Potente | Courtesy of Potente
Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in Downtown Houston

Published On 03/29/2017
Xochi

Xochi

What happens when a six-time James Beard-nominated chef and his award-winning restaurateur wife open up a hot new concept in the heart of the city? People go there, duh. Meaning "to bloom" or "catch fire," Xochi isn't just the newest venture from powerhouse couple Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught, it may also be the most exciting. Here, Oaxacan street food gets proper treatment, from intoxicating moles and phenomenal lechon to the house-favorite tlayudas (think thin, wood-fired tortilla pizzas). Like sister concepts Hugo's and Caracol, Xochi's Sunday brunch buffet is a king's feast; a tapestry of seafood salads, braised meats, egg dishes, and desserts with house-made chocolate that you'll definitely want to remove from your plate and put in your face immediately.

Jackson St. BBQ

Jackson Street BBQ

Pro tip that will save you a ton in gas mileage: You don't have to leave the loop to get great barbecue; there's down-and-dirty Texas BBQ right in the heart of the city. Named after the street on which it lies, Jackson Street BBQ melds the minds of Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd of REEF & Little Big's and Greg Gatlin of the highly revered Gatlin's BBQ. Pitmaster Brandon Allen has dreamed up a range of masterfully smoked briskets, ribs (look out for the colossal beef ribs), sausage links, and yardbird alongside sides like fried mac, dirty rice, and jalapeño cheddar biscuits.

Kevin Alexander/Thrillist

Hubcap Grill

Ricky Craig's Hubcap is a Downtown stalwart thanks to aggressively seared and seasoned burgers that both purists and topping enthusiasts can get behind. For purists, the twice-the-beef, twice-the-cheese Hubcap Decker is the way to go; while crazier concoctions tack on things like Frito pie, peanut butter and bacon, and all the workings of a Philly cheesesteak. Even our national burger critic -- who has been traveling the country on a Burger Quest for the better part of a year -- deemed Hubcap's cheeseburger the best burger inside the loop (Tookie's took first place, but are you really trying to drive to Seabrook right now?).

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

When the Pappas family opened up a second iteration of their quintessential Texas steakhouse, dry-aged-meat lovers rejoiced. The endlessly posh Downtown haunt pampers guests via gloriously marbled, intensely flavored beef that gets dry-aged in-house for 28 days (at the very least). Then there's seriously cool stuff like a whiskey cart featuring vintage selections -- some of which are so rare you can only find one or two bottles in all of Texas -- and a 2,500-deep wine collection. If you're going to celebrate something, anything, in Houston... do so here.

Mauricio Hernandez | Brasserie du Parc

Brasserie du Parc

Chef Philippe Verpiand and wife Monica Bui (owners of adored Etoile Cuisine et Bar) have created another stunner, this time inspired by the classic Parisian brasseries in Verpiand's native France. House specialties include foie gras au torchon, moules and steak frites, and escargots bourgogne baked and swimming in fresh herbs and garlic butter. All of it -- plus shareable plates, tableside absinthe service, pastis, and limoncello -- makes for an elegant affair worth lingering over. But if you feel that, as Sweet Brown put it best, "ain't nobody got time for that," you can always hit the Crêperie du Parc crêpe window and transport yourself straight out of Houston in no time.

Kimberly Park | Fusion Taco

Fusion Taco

When you need a quick, cheap spot to grab a bite before a show, Fusion Taco is there for you. When you want fat tortillas loaded with lamb keema, BBQ Berkshire pork and chicken tikka masala, Fusion Taco is, once again, there for you. Hell, even if you're after a giant pile of nachos smothered in chile con queso and Angus steak or a light seared tuna salad with seriously addicting peanut dressing, Fusion Taco is STILL there for you. Except on Sundays. It's not there for you whatsoever because it's closed.

Potente

Potente

Conveniently located across the street from Minute Maid Park, this PYT is the first from Houston Astros owner Jim Crane. At Potente, Crane's personal and executive chef Michael Parker works with former REEF and KUU chef de cuisine Micah Rideout and pastry chef David Berg (the former pastry guru at Tony's) to make upscale Northern Italian plates. Though it's been open just a short while, it seems the dream team is knocking it out of the park. The dark and sexy dining space will jet you straight to a modern Italian villa as you dine on an impossibly silky burrata Caprese, dressed up with things like confit cherry tomato and smoked sea salt; and whole branzino stuffed to the brim with rainbow cauliflower, crabmeat, and sage brown butter. For a more relaxed dining experience (with breakfast, lunch, and dinner), try sister concept Osso & Kristalla. The casual trattoria is also overseen by Parker and Rideout, with house specialties including wood-fired chicken, rigatoni & meatball, and Sicilian BBQ shrimp.

Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse

Vic & Anthony's

Known as the "it" spot for power dinners and lunches, this swanky steakhouse is located just across the way from Minute Maid Park. It's all about the beef here (grain-fed USDA Prime Midwest beef; big, bold Texas cuts; and foreign and domestic wagyu, to be exact) but it's the restaurant's consistently impeccable service and unexpected touches -- think lotus root tuna poke, fried lobster mac, and maple-glazed quail finished in Sriracha sauce -- that take it well beyond classic steakhouse status. At lunch (which finally went full-time Monday through Friday last year) the Prime beef Vic (bacon, American, Cheddar) and Anthony (Saga blue cheese) burgers are highly recommended.

Conservatory

While it's not a restaurant per se, this underground food hall and beer garden is hands-down one of the best places to eat in the city. Plus, it's a prime spot to take out-of-towners. Start by spending some time at the 60-tap craft beer and wine wall (the friendly barkeeps will help you with your picks and allow you to sample), then create your own global smörgåsbord from the food court. There are mezze plates and tzatziki-smothered gyros at Myth Kafe; smoked brisket and pulled pork tacos at El Burro & The Bull; build-your-own poke bowls at Moku Bar; and Melange Creperie's Parisienne street-style crepes, filled with stuff like fig, goat cheese, and honey, and saucy Moroccan chicken thighs.

Four Seasons Hotel Houston

Quattro

Don't underestimate this restaurant at the Four Seasons hotel. Executive Chef Maurizio Ferrarese brings his Italian background (he was born and raised in Italy's Piedmont region and started at the Four Seasons in Florence) to the forefront through Firenze-inspired plates that refresh with the seasons and impart local touches. Sunday's buffet brunch is way more extravagant than your nonna's gravy, busting out luxe eats like sous-vide eggs & caviar, butcher's block Tuscan chicken, and cioppino. By night, you'll want to dig into lasagna bolognese with Texas Akaushi beef; Gulf snapper with a sun-dried tomato & olive crust; and veal and rare-seared tuna tonnato. Bonus: The Four Seasons also plays home to Bayou & Bottle, a lobby bar, restaurant, and lounge that is worth a visit for its whiskey and bourbon program alone.

Irma's Original

Irma's Original

In a city where enchilada culture runs long and deep, Irma's has managed to maintain its iconic status since 1989 (and has done so without written menus). Perhaps that's because the bubbly Irma Gonzalez Galvan feels like everyone's abuela, pandering soulful Mexican eats to hungry, happy patrons. Or perhaps that's because Galvan has vowed to keep things fresh with a sweet-16 lineup of new offerings each day. Fans hit it for sloppy enchiladas mole, handmade tamales, carne guisada, and chiles rellenos. Oh, and Irma's legendary lemonade.

Courtesy of Prohibition Supperclub & Bar

The Oyster Bar at Prohibition

Once a throwback burlesque theater and restaurant two-for-one, the former Prohibition Supperclub & Bar has separated its identities, and now its restaurant (now with a separate menu and entrance) goes by a new name, The Oyster Bar at Prohibition. Local chef Jordan Economy -- formerly of Boheme Café & Wine Bar -- is leading the charge with a more Gulf Coast-focused menu and an approachable, neighborhood feel. Small plates feature fried shrimp, oysters, and crab claws with hushpuppies; New Orleans BBQ shrimp laced with PBR butter; and an andouille sausage board with all the proper accompaniments. Entrees range from smoked fried chicken (you want to order this) to steak frites. Of course, you'll also want to take advantage of the oyster bar, with Gulf and East Coast varietals on the half shell and garlic-fennel chargrilled and chimichurri-roasted numbers (which are 50 cents a piece during happy hour). Economy will also oversee Prohibition Theatre’s rotating prix fixe menu, where you'll find the Moonlight Dolls in action.

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Food & Drink

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.

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