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$1,000 piece of Los Pedroches Iberico ham to be served at eculent in Kemah.
$1,000 piece of Los Pedroches Iberico ham to be served at eculent in Kemah.
Photo by Jennifer Fuller

Food Biz is Booming in Houston's Bay Area: What's Changed?

The food scene in Houston’s Bay Area gets more exciting every month. New restaurants are popping up and the local foodies love sharing and learning about the latest restaurant news. It hasn’t always been this lively down south with regards to dining out. Why has the food scene changed? The Houston Press has decided to take a closer look at what’s going on down by the bay.

The southern part of Houston ranging from the Clear Lake area down toward Galveston, often referred to as Houston’s Bay Area, has seen a population growth of more than double since 2000. And while the spike in population definitely has something to do with the increased number of restaurants, there might be a few other reasons the food scene in the bay area has taken off.

Chili cheese burger and hell fries from Hubcap Grill in Kemah.EXPAND
Chili cheese burger and hell fries from Hubcap Grill in Kemah.
Photo by Jennifer Fuller

Supply and Demand

Long gone are the days of one or two good burger joints around the neighborhood. Varieties of burgers can be found every few miles, from Hubcap Grill in Seabrook to TJ Reeds in Dickinson. Burgers ranging from vegan patties, a simple cheeseburger to gourmet burgers with bison, fancy toppings or a red wine marinated patty at Bakkhus Taverna can all be found. The competition is steep these days; more than it was just a decade ago. Restaurants must make a good product to stay alive and hungry people in the bay area demand quality at a fair price.

Banh Mi from NASA Fast Food in Nassau Bay.
Banh Mi from NASA Fast Food in Nassau Bay.
Photo by Jennifer Fuller

Cultural Diversity

Like Houston, the Bay Area has become a melting pot of different cultures and because of that, the food scene has benefitted greatly. Many people enjoy the familiar tastes of home so these restaurants are popping up everywhere. In Webster, FBQ Filipino BBQ serves Filipino food. In Seabrook, Merlion prepares elaborate Thai entrees, and Thai Stellar and Hunsa Thai Kitchen are casual spots for delicious Thai food. Viola and Agnes' Neo Soul Cafe in Nassau Bay has been a local favorite serving up Louisiana soul food and a good number of restaurants are preparing authentic Vietnamese Banh Mi’s. Quality Indian food can be found at Mogul and Noon Mirch Cuisine of India, however, both have been around for many years.

Raw, vegan zucchini noodles and alfredo sauce from Natural Living in League City.EXPAND
Raw, vegan zucchini noodles and alfredo sauce from Natural Living in League City.
Photo by Jennifer Fuller

Television and Food-Related Documentaries

Television has provided an awareness of food over the past couple of decades. With Food Network, Cooking Channel and the numerous food-related documentaries available on streaming media, chefs have turned into celebrities, further glorifying the art of a fabulous meal. Television has also made people a little more curious about what they are eating and where their food comes from. Because of that, these small organic cafes are becoming increasingly popular in the Bay Area. Natural Living in League City serves smoothies and raw, vegan entrees made with local ingredients.
 

Vegetarian potato taquitos at Nokturne in Clear Lake.
Vegetarian potato taquitos at Nokturne in Clear Lake.
Photo by Jennifer Fuller

Nokturne in Clear Lake makes fresh pressed juices and offers wild salmon and vegetarian and vegan entrees. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, is eculent in Kemah. Intentionally spelled without a capital E, this modern farm to table restaurant provides an evening dinner service with around 20-courses. Complete with music, art and special effects all designed to match the dinner theme, eculent takes the farm to table experience to another level.

An edible zen garden with popped amaranth seeds, edible stone, forest mushrooms and tomato butter at eculent.EXPAND
An edible zen garden with popped amaranth seeds, edible stone, forest mushrooms and tomato butter at eculent.
Photo courtesy of eculent

Loving the Location

Eculent opened in November in 2014 and when asked what prompted owner and chef David Skinner to open this unique restaurant in the bay area, he answered, “The goal was to do a restaurant that had never been done before where we change the lighting, smell, artwork and music with the courses. The other reason I opened eculent in Kemah is because I owned the building and it’s a mile from my house. I was tired of commuting into the city.” He’s not the only one. Many locals want the dining experiences Houston has to offer while staying close to home, being near the water and enjoying the relaxed feel of the boating community. Bay Area epicures can enjoy this top notch dining without having to drive into Houston.

Check out the fine-dining at Marais in Dickinson.
Check out the fine-dining at Marais in Dickinson.
Photo by Jennifer Fuller

Last April, the Bay Area welcomed the beautiful restaurant, Marais. Marais, pronounced mah-rey and meaning swamp or bayou, is the creation of Keith and Holly Lilley. Who would have imagined this glamorous, sexy Cajun fusion restaurant would be built out on the bayou, complete with statuary marble, gas lamps from Bevolo and elegant crystal chandeliers? The Lilley’s owned Dickinson BBQ for years and decided to bring fine dining with a side of fun right there to the water. And this place is booming. With the median income of League City being $101,619 in 2016 according to city-data.com, restaurateurs know if they provide a great experience, the locals don't mind spending the money.

Wagyu ribeye at Grazia Italian Kitchen in Clear LakeEXPAND
Wagyu ribeye at Grazia Italian Kitchen in Clear Lake
Photo courtesy of Michael Huset

Price of Property

It seems lower property prices outside of Houston are another reason for opening a restaurant in the bay area. According to Adrian Hembree, owner of Grazia Italian Restaurant in Clear Lake, there is less financial risk involved outside Houston’s inner city area. Grazia is a swanky Italian restaurant with white linens, dim lighting and a menu to include seafood and a wagyu ribeye steak the locals rave over. Restaurants are able to serve quality food more reasonable prices, making it a win-win for everyone. The Bay Area has a few Houston-based restaurants that have ventured its way, too. Hubcap Grill now has a location in Kemah. El Tiempo Cantina has finally opened in Webster and Avenida Brazil Churrascaria Steakhouse has a location smack dab in the heart of Clear Lake.

Viola and Agnes' Neo Soul Cafe chicken and waffles and photos like these are shared in Bay Area Houston Food Lovers Facebook group.
Viola and Agnes' Neo Soul Cafe chicken and waffles and photos like these are shared in Bay Area Houston Food Lovers Facebook group.
Photo courtesy of Irene Loera Thomas

Internet and Social Media

Yelp, Trip Advisor and our own Houston Press are easy ways for people to type in the name of a restaurant and get the scoop. Also becoming a popular way to discover new restaurants and read reviews are the food groups on social media. Facebook food group Bay Area Houston Food Lovers has more than 5,500 members. If there is a new restaurant coming to the area, it will be talked about here. Reviews on burgers, seafood, cocktails and more are all discussed with photos and personal experiences attached. Groups like this bring awareness to local mom-and-pop eateries.

Groups like these are able to share information with thousands of like-minded people, quickly. Word gets out fast and is soon shared all over social media.

Houston Press writer Jennifer Fuller is the creator of Facebook group Bay Area Houston Food Lovers.

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