Traditionally, people who visit Houston come for work, to visit family, see a doctor or to shop in the Galleria. In recent years, however, the nation’s fourth-largest city has also become a bona fide food destination. Bolstered by a strong economy and diverse population that loves to eat out, the food scene in H-town has been experiencing explosive growth, and it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. Forbes Travel Guide turns the spotlight on five exciting new restaurants worth exploring this winter.
Hunky Dory, named after David Bowie’s fourth album, showcases chef Richard Knight’s modern British-American cuisine. Located in the Houston Heights and designed by Austin-based firm Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, the restaurant has two distinct areas, an 88-seat tavern overlooking a wood-burning oven, and a smaller, more intimate 36-seat gastropub. With a name like Hunky Dory, one expects a sense of playfulness to the restaurant. And you get just that from a kitchen serving pig-shaped kolaches during lunch or chocolate mice with candles when there’s a birthday in the house. Early favorites at the tavern include the picturesque stack of pork chops served with pepper jelly, schmaltz, mashed potatoes and French fries atop a cake stand. At the gastropub, you can’t go wrong with the classic fish and chips, bangers and mash, or the handsomely plated Silver Salver, the British version of a charcuterie plate featuring meat pies, homemade sausages, scotch eggs and a variety of pickles. An Old World wine list by beverage director and advanced sommelier Travis Hinkle (not to mention a list of classic cocktails such as the Pimm’s Cup by bar director Leslie Ross) ensures that everyone leaves happy.
State of Grace
Barely a month into its opening, State of Grace has already topped some outlets’ “Best of 2015” lists. The recognition is a testament to the genius of Atlanta-based chef and restaurateur Ford Fry, who, by returning to his roots (he was born and raised in Houston), has created a new eatery that is as timeless as it is of-the-moment. The menu, created in collaboration with executive chef Bobby Matos, is Gulf Coast-meets-Houston cuisine. There’s an elaborate, gilded oyster bar where patrons can choose from cold seafood platters or freshly shucked local and East Coast oysters. Asian and Mexican influences, which reflect the city’s diversity, find themselves in dishes like the 44 Farms steak tartare with crispy oysters, banana blossoms and green papaya; or the shareable plate of duck carnitas. As to the design — a collaboration between Fry’s In-house designer Elizabeth Ingram and Square Feet Studio — the restaurant is like a collection of rooms in a house, each with a distinctive look and feel that is classic, yet timeless, a beautiful setting that invites patrons to simply relax over a good meal.
For the past two years, Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Ronnie Killen has been perfecting his barbecue at Killen’s BBQ (read more about that here). The time and devotion there has paid off as Killen’s BBQ is now recognized as some of the best barbecue in the nation, leaving the grill master to focus on his new baby: the newly relocated Killen’s Steakhouse. The November-opened steakhouse has four times the seating capacity of its old address. Additionally, Killen added bar seating as well as a private, 10-seat dining room built for Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, who frequents the restaurant regularly. Food-wise, the menu, which is overseen by executive chef Joe Cervantes and sous chef Chris Loftis, is the same as it always was. Killen is known for sourcing only the highest quality meats (like his famous 34-ounce, dry-aged long bone-in kobe rib eye), which combine with consistent execution and a slew of extraordinary sides (his crab cakes and creamed corned are both legendary) to deliver a phenomenal dining experience, right down to the bottle of Screaming Eagle available on the 400-plus bottle wine list by co-owner and beverage director, Deanna Killen.
Houston has no dearth of French restaurants, but it’s never seen anything the likes of the new La Table. Under the management of New York-based Invest Hospitality (the same group that is overseeing the expansion of two upcoming L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurants around the globe), the Galleria-area French fine-dining restaurant has undergone a complete metamorphosis, replacing what was formerly known as Table on Post Oak. Designed by award-winning Dekar Designs, plush gray-blue velvets evoke the feel of an elegant Parisian salon as gorgeous, oval-shaped booths and a striking array of hanging pendant lights frame the dining room in a way that feels intimate and luxurious. If the design is classic French, so is the menu, which features traditional dishes such as chicken paillard, tuna nicoise and a wild mushroom stuffed chicken, roasted in Pinot Noir with potatoes, carrots and squash — one of three larger, shared dishes that will be carved and served table-side. The wine list, overseen by Sebastien Laval, features a wonderful selection of carefully curated Old World labels designed to complement any meal impeccably.
Occupying 6,000 square feet of warehouse space in Houston’s midtown area is this sexy, sultry new Buddha-bar themed restaurant and lounge. The name is derived by splicing together the words “Tara,” a tantric meditation deity, and “Kaan,” which means king. Stepping through the thick, wooden doors, guests are greeted by Asian elements such as a vintage rickshaw and a massive, reclining Buddha statue. Venturing further, there’s a great room split into two areas — a bar area illuminated with a huge mural of four large geishas and a sunken dining room overlooking a massive sitting Buddha statue set against a fiery-red backlit backdrop. From the kitchen, executive chef Micah Rideout’s Thai-inspired plates include shrimp pad Thai, hamachi tiradito and crab fried rice, and are complemented by an array of exotic cocktails and whiskeys. True to its theme, drinks flow until 2 a.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays, and a DJ spins tunes after 10 p.m.