Justin Yu

Oxheart

Address and Info

It’s been a big year for chef Justin Yu. The Oxheart chef was honored with the coveted Best Chef Southwest award by the James Beard Foundation, a lifelong dream that came to fruition thanks to the 30-seat restaurant’s game-changing, garden-focused tasting menus -- the brainchild of both Yu and former partner Karen Man. Five years and an extraordinary amount of intricately plated, painstakingly thoughtful plates later, the chef announced that he will soon be saying goodbye to Oxheart and hello to a fresh a la carte concept via a poetic blog post. It was a surprising blow, but it’s that kind of bravery and ambition that made diners fall in love with Oxheart and Yu in the first place. As the chef steps away from running the kitchen and falls into a more directorial role, we can’t wait to see what next year will bring (including the unnamed neighborhood hangout in the Heights, a collaboration with longtime friend and colleague Bobby Heugel of Anvil fame).

Kimberly Park

Ronnie Killen

Killen’s Steakhouse

Address and Info

Chef Ronnie Killen is not new to receiving accolades. He was first in his class at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in London, then later a finalist for the chance to be the White House Executive Chef in 2005, and was named Certified Executive Chef by the American Culinary Federation -- an honor held by only about 1,200 chefs across the country -- that same year. This year, with uber-successful spots already under his belt -- one steak, one smoke -- the baron of beef added some more meat to the bones of his burgeoning empire. In May, he opened Killen’s Burgers, a burger concept to complete the beef monopoly in Pearland. In a surprise to absolutely no one, his fans came out in hoards. Just this month, the chef debuted his latest creation, Killen’s STQ, his most personal concept yet. There, the chef aims to focus on the kind of food he likes to cook, combining a relaxed fine-dining atmosphere and a more farm-to-table approach with his proven talent for Central Texas-style barbecue and live-fire steakhouse -- think dry-aged pork long bone chop, smoked brisket bolognese, and short rib tamales. It’s Killen’s first restaurant within the city limits, and we fully expect it to draw even more frenzy than his OTL counterparts, if that’s even possible.

Julie Soefer

Rebecca Masson

Fluff Bake Bar

Address and Info

At her brick-and-mortar sweet shop, pastry chef, and self-proclaimed “sugar hooker” Rebecca Masson has been running some of the most interesting pop-up collaborations of the year. The “Dinner with My Friends” cooking series brought in talent from Dallas, Austin, Milwaukee, and Houston to give diners a playful six-course tasting menu each month, and the collabs didn’t stop there. The Le Cordon Bleu Paris graduate was the Pastry Chair and co-hosted the first ever "Sweet Week" for Houston’s Taste of the Nation for No Kid Hungry, served up bites at Texas Monthly’s First Annual Whiskey Affair, created a special treat for iPic Theaters, and worked on a Cup|cake Crunch shake with NYC burger deity Shake Shack, which opened its first Houston outpost in the Galleria this November. Masson also gives us plenty of reasons to get out of bed and “wakey bakey” every weekend, thanks to concoctions like tandoori chicken bagel balls, speck buttermilk biscuits and Texas apple pop tarts at her shop’s Saturday Morning Bake Sales.

Courtesy of LusciousMag.com

Willet Feng

Kuma Burgers

Address and Info

Rumor has it the thought of opening a burger joint wasn’t even on the former Oxheart cook and private/pop-up chef’s radar. After two years in China and a stint as the chef at a Shanghai restaurant called The Grumpy Pig, Feng was looking to jumpstart his own Southeast Asian restaurant in Houston when it happened: Greenway Coffee’s David Buehrer approached him about filling a vacant burger kiosk in the Greenway Plaza food court. Thankfully for us all, Feng decided to be a “yes man,” opening what is now regarded as one of the best new burger spots in the city. Since quietly opening, the burger stand gained a steady cult following. It’s Feng’s vast experience and close attention to flavor that allows Kuma Burgers to shine in an already saturated burger market. Each aggressively seared patty gets an umami-boost from an in-house soy and shiitake sauce; and customizables like a punchy mayo with scratch-made sambal paste and deep Texas chili made with a 10-spice, house-ground blend sourced from Rice Village’s Savory Spice Shop provide further depth and intrigue, while also showing off Feng’s chefy skills.

