With the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards just under a week away, it’s time to check out the nominees for Restaurant of the Year. As selected by our panel of local restaurant industry experts, these nine nominees are leading the culinary scene in Houston.
They are very diverse, covering everything from a small restaurant sharing a building with a gas station to fine dining shown on this week’s episode of top chef. Serving delicious food that is consistently well done is one of the requirements to be kept in mind, but it goes well beyond that. Warm and hospitable service and thoughtful beverage programs are also ingredients.
Each of these candidates, ranging in age from just over a decade to two years, continues to improve itself. They know that they are only as good as their last dish, and that simply lying on their laurels will not do any good.
We’ll reveal the winners on Wednesday, May 25 at a party hosted by Houston hip-hop legend Bon B. Tickets are sold out (sorry), but stay tuned to CultureMap for a full list.
Few restaurants have emerged on the scene with the energy that Bludorn has. From day one, her French-influenced experiment in American cuisine has proven to be such a hit with diners that menu staples like lobster pie, short ravioli, and baked Alaska have earned places on Houston’s culinary bucket lists. Of course, it is also possible to make it to the bar for burgers and beer. Combined with a great menu of dishes and extensive drink options, the restaurant staff seems to be really happy to work there, bringing a sense of occasion to every meal in its dining room.
True to its name, the Galleria’s sushi counter lacks official signage (just look for picture books in the window), but once inside, diners lucky enough to score a coveted reservation will have an unforgettable meal experience. Chef Niki Vongthong’s 12-course offering covers familiar ingredients like beef toro and wagyu, but complements it with dry fish and an array of house-made sauces that enhance every bite. More recently, the chef has begun incorporating her Thai heritage into dishes such as the duck fry hand roll; It’s a combination of textures and flavors that diners won’t find anywhere else in Houston.
One evidence of the astonishing depth of Chef Hori-san’s menu is that asking people to choose a favorite dish is likely to lead to controversy. Sure, Iberico pork shumai is great, but what about wagyu katsu sando, lobster mac and cheese, ramen, or foie gras and nigiri scallops (and that’s just the beginning)? Seasonal specials like chili crab showcase the creativity of the kitchen, and a wide selection of beers, wines, cocktails, and sake provide endless opportunities for pairing. With this kind of variety, it’s no wonder the restaurant’s dining room is regularly filled with local catering professionals in search of an unforgettable meal.
The Michelin Guide may not rank Texas restaurants, but when it finally does, inspectors will undoubtedly like this fine, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. Meals in March are an experience that includes different settings (lounge, dining room, sometimes wine cellar), meticulous service, and thoughtfully prepared dishes, all in a setting filled with custom-made furniture and museum-quality art. Despite all the upscale details, dining in March never feels stifled or forced; Instead, diners experience the true luxury of anticipating and caring for their needs.
If Phat Eatery’s only contributions to the Houston dining scene consisted of beef and the delightful roti roti, that would be enough to justify a drive to Katy, but owner chef Alex Au-Yeung is constantly finding new ways to entice diners to his restaurant. Whether it’s the Malaysian lobster curry, dishes that include smoked meat, or the spicy laksa challenge, diners will always find something new to try. The friendly and welcoming service helps this restaurant stand out from the myriad options that have made Katy Asian Town one of the most compelling new restaurants in the Houston area.
From weekday brunch with friends to happy hour to a multi-course dinner with the right wine, Goodnight Hospitality’s casual restaurant caters to a multitude of needs. The restaurant’s grill and oven serves everything from pizza with a crunchy, delicious crust to specialties like shredded bean salad and fiorentina steak. A thoughtful drink program, backed by a range of non-alcoholic cocktails, enhances the experience, as does the kind and friendly service.
After three years of existence, this restaurant in The Heights has consistently emerged as one of Houston’s most satisfying dining destinations. Chef Mark Clayton’s European-influenced menu uses a number of locally sourced ingredients to create signature items such as mussel toast and customer favorite French cheese as well as pastas and centerpieces. General Manager Terry Williams oversees a cocktail program worthy of partner Bobby Huggle’s legacy along with an extensive wine list. If dinner seems like too much of a commitment, consider visiting for lunch when everything is more relaxed; After all, a hash brown with bacon with smoked salmon roe would make anyone’s day better.
Rarely has a restaurant been nominated for both this category and Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year, but Street to Kitchen is not a typical restaurant. Diners can have lunch built around Chef Benchawan Painter’s “unexcused Thai” taking staples like spring rolls or Pad Thai. Those looking for something more adventurous should book a table for a Friday or Saturday night when “chef G”, as it’s known to friends and regulars, uses seasonal produce for unmissable specials like seafood yentafon ferminted soy noodle soup and rib Charcoal grilled short wagyu over pumpkin reduction. Graham, the chef’s husband, oversees the intimate dining room; Just don’t let it talk you into hot Thai on fry – it’s hot enough as it is.
As a finalist for the first-ever James Beard Award in Best Chef: Texas, it’s clear that the dining world has discovered the uniqueness of Kristen Ha and Tony Nguyen’s modern Vietnamese restaurant. Diners look to the restaurant for its fresh take on staples like egg rolls, bo luc lac (wagyu flat iron with Chinese broccoli), and Got Vit that uses smoked duck. Nguyen-er Chicken’s signature dinner serves up fried chicken that can be crispy and juicy without being remotely greasy. Confident service staff know the menu well enough to guide diners to a cocktail that suits their tastes and pairs well with their meal.