UPDATED: The 10 Best New Houston Restaurants of 2012

Categories: Top 10

Oxheart 006.jpg
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Oxheart: The Ingenue

Although the name "Oxheart" can conjure up visions of bloody hunks of meat, of offal in hearty portions or animal entrails scored abbatoir-style, Oxheart itself is anything but dense, dark or heavy. Instead, the ethereal space -- which only seats a demure 30-odd people -- focuses more on seasonal produce and Gulf seafood than anything else, and employs the light-handed techniques chef Justin Yu learned while working abroad in Belgium and Denmark. There are only three tasting menus available each evening, and good luck walking in any night of the week to find an open seat.

Oxheart is coyly maddening, in the best sort of way. How does a place in which a team of sous chefs methodically plates dishes with tweezers manage to come off as completely and beguilingly carefree? How does a restaurant this young manage to display such an astonishing depth of maturity? And how do Yu and his wife Karen Man manage to transform such simple ingredients as squash or chard into otherworldly works of art? One thing is definitely certain: Houston has certainly never seen anything like it.

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Photo by Marco Torres
The Pass & Provisions: The Rogue

Why would a pair of talented young chefs leave promising careers in New York City to take a chance on Houston? Their friends back in the Big Apple must have surely thought Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan had gone off the reservation when the two best friends moved back to hometown with nothing more than blind hope of securing their own restaurant one day.

The two men lived in a cramped Heights bungalow with their wives and dogs while they scoured for investors by day and cooked underground pop-up dinners by night, the buzz around the two chefs growing louder every day in 2011 and 2012. But success came with its own issues: The pair's Just August and Pilot Light dinner series were so popular that tickets sold out the day they were announced; they won a MasterMind award from the Houston Press, but the publicity caused their Pilot Light series to get shut down by the Health Department.

Finally, though, the pair were able to secure a restaurant. But true to their unique path, The Pass & Provisions isn't just a restaurant. It's two restaurants in one: Provisions, the far more casual side of the two-pronged approach, opened back in September. The Pass -- which only seats a small, set number of people in one, intimate seating per night -- just opened a couple of weeks ago (so it's not ready for consideration on this year's list), yet it's already drawing rave reviews. When chef Marcus Samuelsson came to Houston in July, he promised great things from the two young chefs who'd once worked under him at Aquavit and August: "You're going to have a great restaurant in your community," Samuelsson said. So far, Siegel-Gardner and Gallivan are proving him right.


Location Info

Local Foods

2424 Dunstan Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Guru Burgers & Crepes

2268 Texas Drive, Sugar Land, TX

Category: Restaurant

L'Olivier

240 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

La Fisheria

4705 Inker St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Oxheart

1302 Nance St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Pass

807 Taft St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Roost

1972 Fairview St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Triniti

2815 S. Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Uchi

904 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Underbelly

1100 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
60 comments
robinspierre
robinspierre

Michiru Japanese in Greenway Plaza is very, very good. And the staff is informed and able to recommend stuff with aplomb. Very rare for a new place.

GuruBurgers
GuruBurgers

@BreweryInc thanks! We need to stop by sometime! Always hear good things from @Buffbrew crew about what you guys are doing over there!

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

I don't get it.  Coppa opened in AUGUST of 2011!  And the new location is not open yet?  Why is it here?  If that new location is valet free, I'll gladly dine there.  I have given up on the rude bridge trolls at the parking expansive location on Washington.  Absolutely NO REASON for a valet there except to enrich some person who can't earn money legitimately.

pappacharlies
pappacharlies

@EatingOurWords @uchihouston there are times the comments section makes me feel very intelligent

Kauaichic
Kauaichic

@EatingOurWords @UchiHouston That's dumb!

ErikVidor
ErikVidor

@kshilcutt people are assholes.

cordabunny
cordabunny

@eatingourwords Can you say OCD over sushi? Just look at all the past comments. Obviously this dude takes himself waaay too seriously!

cordabunny
cordabunny

@EatingOurWords @UchiHouston Obviously it involves a little bit of OCD!! Have you seen their past comments?? Its a bit overboard.

HTownChowDown
HTownChowDown

@EatingOurWords @UchiHouston Neither is @UnderbellyHOU - no complaint there.

Adam Holcomb
Adam Holcomb

The best place I've eaten this year is easily Torchy's Tacos. It opened December 2011, so maybe it doesn't qualify.

Ghirardello
Ghirardello

Possible to call  Cove a restaurant? Or what is the term for a restaurant like that? Barnacle? Shroom? 

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

Uchi is a "Japanese farmhouse cuisine restaurant."  OMG  I truly wish Houstonians would learn a little about Japanese cuisine.  Especially food critics.  As Allison Cook stated, she wondered by Japanese expats and traveling Japanese businessmen do NOT eat there.  It's because it isn't Japanese at all.  People are eating the wrong fish, poorly identified and overpriced, saying 'I Love Uchi.  It's the best.'  Theyhave no idea what they are eating.  Even Uchi advertises itself as Japanese-Inspired cuisine, not Japanese.  Uchi's success is a testament to fanfare and publicity.

Katrina Velvet
Katrina Velvet

umm.. please keep going with the suggestions lol. i love all of this!!

Sean Casey Caldwell
Sean Casey Caldwell

I thoroughly enjoyed the food at MF Sushi. The service, however, still needs quite a bit of polish.

Anel Del Angel
Anel Del Angel

Miyakos I lovef every bit of it the ambiance , the food &.the staff is great

Ghirardello
Ghirardello

Solid list and more than a little helpful. I can't say how much happier my year has been finding places like La Fisheria and L'Olivier near my neighborhood. 

Nathan Baxter Simar
Nathan Baxter Simar

Nope. I relocated to Minnesota. Small town. Limited possibilities, restaurant food only passable...

