The Thrillist Awards: Houston's Best New Food & Drink of 2015
With a brand-spanking-new bar and restaurant popping up in nearly every nook and cranny on the regular, 2015 has been one hell of a year for Houston. And since we know you couldn’t possibly have gotten to every single opening (or have you? tell us your secrets!!!), we’ve rounded up the best of the best in every category we deemed worthy. Here’s this year’s best new everything in Houston:
Best new pizza place
Inner-loopers did a collective happy dance when this Memorial pizza spot finally opened its Montrose location in the Spring. The counter-service spot has the same casual charm as the original (and the same BYOB policy -- score!), but this time it has an 80-seat dining room, host seating, and two colossal wood-fired ovens for pumping out hot-and-blistered Neapolitan-style pies on demand. Go for the caramelized onion-and pepper-loaded Sweet Pea or the addicting Arugula, dressed simply with garlic oil, shaved Parmesan, and the prosciutto you just added because you’re not a complete idiot.
Best new burger place
The former Little Bigs space has been transformed into this open-air burger joint, the brainchild of partners Shawn Bermudez (of bars like Royal Oak and Stone’s Throw) and Matthew Pak (of popular food trucks Koagie Hots and Golden Grill). All of the eatery’s hand-crafted burgers are made with locally sourced Texas beef from 44 Farms and topped with things like caramelized kimchi, bacon aioli, serrano peppers, and mac & cheese. But it’s not just the burgers that are wooing locals, there’s loaded frankfurters, chicken and pulled pork sandwiches, stellar fries, and a lineup of craft brews and excellent shakes, too.
Best food truck turned brick-and-mortar
This haute Vietnamese eatery-on-wheels took their already excellent menu of duck-pate-loaded banh mi, egg rolls, and noodles to the next level when they opened up their brick and mortar spot this fall. The tiny house has been packed with fans looking to pack in things like crazy rich, 24hr slow-cooked bone marrow pho and fish sauce marinated fried chicken & pandan coconut milk Belgian waffles in addition to the classics.
Best new tasting menu spot
The Woodlands' first tasting menu-only restaurant is well worth the drive out of the city. It’s there that you’ll find Austin Simmons’ 25-seat, interactive chef’s table, where the young gun chef imagines up impressively ambitious eight-coursers week after week. With a focus on sustainable fish, seasonal produce, and high-quality, dry-aged meats, Simmons transforms ordinary dishes into upscale plates. Think classic carbonara remixed with sea urchin, miso, and Alaskan king crab; or bread & butter in the form of smoked duck, foie, brandied cherry, and brioche. And just when you think you it can’t get any better, Pastry Chef Nguyet Nguyen knocks you out with her lineup of dreamy, high-end desserts. Like we said, it’s worth the drive.
Best new cocktail bar
If you can find it (hint: follow the neon key), you’ll know this spot is Midtown’s most worthwhile secret. Powerhouse drink master Chris Frankel is behind the concept, which houses a short, but expertly curated collection of classic and house cocktails, plus an intimate, laid-back feel that is a breath of fresh air from Midtown’s party-hard feel. Sip on seasonal cocktails like the Cesaro Swing, a bourbon and amaro concoction with hints of lemon and lightly hopped pilsner. Bonus fun stuff: imbibers are invited to “Unlock the States” with the drinkery’s 51-drink cocktail menu, featuring all things bold, bitter, sweet, and refreshing.
Best new spot for dinner & drinks
Fact: Midtown has no shortage of places to drink. Also fact: Midtown has no shortage of places to eat. But what about a spot where you can combine an excellent meal with the Midtown party scene we all know and love? Enter this Buddakan-style resto and lounge. With exposed brick walls and floor to ceiling geisha art, it’s one of the sexiest, coolest looking spots in Midtown. We don’t know what’s better: the shareable, Asian-inspired plates like foie and duck bao, or their exquisite cocktails infused with things like Thai chili, lemongrass, and coconut milk. Our advice? Get both. And also some pandan panna cotta.
Best new steakhouse
With a front house butcher shop, native NY owner, and handsome interior complete with exposed brick, this steakhouse oozes the kind of old school charm that feels classically New York. Of course, the in-house dry-aged USDA Prime and Texas Wagyu served in cuts larger than your head feel 100% Texas. Start with steak tartar or Carpetbaggers, fried oysters atop thick cut bacon and meltingly tender filet with blue cheese sauce. Then go big with the 40z prime porterhouse for two, beautifully seared and sliced table-side.
Best new seafood
Get your seafood on at this fine dining/fish market venture from sibling owners and Mexican restaurateurs Maite and Diego Ysita. And do it all with the help of a “seafood sommelier” who’s on hand to assist you through 20-year-old prodigy Chef Omar Pereney’s killer menu. Any of the delicious preparations, including but not limited to an impressive raw bar, BBQ paku ribs, miso bacalao, and lobster “cappuccino” with white truffle foam, are a good idea. Also a good idea? Oyster happy hour!
Best new brunch spot
Part bake shop, part bar and restaurant, weekend brunch at this cool, '70s-esque cafe is always popping thanks to things like house-smoked salmon with truffle egg scramble, fried chicken, and cake donuts, and dukka-spiced roasted carrot and redneck cheddar pizza. Oh, and brunchy drinks like espresso and stiff as hell raspberry fizzes. Those help, too.
