Revitalized Houston Farmers Market Adds More New Restaurants and a Real General Store

Your Guide to the New Market Fun at a Bayou City Institution

BY // 03.16.22

If you can’t remember the last time you shopped at the original Houston Farmers Market on the east side of The Heights at 2520 Airline Drive, you likely won’t recognize it today. The oldest farmers market in the city, formed in 1937, was purchased in 2017 by local commercial real estate firm MLB Capital Partners, which devoted the last four years to revitalizing the 18 acres.

In August 2019, Studio RED Architects, landscape architects Clark Condon Associates, and Arch-Con Corporation and Gunda Corporation began construction on seven new climate-controlled buildings, an open-air pavilion with shops and wholesale stalls, and a one-acre green space.

More than 35 local shops and wholesale vendors operate at Houston Farmers Market 363 days a year (save for Christmas and New Year’s Day), so you can find nearly any fruit, vegetable, legume, spice, herb, seed, coffee, chile, or meat that a recipe might require. You’ll discover purveyors such as Celestino Galvan of Chito Produce, who has sold vegetables here for more than 38 years, and Alex Garcia, the owner of South Mex, specializing in Caribbean and exotic fruits. New shops include R-C Ranch, a craft-meat and butcher shop from Ryan Cade and Blake Robertson, who also own the R-C Ranch in Bailey’s Prairie, Texas, which raises Texas Wagyu and heritage pork products.

To spearhead the development of several new restaurants, the powers that be hired James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd. Raised in the Midwest, Shepherd has made it his mission to source locally grown and raised products. Recently he brought two of his own restaurants to Houston Farmers Market: Underbelly Burger and Wild Oats.

Underbelly Burger Houston Farmers Markert
Underbelly Burger joined the Houston Farmers Market roster with plenty of meat power.

Underbelly Burger occupies a 1,200-square-foot space with 14 seats and a pick-up window for guests who want to dine outdoors on the green. You’ll find locally sourced beef on the menu from 44 Farms, as well as from R-C Ranch, just next door. Fans of Shepherd’s Cease and Desist Burger once served at the now-shuttered Hay Merchant will find Underbelly’s standard burger an updated take on that favorite. Food selections include a bacon sausage hot dog, chicken sandwich with black pepper buttermilk and a house-made veggie burger.

Shepherd enlisted Underbelly Hospitality culinary director Nick Fine as the chef/partner of its new restaurant Wild Oats, which just opened in February. The 5,000-square-foot restaurant focuses on the traditions and native ingredients of Texas cuisine. Fine purchases as much product as possible just feet away at the market stalls.

“Texas food is easy to stereotype,” Fine says. “And this restaurant is about rejecting those stereotypes and showing the underbelly of the Lone Star State— the ingredients, the people, and cultures who make it one of the most diverse in the nation.”

The interiors of Wild Oats, designed by Amanda Medsger, reflect a peaceful Hill Country vibe with antique schoolhouse lights, patterned linoleum floors and Stetson hats and vintage Gilley’s decor lining the walls.

Chef Fine brings cooking over a live fire centerstage. Enlisting the help of legendary Austin BBQ pitmaster Aaron Franklin to design the grill, the chefs play with varying heat temperatures, not to mention the flavors that charcoal and wood impart on entrees such as bacon-wrapped jalapeño quail ($30), short rib fajitas ($80) and wood-grilled chicken ($36).

Wild Oats is open for dinner starting at 5 pm, with starters such as Haven-style shrimp corn dogs ($16), armadillo eggs ($14) and pepper jelly on Texas toast with farmer’s cheese ($14). And there are margaritas — not to mention cocktails (Ranch Water, Palomas) and a wine list with 60-plus selections from points around the globe.

Houston Farmers Market Additions Still Coming

Set to open later this year is Crawfish & Noodles, a Viet-Cajun restaurant with a cult following — one which won chef/owner Trong Nguyen a nomination nod from the James Beard Foundation. This family-owned second outpost of Crawfish & Noodles (the original restaurant is in Houston’s Asiatown) will operate as a full-service restaurant overlooking the one-acre green space.

It was just revealed that Henderson & Kane will open a second location at The Houston Farmers Market. The locally-owned general store founded by John and Veronica Avila in Houston’s Historic Old Sixth Ward joins the market’s roster of more than 40 local vendors. From modern conveniences to fresh farm eggs, Henderson & Kane prides itself on sourcing quality products from the region’s best chefs, farmers, ranchers and makers.

The new Henderson & Kane at Houston Farmers Market will build on its current relationships and further develop specific products that cater to the neighborhood. Shoppers can expect enhanced offerings, including a variety of local goods and groceries and a full barbecue menu.

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