GuruBurgers
GuruBurgers

@SLTownSquare @houstonpress @eatingourwords that is definitely an honor!! Thank you very much!

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

@Jalapeno You are completely correct. I can't believe I did this. So embarrassing. (I'd instruct anyone who's friends with me on Facebook to go witness my pathetic self-flagellation over there.) Getting with my editor today to get this fixed.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

@Ghirardello If Cove were a full-fledged, standalone restaurant (and had been open for at least three months), it would definitely be on this list. Super impressed with the little place. Little barnacle? LOL

CarlRosa
CarlRosa

You've got to get off of this issue, hon.  So far, I've received four texts and a handful of emails and FB posts about this.....and I am not even in the middle of it.  Here's the scoop - it doesn't matter who anyone says.  Katharine has the right to support and promote her choices.  You're irritating people who merely wish to enjoy a great meal.  You've got to leave it alone.  I can appreciate your passion but it is misdirected.  Uchi provides a unique experience for those who wish to try something different.  Whether you enjoy their sushi (or not), appreciate the fact that they added something interesting to Houston while welcoming new jobs and paying lots of taxes (which Houston really needs, ha ha).  But coming on here and refuting Katharine's opinion is unproductive and irritating to many people.  Additionally, there's no sense in refuting personal tastes.

J.A.Justice
J.A.Justice

@vydakinfo Aren't you the same twat who got all uppity about sushi a few months ago?  Given the tizzy you worked yourself into last time OVER SUSHI, I'm honestly surprised you haven't been institutionalized.

All he wanted was a sushi...just one sushi! but Katharine wouldn't give it to him! 

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

@vydakinfo I don't care what Uchi calls itself. And I don't think it's Japanese food, nor do I think that most others consider it that. All I care about is that the service is amazing and the food is delicious. We need to stop getting hung up on labels...

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

GuruBurgers is awesome. Drive past is on my way home all the time.  Love it.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

@kshilcutt @Jalapeno  Your writing over the past year is so far and above any other food writers in this land that I have seen, so no self-flagellation necessary. You get a bye for this post, and well deserved. Most writers who are tasked with posting as many articles as you post weekly probably get weak in the knees much earlier in the year. Thanks for all your insight.

montelucca
montelucca

@kshilcutt @Ghirardello Agree. Cove is comfy, unpretentious, friendly and a nice addition to Haven. I like having access to Randy's local cooking and JP's cold bar and international twists. Not to mention a great drinks program shared by both restaurants.

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

??  You don't think it's Japanese food while calling it Japanese farmhouse cuisine...while rating it #2 in terms of sushi for all of Houston.  While, at the same time, crediting Kaneyama (as part of the top 10) for the waitresses wearing authentic kimonos. If you think that is a kimono, stick to rating hamburgers.

CarlRosa
CarlRosa

Oh please leave me out of this topic.  LOL

J.A.Justice
J.A.Justice

@vydakinfo I wonder if there is some Japanese version of you.  Some pedantic boring little woman who works for  an American company in Japan who runs around telling any Japanese person who will listen that their ultra expensive "American Steakhouses" aren't American at all!  Sake on a Steakhouse menu?  "You fools!" she screams.  

The owner behind the place is clearly asian and he has put chicken satay on the appetizer menu!  That would never happen in the legendary Omaha, of that much she is certain. She is sure the great 'Phil' in acounting would look upon this "steakhouse" with great shame.

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

TY.  Actually I am a wo-man.  LOL  But I appreciate it anyway!  *wink*  Godspeed to U2!

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

Thank you.  I am without transportation for the entire week so I will have to look into it in the new year.

Ghirardello
Ghirardello

@vydakinfo next to Lakewood mega-church between Buffalo Speedway and Weslayan on feeder rd of 59

Ghirardello
Ghirardello

@vydakinfo Try the new Michiru, 'lil buddy. The main sushi man trained in Japan for like 15 years, then NYC under some impressive masters. Might even meet Carl Rosa there and you could argue about things endlessly

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

Honestly, I am not an expert but work for a Japanese firm based near Stafford.  Approximately 130 of my co-workers are Japanese; stationed here for about 2 years before returning to Japan.  I've learned everything from them.  So I have 130+ mentors when it comes to great Japanese cuisine.  From what I have learned, there are about 30 true experts in Houston when it comes to Japanese cuisine and I'm trying to learn from them now.

auboni.cordolino
auboni.cordolino

@vydakinfo Exactly! You should do something about it! Take it to the streets and educate. I honestly have no clue what makes up authentic Japanese food but I would love learning about it. Just sayin' :)

vydakinfo
vydakinfo

auboni, that is correct.  Of course she has a right to her own perspective as I do mine.

auboni.cordolino
auboni.cordolino

@vydakinfo  who cares. Unnecessary statement trying to be politically correct over the way it was worded isn't going to change anything. Was this blog called the Top 10 authentic Japanese food in Htown? No.  Everybody has a right to write from their own perspective. At least respect that.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

@vydakinfo Uhhhhhggggggghhh, I am already tired of this argument. It's been a long holiday season so far. Okay: Uchi calls itself "Japanese farmhouse cuisine," so that's how we'll refer to it. In my own opinion, of course it's not traditional Japanese cuisine - although I'm pretty sure Uchi doesn't consider itself a traditional sushi restaurant anyway. But it does serve excellent - IF NON-TRADITIONAL - sushi and Japanese-inspired cuisine. There's no point in being pedantic or close-minded about something which is constantly evolving. The food you eat/find in Japan now has been strongly influenced by other countries by this point. What's "traditional" anymore? This is such an open-ended discussion and could be so fun and invigorating, but I have a feeling that's not where this particular thread is headed. So I'm done for today.

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