandemic, will be happy to know that many of the Greek and Mediterranean favorites served at Yia Yia Mary's will make the menu at the new concept. However, the new restaurant will take over the space that once housed another Pappas concept, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. That particular Pappadeaux closed in June 2020.

Yia Yia Mary's was named for a grandmother in the Pappas family and was a tribute to the family's Greek heritage. It first opened in 2005 serving traditional souvlaki, gyros, mezes (small plates) and fresh seafood.

Juanita's has Mexican favorites like Enchiladas Mole.
Juanita's has Mexican favorites like Enchiladas Mole.
Photo by Illumination Marketing

Juanita's Mexican Restaurant, 29110 Highway 290, opened May 3. This is the second location for the family-owned restaurant which has operated Juanita's on Louetta for 14 years. The patriarch of the family has been in the hospitality industry since he was 15. The Nunez family originally opened Juanita's on TC Jester in 2000 but as of 2015, the family is no longer affiliated with that location. Brother and sister Miguel Nunez and Bianca Nunez are now part owners and are running the new Fairfield location.

The Appetizer Mixta gets the party started.
The Appetizer Mixta gets the party started.
Photo by Illumination Marketing

The extensive menu offers much of what diners expect such as a variety of enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, tamales and combo plates. There are also starters such as empanadas, the Appetizer Mixta (sampler) and the Bianca Nachos, made with deep-fried potatoes, an ingredient often use in the cuisine of Guanajuato, where the Nunez family hails from. There are also specialties such as the Cochinita Pibil made with marinated roasted pork and served with rice, charro or black beans, vinaigrette, red onion and fried bananas. The Castillos Asadas is a dish of charbroiled beef short ribs, a different take on typical fajitas.

That's one helluva a shrimp cocktail.EXPAND
That's one helluva a shrimp cocktail.
Photo by Illumination Marketing

Juanita's also serves up a hearty breakfast menu with American fare like eggs, pancakes and omelets, but also Mexican favorites such as migas, chilaquiles, huevos divorcidos and menudo.

The restaurant also offers family packs and margaritas to-go. Flavors include regular, strawberry, mango, cucumber and sangria. Living in Cypress, this writer plans to pick up a half-gallon of ritas along with an order of Joselin Botana, a dish of fajita steak covered in queso served with flour chips. I freaking love flour chips.

Cosmo Cafe, 5927 Almeda, softly opened April 22. The fast-casual, halal restaurant serves an eclectic menu that begins with appetizers such as mozzarella sticks, fried green tomatoes, fried calamari and tempura shrimp. The diversity gets even greater with pasta dishes such as chicken parmesan and shrimp scampi plus a pizza menu with toppings such as pepperoni, seafood and gyro meat.

There are sandwiches, including a Turkey BLT and the Cosmo Chicken Sandwich made with smoked chicken. For refreshing and lighter fare, there are salads like the Quinoa Tabbouleh and the French Riviera. The breakfast menu offers up something for everyone including avocado toast, bagels with cream cheese, hummus, Banana Bread Pancakes and Chicken and Waffles. For beverages, there are fresh juices, a variety of teas and coffee drinks.

The interior is clean and bright with turquoise chairs and an outdoor patio.

National Wine Day is rescheduled at The Annie.EXPAND
National Wine Day is rescheduled at The Annie.
Photo by Carly Shuttlesworth

The Annie Cafe and Turner's, 1800 Post Oak Boulevard, are closed temporarily due to water damage. The side by side concepts from Berg Hospitality had a fire issue with the exhaust hoods in the kitchen, despite the cleaning done three weeks ago. While there was no fire or smoke damage, the water from the sprinklers caused some issues including damage to the beautiful dining rooms and bar area.

Benjamin Berg, Founder and CEO of Berg Hospitality said in a press statement, "We are extremely grateful for the Houston Fire Department staff and their promptness and professionalism in handling this situation. We now have some remediation work to do in order to reopen within 2-3 weeks." Berg also expressed regret for the cancellation of reservations and private parties due to the accident." I would like to personally thank the Four Seasons Hotel and Brennan's for already stepping up and helping us to accommodate some of these private parties."

The Annie Cafe was also forced to reschedule its Tour de France Wine Dinner scheduled for National Wine Day, May 25, as we recently listed here in the Houston Press. It's expected to go on in June.

Bravery Chef Hall is previewing Martin Weaver's upcoming restaurant.EXPAND
Bravery Chef Hall is previewing Martin Weaver's upcoming restaurant.
Photo by Ryan Harris

Watever Fresh is shooting to open later this year with a brick and mortar in an as-of-yet undisclosed location. In the meantime, chef Martin Weaver is hosting pop-up weekly dinners at Bravery Chef Hall's Gaggeneau Kitchen, 409 Travis. Weaver, a Houston native, brings experience from restaurants such as KUU and Brennan's of Houston. The chef was also a runner-up on the Food Network's Chopped in 2016. The Bravery Chef Hall gig offers a preview of Weaver's plans for Watever Fresh.

