Shannon O’Hara

Arthur Ave

Heights

If you thought Houston was missing a classic red-sauce Italian joint from the streets of New York, you were right. Good thing we got one in the form of this handsome eatery, named after the famed Arthur Ave in the Bronx, New York’s other Little Italy. This new culinary treasure is the latest masterpiece from the powerhouse braintrust that breathed life into Helen Greek Food & Wine. Chef William Wright takes every measure to ensure full-force flavor, here -- from his hand-pulled, made-to-order mozzarella for the pristine Caprese salad to the mascarpone-laced penne alla vodka that may just make your nonna weep. Then there’s the Grana Padano rind brine for the seriously massive chicken Parm, made with an organic, spatchcocked chicken, both dark and light meat. The beverage program more than meets the high expectations set by the food. Try visionary beverage director Lainey Collum’s house herb-infused gin, the star of an “old world meets new” G&T, or the boozy White Russian soft serve from top bartender Josh Bearden to see for yourself.

Kimberly Park

Killen’s Burgers

Pearland

With steak and barbecue under his belt, Chef Ronnie Killen ventured into the last piece of the holy trinity of Texas beef: burgers. The spot is J.J. Watt approved, of course, as Killen put some fried cheese curds on the menu for his Wisconsin-loving friend. But it’s also local approved, as Houstonians found yet another reason to visit Pearland; and that’s those smashed, 10oz all-natural chuck and brisket patties. Flawlessly seasoned and aggressively seared to a just-pink center unless you request otherwise, the burgers don’t need much more than American cheese, crisp lettuce, dill pickles, and off-the-vine tomatoes (though we’re sure Nueske’s bacon and Wisconsin cheddar couldn’t hurt either). We’d take a blind bet that his brand new concept, a steakhouse and barbecue restaurant dubbed Killen’s STQ, will be just as adored as his last three -- especially since it’ll be his first within the loop. Since it opens in December, we’ll have to wait for next year’s list to find out.

Bernadine's

Bernadine’s

Heights

Opened at the turn of last year, this coastal concept from powerhouse restaurant group Treadsack took exactly zero seconds to take Houston’s food scene by storm. With a menu that’s a humble “love letter to the Gulf Coast,” executive chef Graham Laborde and the kitchen take on a “catch of the day” mentality. You’ll want to ball out with the I-10 Tower to start; the platter comes packed with oysters, crab claws, pickled shrimp and veg, smoked fish dip, heritage-breed cured ham, and a massive slab of chicharrón on which you can peel, suck, slurp, and crunch. After that, it’s thoughtful Southern takes on all things seasonal, from grilled gulf fish with grits, pickled shrimp, and squash to confit duck leg with Creole mustard spaetzle. Don’t skip the next level desserts -- think warm fig tart tatine and Oeufs a la Neige (a heavenly floating meringue) -- from pastry chef Julia Doran. Also a great idea? Happy hour, lunch, and brunch, where you’ll find epic options including a cherry-picked selection of half-priced oysters (happy hour), Peacemaker Po-Boy (lunch and brunch), and Cochon Hot Brown (brunch), a slow-braised sucking pig on Texas brioche that gets smothered in mornay with a yolky egg, Benton’s bacon and plump tomatoes.

Mauro Luna with Monica Kressman Photography

Midtown Barbeque

Midtown

The ill-fated OTC didn’t work, nor did Bourbon on Bagby, but it seems the third time’s a charm for this rustic Midtown haunt, now that it plays home to a duo of talented chefs who sling out Hill Country-style barbecue in all its glory (pitmaster Brett Jackson’s work includes a stint at the legendary Louie Mueller). Of course, this is Houston, not Hill Country. So it’s not all monster-pork-butt this and fatty-beef-rib-with-house-pickles that. There’s also offerings like pulled pork tacos with house-made spicy slaw and cilantro, white chocolate Shipley Do-Nut bread pudding, and smothered queso brisket fries, where the potatoes are fried in brisket fat... because was there really ever any other way? Chef Eric Aldis even hopes to add locally sourced goods like lamb and smoked whole fish one day. We can’t wait.

Julie Soefer

State Fare

Memorial

Cherry Pie Hospitality took Gateway Memorial City’s ill-fated Pour Society and turned it into a lowbrow, comfort food haven. That comfort food gets a chefy touch thanks to CPH partner and culinary director Jim Mills and executive chef Bill McKinley; and the restaurant itself has tons of cool factor thanks to the stylings of CPH partner Lee Ellis (the guy who brought us Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts and in a former partnership, Liberty Kitchen). Eats here are as big and bold as Texas, with colossal, heart-ache inducing burgers stacked high and sloppy with things like chili & queso or griddled pastrami and chicken-fried french fries. For a more dinnery affair, the smoked double pork chop with root beer syrup is spot-on, as is the brand new H-town Hot Chicken, in all of its seriously crisp and spicy glory. Drinks -- like the Fig Manhattan and frozen Rum & Root Beer -- come from CPH beverage director Laurie Harvey, an industry vet who also happens to be one our of 2016 Bartenders of the Year.