Julie Soefer

Robert Del Grande

Cafe Annie

Address and Info

It’s been 24 years since Robert Del Grande won a James Beard Award for the late Cafe Annie, and 35 years since the bonafide celebrity chef opened the then groundbreaking, now iconic restaurant that was one of the first to focus on the “local” movement. In 2009, the building that housed Cafe Annie for 20 plus years was torn down to make room for BLVD Place, and the restaurant morphed into a new entity, RDG Bar + Annie, in a new location. It remained that way until this year, when the biochemist-turned-chef resurrected Cafe Annie, embracing nostalgia and harkening back to the whimsical brilliance of the French-Texan bistro in its original form (with some 2016 updates, of course). Del Grande puts it best: “To revolve, akin to revolution, is to return to the beginning but with a fresh view -- all revolving involves revisiting, and all revisiting offers the opportunity to see something new in something old. The past can be just as intriguing as the future.” Consider us intrigued.

Hugo's

Hugo Ortega

Hugo's

Address and Info

Executive chef and co-owner of three Houston staples, Hugo Ortega is deserving of every accolade he’s received, and even those that he hasn’t (in an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” type situation, he’s been up for the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest every year since 2012). He’s long been perceived as an example of the modern-day American dream, an immigrant from Mexico City who began as a dishwasher at Backstreet Cafe before graduating from culinary school and becoming the restaurant’s executive chef and co-owner along with his wife, restaurateur Tracy Vaught. Along with keeping things interesting at three tremendously successful restaurants, which also includes Hugo’s and Caracol, Ortega has been busy readying H-Town Restaurant Group’s latest concept, Xochi, which is set to open on the ground floor of the Marriott Marquis Houston Downtown (yeah, that one with the lazy river in the shape of Texas). This will be a creative endeavor -- its name means to bloom or to catch fire -- with a “by author” menu that will allow Ortega’s imagination to shine.

Hunky-Dory Tavern

Richard Knight

Hunky-Dory Tavern

Address and Info

We all missed chef Richard Knight with the closing of the late “nose to tail” restaurant, Feast. But late last year, the other-side-of-the-pond chef came back swinging with the opening of the elevated British tavern, Hunky-Dory. Here he shows us just what we’ve been missing through a series of old school pub dishes made better by clever, modern-day tweaks. That means a usually greasy fish & chips become fish & chip tartare, plump with fresh Gulf fish, pickly stuff and a side of chips and malt vinegar aioli. Pork chops are stacked high on a cake stand and dolloped with schmaltz that melts over the chops in the most IG-worthy way; and then there’s awesomeness like NY strip with burrata and oxtail gravy poutine, which doesn’t sound British at all but we’ll take it. One year later, Knight has turned Hunky-Dory into one of the most buzzed-about restaurants in Houston.

Lou Vest

Anita Jaisinghani

Indika

Address and Info

Chef and owner of the highly lauded Indika and Pondicheri, Anita Jaisinghani makes this year’s hot list thanks to not only what she’s accomplished at home, but what she’s accomplished outside of Houston. At home, that means keeping two progressive Indian concepts afloat (one more formal, the other street-food style with a bake lab attached) and running a series of popular pop-up dinners, all while she shifts a bit of focus to the away: opening a spice-loving Pondicheri outpost in New York City. We often see Big Apple spots make their way to Houston, but it’s not often the vice-versa situation exists. So far, it’s been more than well received, even earning a favorable review from New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells. He said “There isn’t anything in the city quite like Pondicheri.” We’d say there’s nothing quite like it in this city, either.

Shannon O’Hara

William Wright

Arthur Ave

Address and Info

After coming into the culinary spotlight with the launch of Helen Greek Food and Wine in 2015, chef William Wright continued his dominance with Italian American jewel Arthur Ave, which opened to much anticipation in September of this year. Here, Wright pays tribute to a cuisine centered on unapologetically hearty dishes and classic red sauce in a way that feels much more current than any of those old-school restaurants you’ll find on Arthur Ave, in New York’s “real Little Italy.” The revival-style cooking with a modern spin works in dishes like spatchcocked, brined chicken Parm and a belly-busting, slow-braised Sunday gravy, perhaps because Wright once spent a year learning the ins and outs of authentic Italian food while traveling around Northern and Southern Italy, but also because the young gun chef is a downright genius.

