Restaurants / Lists

Houston’s Restaurant Hot List — 10 Must-Try Spots: Where You Need to Eat Right Now

BY // 05.27.17

Anticipating new restaurant openings has become the norm in Houston; and while the expectation is exciting, the obsession with shiny, new eateries often overshadows the city’s more seasoned culinary outposts.

This roundup will not only feature newly debuted hotspots, but also re-imagined menus and dishes from established and fledgling restaurants. Get your graze on at these 10 restaurants and bars.

• Better Luck Tomorrow, 544 Yale Street, After James Beard award-winning chef Justin Yu shuttered his acclaimed vegetable-centric restaurant Oxheart earlier this year, many people pondered his next move.

Yu landed on a rather unexpected venture — a neighborhood bar with partner and Houston cocktail veteran Bobby Heugel, the force behind libation sanctuaries such as Anvil Bar and Refuge. Stationed in the former Dry Creek Cafe space, Better Luck Tomorrow combines hyper-seasonal cocktails and restaurant quality food (no typical bar bites here) in a laid back setting.

Soak in the space’s newly revamped technicolor surrounds (an ode to minimalist artist Dan Flavin’s fluorescent light installation at Richmond Hall) with one of Better Luck Tomorrow’s 10 whimsical cocktails — the product of operations director Terry Williams and bar manager Alex Negranza. I’m partial to the Salty Cat, a blend of gin, grapefruit, plum, and salt; and the Seasonal Pimm’s Cup, which combines Pimm’s, rum, lemon, strawberry, and ginger.

As for the food, try the whole menu. The full collection of small plates — executed by chef Matt Boesen — deserves to be sampled in its entirety, and $99 snags you all 10 dishes.

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But if you’re just in the mood to sample a few items, standouts include the succulent “Party Melt” (how can you say no to a sandwich smothered in crispy cheese?), charred spring squashes, warm snap peas, and the “Not a Pizza.”

An added bonus: BLT’s playlist is almost as good as the fare. Listen out for cameos from Stevie Wonder, Prince,  David Bowie and Kool & The Gang. You can even listen to the full playlist, which is curated by Bobby Heugel, on Spotify.

Better Luck Tomorrow, a neighborhood bar from Bobby Heugel and chef Justin Yu, is now open in the Heights. (Photo by Jenn Duncan Photography)

• Cavo Coffee, 3773 Richmond Avenue, If you’ve ever visited Siphon Coffee, you know that owner Michael Caplan knows a thing of two about operating a coffee shop. During primetime, you’re lucky to find a seat at the siphon-centric java haunt.

Luckily, Caplan has expanded his coffee wizardry to a second outpost with the opening of Cavo on the ground floor of the new Regions Financial Center. Of course, Caplan’s signature siphons are also a mainstay at the new concept alongside a full coffee and espresso menu, but those aren’t the only offerings Cavo’s cooking.

A bevy of hearty toasts are served all day, topped with everything from truffle sausage country gravy and whipped goat milk ricotta to Nutella and espresso cream. Then there are the sandwiches — think sous-vide pork belly on a challah roll; smoked salmon and truffled egg salad on marble rye; and blueberry sausage paired with a hard-fried egg on a chive-buttered English muffin.

Also on hand are salads, fresh baked cookies, bread pudding, and grab-and-go eats such as overnight oats, meat and cheese boxes, and more.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss Cavo’s happy hour which includes $3 beers and $5 wines from 2 to 7 pm, Mondays through Fridays. On the weekends, indulge in champagne and bottomless mimosa specials.

• Fusion Taco The Heights, 4706 North Main Street, Fusion Taco’s signature gourmet tacos have been a Downtown favorite since its transition from food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant nearly five years ago.

Now, proprietors Julia Sharaby and husband, co-owner, and Culinary Institute of America-trained chef David Grossman have brought their Latin and Asian fusion tacos to the Heights with a second FT outpost.

If you haven’t experienced Fusion’s globally-inspired taco creations, now’s your chance. While the bulk of The Heights menu mimics the Downtown location’s, the hip surrounds are reason enough for a visit, starting with the expansive dog-friendly patio. Also on hand is a full-service bar dishing out everything from Fusion Taco’s jalapeño margaritas to tangy palomas.

