While walking around Politan Row, the new food hall in Rice Village that opens for business Saturday at 2445 Times Blvd., you may come to the same conclusion as CEO and founder Will Donaldson of the Politan Group: The place has an incredible selection of food stall offerings that are operated and owned by people with backgrounds that are just as diverse.
"One of the things that we were noticing last night that's so fun is that every single vendor stall here is minority owned," Donaldson told Houstonia.
In that sense, Politan Row fits perfectly in Houston. With vendors like Cochinita & Co., showcasing Victoria Elizondo's tacos (pollo poblano, vegan mole) and mariscos (tuna tostada, snapper aguachile), and Pacha, combining Peruvian and Japanese traditions (makis with torched salmon, ebi, and anticuchero aioli; salmon tiradito with leche de tigre and yuzu), there's a sense that you can globetrot by just walking around the 7,340-square-foot space.
Plus, the vendors are relative newbies in the restaurant world, people who are striking out on their own and using Politan Row as a possible springboard for standalone brick-and-mortar operations. The people working here are going to be some of the names to watch in town.
Vendors sign one-year membership agreements to cook and serve at Politan Row. After nine months the contracts auto-renew, as long as Politan Group wants to keep working with the vendor. Everyone shares a commissary kitchen, and is encouraged to collaborate and network with one another. The idea is to create an environment where people with vision can really build out their concepts. "We're one of the only food halls that pretty much exclusively works with first-time operators," says Donaldson. "They have plenty of commercial restaurant experience working for someone else. But this is the first thing that is theirs theirs."
The hall has a mid-century modern design with the centerpiece being a gorgeous bar with wood planks that extend to the ceiling like a tree stalk. As the circa-1961 building had a waffle slab ceiling, Politan just filled in the slab with custom wood panels to warm up the area. The result is a place where you'll want to hang out through the night (Politan has a bar program that'll focus on agave spirits). As Politan Row will be open from breakfast all the way through late-night once the hall starts running the full planned schedule (don't expect food after dinner quite yet), there'll always be something for guests.
The vendors are lined along the perimeter of the hall, and tables peppering the interior beg for all kinds of eating experiences, whether you're alone with a laptop or book, hanging with friends, or meeting new people. Donaldson hopes the layout encourages community—a space where customers will camp out and go from one concept to the next trying all the different flavors available.
"Our whole thing is you don't have to pick," says Donaldson. "Bounce around and try a whole bunch of stuff."
Vendors at Politan Row include:
- Susu Kopi and Boba: By the Kelvin Drive entrance, an Indonesian cafe from Greenway Coffee's Niken Prabanto and Ecky Prabanto with coffee, soft-serve, and boba tea.
- Cochinita & Co.: Victoria Elizondo's Mexican concept of tacos with a focus on fresh seafood. Oysters available on the weekends.
- Breaking Bao: Popular food truck of steamed buns, plus Korean queso and other sides, from Phillip Kim.
- Torshi: Rafik Abohattab comes from New Orleans with this Egyptian concept of dips, mezzas, shawarma, gyro, and breakfast fare.
- Ate Kitchen: Keisha Griggs does Trinidadian cuisine here, like curry chicken, jerk chicken, and Caribbean short ribs.
- Kin: Evelyn Garcia moves from the now shuttered Decatur Bar & Pop-Up Factory to serve up Thai-inspired bites like her larb lettuce wraps and BBQ brisket roti, plus curries.
- Pacha: The combination of Japanese and Peruvian, known as Nikkei, comes to Houston via Japanese-Peruvian Masaru Fukuda. His food includes makis, ceviches, and poke bowls—call it acid sushi.
- Nice Sprout: Amanda Altman and Nais Sanchez bring a vegan concept with cold-press juices, smoothies, and smoothie bowls.
- Bar Politan: Sophie Burton manages the beverage program here, which will focus on agave spirits.