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Houston's Most Important Restaurant Openings of 2017

The year brought creative takes on Oaxacan, Japanese and Gulf Coast fare
December 4, 2017
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by Ellie Sharp

It was a rough year for restaurants and other businesses in Houston thanks to Hurricane Harvey. But the city rebounds, and it continues to welcome big-name restaurants from across the country, including outposts of two upscale Asian restaurants, while local chefs inspire with new ventures of their own. Here are the most important openings of 2017.

One Fifth
A five-year lease on an iconic 1927 former church inspired local celebrity chef Chris Shepherd to tackle an ambitious project that perhaps only he could pull off. He and his team are presenting five distinct culinary experiences and closing the restaurant every nine months to reinvent the menu and decor. They began with a steakhouse, and the current iteration features French, Italian and Spanish dishes under the name One Fifth Romance Languages. Even Shepherd and his chef de cuisine Nick Fine say they don’t yet know what will come next.

Must-order: Suckling pig presse

1658 Westheimer Rd.; 713-955-1024

Xochi
Hugo Ortega gained two new feathers in his culinary cap this year, starting with the January opening of Xochi, his Downtown oasis for modern Oaxacan cuisine, followed by a James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. He and his wife Tracy Vaught already enjoy a local following for Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s and Caracol, but this swank new spot on the ground floor of the Marriott Marquis introduces locals to Mexican fare unlike that found elsewhere, including soup heated with river stones and an entire tasting menu of chocolate.

Must-order: Tlayuda, the Mexican street food that features an oversized super-thin tortilla loaded with meats, cheeses and vegetables

1777 Walker St.; 713-400-3330

Riel
After cutting his teeth at local and nationally recognized restaurants (Underbelly, Husk and Animal, to name a few), Canadian-born Ryan Lachaine opened his hotly anticipated semi-solo venture in a cozy corner building in Montrose. The seasonal menu reflects Lachaine’s own heritage and draws on Texas Gulf Coast, Ukrainian and French-Canadian influences.

Must-order: 48-oz. 44 Farms bone-in rib-eye served with seasonal sides

1927 Fairview St.; 832-831-9109

Yauatcha
This upscale dim sum eatery and teahouse chain based in London made its U.S. mainland debut in March and was met with mixed reactions. Depending on whom you asked, it was either a source for stunning dim sum and desserts or an overhyped destination for those unwilling to visit Chinatown for similar dishes at a fraction of the price. Nonetheless, the location's signature bites and tea service have inspired weeks-long waits for reservations.

Must-order: Sweet and savory roasted duck pumpkin puffs

5045 Westheimer Rd.; 713-357-7588

Better Luck Tomorrow
When two of the city’s most creative culinary and cocktail talents combine forces, the result is a stunning display of tastes. Such is the case with Better Luck Tomorrow (also known simply as BLT), which brings to The Heights classic and cleverly named craft cocktails from Bobby Heugel (Anvil, The Pastry War) and assorted small plates inspired by global flavors from Justin Hu (Oxheart, Theodore Rex). These include Japanese-style grilled buttered corn and the Not a Pizza, a riff on the familiar featuring burrata, spring onions and anchovy-garlic bagna càuda (a fonduelike sauce).

Must-order: The Cycle, which includes all 10 dishes for $99

544 Yale St.; 713-802-0845

Theodore Rex
When Justin Yu announced the closure of his much-lauded Oxheart earlier this year, many wondered what the James Beard Award winner would be up to next. One project was aforementioned Better Luck Tomorrow. The second was this laid-back kitchen inside Oxheart's former space serving Modern Texas comfort food using locally sourced ingredients such as Texas Wagyu and Gulf flounder. A new color scheme and fresh modern decor fill out the quaint dining room, and reservations are — still — hard to come by.

Must-order: Deceptively simple-sounding tomato toast, which marries tomatoes three ways over olive oil–dressed pan de miel

1302 Nance St. Unit A; 832-830-8592

Roka Akor
Already acclaimed by national critics, the mini-chain opened its fifth outpost in Houston, and it's a sprawling haven for upscale Japanese fare with a swank lounge, a spacious patio and private dining. The robata grill and housemade shochu are signature draws.

Must-order: Beef tataki with truffle jus

2929 Weslayan St. Suite 100; 713-622-1777

SeaSide Poke
The Hawaiian seafood craze of raw fish served with assorted sauces and toppings is having a moment in Houston, with shops popping up all over the city. SeaSide draws on Texas-sourced ingredients, and it's one of a growing number of restaurants in the EaDo neighborhood, which is quickly becoming Houston’s hottest destination for food, drink and entertainment. 

Must-order: Create your own combo or choose from a menu of pre-selected ingredients. 

2118 Lamar St. #101; 346-319-4915

cocktails
sushi
dim sum
french food
poke
mexican cuisine
italian-american
french-canadian food
robata grill