Courtesy of Cane Rosso

Cane Rosso

Heights (& Montrose)

It’s not often we welcome things from Dallas with open arms. Great pizza, though, that’s something we can collectively get behind. Dallas-born pizzeria Cane Rosso opened its first Houston outpost in early June, and a few months later, a second Montrose location followed (this one with a huge, dog-friendly patio). Owner Jay Jerrier announced plans to expand the Heights space even more by Spring 2017, adding a bigger bar and more seating with an indoor/outdoor vibe. For now, the fork-and-knife pizza alone is enough reason to visit. Both locations offer flawlessly executed, Vera Pizza Napoletana pies that only take about 70 seconds of scorching in the colossal, 900-degree Stefano Ferrara wood-burning ovens. You definitely won't want to skip the cheese, since the mozzarella is made in-house, but you also don’t want to skip things like hand-crushed San Marzano sauce, local sausage, Calabrian chiles, jalapeño pesto drizzled pepperoni cups, and fried zeppole. That last one doesn’t go on the pizza, obviously, but we thought it was worth a mention.

Julie Soefer

Pi Pizza

Washington

Just as Cane Rosso goes full-on authentic Neapolitan, this Anthony Calleo’s food truck turned brick-and-mortar hangout goes full-on loco. Don’t know what that means? We’ll elaborate. We counted no less than six iterations of smoked bacon making its way onto the pizzas, and that’s one of the more “normal” ingredients. Other toppings include Broken Arrow Ranch venison sausage and port wine cherries; lemon-roasted cauliflower, garlic confit, and Houston Dairymaids taleggio; Mike’s Hot Honey, a Brooklyn import infused with chili and mixed with a little vinegar, and MAC & CHEESE. Not exactly your “traditional” toppings, but pretty fantastic nonetheless. You can also skip the pizza itself and dive head first into pizza fries, pizza queso and sandwiches stuffed with glorious things like brined chicken Parm, house meatballs, steak and whiz, and a whole lot of Italian deli meats. In true Cherry Pie Hospitality fashion, the adult beverages are also second to none. Obviously.

Justin Fang

Kuma Burgers

Greenway/Upper Kirby

Word of this NKOTB’s umami burgers didn’t stay hush hush for long. Since quietly opening, Willet Feng’s Kuma Burger gained a steady cult following, even with its location inside a Greenway Plaza food court. The fresh as hell, 80/20 chuck burgers are pure pleasure thanks to hand-packing, an aggressive sear and slather of house soy and shiitake sauce; there’s even a veggie version, too (if you’re into that). Get them on griddled Sheila Partin sweet sourdough or soy-marinated rice buns and throw on customizables like kimchi relish and Texas chili made with locally ground spices. If you’re hungry, double up with an extra 5oz patty, and if you’re feeling brave, make it SPICY!!!, adding three kinds of jalapeño, house sambal mayo, pepper jack cheese, and soy-marinated serrano chiles. Sides go beyond the normal burger stand, with options like taro and lotus chips, Frito pie, and hand-cut, loaded frites; and there’s Kuma Dogs, panko-crusted Kuma Fish, and hand-spun Nuomi ice cream shakes to round things out quite nicely.

Conservatory

Conservatory

Downtown

This is not so much a restaurant, but rather an underground beer garden and food hall that has got to be the most anticipated hatch opening since Lost. See that Art Deco staircase next door to sibling hideout Prohibition Supperclub & Bar? Descend it and you’ll find a modern, bustling space filled with fun things like a 60-count craft beer and wine tap wall, tables and chairs at which to drink that beer and wine, and four food stands that can satisfy even the most picky friend in your crew. There’s Melange Creperie, with crisp, Parisienne street style crepes filled in flavors from the classic Nutella and banana to the unexpected, juice-dripping Moroccan chicken thighs. At Myth Kafe, gyros come in buttery toasted pita, filled with marinated lamb, chicken or beef and bright, tart tzatziki. Samurai Noodle offers crazy good gyoza and traditional Tokyo Shoyu and Hakata Tonkotsu ramen (if you get it spicy, expect some real heat); and closing things out is El Burro & The Bull, a pan-Texas concept with banging barbecue, tacos and tamales.

