Restaurants / Closings

Pioneering Houston Restaurant Shuttering After 13 Years — With Promises of a Future Reboot

Say Goodbye to the Oporto Cafe That Started it All

BY // 07.23.19

A cozy Houston restaurant is closing after 13 long years of sharing its coveted wine list and dazzling array of small plates.

But Oporto Cafe was more than just an intimate foodie haven or a rustic next-level cafe with elevated deviled eggs, spinach and artichoke crostini and basil pesto pizza.

Oporto was an opportunity, a stepping-stone. After nearly a decade of success on Richmond Avenue, owner Rick Di Virgilio launched a satisfying spin-off, Oporto Fooding House & Wine in Midtown. And he also opened the beloved, since-shuttered, Indian-meets-British pub Queen Vic.

This Saturday, July 27 will mark the final night of service for Oporto Cafe.

“Our lease is coming up, and we decided not to renew it. We decided that it’s time to close that chapter of our lives and move on,” De Virgilio tells PaperCity.

But that isn’t the end of its story. De Virgilio plans to breathe new life into the concept, rebrand it and reopen it some time in the next year, in an all-new space.

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After all, this original Oporto Cafe started from humble beginnings.

“Oporto Cafe. It’s something I dreamed up in my apartment in Rice Village. I started out — I’ll be honest, I had no kitchen. I started out cooking on camping burners inside,” De Virgilio laughs. “I was a one-man show. There was one guy in the front, Marco, then me in the back. It was fun days back then, early days. It evolved from there.”

Oporto Cafe’s Family Passion

De Virgilio developed small plates and dishes inspired by his Italian and Portuguese heritage. Oporto Cafe became something of a family affair, with his father offering moral support and building the bar himself.

“I met my wife there,” De Virgilio laughs. His wife, chef Shiva Patel, left the bank to work with him at Oporto and the next ventures.

They drew a loyal cadre of regulars early on, giving the best kind of feedback. “People would always say back then that it was like going to Europe without a passport. It was something different. We were among the first class of wine bars then,” Di Virgilio says.

The new restaurant will have all of that Oporto Cafe flair, just reinterpreted. “It’s going to reflect us and our personalities. We like to express our backgrounds and experiences. It’s about our experiences and what we grew up with. We kind of start with the basics, what we like to eat,” De Virgilio says.

At home, De Virgilio, Patel and their 4-year-old son have been shifting to a more plant-focused, vegetarian menu.

“That’s our food right now. There may be some overlap,” he says.

The chef wants the new restaurant to keep Oporto Cafe’s spirit.

“Keeping it small and community-driven, having a casual café but also finer cuisine and a strong wine presence,” De Virgilio says.

The goal is to transport diners to somewhere new. “We like to add to the food scene any way we can with our cuisine. That diversity — we can add our special touch to the landscape of cuisine in Houston,” the chef notes.

De Virgilio and Patel wouldn’t be opposed to opening the new spot somewhere near their neighborhood, The Heights. But nothing’s set in stone.

Stay tuned — while you say goodbye to Oporto Cafe.

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