The Magnificent Seven: 2015’s Runners-Up
A Taste of What’s to Come
As quality homegrown eateries such as Fielding’s Local Kitchen and Levure Bakery open in The Woodlands in ever-greater numbers, one chef is pushing the envelope even further in the chain-dominated mecca. Cureight is Austin Simmons’s newest eatery, born out of his previous chef’s tasting menu at the Hubbell & Hudson Bistro. Indeed, Cureight’s intimate dining room is actually tucked inside Hubbell & Hudson, where Simmons plies you with fresh uni with egg dashi and prosciutto (with the option of a standard pairing, a rosé wine, or an “exotic pairing,” a farmhouse ale), as well as pork belly and octopus with curry and coriander (the exotic pairing here? A lychee martini). Just like all tasting-menu-only restaurants, Cureight requires reservations, but they’re relatively easy to come by—for now.
Welcome Back, Kinjo
All bets are off, this being the third launch since brothers Alex and Chris Kinjo moved here from Atlanta in 2012, but MF Sushi is back, this time in the Museum District—an appropriate setting for sushi as art, which it is here. Chris Kinjo’s precise cuts, spare seasonings, carefully molded quenelles of rice and stylishly draped slivers of kampachi or o-toro all culminate in an evening that’s as much experience as meal. Once again, the menu is full of surprises, including an outstanding umeshisomaki that twirls Japanese plums (ume) and minty leaves (shiso) into a tartly sweet maki roll that’s unlike any other.
The Next Tex-Mex
Just as the city’s barbecue scene is reinventing itself, so too are Houston’s Tex-Mex joints undergoing an evolution of sorts, and the early results are auspicious. Marvel, for instance, at the margarita cart that whispers through the elegant dining room at Uptown Park’s Añejo while enjoying a bowl of chef Michael Pellegrino's smooth, French-pressed tortilla soup. At Montrose hotspot La Grange, ponder the house-smoked amberjack dip with crispy tortilla chips and icy horchata hopped up with espresso and aged tequila, both served late into the night on the spirited patio.
The Freshest Fried Chicken
When historians look back at the timeline of Korean fried chicken’s path to Houston domination, they may well point to the Museum District’s quirky-cool Dak & Bop as the tipping point. Double-fried for extra crunch and served in a spicy-sweet glaze that’s maddeningly addictive (and best enjoyed with a plate of kimchi fries and a Cool Cloud Cucumber cocktail), it’s chicken for the ages.
Joining the Chain Gang
The Houston food scene doesn’t usually take kindly to interlopers, preferring born-and-bred chefs and local fare. Two noteworthy exceptions to that rule can be found at BLVD Place near the Galleria. At North Italia, plentiful bowls of house-made pasta and clever cocktails are served in an upscale setting that belies the inexpensive menu, while the health-focused offerings at True Food Kitchen are so stellar, you almost forget they’re based on Dr. Andrew Weil’s decidedly un-sexy-sounding anti-inflammatory diet.