Café Azur Houston

Cafe Azur

Montrose/Museum District

Houston’s most charming new restaurant isn’t a restaurant group expansion or out-of-town debut like the majority of openings this year (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Instead, it’s this French Riviera-kissed stunner, which brings together a French chef and the elegant, breezy vibe of Nice. That vibe is channeled in both the light and airy space and quaint patio garden -- formerly the home of Brasserie Max & Julie -- and most importantly, the luxe, coastally focused fare. Dip into a Mediterranean bouillabaisse flush with scallop, fish, shrimp, and mussels; nosh on braised octopus and whole-roasted branzino, and savor buttery steak frites and rich and dreamy lobster ravioli with foie gras and truffle oil.

La Calle Tacos & Tortas

Downtown

Fact: With a now thriving bar scene, Downtown needs more reliable, “go-to” eateries. Ones that you can pop in before, after, or during a night on the town to satiate the appetite in a way that is both satisfyingly good and satisfyingly cheap. This still largely under-the-radar, telenovela-blasting taco temple is one of them. Come here for a damn fine version of Mexico City’s favorite street foods, from crispy yellow corn or house-made flour tacos filled with traditional carnitas, barbacoa and nopales to smothered elotes and tortas stuffed with beef fajitas, chorizo, and beans. Refreshments include everything from Mexican Coke to the whole fruit agua frescas and hangover-curing micheladas. Expect this one to be the new Torchy’s or El Real, with expansions around the city if all goes according to plan.

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

The Pit Room

Montrose

Houston’s barbecue started rocking the world of ‘Q a few years ago, and it’s shown no sign of slowing down this year. Case in point: The Pit Room, one of the most promising craft barbecue newcomers since Killen’s. Co-owner Michael Sambrooks and pitmaster Bramwell Tripp (whose experience includes non-BBQ spots Liberty Kitchen, Coltivare, and Revival Market) do things the old-school way, here; and that’s low and slow in two, custom-made, barrel-style offset smokers. Oak-smoked prime short ribs and brisket, heritage-breed pork ribs, and house-made sausages -- garlicky, Czech-style beef, jalapeño cheddar pork, or black-pepper-studded venison -- provide the menu heft, while things like house hot sauce drizzled chicharrones and smoky chicken verde tacos on scratch-made flour tortillas remind you you’re dining in Mutt City at its finest.

Julie Soefer

Le Colonial

River Oaks District

It’s no secret that Houstonians have a seemingly endless appetite for Vietnamese fare, but we’re more accustomed to the cheap, mom-and-pop options that line the city than anything “fancy.” Le Colonial is set to change that. A New York import that has locales in Chicago and San Francisco, the restaurant brings a fine-dining perspective to the bright, intense flavors of the French Colonial Southeast. Double-decade Houstonian and chef Nicole Routhier, who worked on the original NYC menu in 1993, was tapped to oversee the outpost’s culinary program. With a lavish dining space and contemporary, French-Asian menu, diners are suddenly OK paying a bit more for Pho Bo, a deftly balanced oxtail soup with rice noodles, beef tenderloin and warm, aromatic spices; or Vit Quay, a deboned, lacquered-up and roasted half duck served with sticky rice cake, house pickles, and a winning tamarind sauce.

La Table Houston

La Table

Galleria

In the best (multi-million dollar) rebrand of the year, TABLE on Post Oak transformed into the multifaceted restaurant concept La Table. It’s easy to spend your time here. Diners now have the opportunity to go from Valrhona chocolate-filled éclairs and locally inspired corn and jalapeño kouglof at the cafe and bakery Macarons to Berry Kir Royales and croque madames at the casual-chic Marché. Upstairs, things get richer with fine-dining restaurant Chateau. Go all out with caramelized cheese soufflé, dreamy lobster flan bisque, and tableside-carved, Parmesan-crusted rack of lamb pour deux.

Courtesy of Shake Shack

Shake Shack

Galleria

If the constant line outside Houston’s first Shake Shack location says anything, it’s that Houstonians know a good burger when they see (or perhaps smell) one. The NYC park-side burger stand has been popping up around the country for some time now, and with each location comes menu additions locals can love. Here, that’s a special Lockhart Link Burger; where The Shack’s already incredible, Shack sauce-dripping Angus burger gets a griddled Kreuz Market jalapeño cheese sausage link adornment. The restaurant has also teamed up with Houston fan favorites Fluff Bake Bar, Greenway Coffee and Morningstar, offering a Cup|cake Crunch frozen custard featuring Fluff’s devil’s food cake with pretzel crunch and caramel buttercream; and a Vietnamese Coffee and Donuts custard with Morningstar’s COP donut and a Greenway Coffee café su dua marshmallow sauce. Don’t forget the crinkle-cut fries.

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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.