The five-course meals are $85 per person and there are a la carte wine pairings available as well. They happen each Saturday and there are two seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. with ten bar seats and two two-top tables.

Who is that masked man?EXPAND
Who is that masked man?
Photo by Ryan Harris

The menu changes monthly. Currently, the theme is Continental Carousel, a five-course surf and turf fantasy beginning with Shrimp Ceviche, then Sake-Poached Bangs Island Mussels, followed by Creole Fried Gulf Fish with Chimichurri, Snow Pea Caviar and Creamy Polenta. The turf course is a Cast Iron Steak with Sauce Bearnaise  and dessert is a Homemade Black Forest Cake with Liquor-Soaked Cherries and Vanilla Bean Whipped Mascarpone.

The wine and cocktail pairings are done by Mario Pineda of the upcoming craft cocktail bar Bhutane.

These stars keep rising.
These stars keep rising.
Photo by Jenn Duncan

Late August, 4201 Main, is slated to open in Fall 2021. The new restaurant from Dawn Burrell, James Beard Award Semi-Finalist Best Chef: Texas 2020,  is a collaboration with chef/owner of Lucille's Hospitality Group, Chris Williams. The Afro-Asian concept will open at The Ion, as we reported here in the Houston Press.

Meanwhile, Williams' Museum District restaurant Lucille's, 5512 La Branch, hosted a Late August preview  dinner and viewing party May 20 to watch Burrell compete on Bravo's Top Chef. Dishes included Beef Skin Chicharon, Peanut Hummus with Yucca Chips, Jerk Shrimp with Rice and Peas, Crispy Green Salad with Curried Crab plus Oatmeal and Dulce de Leche Ice Cream Pie for dessert. If that's a preview of what's to come, we can't wait.

Houston gets even more barbecue options.
Houston gets even more barbecue options.
Photo by Famous Dave's of America

Famous Dave's of America, 19820 Northwest Freeway, opened a ghost kitchen, sharing the space with Johnny Carino's. The concept is for to-go and delivery only. It offers barbecue brisket, ribs, chicken and pork plus burgers and wings. There are also large Feast packages for feeding a crowd. The Houston location is owned by a Famous Dave's franchisee and is one of several virtual kitchens operated by the company.

The barbecue chain was founded in 1994 by David Anderson, a member of the Ojibwe-Choctaw tribes.

The dining room at Bow's is open at 50 percent.
The dining room at Bow's is open at 50 percent.
Photo by Aaron and Kim Neal Bowen

Bow's Taste of Belize, 9406 Highway 6 S., opened March 5 for to-go only before opening its dining room for 50 percent capacity. Currently, it is still operating at the 50 percent cap until operations are such that it can expand its capacity. The casual concept comes from Belize natives Aaron and Kim Neal Bowen who currently reside in Houston.

The couple 's mission is to showcase the diverse cuisine that Belize has to offer due to its different ethic and cultural groups including Mayan, Creole, Mestizo, Garifuna and Mennonite influences.  Along with their culinary mission, the duo also offer products for sale from Belizean artisans that benefit their non-profit FREED, an anacronym for Foundation to Reform, Educate and Enable the Disadvantaged.  The proceeds go to various groups in Belize in collaboration with Indian Creek Mayan Artists Women's Group.

Belize cuisine is diverse and delicious.
Belize cuisine is diverse and delicious.
Photo by Aaron and Kim Neal Bowen

The menu includes appetizers like tamales, and panedes, savory masa dough pastries similar to empanadas. There are dishes like Oxtail with rice and beans, Stew Chicken, Pig Tails, Curried Chicken and Red Snapper. There are sweets such as bread pudding, Powder Buns and coconut tarts. For a quick meal on the go, the Grab and Go Fried Chicken is served in a paper bag, Belize style.

Tony Nguyen has closed Saigon House.
Tony Nguyen has closed Saigon House.
Photo by Robert Le

Saigon House, 3645 FM 1960, announced its closure May 12 in a Facebook post. Chef Tony Nguyen moved his Viet-Cajun concept to the 1960 spot in May 2020, after closing the Midtown location in September 2019. In September 2020, Nguyen opened Xin Chao with Christine Ha, known as The Blind Chef, and her husband John Suh. Both Nguyen and Ha are second generation Vietnamese-Americans and the menu at Xin Chao reflects some of their favorite family dishes with a modern twist.

While loyal customers will miss the Oxtail Pho, Nguyen's crawfish with H-Town Bang sauce will be available at Xin Chao on Mondays only.

Hoodadak, 11191 Westheimer, celebrated its grand opening April 10. The Korean fried chicken concept has two other locations in Katy, including one inside the HMart. Diners can order the crispy fried chicken whole, half or as wings. There's also a chicken sandwich and popcorn chicken. For sides, there are waffle fries, potato wedges, coleslaw, steamed rice and veggie sticks. The lunch menu offers up more than chicken with dishes like udon, bulgogi, katsu curry and more.

Hoodadak describes itself as a family-style pub and sports bar meets a locally-owned Korean Fried Chicken place. Sounds good to us.

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