The heart of Houston’s dining scene grows healthier by the day, as new restaurants bring in fresh talent and older spots strengthen their menus and offerings. Below, a dozen of our favorites, from recent arrivals to sturdy stalwarts.
Since opening in 2014, chef Greg Martin’s bistro has provided the culinary counterpart that the adjacent Menil Collection was long missing. Lunch and dinner menus of elevated staples (think EVOO-poached tuna Niçoise salads and ribeyes with black truffle butter) have recently been supplemented with menus for a useful happy hour (2–6:30 daily) and a lovely brunch (10–3 Fri–Sun). There’s now an afternoon tea service, too (2–5 Wed–Sun).
Occupying a two-story stone house at the corner of Missouri and Montrose, this eatery opened in 2016, while the local chain it’s part of opened the first of its five Houston-area locations in 1999. The barbecue tastes like it has a few generations’ worth of technique behind it. Get the Stone House trio—fatty brisket, jalapeño sausage and pulled pork—with creamy Mexican street corn and tangy potato salad.
The coffee is strong, the décor colorful and cozy, and the menu small but mighty at this café tucked into an old bungalow behind Underbelly. Favorites include chorizo-and-egg and picadillo empanadas and Salvadoran-style black bean tamales, along with dark-red vampiros (fresh-blended beet, carrot and orange juice), café con leche, and iced Mayan mochas. Curl up inside on a crushed red velvet couch or, weather permitting, bask on the patio.
This place—also known as the answer to “What would a grown-up version of Mr. Gatti’s look like?”—doesn’t have much by way of parking, but you’ll quickly forgive that shortcoming over a thin-crust, sausage-laden Meat Town Bound for Flavor Town, a crisp pint of Dogfish 60 Minute IPA and a round of Mortal Kombat. Come after 9 p.m., and you can save your spending money for Skee-ball or air hockey; slices of cheese pizza are free with the purchase of any adult beverage.
When he departed earlier this year, founding chef Adam Dorris left the place in capable hands, under former sous chef Martha De Leon. The general idea of modern Mutt City cuisine remains intact, with family-style supper menus featuring dishes like roasted acorn squash in sorghum and Texas sheet cake with peanut butter ice cream. The signature nine-spiced smoked brisket now pulls double-duty on the brunch menu as a hash with pepper jelly and sunny-side-up eggs.
After the crew behind this popular restaurant opened a second location—the fast-casual Pepper Twins on West Gray at Dunlavy —the lines here at the corner of Fairview and Morgan lessened a bit. But the Soft Bacon, Hot Diving Fish and Super Cubic (tender cubes of fried beef) remain rightfully famous. Szechuan cuisine pairs particularly well with Rieslings and IPAs, and luckily, there’s a generous BYOB policy ($4.99 corkage fee for wine; 99 cents for beer). (Ed. note: Since this review was published, Cooking Girl has changed its name to Pepper Twins to avoid confusion with another, unrelated Cooking Girl in Sugar Land. That makes one Pepper Twins in Montrose and a second Pepper Twins location in River Oaks.)
Though the restaurant is named for Canadian resistance fighter Louis Riel and run by Canadian chef Ryan Lachaine, there’s nary a poutine to be seen here (although a dish of Montreal smoked meat on rye will satisfy any Mile End enthusiasts). Instead, Lachaine leans toward a more Houstonian menu, offering hot-and-sour Gulf shrimp, prosecco-spiked yellow-edge grouper crudo, a towering Texas blue crab BLT and crispy bites of Japanese-style fried Gulf redfish served with that most Lone Star of sauces: ranch dressing. Who said fine dining can’t be fun?
The constantly updated seasonal menu at this Montrose bistro isn’t the only thing that’s changed lately; chef/owner Kevin Naderi recently added a cozy upstairs waiting area with a stocked bar, the better to relax while you wait for a table and peruse the latest menu, which includes a twist on venison tartare served with fresh corn tortillas and shaved poblano peppers, fried oysters Rockefeller over creamed mustard greens, and Naderi’s famous fried cauliflower, the only holdover from menu to menu (lest fans of the popular dish riot).
The lines don’t quit at the first Houston outpost of the Denver-based breakfast giant. Is the meal worth the wait? That depends on how you feel about breakfast pot pies and rum-toffee-sauce-topped Drunk’n Monkey French Toast—which, as it happens, pairs very well with basically everything on the morning cocktail menu. Personally, we feel like more breakfast places should offer a full bar, and so we’ll happily wait. Those with less patience should get here early, around 7 a.m.
A move to a new location in 2015 forced Marco Wiles to institute a valet-only policy—as with his adjacent pizza place, Dolce Vita—but it’s a fair trade-off for the expanded seating space inside, which means more room to relax over the signature small plates of verdura (broccoletti with anchovies; roasted beets), fritto (sweet potato fries with pungent taleggio) and pesce (wine-braised calamari; baked cod mantecato). The house-cured charcuterie and matchlessly indulgent prosciutto-laced tagliolini pasta are both musts.
The wanton party days of the old Montrose Berryhill Tamales are behind us, with a more mature take on the former Tex-Mex joint now occupying the space. In addition to a solid line-up of tacos, tortas and burritos, the menu boasts everything from grab-and-go paleo bowls to sit-down entrees like an elegant plantain-crusted mahi-mahi. Thanks to updated seating and an open-air bar with ace service, the pleasant patio remains an excellent place to watch the world go by, margarita in hand.
If what you want is high-quality Japanese food in a serene, casual environment without any pomp or circumstance, this is your new go-to spot. While the sushi is excellent, don’t overlook the clever little bento boxes, which provide a little of everything in one package: creamy chawanmushi, expertly grilled Wagyu beef, vegetables both roasted and pickled, and artfully-arranged slices of sashimi. Make reservations to try the multi-course kaiseki dinner.