It’s been a busy week in Houston food news, and in order to help you stay up to date on the city’s latest culinary happenings, we’ve put together a series of dispatches from the Houston foodie sphere to help you stay on top of things.
We’re continuing our coverage this week by dishing on two boozy new watering holes, an extremely spicy pair of upcoming openings, and some celebratory news about Houston’s first national James Beard Award—congrats, Julep! And if you happen to be looking to join a cult (for wine—who isn’t?), we’ve got a tip for you, too. Read on to learn more.
Pour one out for Julep!
It’s been a busy week for lauded, Southern-inspired cocktail bar Julep and its owner, Alba Huerta. Just last week, the Washington Ave bar was named number 46 on North America’s 50 Best Bars list, curated by William Reed. Then Monday night at the James Beard Awards, Julep received this year’s James Beard for Outstanding Bar Program; it’s the first time a Houston nominee has won an award in one of the national categories at the awards ceremony, considered the Oscars of the food world.
In a post on social media on Tuesday, Huerta thanked the James Beard Awards, her team, and everyone in Houston for cheering her on. “The remarkable work and dedication of my staff [at Julep], past and present, is the reason I get to be in this room and receive the title of Outstanding Bar Program 2022,” Huerta wrote. “In my heart, it is the hugest honor to represent my city. Thank you Houston, for holding this space for me. And thank you to our restaurant and bar community who’ve expressed their overwhelming happiness for us. It’s my pleasure to share this joyful moment with all of you.”
Other Texas winners last night include Texas Monthly Taco Editor Jose Ralat, Austin chef Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria (Emerging Chef), Austin chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due for his cookbook, and Austin chef Iliana de la Vega of El Naranjo (Best Chef: Texas). Now that we’ve got our first national award, Houston’s coming for you, Austin!
Drink the wine, not the Kool-Aid!
Move over, SoulCycle; there’s a new cult in town. While most cults come with some rather unsavory features—think overly handsy and narcissistic leaders, dangerously spiked fruity beverages, and clothing so itchy and dated even Laura Ingalls Wilder would stage a protest—popular Arizona-based wine bar Postino, which has five locations in the Houston area (it was only a matter of time before they started their own cult), has a new subscription program called Wine Cult that comes with features that are meant to be savored. The membership wine experience is the most palatable cult to emerge from Arizona—a state with a nonsecular terroir so distinct it birthed the likes of both Scientology and Warren Jeffs’s polygamist cult—in quite some time.
For $60 a quarter, or for an annual membership of $220 a year, Wine Cult members will receive a cult box composed of a lineup of four hand-picked wines (a mix of reds and whites) four times a year. Each box will also come with educational materials and other mind-expanding content. Cult members will receive additional perks like discounts on Postino’s to-go bottle collection, member-only offers through the Postino’s Wine Cult app (we love some good digital age–meets–new age action!), and exclusive invites to one-of-a-kind events.
The experience is being curated by full-time sommelier and part-time cult leader Brent Karlicek, who serves as the popular concept’s beverage director and, according to unsubstantiated rumors, spent some time doing “the work” (all wine-related, of course) in California before making his way to Arizona. According to Wine Cult’s brainwashing portal, Karlicek tastes around 2,500 wines per year, if that’s enough evidence of his divine inspiration for you to decide whether or not you’re going to drink the Kool-Aid.
One tequila, two tequilas …
Tequila lovers, rejoice: Washington Avenue just got two new tequila bars! New cantina El Venado opened its doors at 6502 Washington Ave on Monday, and new tequila bar Todos Santos opened its doors over the weekend at 5317 Washington Ave, meaning H-Town now has two more options for tequila-induced hangovers moving forward—it’s like a gift we didn’t know we needed.
El Venado, founded by Alexander Noons, offers a variety of tequilas, mezcals, and craft cocktails alongside street-style tacos, nachos, and more. The indoor-outdoor bar, which has 1,500 square feet of interior space and over 1,200 square feet of exterior space, features both modern and traditional design elements—think antique doors, rattan chandeliers, and deep blue Talavera-inspired Mexican tiles—and heaps of charm. The cocktail list at El Venado includes an array of agave cocktails such as the Cucumber Fresco with blanco tequila, lime, cucumber, mint, and Topo Chico; the Strawberry Sabor with reposado tequila, Amaro Montenegro, strawberry, lemon, and saba; and the El Venado Old Fashioned with añejo tequila, lemon, raspberries, and sparkling wine.
Meanwhile, Todos Santos sports a menu that boasts 40 tequilas—including the entire collection of Clase Azul. The 4,000-square-foot space, designed by award-winning design firm Davis Ink, includes vibrant details like greenery on the walls and ceiling, custom stonework, and cheery pops of pink, blue, and green throughout. The bar also includes a 30-foot interactive video wall, which will undoubtedly become a fan-favorite design element.
The cocktail menu at Todos Santos includes an array of specialty margaritas such as the Little Angel with Volcan Blanco, lime, and agave nectar; and the Sandia with Espolon Blanco, fresh watermelon, lime, and serrano.
Talk about some spice!
Beloved South African restaurant brand Nando’s PERi-PERi is expanding into Houston. Famous around the world for its spicy flame-grilled chicken, which gets its spice from peri-peri (African bird’s-eye chili pepper), Nando’s will be opening locations at both Oak Plaza in Uptown and La Centerra in Katy in advance of a further expansion throughout Texas.
“Our authentic flavors were born in South Africa but are built for Houston. We can’t wait to welcome Nando’s newcomers and loyalists who have long lobbied for us to come to Texas and to this fast-growing city known for its incredible diversity and culinary scene,” said John Fisher, CEO of Nando’s PERi-PERi USA, in a statement.
But Nando’s is more than just a restaurant brand; it also gives back. The restaurant sources its peri-peri from 1,400 local farmers spread throughout Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and South Africa, all while empowering them with access to funds, equipment, and seedlings as well as a guarantee from the company to buy the farmers’ crops at fair prices determined prior to each growing season.
Both Houston area Nando’s locations are slated for spring 2023 openings, and each one will feature unique designs sporting earthy textures and vibrant colors reflective of Nando’s sunny African heritage. The menu at Nando’s includes an assortment of spicy peri-peri chicken dishes, including sandwiches, pitas, wraps, skewers, wings, and platters.
Those who are impatient and can’t wait until 2023 to get their peri-peri fix are in luck: the brand has been selling its famous bird’s-eye chili pepper sauces at H-E-B, Central Market, Kroger, Whole Foods, and Walmart since 2014. We like to call that priming the market.