Cultivate PR

Lance Gillum

Uchi

Address and Info

Hometown boy Lance Gillum had big shoes to fill when he stepped in as chef de cuisine at what is easily one of the city’s best restaurants. Earlier this year, Kaz Edwards moved on to become concept chef for the entire HAI Hospitality group, but he knew he was leaving Uchi Houston in skilled, highly capable hands. Gillum had been with the company since 2011, after a serendipitous meeting with Edwards and Tyson Cole at a class demo held at the Texas Culinary Academy in 2010. He moved from prep team to line cook, then to junior chef and eventually, sous chef. In 2016, Gillum finally got to prove the full magnitude of his culinary chops, and he did so as he deftly led the kitchen and introduced new craveable dishes to Uchi’s already bangin’ lineup this fall.

Julie Soefer

Chris Shepherd

Underbelly

Address and Info

Though he was raised in the Midwest, Chef Chris Shepherd is pretty much the mayor of Houston’s food scene. No one is a more passionate ambassador for the city’s underbelly -- the ethnically diverse mom-and-pop shops that dot the city -- a fact that is showcased in the restaurant’s Mutt City menu (his Korean braised goat & dumplings dish is pretty much legendary at this point, and he even staged in kitchens like Vieng Thai and Thanh Phuong before opening). In 2014, he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest, and over the next two years, he showed no sign of slowing down. He recently announced a formidable undertaking called One Fifth, a groundbreaking project that will turn the late Mark’s into five different concepts over the next five years, beginning with One Fifth Steak in January 2017.

Bernadine's

Graham LaBorde

Bernadine’s

Address and Info

It’s hard to think that just a few years ago, the name Graham LaBorde wouldn’t ring a bell to most Houstonians. You would have known him had you been paying attention to the culinary scene in New Orleans, where he thrived at Commander’s Palace, Stella, and Boucherie, or if you remembered him from his brief stint as Jonathan Jones’ sous chef at the late Concepción. It wasn’t until the cult hit Kipper Club Test Kitchen that the chef made a big splash locally, and even more so just one year ago, when the Louisiana native became the executive chef of one of the most well-regarded seafood restaurants in Houston. Bernadine’s is a self-proclaimed “love letter to the Gulf Coast,” and it’s there that LaBorde solidified his status through dishes that go beyond the realm of Southern comfort food and dive into the refined. Inspired by his rural Louisiana upbringing and frequent visits to oyster houses and fish shacks, Graham celebrates local ingredients in a way that feels like a journey through the Gulf. We’d go on a journey with him any day.

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Houston's Best New Restaurants of 2017

Published On 11/13/2017
H ouston’s had a rough year. But that’s not to say we haven’t banded together and shown the world what it means to be #HoustonStrong AND brought home our first World Series title in the process -- shout-out to Altuve! And while we’ve fared through the hardships, there were plenty of phenomenal things happening in background, especially in the culinary world. More specifically, the return of an old favorite, a hot concept from a Top Chef, and one restaurant that will be changing faces every year. Here are the Houston hot spots you’ll want to be eating at going into 2018.
Mauro Luna

Field & Tides

Heights

Gulf Coast fare paired with delicious cocktails and a yard to hang in
This 11th Street newcomer from chef Travis Lenig (formerly of Liberty Kitchen) plays to the tastes of the Third Coast, with both by-land and by-sea offerings in a warm and cozy setting. The space is small, so you may encounter a slight wait on busy nights; but fear not, there’s a yard and cocktails to keep you occupied. When you’re ready, you’ll want to start with a few appetizers -- pimento cheese fritters and sambal-glazed fish collars -- before moving onto the big guns, like confit duck leg with dreamy corn pudding and caramelized scallops over flawless shrimp and crab risotto. Brunch fans will also want to revive themselves with zippy house Bloodys and slow-roasted pork and pancake stacks on weekends.

