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Restaurants / Lists

6 Top Houston Food Trucks are Making the Restaurant Jump

From Victorian Barbecue to a Sake Retreat, These Ambitious New Spots Will Help Transform the City's Restaurant Scene

BY // 01.14.19

Houstonians are hungrier than ever, and on-the-go gourmands are stepping up to the plate to do their share.

Food trucks across Houston are reinventing the wheel. From barbecue bursting with flavor to vegan eats with an edge, Space City’s mobile restaurants are revving up with plans to open brick-and-mortar establishments.

The trucks themselves started as a trend. Their next move: don’t just roll with it — set down roots.

Before long, some of The Bayou City’s most beloved food trucks will be taking things to the next level, opening new restaurants everywhere from Spring to The Heights.

Verdine, Victorian’s Barbecue, The Waffle Bus, Brazilian Joe’s, Casian King and Moku Bar are all slated to open up permanent restaurants in the coming year.

Read on to find out more about each food truck’s fare, style and expanded menus. All six restaurants will also keep their food trucks on the move.

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Verdine

The roaming, plant-based Ripe Cuisine is getting freshened up with a new name and new location. Verdine — a name coined by owner Stephanie Hoban that is a mix of “truth” and “green” in Latin and romance languages, and “dine,” as in eat — is headed to 449 E. 19th Street, hopefully in mid-February.

“We’re 100 percent vegan,” Hoban tells PaperCity. The clean-eater developed the menu to delight vegans and vegetarians, and to challenge and enlighten skeptical carnivores.

“I love seeing them have that kind of moment when they try the food,” Hoban says. “Like ‘Holy cow, I could definitely eat this. I don’t have to have meat for this meal.’ ”

Think cherry-wood house-smoked pulled jackfruit carnitas, bistro burgers made of organic lentils, quinoa, mushrooms and walnuts and moist, flavorful beet falafel.

The expanded restaurant menu will feature a range of innovations, like a dairy-free nut cheeseboard, dark chocolate avocado tart and vegan mac ‘n cheese for the little ones.

After five years on the food truck scene, Hoban’s ready to spread the word in a serious way. “I believe it enriches people’s lives, and I want people to have access to it. And I want people to see it’s not this weird thing, and it’s not about deprivation,” Hoban says.

“You can still be super-satisfied and celebrate your food while it’s healthy for you and for the planet.”

verdine taco
Verdine is 100 percent vegan.

This entrepreneur is taking it a step further, boasting what no other vegetarian restaurant in the city does, she says: a beer and wine license, perfect for mimosas at brunch.

In keeping with the overall Verdine vibe, there’ll be six local beers and roughly 20 wines of the sustainable, organic and biodynamic variety.

“We’re really focused on small producers,” Hoban says. 

Victorian’s Barbecue

Central Texas barbecue with a Creole-Cajun spin is taking the East End by storm, with the arrival of Victorian’s Barbecue at 19 North York Road. Scheduled opening date? Sometime in the next three-to-six months.

“I’m a Houston native, and I’ve been all around Houston. I’ve always wanted to go somewhere where I can help the community out and bring something that’s not around there. I’ve got the opportunity to do that in the East End,” owner Joey Victorian says.

“The smell of oak is what I grew up around — the camaraderie around barbecue and the community. If you’re barbecuing, you’re not just feeding yourself. You’re going to feed quite a bit of people.”

Victorian’s been participating in barbecue competitions and cruising around town for a little more than two years now. He’s toured with his smoked tri-tip and brisket that’s done a little differently, with not only salt and pepper, but garlic, mustard and onion powder.

The pitmaster’s committed to doing things a little differently. Houston provides an eager barbecue crowd, but Victorian still wants to spice things up.

“There’s so much diversity. Basically pretty much everyone here likes everything, so you can serve them anything,” he laughs.

That will mean Creole dishes at Victorian’s barbecue, including stuffed chicken boudin balls and red beans and rice.

“We’re going to have a full menu at the restaurant. And things I guess you could call ethnically infused — Hispanic, Creole, Cajun,” including charro beans and jambalaya, Victorian notes.

He plans to stand out with extended hours to draw the late-night crowd that just can’t hit up a barbecue joint before it sells out in the early evening. Expect to chow down on spare ribs and sausages as late as 10 or 11 pm.

The Waffle Bus

This truck-turned-restaurant is out to prove that waffles aren’t just for morning meals. That’s been the mission for the past seven years, and owner Phi Nguyen is putting it to the test in a permanent restaurant at 19th and North Shepherd that’s scheduled to open in June.

Almost a decade ago, Nguyen took everything he had and put it into an old shuttle bus he found on Craigslist to show the world waffles like they’d never seen before.

