With the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards less than a week away, the time has come to examine the nominees for Restaurant of the Year. As selected by our panel of local restaurant industry experts, these nine nominees are leading Houston’s culinary scene.
They’re a diverse lot, covering everything from a tiny restaurant that shares a building with a gas station to a fine dining staple featured on this week’s episode of Top Chef. Serving delicious food that’s consistently well-executed is one requirement for consideration, but it goes beyond that. Warm, hospitable service and thoughtful beverage programs are components, too.
Each of these nominees, which range in age from over a decade to just a couple of years, continues to improve itself. They know that they’re only as good as their last dish, and that resting on their laurels simply won’t do.
We’ll reveal the winners this Wednesday, May 25 in a ceremony emceed by Houston hip hop legend Bun B. Tickets are sold out (sorry), but stay locked in on CultureMap for a full list.
Few restaurants have burst onto the scene with the energy that Bludorn has. From day one, its French-influenced take on American cuisine has proven to be a hit with diners as menu staples like the lobster pot pie, short rib ravioli, and baked Alaska have earned places on Houstonians’ culinary bucket lists. Of course, it’s equally possible to belly up to the bar for a burger and a beer. Beyond the roster of compelling dishes and extensive beverage options, the restaurant’s staff truly seems happy to work there, which imparts a sense of occasion to every meal in its dining room.
True to its name, this Galleria-area sushi counter lacks formal signage (just look for the comic books in the window), but, once inside, diners lucky enough to score one of the coveted reservations will experience a meal to remember. Chef Niki Vongthong’s 12-course progression covers familiar ingredients like toro and wagyu beef, but she supplements that with dry-aged fish and a range of housemade sauces that boost each bite. Recently, the chef has begun incorporating her Thai heritage into dishes such as a duck larb hand roll; it’s a combination of textures and flavors diners won’t find anywhere else in Houston.
One testament to the unbelievable depth of chef Hori-san’s menu is that asking people to pick a favorite dish will likely lead to an argument. Sure, the Iberico pork shumai are great, but what about the wagyu katsu sando, the lobster mac and cheese, the ramen, or the foie gras and scallop nigiri (and that’s just a start)? Seasonal specials like the chili soft shell crab demonstrate the kitchen’s creativity, and an extensive selection of beer, wine, cocktails, and sake offer endless pairing opportunities. With that kind of diversity, it’s no wonder the restaurant’s dining room is regularly filled with local restaurant industry professionals in search of a memorable meal.
The Michelin guide may not rate Texas restaurants, but when it finally does, the inspectors will undoubtedly be impressed with this Mediterranean-inspired fine dining restaurant. Meals at March are an experience that involve different settings (the lounge, the dining room, sometimes the wine cellar), precise service, and carefully crafted dishes all in a setting full of bespoke furniture and museum-quality art. Despite all the upscale details, dining at March never feels stuffy or forced; instead, diners experience the true luxury of having their needs anticipated to and taken care of.
If Phat Eatery’s only contributions to Houston’s dining scene consisted of its beef rendang and delightfully flakey roti, it would be enough to justify the drive to Katy, but chef-owner Alex Au-Yeung continually finds new ways to lure diners to his restaurant. Whether it’s Malaysian curry crawfish, dishes that incorporate smoked meats, or a spicy laksa challenge, diners will always find something new to try. Friendly, welcoming service further helps this restaurant stand out from the myriad options that have made Katy Asian Town one of the Houston area’s most compelling new restaurant rows.
From a weekday lunch with friends to happy hour hangs to a multi-course dinner with wines to match, Goodnight Hospitality’s casual restaurant fills a lot of needs. The restaurant’s wood-fired grill and oven turns out everything from pizzas with a crispy, chewy crust to signature items like the blistered bean salad and steak Fiorentina. A thoughtful beverage program, backed by a range of non-alcoholic cocktails, enhances the experience, as does the polished, friendly service.
Three years into its existence, this restaurant in The Heights has emerged as one of Houston’s most consistently satisfying dining destinations. Chef Mark Clayton’s European-influenced menu utilizes a number of locally sourced ingredients to create signature items like the mussel toast and customer favorite French cheeseburger as well as pastas and center of plate entrees. General manager Terry Williams oversees a cocktail program worthy of co-owner Bobby Heugel’s legacy along with an extensive wine list. If dinner seems like too much of a commitment, consider visiting at brunch when everything’s a little more relaxed; after all, bacon fat hash browns with smoked trout roe will make anyone’s day better.
Street to Kitchen
Rarely is a restaurant nominated for both this category and Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year, but Street to Kitchen isn’t a typical restaurant. Diners can by for a lunch built around chef Benchawan Painter’s “unapologetically Thai” takes on staples like spring rolls or pad Thai. Those in search of something a little more adventurous should book a table for Friday or Saturday night when “chef G,” as she’s known to friends and regulars, utilizes seasonal produce for can’t-miss specials like seafood yentafon ferminted soy noodle soup and charcoal-grilled wagyu short rib over pumpkin reduction. Graham, the chef’s husband, oversees the intimate dining room; just don’t let him talk you into Thai hot on larb — it’s spicy enough enough as it is.
As a finalist for the first-ever James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Texas category, it’s clear that the dining world has discovered how special Christine Ha and Tony Nguyen’s modern Vietnamese restaurant is. Diners seek out the restaurant for its fresh, flavorful perspective on staple dishes like egg rolls, bo luc lac (wagyu flat iron with Chinese broccoli), and a take on Got Vit that uses smoked duck. The signature Nguyen-er Nguyen-er Chicken Dinner delivers fried chicken that manages to be both crispy and juicy without being remotely greasy. The confident service staff knows the menu well enough to guide diners to a cocktail that will suit their tastes and pair well with their meal.