Best chef comeback
Chef Richard Knight’s adventurous, offal-heavy fare gained a cult following at the late and great Feast, so it surprised absolutely no one when this British-American concept from Treadsack was met with an equal amount of excitement. Feast’s fan favorite Exmoor Toasts reappear on the HH menu or at brunch as Hunky Dory’s Boquerones Tartine; and you’ll find even more show-stoppers in the form of hearth-fired rib steak with bone marrow and Bordelaise, whole hog housemade cavatelli, and four-, eight-, or 12-stack pork chops.
Best new concept
It seems so obvious, now that we have it. But why wasn’t anyone doing this before??? Proving that hindsight is 20/20, F.E.E.D. TX’s latest concept combines fried chicken and donuts TOGETHER. The seriously crisp Dixie-fried birds -- offered by the piece and in salad and sandwich form -- taste even better when paired with daily made praline bacon donuts, apple fritters, and superior Southern sides.
Best new bake shop
Screw Willy Wonka, we want to live in “Sugar Hooker” Rebecca Mason’s chocolate dipped, sugar-dusted, buttercream-frosted dreamland instead. Open since June, the creative confectionery’s rotating lineup of sweet and savory pastries offered during the Saturday bake sale are a weekend must. So are the old-school classics Fluffernutters, Hobnobs, and SHOS (those are Sugar Hooker Oreos, for you neophytes).
Best new BBQ
This shiny new spot from pit-master Wes Jurena didn’t make Texas Monthly’s list of 25 Best New and Improved BBQ Joints in Texas without reason. Jurena’s gorgeously burnt 44 Farms brisket, glistening pork ribs, over the top cheesy five-cheese mac, and Caribbean jerk-style tri-tip are just a few of them.
Best new Asian
When culinary jedis Manabu Horiuchi (of Kata Robata) and Jean-Philippe Gaston (of the late and great Cove) join forces, you get things like Brandy-cured Foie in a Jar, panko-crusted Texas quail scotch egg, kimchi CFS, and a whole bunch of other amazing Japanese-inspired eats. You’ll have just as much fun making your way through the not-so-traditional izakaya menu as you will partaking in flights of Japanese whisky.
Best new Mediterranean
This stunner, helmed by Chef William Wright (of Philippe Restaurant & Lounge and Table on Post Oak) and respected sommelier Evan Turner, isn’t your average Greek spot. Instead of tired falafel and boring souvlaki, you’ll find refreshed Greek fare with a touch of Gulf Coast soul, plus an admirable Greek wine list that is just as thoughtful as it is impressive (it’s the second largest Greek list in the US). Hit it to revel in wood-grilled octopus, massive pork-shoulder build-your-own gyro plates, and a sundae that stars Texas pecan baklava.
Best new Southern
Houston native Chef Ford Fry has been off impressing Atlanta for a while now, but the restaurateur has finally returned home to bring us this modern, globally and coastally inspired lodge. And Houston’s is better for it. Former Ciao Bello Chef Bobby Matos mans the kitchen (and the giant, wood-fired hearth) as it pumps out brown butter pork schnitzel, crispy whole snapper, and a caramelized cream ricotta gnudi that will have you saying grace. And then there’s the seriously great oyster program.
Best new gastropub
This fan favorite Houston brewer upped the ante when it opened up an on-site, full-service restaurant earlier this summer. Chef Joseph Stayshich (of Benjy’s Rice Village) helms the kitchen, which pumps out staggeringly good eats to match the brewery’s solid lineup of suds. Share plates of Korean-fried chicken with house kimchi, malted ricotta gnocchi, and Weisse Versa-battered fish & chips. Then wash it all down with beer, because obviously.
Best new wine bar
The old The Tasting Room River Oaks-space has been replaced by this white-bricked, metallic-laced wine and espresso bar with an all-star roster of local talent behind it. The small vineyard selections are curated by wine director William Fuller, the coffee program has an assist from Blacksmith’s David Buehrer, and you’ll find eats from places like Houston Dairymaids and Kraftsmen Baking. Sip wine flights as you snack on truffle frites, warm brie, and Jamón Ibérico. It’ll only take one taste to see why it’s been named one of the Top 20 Wine Bars in America by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Best new beer garden
Beer nerds have mad love for this totally chill craft cocktail and beer garden, which rocks 49 on-tap brews that run the gamut from the dark and savory to the sour, funky, and alluring, plus some intricately crafted cocktails. Grab a pint or five to wash down badass pub grub like country-style chicken buns with drunken pickles and Takashi dogs with spicy mayo, fries, and beer cheese sauce. Oh, and some housemade Fireball. Bottoms up!
Best new nightclub
It’s fitting that “clé’ is French for “key,” because you’ll probably need one to get inside Midtown’s hottest ticket -- or at the very least, money/an in with the bouncer. The exclusive 9,000sqft plush playground has been packed with short skirts, high heels, and even higher rollers since its opening in June. Go day or night and get Vegas-style bottle service in a private booth because 1) it’s a nice sweat-break from the dance floor, and 2) you may just be next to a Texans or Rockets player.