But even with all of the polished enhancements, the true star of Fusion Taco’s newest location is still the tacos. We’re loving the tempura local shrimp topped with wasabi aioli and Napa slaw; the smoked brisket finished with red onion, cilantro, and salsa verde lime; and the lamb keema — a mix of spiced lamb, grape tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, and tahini — served on a crispy corn tortilla.

Go veggie with Fusion Taco’s Brussels sprout taco. (Photo by Kimberly Park)

Goode Co. Armadillo Palace, 5015 Kirby Drive, Goode Co. may be most famous for its diverse barbecue selection, but that’s not the all the popular restaurant brand has to offer. Goode Co.’s Armadillo Palace is stepping into the spotlight with the unveiling of a major renovation and a completely revamped menu.

Think of it as the new and improved Armadillo Palace, which now touts nearly six times the seating as its previous digs as well as a new outdoor performance stage and patio alongside a dance hall and the whiskey-centric Orange Blossom Bar.

Putting the cherry on top of the Palace’s new external offerings is the upgraded menu, which thoroughly makes use of the restaurant’s newly installed rotisserie and wood-fired grill.

Start your meal with made-to-order guacamole, which can be enhanced with a bevy of toppers including bacon, roasted garlic, chicharron, toasted pepitas, pickled onion, blue crab, and Gulf shrimp. Or opt for the charred romaine salad topped with parmesan chive dressing, pickled red onion, queso fresco, pepitas, and croutons.

Round out your meal with stand-out signature entrees like spit-roasted chicken basted with garlic, lemon, and thyme; carne asada served with handmade tortillas; red fish on the half shell served fish camp-style; and the monstrous heritage pig head’s carnitas paired with fresh salsas and handmade tortillas.

Pro tip: Don’t leave without a side of the duck fat skillet potatoes.

Head to Goode Co. Armadillo Palace for Gulf Oyster Rockefeller — cornmeal-crusted oysters atop creamed spinach, topped with Hollandaise sauce. (Photo by Jody Horton)

Helen in the Heights, 1111 Studewood Street, When Italian eatery Arthur Ave made the decision to close its doors for good, the culinary team behind the Heights concept turned lemons into lemonade, transforming the space into a second iteration of its sister restaurant Helen Greek Food & Wine in Rice Village.

The result is a casual Greek taverna — coined Helen in the Heights — focused on more traditional Greek staples rather than the modern, regional-specific dishes that have become a signature at Helen Greek Food & Wine. Helen’s James Beard nominated chef William Wright also helms the Heights kitchen.

While the new digs may be a spinoff of the established Rice Village favorite, Helen in the Heights certainly stands on its own, touting new surrounds cultivated by designer Erin Hicks; a full cocktail bar; and a fully Greek wine list curated by sommelier and part owner Evan Turner.

On the menu: lightly fried zucchini chips served with garlic yogurt (they’re also gluten-free); spiced meatballs in tomato sauce; a bevy of greek dips (standouts include the chickpea, skordalia, and eggplant ); flaming cheese saganaki; souvlaki and gyro (I recommend a mix of the feta-brined chicken and lamb); and the pastitsio — a mix of pasta, spiced beef, tomatoes, and bechamel sauce.

• King’s Bierhaus, 2044 East T.C. Jester Boulevard, German fare just became a lot more accessible thanks to father-son-duo Hans and Phillip Sitter, who debuted their German-American beer garden restaurant — King’s Bierhaus  — earlier this month in the Heights.

German classics such as gypsy stew, Oma’s famous fried chicken, Vienna goulash, and wiener schnitzel give patrons a solid intro to German cuisine. Then there’s the 13 bratwurst options, which includes highlights like the traditional German brat made with pork, onion, lemon, and white pepper; the Kasewurst, a cheese sausage filled with pork, beef, Swiss cheese, and caraway; and the Spicy Kielbasa, a mix of pork, beef, garlic, and red pepper.

But the food menu isn’t King’s only standout offering, because what’s a bierhaus without the brews? The eatery stocks nearly 30 German drafts (you’ll find three of the best beers in the world in the lineup), alongside a diverse cocktail menu.

Enjoy all King’s has to offer in its Oktoberfest-style interiors, or head outside to the expansive biergarten to indulge in the Das Boot — a 2.5 liter boot-shaped glass priced at $55.

• La Table, 1800 Post Oak Boulevard, I’ve experienced some of my favorite seasonal bites at La Table in the spring. This time last year, I devoured a succulent vegetable dish, which highlighted a mix of seasonal veggies drizzled in a delicate sauce — a finish that enhanced the produce without masking its true flavor.

