Restaurants / Openings

Houston’s Hottest Rising Star Chefs Get a Huge Opportunity at New Downtown Skyscraper Food Hall: Inside Finn Hall’s Bold Plans

BY // 05.07.18

A new downtown Houston food hall is making restaurant dreams come true. Four Houston chefs (three who run popular food trucks) are getting their first brick-and-mortar restaurants at the much-anticipated Finn Hall.

Oddball Eats, Craft Burger, Yong and Sit Lo have all signed on for the food hall, which now has all 10 of its restauranteurs selected. You could say Finn Hall’s reached the Holy Grail. Mediterranean, burger, Vietnamese and Korean spots are all on top for the chic cafeteria set to open later this year in the The Jones tower at 712 Main Street. Mala Sichuan, Amaya Coffee, Dish Society, Mr. Nice Pie, Low Tide and Goode Co. Taqueria were revealed before this new final four.

Falafel-fueled Oddball Eats has already evolved quite a bit, going from farmers market booth to a food truck. Now, falafel fans won’t have to wait at spots on their route.

When Rani Francis first hit the road, he joined up with his sister Rene. The dynamic duo have served up Egyptian stewed fava beans and garlic feta fries to eager regulars ever since.

“When we transitioned from a farmers market booth to a food truck, we found our niche in offering Middle Eastern and North African flavors,” Rani Francis tells PaperCity. They’ve added on a full Egyptian breakfast, “which includes lamb chorizo fries — inspired by Merguez sausage — and our take on the chicken schawarma sandwich,” Francis notes.

Oddball Eats’ Finn Hall menu will take the best of the food truck’s offerings and add in new seasonal salads, a rotating veggie sampler and Shakshuka, the famed North African dish made with eggs and spiced tomato sauce.

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Being one part of a family team has its challenges, but the siblings mesh well. “We are both completely comfortable being completely honest with each other,” Francis says.

Burger Power

Craft Burger Food Truck is coming in hot with its fresh, all-natural burgers that have never seen a freezer. You can also expect buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches, sweet and creamy shakes with flavors like Maple Bourbon-Bacon, and some sides worth building a meal around: beer-battered onion rings and hand-cut fries.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the Houston burger scene, but Craft Burger owner/chef Shannen Tune is up for it. He won the 2016 season of the Food Network show Chopped, and learned a thing or two in the process.

“Keep it simple and focus on the execution,” Tune says. “I have thought about doing some crazy stuff with burgers but I always think about trying to execute those ideas a thousand times correctly.”

Craft Burger also stands out by serving all-natural beef, chicken and pork and sourcing them from a local, family-run distributor. It also splits from the pack with its toppings and buns. “We have taken steps like smoking our bacon ourselves,” Tune notes. Craft gets its buns from Cake and Bacon, Tune’s pick as the best bakery in Houston.

In some burgers, Tune goes the extra distance with bacon. The Morning After Burger comes with brown sugar-and-chili-rubbed candied bacon, an egg sunny side-up and smoked Gouda, served on a bacon-cheddar waffle bun.

Craft Burger Food Truck’s Morning After Burger

Authentic Korean

Fast-casual Yong blends the best of Daniel Ajtai’s chef experiences at La Grange and Cottonwood with his family’s authentic Korean recipes. He aims to introduce Finn Hall diners to accessible, modernized, streamlined Korean dishes.

“My favorite thing about Korean cuisine is how fresh it is,” Ajtai says. “Korean food is extremely healthy and packed with flavor.”

Expect menu choices like double fried chicken with the sauce of your choice, Mom’s 12- ingredient egg rolls, which would make his mama proud, and Korean barbecue bowls. The barbecue bowls will be packed with short grain sticky rice and a choice of proteins from pork, short ribs or beef. Sides are free, with options such as Kimchi, spinach, cucumbers and more.

Ajtai is eager to learn from the chefs around him at the food hall. “It’s being something new and exciting downtown, and getting to work with local well-established restaurants,” he says.

Gulf Coast Vietnamese

Sit Lo siblings Jay Le, Adrienne Le and Jeff Jacobson — the team behind the Bowl’d Up Food Truck — are all about the Southern Vietnamese cuisine they grew up with.

They plan to bring the flavors of Alief, or “Little Saigon,” the neighborhood in Southwest Houston, to downtown. Houston, of course, has one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the United States — and it shows in the food options. “The authenticity of the cuisine found in so many mom & pop and family-operated shops scattered around Alief is parallel to what you would find back in Vietnam,” Le says.

The family is putting their own twist on the fare, made with the freshest ingredients. “With so many geographic similarities between the Gulf Coast and Mekong Delta, there wasn’t much difficulty in assimilating recipes,” Le says. Expect updated staples like vermicelli bowls, banh mi, some surprising dishes and pho, for sure.

“Diners inside the city already love Vietnamese food — we just want to bring our style to the heart of downtown,” Le says.

He’s not alone there. Finn Hall’s food hall chefs are all in on doing something new.

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