You Can Get Reservations for Free Dinner in Taco Bell's Insane Test Kitchen
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.
1. Arthur Ave1111 Studewood St Ste B, Houston
2. Killen's Burgers2804 S Main St, Pearland
3. Bernadine's1801 N Shepherd Dr Ste B, Houston
4. Midtown BBQ2708 Bagby St, Houston
5. State Fare947 Gessner Rd Ste B190, Houston
6. Cane Rosso1835 N Shepherd Dr, Houston
7. Pi Pizza181 Heights Boulevard, Houston
8. Kuma Burgers3 Greenway Plz, Houston
9. Conservatory1010 Prairie St, Houston
10. Café Azur4315 Montrose Blvd, Houston
11. La Calle Tacos & Tortas909 Franklin St, Houston
12. The Pit Room1201 Richmond Ave, Houston
13. Le Colonial4444 Westheimer Rd Ste G-140, Houston
14. La Table1800 Post Oak Blvd Ste 6110, Houston
15. Shake Shack5015 Westheimer Rd Ste A2411, Houston
Named for the famous street in New York's Little Italy, industrial-chic Arthur Ave is cooking classic Italian fare with the utmost care, using only the freshest handmade ingredients. From the caprese salad with hand-pulled mozzarella to the chicken parm with organic, spatchcocked chicken, the dishes here are approached thoughtfully and plated beautifully. The star is the penne alla vodka, made with Martelli pasta fresh off the boat from Italy and blanketed in a heavenly mascarpone cream sauce. Exposed brick, chandeliers, and banquettes add to the curated feel, as do drinks from the spacious bar, like the house herb-infused gin in the “old world meets new” G&T.
There’s no doubt chef Ronnie Killen was already “killen” it (sorry) with his steak and barbecue game, so it’s no surprise he’s ventured into the last of the holy trinity of Texas beef: burgers. The space is decked out like a 1950s-style diner complete with milkshakes and an old-fashioned soda fountain. In addition to the thick, griddled cheeseburgers, you should absolutely tack on a side of fried cheese curds or crisp, crinkle-cut fries.
Distinctively Southern, Bernadine’s is a contemporary Gulf Coast seafood restaurant that gleans inspiration from restaurants along the Interstate 10 corridor, from Apalachicola oyster shacks to fish fry stands in South Texas. Bernadine’s offers brunch, lunch, and dinner menus of seafood and snacks and large plates. For dinner, you’ll dive into the menu by choosing a couple of briny starters, namely Gulf oysters on the half-shell and Gulf ceviche with Tennessee apple leche de tigre, radish, shaved onion, and pepita gremolata. Shifting away from seafood, continue your meal with the confit duck leg, paired with chaurice sausage, roasted chicken jus, creole mustard spaetzle, and fermented rainbow chard. Ask for cocktail recommendations, but you can’t go wrong with any of Bernadine’s speakeasy-inspired beverages; as you sip on your Kentucky Mule with bourbon, lime, mint turbinado, and Angostura bitters, you’ll be transported to the world of Prohibition, when Houston Heights was, begrudgingly, under the “dry ordinance.”
Midtown is a warehouse-style venue that plays home to a duo of talented chefs who sling Hill Country-style barbecue smoked low and slow in the pit out back. But it’s not all monster pork-butt and fatty beef-rib. No, this is still Houston, after all -- meaning there’s also things like smoked shrimp & oysters to add some variety to the standard BBQ concept. When you're not watching a Texans game on the big screen, local brew in hand, check out the live music.
State Fare has a bright and simple atmosphere and features innovative, lowbrow comfort food that’s as big and bold as Texas and goes well with anything on its extensive drink menu from craft beer to specialty cocktails. If you want a side of heart palpitations, go for its colossal burgers, which come stacked high with things like chili and molten queso or griddled pastrami and chicken-fried french fries. For a more dining-out feel, the smoked double-cut pork chop with root beer syrup and seared Ahi tuna with crab fried rice and jalapeño ponzu are spot-on.
Cane Rosso is a hip, Dallas-born pizzeria that really delivers (but not literally) when it comes to hand-crafted pizza. The specialty here is Neapolitan pies made with fresh dough scorched at high temperatures and decked out with toppings like spicy soppressata, bacon marmalade, prosciutto crudo, and fresh basil. You definitely won't want to skip the cheese, since like most things at Cane Rosso, the mozzarella is made in-house. From the dough to the flavors everything about this airy, woodfired oven-adorned pizzeria is authentic.
Pi Pizza is the brick-and-mortar iteration of the food truck that made waves in 2014 for offering a lifetime supply of pizza in exchange for getting a pizza tattoo. There's more to Pi than pizza and tats though; the menu covers a lot of ground with mac & cheese balls, pizza fries, meatball subs, and more sauce-meat-and-carb combos. That said, the Brooklyn-style pies topped with a rich blend of mozzarella and provolone are what you're really here for.
