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.
Oh look, another Bravery Chef Hall concept. Kokoro, the brainchild of Uchi graduates Daniel Lee and Patrick Pham, is a fun little hang with seriously fresh and mouthwatering fish. Go for nigiri of smooth saketoro (salmon belly) and mild, autumnal hirame (Korean flounder), but don't load up on fish: You'll also want the hearty chicken fat rice. Dishes go well with a dry white from Bravery Wine Bar.
Credit where credit is due: I was slightly underwhelmed with the big ol' pizza from Vinny's, the EaDo pizza place from Agricole Hospitality, but the spot's recent addition of New York-style has me changing my tune. Yes, I inspect New York-style pies with a fine-tooth comb, and this stuff is legitimate. Behold beautifully bubbly and zesty cheese and just enough acidic tomato sauce, plus a charred, crispy crust and super-thin body, perfect for folding. I got six slices for a makeshift small pie. You should do something similar, and even better, Vinny's now delivers beer and wine. From the list curated by sommelier Curtis Sibley, you can order something like $30 Chateau du Petit Thouars cabernet Franc to make it a perfect night in.
Ike's Love & Sandwiches
If there's something Houston really needs, it's more sandwich shops. I want mom-and-pop-style delis, where you can bag a 10-inch Italian hoagie (if you don't know, just ask me), a small bag of chips, and a bottle of soda for $10, but places like Ike's Love & Sandwiches, new at Heights Central Station, are just fine in the interim. With a deep menu of a bunch of kooky-titled sandwiches, Ike's tries to please everyone. Heck, the bread alone is worth it—Ike's runs with a San Francisco-style Dutch sourdough that's pretty delicious. I enjoyed the Madison Bumgarner (steak with yellow BBQ sauce, pepper jack, American, and habaneros), but next time I'd like to try one of its many vegan offerings. Prices are a tad high, so don't make this an everyday lunch option.
As his namesake restaurant reached its 25-year anniversary, Benjy Levit decided a shakeup was in order. He brought in Seth Siegel-Gardner (The Pass & Provisions) to help overhaul the menu (executed by chef Mike Potowski), while he assigned Aaron Rambo the job of changing the Rice Village restaurant's look. It's a clean, Classic-looking place with birchwood and pops of sunshine yellow. Potowski has a way with dumplings, and here he fills them with Blood Bros. BBQ chopped brisket, serving them in a smoked bone broth. They're great. I also love the strangely light uni carbonara, and I'm very cool with the witty chicken three ways (instead of the famous crunchy chicken), because the spicy bird is terrific. But beware: For dessert, the beet "cheese cake" is not that, and it's not dessert. Luckily, Mom's Chocolate Cake remains on the menu.
My wife and I recently enjoyed a celebratory dinner at Chris Shepherd's everyday restaurant, deciding to go all in with the Tour of Houston. While it skewed a little too carby, there were some serious highlights, first and foremost the sweet and splendid Tex-ified honey walnut (read: pecan) shrimp that's only available for this service. I'm a big fan of the airy Carolina gold rice served with grilled kampachi, and I could just eat the crispy rice salad and chilled king crab noodles for every meal, every day. Chef Nick Wong has things operating at a high level here.
I already wrote a bit about the reimagined Cafe Annie, so I'll keep this short and sweet: Make a reservation, either for a double date or with friends. Spring for a nightly special (say, chicken-fried Texas wagyu on Friday), or load up on table dishes and starters (like the crab tostada). Be sure to visit the bar before or after dinner. Make it a full night.