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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.