“Waffles are a Southern favorite. But I wanted to do something different that people didn’t get anywhere else,” Nguyen says. “The waffle’s a platform. We can put anything on it.”

That looks like buttermilk-brined fried chicken waffle sandwiches with thunder sauce — a sweet-and-spicy concoction of spicy mayo and ancho chile honey butter — a traditionally torched strawberry Irish cream crème brûlée waffle dusted with powdered sugar, loaded fries and the signature waffle fry sliders.

“We actually make ‘fryders.’ I made that word up. I’ve got the trademark,” Nguyen laughs.

waffle bus strawberry creme brulee
The strawberry cream waffle is a decadent dessert.

The new restaurant will be open all day, every day, with an extended menu of items like chicken-fried BLTs and a smoked salmon waffle with lemon caper dill cream cheese.

It’s time to set up shop in one lasting locale. The food truck business can be a dangerous game. But Nguyen’s got a good attitude.

“Driving around Houston isn’t safe. We’ve been hit by three cars and totaled three trucks,” he says.

He’s pumped for the modern-industrial décor of the upcoming building, which sits at what he calls the highest traffic intersection in The Heights. But he’s keeping tight-lipped on the deets.

“We’ll have some special decor that I cannot say yet, but it’ll be something people have never seen. They may come out just for that,” Nguyen says.

Brazilian Joe’s 

Brazilian Joe’s has been bringing South American goodness for a little over a year and a half. The tentative opening date for its new restaurant is Friday, January 25th at 19640 Kuykendahl Road in Spring.

The fare’s Brazilian-American fusion — just like the owners. “The concept got its start after some experience in restaurants, exposure to Brazilian culture and a little inspiration from our late, great friend Joe,” Jordan Fowell says.

“There’s a slight focus on street-style food.”

That means a fair amount of Brazilian cheese bread, or pao de queijo.

Imagine a gluten-free mix of cheese and tapioca flour, all baked into bite-sized rolls. You can order them on their own, stuffed with Brazilian cream cheese, or as the base for the legendary Hotty Beef Slider.

The menu’s set to expand with the opening of the full-on restaurant, meaning some more slider flavors and some yet-to-be-revealed dishes a little more refined, a little less on the “street” side.

“After all, we are no longer just a food truck. Although we do love our big green beast,” Fowell laughs.

He’s eager for an all-new way to feed the city. “I love serving Houston diners because this is my city and these are my people. They enjoy a wide range of flavors due to the melting pot nature of this great city,” Fowell says.

“They’ve welcomed Brazilian Joe’s with open arms and hungry bellies.”

Casian King

This crowning food truck achievement, running all around town for four years now, is all about the Vietnamese-Cajun style. You can find the eats in Timbergrove at the end of this year — owner Tuan Tran says it’s too soon to disclose the exact location of his new restaurant.

“I guess you would call it fusion. We do crawfish during crawfish season, seafood boils. On the food truck, we’re known for Korean barbecue rice and garlic crab fries,” Tran, who also owns Moku Bar, says.

casian king
Casian King is ready for the next step.

Garlicky shrimp with rice is among the most-loved items. “When we first opened up, there wasn’t anything like what we were serving. Garlicky shrimp and our Asian-style lobster roll really put us on the map,” Tran adds.

Other fan favorites: the Korean barbecue beef po boy with toasted bread and spicy mayo and firecracker shrimp with chili dippin’ sauce.

Why open a permanent restaurant now? “I’ve been in the kitchen for over 10 years. I think I know what I’m doing,” Tran laughs.

He’s always in the kitchen, whether it’s at work, or when he gets home. “My grandmother’s always cooking for us. I’m always watching my grandmother, always learning from my grandmother. Always inspired,” he says.

That’ll translate to new dishes on the full menu to items, including lobster towers.

Moku Bar

Tran’s other concept, Moku Bar, has been spicing up Downtown food hall Conservatory for a couple of years now. The permanent location is set to open on White Oak by the end of the month.

“Working on the food truck, we’ve been in the area for awhile. I just love it. It’s a great community,” Tran says.

“At Conservatory, we do poke, we do udon, we do tempura — a little bit of everything,” Tran says. At the new spot, you’ll be able to find those classics — build your own poke bowls with proteins like truffle Yellowtail and Ahi Tuna Shoyu and toppings like pickled radish, sweet onions, panke crumbs and ginger, and premade dishes like the Ahi poke tower.

“We’ll have the same menu over there, but on a full scale,” Tran notes. “Sashimi, Wagyu carpaccio, yaki tori, uni buttered toast.”

He’s aiming for the night crowd, thanks to Moku Bar’s sake lounge.

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