Restaurants / Openings

New Heights Restaurant Brings Two Cuisines Together With a Striking Design Sense — The Story of da Gama

Striking Michael Hsu Designed Space is a True Labor of Love

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When chefs Shiva and Rick Di Virgilio envisioned their latest restaurant — da Gama Canteen in M-K-T Heights — they sought an ambience that would reflect their love story that has evolved into 15 years of cooking and serving Houston. She of Indian descent and he of Portuguese were combining their cultural heritages in a restaurant that reflected the cuisines of both. They tasked the Michael Hsu Office of Architecture to interpret this dream.

“We wanted to create a lively space with a strong sense of community and an organic atmosphere. An airy tropical Goan inspired-all day ‘canteen’ and bar where the trail-park setting and space are symbiotic,” Rick Di Virgilio tells PaperCity. “A community space to have a drink and snack or to have a more formal dinner with friends.”

The casual Indian-Portuguese restaurant overlooks the Heights Hike and Bike trail and offers, in addition to seating for 70 indoors, an ample patio opening to the adjacent green space. A walk-up cafe window, taking advantage of the trail location, offers casual beverages, snacks and curated seasonal offerings in the morning and early afternoon.

Since its opening earlier this summer, da Gama has been packing in diners swooning over the lamb keema tartine, piri piri chicken, grilled sardines, lamb rib mattar with canteen curry and more. The varied offerings are inspired by the former Portuguese colony and current Indian state of Goa. Da Gama, named after Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, is a multi-cultural cousin to the couple’s Oporto in Midtown and an amicable replacement for their Queen Vic, which closed in 2018.

The restaurant is tucked within the heart of M-K-T under the iconic yellow canopy where a beautifully carved antique door imported from India signals the atmosphere within. Da Gama’s dining space features fig wallpaper, flagstone flooring, white oak walls and millwork, ornate textiles and bold color blocking. Varied textures, handmade details and cultural motifs can be found underneath the yellow ceiling oculus which is inspired by a museum in Lisbon.

DSC06956 (Photo by Chase Daniel)
The da Gama Canteen patio, overlooking the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, seats 50. (Photo by Chase Daniel)

“The design represents a blend of cultures and cuisines; which is a very Houston experience,” architect Hsu tells PaperCity. “The dynamic heritage of the owners is represented with a mixture of patterns, colors and art.

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“The space provides great activation for this part of M-K-T. Food can be served outward to the trail and gives the restaurant an opportunity to provide a variety of experiences during the day.”

Hus’s office is doing the complete reimagining of the former industrial park into a sophisticated mixed-use development at 600 N. Shepherd.

Da Gama is merely the most recent in Hsu’s portfolio of restaurant designs in Houston, in Austin and across the country. Among his Houston restaurant credits are Uchi, Katz’s, La Lucha, Mendocino Farms in Uptown Park, Shake Shack in Rice Village, Ninfa’s Uptown and soon-to-open Uchiko in Zadok Jewelers’ Post Oak Place development.

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