Wow, what a year it has been for restaurants in Houston—one of the most exciting in recent memory. Thanks to new, exciting additions, Houston’s status as a recognized culinary destination continues to be secure. The only problem is that there are so many excellent places to choose from that sometimes it’s hard to decide where to spend those dining dollars.
There were two recurring themes this year: fresh seafood and Southern food. New, notable seafood restaurants brought to Houston a wide range of seafood that was rarely available before. This was also the year that homey fried foods, creamy dishes and smoked meats were created and presented with such care that there' s more respect for Southern cuisine than ever before.
Only new restaurants that have been reviewed are included in this list and there’s also a link to the full review. We have high hopes for some of the restaurants that have opened near the closing of the year, like State of Grace, The Durham House and Treadsack group’s three new places, Hunky Dory, Foreign Correspondents and Bernadine’s. A lot can change in a few months and we’ll see where they stand in 2016.
There are several very worthy Honorable Mentions this year that should not go unnoticed:
- Jackson Street BBQ for bringing truly good barbecue to downtown
- JINYA Ramen Bar for bringing great, late-night ramen to Midtown
- North Italia for its surprisingly great food and service for a “chain” restaurant
- Kitchen 713 for its exciting Southern soul food with dabs of Asian inspiration (Opened December 2014)
- Weights + Measures for an ambitious concept that serves diners everything from morning espresso to dinner and late night cocktails.
10. MF Sushi, 1401 Binz, #100
Despite our visits being being weirdly rushed by the kitchen, we still loved MF Sushi’s high-level execution and serene decor. The fish is of impeccable quality and the cooked dishes, like the hamachi or yellowtail collar, can be shockingly good. We prefer the nigiri and sashimi preparations when they come without truffle oil, as that allows the quality of the fish to truly shine. Review: THE FOOD AT MF SUSHI IS SUPERB, BUT THE EXPERIENCE CAN BE WEIRD
9. Bramble, 2231 South Voss
At long last, Randy Rucker of Bootsie’s and Laidback Manor fame finally has a place to call his own again. It’s good to see and Bramble will make you believe in the simple pleasures of good, rustic ingredients. From an unbelievably good roasted chicken to whole Gulf fish, Bramble delivers on a wholesome dining experience. To top it off, we found their dessert program of tall slices of diner-style cakes utterly charming. Review: CHEF RANDY RUCKER IS BACK AND LOOKING GOOD AT BRAMBLE
8. Mein, 9630 Clarewood, #A13
Mein’s dishes that featured their housemade Chinese wheat noodles were consistently excellent and the low prices makes this restaurant accessible to just about anyone. The house wonton noodle soup served “dry,” with the broth on the side, is a can’t-miss dish as is the Hong Kong-style Lava Toast, made with salt-cured and sweetened egg yolk custard. Review: MEIN SPECIALIZES IN NOODLES, DELIVERING GOOD SERVICE WITH ITS TASTY DISHES
7. Sud Italia, 2347 University
This romantic Italian restaurant is housed in Rice Village where Bistro des Amis used to be. It’s an outstanding dining choice for business or pleasure. It’s a charming atmosphere for dining on bone-in venison chops and butternut squash-stuffed pasta. You can count on restaurateur Shannon Scott to be sailing through the crowd, ensuring diners are comfortable and enjoying themselves. By the way, there's a new chef in the kitchen: Italian Ale "Sandro" Scarafile who has over 15 years of experience working across the globe. Review: SUD ITALIA OFFERS A DIFFERENT KIND OF SOUTHERN COMFORT FOOD
6. Peska Seafood Culture, 1700 Post Oak
