HAVING TROUBLE KEEPING UP with Houston's busy restaurant scene? No worries—allow me to suggest some of my favorite recent experiences. Here's where you should eat this month.
Now open for lunch and dinner (plus late-night bites and cocktails), Bravery Chef Hall is a mega-sized incubator for up-and-coming chefs, giving diners the opportunity to say "We knew her when..." That certainly applies to chef Christine Ha, who won the third season of Gordon Ramsey's MasterChef and serves Vietnamese street food with bold flavors at her Bravery spot The Blind Goat. The beef carpaccio (bo tai chanh) is bright and fresh, and aided by the crispy texture of puffed prawn chips. Order it with a cup of sugarcane with kumquat.
Opening to much fanfare in Rice Village, California export Mendocino Farms has the potential to make a forever home in Houston. First, its pink lady beets and goat cheese salad is quite good, boosted by the addition of Pure Luck chèvre. Second, I'm more than happy to chow down on the avocado and quinoa ensalada when I need a filling, healthy option. Mendo looks here to stay, and it's betting on it, with founders Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen opening a bunch more in Houston and throughout Texas.
The vibe inside this new Northside bar from co-partners Greg Perez, Sharif Al-Amin, and Jessie Gonzales is cozy and familiar, and the food menu might look that way. But once you dive into, say, the Sonora dog—a rendition of the Mexican-by-way-of-Arizona frank—you'll understand why this is more than just a hip little dive bar. I'm all about the cheeseburger, and it might just be one of the best burgers in town.
From Philadelphia comes this restaurant specializing in kao yu, Szechuan seafood hot pot, inside Dun Huang Plaza in Asiatown. We're talking shrimp and whole fish with cabbage, cucumber, pitch-black wood ear mushrooms, and potatoes in bowls filled with chili-spiked oil. If you're adventurous, skip the seafood and try the frog. You'll have to dance with the bones, but it's chock-full of flavor. Xun Yi Si Kao's bowls are huge and perfect for at least two diners.
If you want to know where Central Texas barbecue is heading, look no further than the hot spots that have opened in the last two years inside the Loop. I might contend that Truth BBQ's highlight is its superior cakes (though a recent visit to the original in Brenham brought exceptional brisket), while Blood Bros. BBQ loves tweaking the traditional, and to rousing success. But Feges BBQ, now in year two at Greenway Plaza, has some of the best vegetable and starch sides I've ever tasted, smokehouse or not. Sweet potatoes and banana mashers? Are you kidding? And, of course, the meat is as tender as ever. Erin Smith and Patrick Feges continue to kill it.
I've been food truck exploring a bit lately, and none raised my eyebrows quite like Made-n-L.A. The truck is run by Herson Samayoa, who started it in Los Angeles, but moved out here with cuisine inspired by both his West Coast life and his many trips to Mexico. For one, the tacos are great. I had chicken tinga tacos and could've ordered seconds and thirds. Also, his Kobe sliders are perfect little burger bites.