Houston restaurant scene watchers knew that chef Chris Loftis would be opening an exciting new restaurant right about now. But until a few months ago, they thought that restaurant would be Hugo Ortega's Xochi. "Things didn't work as well as I thought they would with Hugo," he says with a shrug. But newly freed from his role at Houston's much-anticipated first Oaxacan restaurant, a recruiter approached Loftis about another opportunity, at the circa-1924 Sam Houston Hotel,  a member of Curio Collection by Hilton listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Loftis says he was incredulous of promises of creative control. "People say that all the time," he admits. But nonetheless, it seemed like the right fit. And since opening the Pearl Restaurant & Bar on February 1, he is indeed cooking what he wants to cook, without tampering from the powers that be. 

Reading the menu, dishes often don't sound too different from other Gulf Coast-leaning New American restaurants in town. But once diners try a bite, they taste the difference. "Everyone is surprised in a good way when they see the dish," Loftis says. Have a look and see why.

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The Pearl Restaurant & Bar at the Sam Houston Hotel

$$$ American/New American 1117 Prairie St.

Remember when hotel restaurants weren't cool? The clean lines and groundbreaking seafood menu at the Pearl are nothing if not hip. Sample bar bites like frie...