Peska Seafood Culture’s customers gaze through the wide glass case of rare seafood delicacies like kids at a candy store. The joys to be found include clams, a wealth of beautiful fish and precious uni extracted straight from fresh sea urchin. The chef here, Omar Pereney, is only in his early 20s but highly skilled. Composed dishes, like ceviches show amazing balance between fish, tang and peppery heat. It’s a welcome fine dining addition to the Galleria area. Review: BOY WONDER CHEF OMAR HAS COME UP WITH SOME EXCITING DISHES AT PESKA SEAFOOD CULTURE
5. SaltAir Seafood Kitchen, 3029 Kirby
Chef Brandi Key has successfully brought yet another Clark Cooper concept to fruition. This one, SaltAir, focuses on fresh seafood. Diners can take a seat or join the crowd at the vast, elegant bar area to peruse Key’s stream-of-consciousness menu. The menu format and propensity of small plates encourages hopscotching from a variety of crudos and ceviches, over to a wealth of stellar vegetable dishes, then onward to main courses such Moroccan-inspired Redfish On The Half Shell with pesto-like chermoula and tabbouleh. You’ll pay for the high quality here, but it’s a fun dining experience nonetheless. Review: EATING WELL AT SALTAIR SEAFOOD KITCHEN IS SURPRISINGLY SIMPLE
4. Izakaya, 318 Gray
What’s more beautiful at Izakaya, the food or the cocktails? Fortunately, diners don’t have to choose one over the other. It’s not only a worthy addition to Midtown—it’s a boon to Houston’s entire culinary scene. The can’t-miss here are too many to list, but here are just a few to start. The Hamachi Crudo is topped with a pile of teeny, crispy sardines that add a popcorn-like crunch while the Bacon Mochi, with its smoky meat and chewy rice balls, is an instant classic. Review: PUB PLUS: CHOOSE YOUR OWN FOOD AND DRINK ADVENTURE AT IZAKAYA
3. Oporto Fooding House & Wine, 125 West Gray, #500
This sultry but classy Portugese-inspired restaurant landed the Best New Restaurant spot in our Best of Houston awards earlier this year. It takes the best of Rick Di Virgilio and chef Shiva Patel’s other restaurants—the original Oporto and Queen Vic Pub—and combines them into a sophisticated whole. It’s is as much a pleasure for a casual sup at the bar as it is to while away the hours over a multicourse meal and bottles of wine with friends. Tapas are seafood-focused and favorites include do croquetas de bacalhau (salted cod croquettes), polvo com batatas (charred octopus) and little neck clams bathed in white wine sauce. Review: THE NEW OPORTO FOODING HOUSE OFFERS AUTHENTIC, TASTY FOOD IN A STYLISH SETTING
2. Southern Goods, 632 West 19th
Southern Goods hotshot team of co-owner Charles Bishop, executive chef Lyle Bento, chef de cuisine J.D. Woodward and sous chef/pit master Patrick Feges have created a comfortable, smart, fun, economical haven of Southern cuisine. Between succulent beef belly burnt ends, “Pig Wings,” a special cut of shank that’s really more like porky drumsticks and one of the best burgers in town, there’s quite a meat-fest going on here. Service is outstanding and happy to oblige vegetarian requests. Review: SOUTHERN GOODS HAS FOUND A WAY TO IMPROVE ON THE TRIED AND TRUE OF BARBECUE
1. Helen Greek Food & Wine, 2429 Rice
Of all of the great new restaurants that have opened this year, Helen stands slightly above the crowd for offering something truly new and unique to Houston’s culinary scene. It is a seasonal Greek restaurant like no other. Helen knows when to stay with tradition and when to go off-road. Here, gyro meat is slices of marinated pork shoulder, not mystery meat shaved off of a homogenous cone, a "greens pie" is made of a delicate wreath of phyllo and the dessert formula eschews the normal honey-phyllo-nuts combination in favor of creative options like the Texas Pecan Baklava Sundae. To top it off, under the guidance of longtime sommelier Evan Turner, Helen has the second-largest inventory of Greek wine in the United States. Review: HELEN GREEK FOOD AND WINE PRESENTS WONDERFUL FOOD BOTH TRADITIONAL AND NOT