UPDATED: The 10 Best New Houston Restaurants of 2012

Categories: Top 10

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Roost: The Upstart

Roost is a restaurant that perfectly captures the current Houston culinary zeitgeist. No longer do our most celebrated chefs labor for years learning and perfecting standards and classics. These days, it's about returning to and exploring your roots as well as your passions -- no matter where in the world they came from. It's the era of the young turks, where wandering chefs come home not to play by the rules but to create their own.

In Kevin Naderi's case, that includes his own Persian heritage, the Southern farm-to-table aesthetic he embraced under Chef Randy Evans at Haven, Japanese flavors and ingredients picked up alongside Chef Robert Gadsby when he was still at Soma, and the Mediterranean and Thai influences so prevalent throughout Houston itself. When I describe Roost to people, it requires a complex description. But I'm okay with that -- good restaurants are often complex things.

"It's a neighborhood bistro, kind of," I start off by explaining. "It's sort of farm-to-table -- whatever that really means anymore -- but it also has a lot of Japanese and Middle Eastern and Thai influences. And really good craft beer. And it's super-casual." Usually, at least one of these things is enough to convince someone to give Roost a shot, although the restaurant certainly hasn't been without steady businesses since opening in mid-December of last year. I like to think it's this combination effect that is such a draw. So many of our restaurants no longer neatly fit into "French" or "New American" or even "fusion" boxes. We are simply living in a post-fusion world.

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Triniti: The Aesthete

Named for the "culinary trinity" of savory, sweet and spirits, chef Ryan Hildebrand's Triniti gives equal attention to all three menu components. Emphasizing beverages and desserts as much as the main courses is an unusual move, although it's one that pays off in this starkly contemporary space -- but Triniti is so much more than that.

Triniti is sort of the Avengers of Houston restaurants, with players assembled from some of the city's best dining rooms and kitchens. Familiar waiters from Voice, a manager from Reef, a sommelier from Vic & Anthony's, chefs with pedigrees from restaurants such as The Barbed Rose, bistro moderne, Aries, Voice and Textile, all of them under executive chef Ryan Hildebrand's steady leadership. It's a dream team of talent in both the kitchen and the front of the house, which has the potential to be an ego-driven mess. Instead, they function as a thoughtful, confident team -- something which is conveyed in even the smallest touches here, from the Riedel glasses and Laguiole knives to the soundtrack of MGMT, Cold War Kids, Passion Pit and M83 that encourages a fun atmosphere despite the upscale food.

The problem is what to call Triniti, though. Just as with Roost or Underbelly or Oxheart, there's no neat term for what Hildebrand and his team are serving here. At Triniti, you can see the bone structure of New American cuisine in its elegant, expressive sauce work and transformed comfort food, like a foie gras "breakfast" with crispy bacon, a delicate quail egg and fig syrup served alongside a torchon. Yet Triniti is not New American. In that "contemporary" vein, it incorporates newer techniques and -- more importantly -- local ingredients that give the restaurant a sense of place: a Railean rum-based cocktail or greens from Wood Duck Farms are here not as garnish but as an overall attitude toward the cuisine. For now, I'm happy with calling it simply exquisite.


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 editor

@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 editor

@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 editor

@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 editor

@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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