Office building Greenway Plaza is hiding some of the best burgers in Houston, all thanks to Kuma Burger, the brainchild of former Oxheart chef Willet Fang. The 5oz, wide yet thin, never-frozen patties are slung onto the flat-top grill where they are slathered with an umami glaze of browned butter, soy, pureed shitake mushroom, roasted garlic, and Worcestershire before they can finally relax atop their Sheila Partin sweet sourdough rolls. Your fun begins when you select your combination of toppings (choose from cheese, veggies, kimchi relish, seared spam, guacamole, and others) your smudgy fingerprint on the greasy sandwich. Too hesitant to take the plunge? Order a tried and true chef-designed creation like the SPICY!!!, served with fresh, charred, and pickled jalapenos, sambal mayo, pepper jack cheese, and soy-marinated serrano chilies.
Conservatory, an underground beer garden and food hall in Downtown, Houston, has everything you could possible want to consume and imbibe. Descend the Art Deco staircase into a lofty warehouse space and you’ll find a modern, open food hall filled with things like a wall bejeweled with 60 taps for craft beer and wine, rotating food stands like Melange Creperie, El Burro & The Bull, and Samurai Noodle, and a verdant under-the-steps greenhouse.
Cafe Azura is as bright, breezy, and beautiful to dine in as any restaurant in the French Riviera from where the upscale menu draws its influence. Whether you're amidst the cheerful white and aqua decor inside or out on the quaint patio, enjoy the fresh seafood options like seared octopus over potatoes, lobster ravioli with foie gras and white truffle oil, and the Bouillabaisse (a French fish stew with mediterranean fish, shrimp, mussels, and scallops) served with a rouille topped crostini. If fish isn’t your scene, the foie gras tacos with apple chutney and duck confit, rich truffle linguine with a Perfect Egg (an egg cooked for 45 minutes with potato foam), and steak tartare with french fries are equally incredible options.
At La Calle, a vibrantly colorful Mexican restaurant featuring street tacos inspired by the immense food scene in Mexico City, the menu is just a series of simple equations. Choose from flavorful meat options like asada, carnitas, pastor, chicken, barbacoa, shrimp ceviche, and napolitos (cactus), then pick they way you want to eat it. There are two types of tacos: Chilago, five corn tortillas each with onion, cilantro, and salsa, and Gringo, three larger flour tortillas packed with cheese, sour cream, and chorizo beans in addition to the same onion, cilantro, and salsa. If for whatever reason a taco doesn’t appeal, you can also snag tortas (gooey sandwich-like dishes), tostadas, and platos (bowls) that go equally well with a light cerveza or Jarritos (sweet, tangy Mexican soda).
The Pit Room is a Southern smokehouse serving up Texas-sized helpings out of a shabby road-side shanty turned hip gathering spot. Complete with outdoor seating and BBQ beer and wine pairings, you can’t have a bad meal during lunch or dinner. Put your choice of tender brisket, beef and pork ribs slathered with tangy barbecue, pulled pork that melts in your mouth, and house-made sausage (venison, pork, and beef) on a sandwich, in a few tacos, or just on a giant platter with some down-home sides like coleslaw, charro beans, and potato salad. If you’re bringing a crowd, get the feast meant for sharing and try not to bicker too much about who gets the last bite.
Le Colonial is not your hip Vietnamese food truck or shabby take-out joint, it’s an elegant French fusion restaurant featuring South East Asian cuisine and 1920s-style decor. Go with refreshing, innovative small plates like Suon Nuong (charcoal-grilled baby back ribs with a lemon grass and honey glaze), and Chao Tom (grilled shrimp mousse on sugar cane with wheat noodles, lettuce, and peanut plum dipping sauce), or fill up with mains like Ca Chien Saigon (red snapper with a garlic glaze) and Bo Luc Lac (caramelized filet mignon over watercress). The menu is extensive, so take your time and sip on a craft cocktail like the Saketini (Tito’s, asian pear sake, and cucumber) or the Le Tamarin (Makers Mark, tamarind pulp, pineapple, and anise).
La Table is a classy French fusion bistro in Houston's Uptown neighborhood featuring three levels of service in its bright, massive location. Indulge in elegant, four star dining at The Chateau with offerings like a caramelized cheese soufflé with truffles, parmesan-crusted rack of lamb, and a raw bar. Enjoy more casual fare at Marche with options like a juicy lamb burger, steak frites, and the buttery Croque Madame (ham, melted cheese, and an egg), or a quick, decadent pastry (tarts, croissants, and mousse -- oh my!) and a creamy espresso at Macaron bakery.
The first Houston location of Shake Shack, the New York-born international burger chain, opened in October 2016 in The Galleria. All the standbys, like the signature American cheese-topped ShackBurger, and the bacon and chopped cherry pepper SmokeShack burger are available, as well as the site-specific Link Burger; the Texas-only cheeseburger comes with jalapeño-cheese sausage from Kreuk Lodge, two pickle slices, and the Shack sauce.