Aqui

Montrose

A Top Chef alum brings reenergized Asian food to Houston
Top Chef and JBA winner Paul Qui’s first Houston project arrived to quite a buzz this summer, for good reason. Though the striking roof and high-ceilinged space gives off a bare yet tranquil vibe, the food is anything but, with bold, bright flavors dreamed up by Qui and chef de cuisine Gabriel Medina (a hometown hero known for stints at Kata Robata and Soma Sushi). Travel to Southeast Asia via kamayan or “hand-to-mouth” bites like the Singapore hot chili crab and fried bao. Order yourself a few “perfect bites” -- literally bite-sized puffs, cakes, dumplings, and toasts made for one, and/or bring some friends to share tom yam noodles, grilled octopus adobo, and the star of the evening: a succulent, crispy skin lechón served with Filipino pork liver sauce.

Kimberly Park

Killen's STQ

Galleria

A meats expert adds seafood to the lineup and will make you re-think that steak
Smoke and steak combine at this relaxed space from acclaimed local chef Ronnie Killen, which took over the former Bramble space near the end of 2016. Earlier this year, Killen tapped Graham Laborde (previously of Bernadine’s) as operations chef for all Killen’s restaurants, which added some serious seafood savvy to the barbecue and steak focused kitchen. Book your reservations in advance and gear up for a meal that will no doubt loosen your belt a few notches... but you know, in a classy way. We’re talking pecan-smoked pork belly glistening in habanero-cherry sauce; Creole shrimp over grits cake; the choicest wood-fired rib-eye and NY strip; and the pièce de résistance, a silky/smoky bacon tres leches bread pudding.

Kitchen 713

Washington

A reopened soul food joint is back and better than ever
Once a tiny, bare bones restaurant housed in EaDo, Kitchen 713 closed in 2016 to find new digs (and get a liquor license). At the turn of the year, it emerged bigger, better (it got that license), and somehow, even more satisfying. It’s all about pure, unadulterated soul food, here... though you’ll find way more than just one the city’s best takes on shrimp & grits. Chef and co-owners Ross Coleman and James Haywood take inspiration from around the globe, bringing their take on soul food to the highest level. Dig in to fiery and smoky Caribbean jerk ribs, catfish tikka masala that’s at once light and rich, and a stupendous New York strip. Also, since this is the South, weekend brunch means fried chicken, mac & cheese, and biscuits, obviously.

Julie Soefer Photography

One Fifth Houston

Montrose

For five years, this restaurant will change its concept every year. Go now.
From Underbelly chef-owner and champion of all things Houston, Chris Shepherd, this concept is literally changing up its game once a year for five years. First up was One Fifth Steak, which gained fans aplenty under the careful direction of the incredibly talented chef de cuisine Nick Fine. Now, Shepherd, Fine and Co. have turned their attentions toward love languages and the cuisines that represent them. One Fifth Romance pleases with dishes that can probably make anyone fall in love -- mussels escabeche, duck heart Bolognese, truffle chicken roulade, and orange-anise croquembouche. Just don’t forget to make your reservations now, as the tides will turn once again in August and September.

Ohn Korean Eatery

Chinatown

An Asiatown legend opens the neighborhood’s hottest new spot
Mike Tran has quietly been taking over Asiatown, winning over locals with favorites like Mein, Tiger Den, and the newly revamped Night Market. The same attention has been paid to what just may be his coolest venture, Ohn. This time, a clubby K-Town vibe adds sex appeal, while the kitchen dishes out shareable plates that are downright addicting as hell. Sip late-night soju straight from a watermelon keg and complement it with kimchi fried rice, jeyuk bokkeum (spicy pork stir-fry), sweet and hot twice-fried Korean chicken, and corn cheese -- a cheesy riff on creamed corn that is an absolute must for the table.

Jennifer Caswell

Oxbow 7

Downtown

Elevated bayou food in an unexpected location
Gulf Coast chef Bryan Caswell already had seafood (Reef), barbecue (Jackson Street BBQ), and Tex-Mex (El Real) under his restaurant umbrella. And now, along with his wife, Jennifer, he has a modern concept in Downtown’s Le Meridian -- one that vows to change what you think you know about bayou fare. Refined techniques and touches enhance what the kitchen describes as “elevated bayou cuisine” -- East Texas caviar service with house potato chips, creme fraiche and ghost pepper caviar; crispy duck egg with duck confit and basil oil; and even Caswell’s take on bun rieu, a traditional Vietnamese crab stew that gets poured tableside. Aside from elevated small plates, the restaurant also plays to the hotel crowd with double cheeseburgers and build-your-own breakfasts.

