Houston's 10 Biggest Openings of 2013

By Amber Ambrose  |  December 16, 2013

When it comes to this year's bar and restaurant openings, Houston was on fire. Downtown was certifiably revitalized, plenty of food trucks parked in permanent brick-and-mortar locations and innovative food truck parks became permanent fixtures. It was a great year, but somehow we had to narrow it down. The task at hand was not easy, but we broke it into various categories to help us edit the list into the 10 most important openings of the year. (P.S. We wanted to include Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught's Caracol, but it wasn't open as of our deadline.)

  • Fine Dining: Vallone's 

    When it comes to fine dining, the Vallone name is one of the most revered in Houston. The man himself, Tony Vallone, built an empire on white tablecloths and expense accounts at Tony's, and continues the tradition of decadence, classic elegance and a lavish experience with his latest endeavor, Vallone's. Dry-aged steaks and handmade pastas are signatures here.

    947 N Gessner Rd.; 713-395-6100

  • Food Trucks Turned Brick-and-Mortar: Good Dog Hot Dog

    This Heights' restaurant is proving that hot dogs are the new burgers, with gourmet ingredients, housemade condiments and customized frankfurters. Good Dog started out in the first wave of gourmet food trucks to hit the streets of Houston and garnered enough of a cult following to open up a permanent location. Food trucks are growing up, and Houston is all the better for it.

    903 Studewood St.; 832-800-3647

  • Credit: Matthew Borgerding

    Wine: Camerata 

    The dynamic duo of Paul Petronella of Paulie's and David Keck, sommelier extraordinaire and proponent for the Syrahvolution, are doing great things at Houston's newest wine bar. Keck is not only a passionate advocate for wine, he's also an engaging educator, teaching guests more about each sip and telling stories about each bottle.

    1834 Westheimer Rd.; 713-522-8466

  • Credit: Alex Gregg

    Downtown Revitalization: Goro & Gun 

    Yet another important food truck gone brick-and-mortar, Goro & Gun is more notable for its part in the revitalization of Downtown. It was the harbinger that signaled to the rest of Houston that Downtown was officially some of the hottest real estate in town.

    308 Main St.; 832-708-6195

  • Credit: Julie Soefer

    Serious About Their Spirits: The Pastry War

    The mescal and tequila featured at this specialty bar were all sourced directly from the producers. While it sounds like such small-batch spirits would run an outrageous tab, the team behind this Downtowner managed to do it affordably. It's apparent the combination is working as the bar is mostly packed, even on weeknights. Must-try: the mescal frozen margaritas.

    310 Main St.; 713-226-7770

  • Ramen Craze-y: Tiger Den

    Will 2013 forever be known as the year Houston was rapturous over ramen? Only time will tell, but the first big opening for the niche soup restaurant (other than #4 on this list) was cray-cray. They had such a big 'soft' opening that the restaurant had to take a few weeks off to tweak things before welcoming in guests again.

    9889 Bellaire Blvd.; 832-804-7755

  • Desserts: Cloud 10 Creamery 

    The brainchild of one of Houston's best chefs is not merely an ice cream parlor. This creamery from chef Chris Leung and investor Chris Balat (who can be found scooping ice cream on any given day) includes flavors like almond and pandan, poached pear sorbet, Texas grapefruit with marmalade, milk chocolate and black sesame, toasted rice and marzipan. There's also the option of scheduling an entire dessert tasting to try some of the most innovative and delicious dishes in Houston. We also hear their banana split will knock your socks off.

    5216 Morningside Dr.; 713-434-6129

  • Old School Chefs: Osteria Mazzantini 

    Chef John Sheely surprised Houston by flexing his Italian culinary muscles at his latest restaurant, Osteria Mazzantini. The restaurant has already garnered high critical praise with Tuscan menu and near-flawless execution. Sheely's Mockingbird Bistro remains a stalwart in Houston's dining scene, and Osteria Mazzantini is sure to follow in its footsteps.

    2200 Post Oak Blvd.; 713-993-9898

  • Neighborhood Spot: D&T Drive Inn

    Brought to you by the Treadsack group (the folks behind Down House and a few other projects coming next year), this former icehouse now houses ice-cold beer and a cozy atmosphere appropriate for a neighborhood watering hole. The low-key bar has ample outdoor seating, an edited menu of creative pub fare and a laudable steak night.

    307 Enid St.; 713-868-6165

  • Best Second Location: El Big Bad

    El Big Bad is indeed bigger and badder than its original location in the Heights (which will be moving into bigger digs soon). The Downtown spot features infused tequilas and creative Mexican bar fare in two stories of fairytale-inspired space, complete with an elevator that offers an up-close view of those infusions in their special-made case.

    419 Travis St.; 713-229-8181