Top 11 Houston Restaurant Openings of the Decade

Categories: Robblog, Top 10

Since I started my job as restaurant critic of the Houston Press in May of 2000, I've had a chance to observe the Houston restaurant scene for just about the entire decade. Our fine dining scene has evolved in the last ten years, and so have our ethnic cuisines. Houston became the birthplace of some new fusions, and the unlikely haven for some national trendsetters. Here's my top 11 list of restaurant openings that exemplify those changes. Why 11 and not 10? Because I felt like it. The openings are listed in chronological order.

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Photo by Photine
Da Marco on Westheimer opened its doors in March 2000. Born in Italy, chef Marco Wiles introduced an innovative style of Italian cooking to Houston that was nothing like the city had ever seen before. Inspired by the success of Mario Batali's Babbo restaurant, which opened in New York in 1998, chef Wiles challenged Houston diners with ingredients and dishes they had never heard of before. Every year, Wiles returns to his native Italy to collect white truffles, learn about the exciting new wines of Friuli, and keep current. Da Marco, which now shares the stage with its sister restaurants, Dolce Vita and Poscol, forever raised the bar on Houston Italian food.

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Photo by cynthiamonster
A Reuben at Kenny & Ziggy's
Kenny & Ziggy's New York Delicatessen opened in April of 2000. Owner Ziggy Gruber is a third-generation deli man whose family opened the first deli on Broadway in 1927. Ziggy Gruber cures his own corned beef and pastrami on the premises. He used to make his own pickles, but now the restaurant uses too many -- it is the second largest buyer of kosher pickles in the nation after the 2nd Avenue Deli in New York. There were once thousands of delis in New York alone; today there are only 120 Jewish delis left in the entire country. Odd though it may seem, one of the best is in Houston.

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Photo by jliew
Indika is part of a new wave of innovative Indian restaurants that's changing the image of Indian food across the country. Duck tandoori with almond curry, Gulf seafood mulligatawny, and foie gras with fig chutney are a few of the more spectacular creations of chef/owner Anita Jaisinghani. Born of Hindu Sindhi parents in Northern India, Anita Jaisinghani worked at Café Annie as a pastry chef before opening Indika in 2001. Sommelier Paul Roberts, who now works at the French Laundry, put together Indika's wine list. Jaisinghani moved from her original Memorial location to the Montrose area of Westheimer about five years ago. Thanks to Indika, Houstonians have been eating some of the most creative Indian cooking in the country for almost a decade.

Cajun Corner on Bellaire was the first of Houston's Asian/Cajun crawfish restaurants when we wrote about it in 2002. Boiling Crab and other Vietnamese crawfish joints have overshadowed the original by now, but they owe a debt of gratitude to Cajun Corner, which was started by a Louisiana-Vietnamese family. According to Carl Bankston, a professor at Tulane, Vietnamese-Louisiana fusion is a clear case of syncretism, a word anthropologists use to describe the absorption of one culture's traditions by another. The Vietnamese have learned to adapt to outside domination by taking foreign influences and making them their own, says Bankston. Which means Chinese noodles, French baguettes and Louisiana boiled crawfish are all authentically Vietnamese now.

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