Restaurants / Openings

Stunned by James Beard Call, Chef Christine Ha Quietly Prepares to Open Her Much-Anticipated New Houston Restaurant

MasterChef Winner Says Hello to Great Expectations With the New Xin Chao

BY // 02.28.20

Chef Christine Ha was going about her regular morning routine, ticking things off her to-do list, when she got The Call.

“I was doing menial tasks and someone told me about the James Beard announcement and I said, ‘Is this for real? Is this some kind of a joke?’ ” Ha tells PaperCity.

Nobody at the James Beard Foundation was joking around when they named The Blind Goat as a 2020 Best New Restaurant in America semifinalist. Ha’s Vietnamese restaurant in Bravery Chef Hall quickly became a local favorite after opening last summer. Being named a national semifinalist (the finalists will be revealed March 25) is exciting yes, but Ha is not one to get carried away by notoriety.

“I feel like I am pretty grounded. My philosophy is to always be better today than yesterday. I say it to my team all the time, it’s not always about competition with others, but with yourself,” Ha says.

The Blind Goat’s success has opened the door for her next restaurant, the aptly named Xin Chao, which means hello in Vietnamese. Ha and her husband, John Suh, are partnering with Tony Nguyen, chef and owner of Saigon House, which shuttered in 2019, on the new spot.

The shared vision for Xin Chao takes an elevated approach to Vietnamese cuisine. The idea behind the new Houston restaurant is special, but not stuffy.

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“Humble mom and pop Vietnamese cooking is amazing, but it can also be another thing,” Ha says. “We want everyone to feel welcome at  Xin Chao. It’s a not a white tablecloth experience, but it’s a place for date night, celebrating an anniversary or hanging out with friends.”

Xin Chao is located at 2310 Decatur, the space formerly occupied by the shuttered Beaver’s. The menu will feature local ingredients, Gulf seafood and Texas beef, with an emphasis on smoking and barbecuing.

“We are sharing our story through food,” Ha notes.

Ha credits her father with Xin Chao’s name, after seeing the words on the handmade menu board at The Blind Goat. Ha and Suh didn’t have enough magnetic letters for the rest of the menu, but just as they reached for the letters to fill out the board, Ha’s father stopped them.

“He said, Xin Chao feels good,” Ha says.

This chef certainly knows a little something about competition. Ha was the first-ever blind contestant to win MasterChef, a fierce cooking reality show on Fox, beating more 30,000 home cooks for the title and impressing Gordon Ramsay along the way.

bravery chef hall blind goat
Bravery Chef Hall has The Blind Goat.

The road to The Blind Goat and the soon-to-open Xin Chao wasn’t immediate. In addition to writing a New York Times best-selling cookbook, co-hosting the Canadian cooking show Four Senses and serving as a judge on MasterChef Vietnam, Ha worked through some of the questions that come with fame.

“I dealt with imposter syndrome. I asked myself, ‘Do people think that I am that good?’ The higher you climb, the harder you fall,” Ha tells PaperCity. “But I matured. You roll with what life brings you.”

The success of The Blind Goat confirms that Christine Ha is indeed that good. As the opening date draws closer for her next restaurant (Xin Chao is slated for a soft opening in April, with full service in May), this chef is mindful of maintaining the good in all aspects of her life. She’s working on her memoir and getting sleep.

“Sleep is very important. Self-care is very important. Life on the go means prioritizing,” Ha says. “You have to follow your gut and vision.”

That plan certainly seems to be working for Ha so far. And it just may take her all the way to Chicago’s Lyric Opera House for the James Beard awards in May.

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