This season at La Table is no different as the restaurant enhances its staple menu with spring upgrades. In the mood for something light? Try the warm asparagus and artichoke salad topped with Meyer lemon dressing; or go for the avocado and cucumber salad accompanied by a sherry vinaigrette.

La Table’s signature ravioli also gets a spring jolt with the addition of a sweet pea filling. A parmesan emulsion, pea shoots, and mint enhance the dish.

While the seasonal additions are always a welcomed addition, I still can’t leave La Table without an order of the best beet salad in the city — an elegantly plated collection of roasted beets, Blue Heron goat milk yogurt and cheese, and blood orange-infused extra virgin olive oil.

Rau cai tron sot cari at Le Colonial

• Le Colonial, River Oaks District, 4444 Westheimer Road, Since Le Colonial’s River Oaks District debut, the upscale, French-Vietnamese restaurant has become a staple destination for Houston’s premier style set, and it’s easy to see why — there’s the posh surrounds, the refined Vietnamese menu, and the always-rockin’ upstairs bar and lounge.

And just when you thought the dining experience couldn’t get any better, chefs Nicole Routhier and Dan Nguyen stuff the menu with a bevy of exquisite spring menu additions.

Devour these dishes before the season ends: sup ga cay, spicy coconut milk soup with sliced chicken breast and Cremini mushrooms; rau cai tron sot cari, crunchy salad mixed with green papaya, cabbage, radishes, bean sprouts, and cashews in a red curry dressing; suon cuu nuong, coriander-crusted, grilled Australian lamb chops drizzled with a creamy mint sauce; and canh ga nhoi thi, crispy chicken wings stuffed with pork and cremini mushrooms served with fries and a tamarind dipping sauce.

An added bonus: Don’t forget to take advantage of Le Colonial’s new bar bites menu filled with a collection of $8 small plates.

Star Fish, 191 Heights Boulevard, I’ve never met a concept by restaurateur Lee Ellis that I didn’t like. But the opening of his latest restaurant Star Fish is certainly on track to becoming my favorite of his now five culinary outposts.

The brainchild of Ellis and partner/chef Jim Mills, the seafood-centric Houston restaurant is serving up an array of coastal provisions alongside a martini-heavy cocktail program. You’ll find seafood in both raw and cooked preparations. Raw bar signatures include everything from Littleneck clams and Gulf oyster shooters to chilled seafood cocktails and monstrous crustacean towers.

Additional seafood musts: puffy crispy lobster tacos topped with pepper jack cheese and avocado salsa; PEI mussels swimming in pancetta and shishito-filled cream, served with crusty bread; jumbo lump crab meat and cucumber atop a Japanese cucumber salad; sweet red pepper roasted Gulf shrimp mixed with garlicky noodles, and wood grilled ora king salmon served with whipped horseradish potatoes.

But Star Fish is no one trick pony. The diverse menu also offers non-seafood standouts such as the Korean-style glazed spare ribs, house steak tartare topped with crispy shallots, the wood grilled lamb t-bone served with warm farro salad, Starfish cheeseburger which touts a short rib and brisket patty, and Kennebec butter fries — yes, those are fries deep fried in butter.

The only thing that gives Star Fish’s fare a run for its money are the charming interiors curated by Ellis himself. A black and white color palette sets the stage for vibrant blue chairs, one-of-a-kind art work, and a show-stopping fish tank at the restaurant’s entry.

Be on the lookout for Star Fish’s happy hour starting Thursday, June 1.

Restaurateur Lee Ellis at the new Star Fish (Photo by Julie Soefer)

State of Grace, 3258 Westheimer Road, State of Grace is a restaurant that has continued to improve over time. The first Houston outpost from Atlanta restaurateur and Houston native Ford Fry, State of Grace continues to tweak and reinvent classic Texas flavors with international influences.

Now executive chef Bobby Matos ups the ante with a round of new menu additions. You’ll want to try the Asian-inspired beef carpaccio topped with yuzu aioli and serrano chilies; street corn-style ravioli finished with cotija cheese and pepitas; roasted redfish on the half shell served with pickled onions and charred chillies (ask for a side of the bacon fat tortillas); and the hearth grilled Spanish octopus sprinkled with a Thai curry vinaigrette and peanuts.

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