Potente

Potente

Downtown

The only Italian steakhouse you’ll need to know in Houston
With a piping hot location across from Minute Maid Park, this highly-anticipated concept from Astros owner Jim Crane hit a grand slam (!) when it nabbed chef Danny Trace (of Brennan’s fame) to helm the kitchen this spring. Potente oozes sophistication, with a dark and luxe interior that evokes a modern villa, top-notch service and superb wines, and high-end Italian steakhouse fare that pays respect to local ingredients. Dine on a beautiful branzino hit with burgundy grapes and romanesco; impossibly silky burrata caprese, dressed up with things like confit cherry tomato and smoked sea salt; and cacio e pepe upped with black truffles shaved tableside.

Mark C Austin

Riel

Montrose

Southern food from a Canadian chef and a constantly changing menu
All hail Manitoba-born chef Ryan Lachaine (Underbelly, Reef), who fires off worldly dishes straight from Riel’s showstopping open kitchen. Said dishes offer some familiar tastes from our French Canadian neighbors, like the artful Montreal smoked meat and rye, and sticky toffee pudding with foie gras torchon. That said, the ever-changing menu is just as likely to feature influences from Houston’s culinary melting pot, from Vietnamese fried oysters and Gulf redfish karaage (with its tail intact), to a beautiful corn gnocchi dusted with cilantro, lime, and cotija fondue.

Jenn Duncan Photography

Theodore Rex

Warehouse District

Simple but spectacular plates with a menu that will change due to chef’s “boredom”
In a shock felt around the city, 2017 brought the closure of our beloved Oxheart, a year after chef Justin Yu won James Beard’s Best Chef Southwest for his highly revered veggie-centric tasting menu. But it wasn’t always Yu’s plans to be confined by tastings, so he shut down his spot inside the historic Erie City Iron Works building and re-birthed it entirely. With a new, playful look, new chef de cuisine (Jason White) and new a la carte menu, Theodore Rex sets the tone for a new kind of dining -- one that mesmerizes with simple plates of pan con tomate and farm potatoes dripped in chicken in the same way as it does with mains like collards-steamed grouper and Texas wagyu with fermented radish. Note: The menu will change often due to “availability, quality, and boredom,” so come expecting the unexpected.

Xochi

Xochi

Downtown

A hometown hero is dishing out Oaxacan cuisine after winning his first James Beard award
With a James Beard Award under his belt, chef Hugo Ortega is storming out of the gates. That’s thanks in part to the deserving chef’s latest concept, the sleek Oaxacan paradise set on the ground level of the gorgeous Marriott Marquis (the one with the Texas-shaped lazy river). Equally as gorgeous are Xochi’s impeccably composed plates -- a showstopping labyrinth of moles, from the deep and earthy to the smooth and mellow; house-made masa preparations showcasing endless varieties of corn and topped off with wood-roasted octopus, roasted pork rib, and chorizo ismeño, and impossibly good homemade chocolate desserts from Hugo’s pastry chef (and brother), Ruben. Drinks come from the masterful Sean Beck, who’s built a thoughtful library of agave-focused cocktails and interesting wines to pair with it all.

Morris Malakoff

Yauatcha

Galleria

Upscale dim sum that’ll have you prying your friends off the couch every Sunday
It’s fitting that this Michelin-starred London import is housed in the Galleria’s luxury "jewel box" building. Every plate coming out of the kitchen is a gem, both in a breathtaking, aesthetic way and a more figurative “give me that now!” way. This is not your typical Chinese dim sum teahouse -- Yauatcha offers a more contemporary tasting experience, and although that comes with an uptick in price, we’re guessing you’ll find shelling out the extra cash totally acceptable. Bring friends and sip tea while ogling over the restaurant’s delicate and artful preparations, from crispy duck rolls and scallop shui mai with tobiko caviar, to seasonal chocolates and patisserie.