HOUGuide

The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants To Try Right Now

The new spots we checked out—and loved.
colorful, tiled patio of Maximo Canteen with a large, Spanish-style tiered concrete fountain the center

photo credit: Julie Soefer

Every week we track new openings across the city, and then we visit as many as we can. And every once in a while, a new restaurant makes us feel like a grackle in an HEB parking lot. When that happens, we add it here, to The Hit List, our guide to where you should be eating right now. 

This is where you’ll find all of the best new spots in Houston, whether it’s a buzzy smashburger spot, a booth inside of a Chinatown mall, or a restaurant with its own mini-arcade. As long as we’re still recommending it to everyone we know, it’ll be on this guide. One thing you can always count on is that we’ll only include spots that we’ve actually visited—and loved. 

New to the Hit List (5/20): Dipping Tiger

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Chelsea Thomas

Vietnamese

Chinatown

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerImpressing Out of TownersWalk-Ins
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Suppose you want to grab a bowl of phở inside an Art Deco subway station, feeling the breeze of an incoming train while stuffing your mouth full of rice noodles. Dipping Tiger is the pared-down Houston restaurant that gets the closest to that daydream. Opened by the folks behind Tiger Den, this place offers a tight list of 15 beef-based soups, exactly one appetizer (egg rolls), and a few drinks and light beers. The clarified broth is deep, rich, and warmly seasoned but light, like silk that tastes like pure phở flavor. One spoonful of broth, squishy meatballs, thinly sliced rare beef, and bone marrow will make you sit up, and rightly consider swigging down a bowl with both hands.

photo credit: Lauren Holub

If we were to dream up a fancy-yet-casual restaurant to eat at every day, it would look a lot like Bar Bludorn. The latest spot from the folks behind Navy Blue and (of course) Bludorn, feels like a decades-old tavern filled with some of our favorite foods on one menu. Like tartare with tiny hashbrown coins and zippy horseradish, silken carbonara with fresh peas, and nostalgic, crunchy fried chicken reminiscent of early Sunday dinners at Luby’s, in the best way. From a casual plate or two at the bar to a full-bore fancy dinner in the dark-wood dining room, Bar Bludorn won’t disappoint.

Vibrant’s second location has the best view in town. The all-day breakfast and lunch cafe located at Memorial Park’s Running Trails Center opens into a vaulted patio surrounded by colorful native wildflowers and thickets of trees. Similar to the original location, Vibrant serves dairy-, gluten-, and refined sugar-free food like crisp watercress salads with dijon and fluffy masa pancakes with floof of cashew foam and fruit preserves so good you won’t even miss the gluten-full kind. If you long to be nature-adjacent or want to sip bone broth or a turmeric latte between trail runs or jogging over Houston’s only land bridge, then bask in Vibrant’s glow.

photo credit: Rebekah Flores

$$$$Perfect For:LunchEating At The Bar
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Late August comes from the team behind Lucille’s, and like their sister restaurant, the menu is full of comfort food that doesn’t try too hard. Dishes like spicy mole-covered chicken wings and pork confit on masa cakes that balance crispy and tender textures fill nearly every table at this Midtown restaurant. But no matter how dressed up the dishes look, the food still tastes home cooked—and we just happen to be eating them in a chic, sun-soaked restaurant. Between Stevie Wonder’s greatest hits playing on the speaker and the toasted coconut mojito, Late August is the perfect spot for a breezy lunch or to sit outside and have creme brulee rice pudding topped with fresh berries.

photo credit: Julie Soefer

The folks behind Local Foods, Eau Tour, and Lees Den created an Americana taco destination in small-town Houston, AKA West University. Squeezed into a tiny shotgun space, the hyper-colorful, art-filled Maximo looks like it was designed for a rich, maximalist cowboy. But most of the people here are families attempting to trick a toddler into eating mashed, Tex-Mex-style lentils. The counter-service spot serves loaded tacos on handmade blue corn tortillas and the best take on the classic Big Mac in town, with tangy sauce on a double patty over a thick layer of caramelized onions. Maximo also has punchy tequila cocktails built for lounging with a date on the patio as well as an ice cream machine with the twist served in a mini baseball helmet.

While most outdoor tents have sad rental equipment energy, The Tent sparkles. Friend groups at this Mediterranean cafe and hookah lounge eat beef kabob wraps under string lights, puffing clouds of smoke inside personal cabanas or the main tent until as late as 4am. Earlier in the night, the Westchase spot fills with families, so you'll hear the squeals of children on the playground under lively music played on the oud. Bring your friends for gossip, hookah, and mint lemonade slushes that give spearmint gum a run for its money at this alcohol-free lounge.

People who saw Ema's lines at the Urban Harvest farmers market and wondered, “Are those pastries really that good?” — yeah, the pastries really are that good. Ema left the farmers market hustle and became a small counter-service Mexican food cafe in The Heights. Not only can you get hype-worthy pastries, like a berlineser donut stuffed with cinnamon-spiced horchata cream, but also vegan mushroom tetelas and salsa-smothered chilaquiles, made in collaboration with the folks who opened Papalo Taqueria. Make sure to get to Ema as early as possible because, yes, there is still a long line.

Drinking at the dive-bar-adjacent Nickel City makes you cool, like driving-a-Harley cool or I’m-with-the-band cool. The East Downtown cocktail bar arrives by way of Austin with a Buffalo, New York theme. This means an industrial setting—in this case, a fairly dark warehouse—and a menu featuring boilermakers and burgers. And while that’s not really different from most bars, it’s a great place to slam whiskey shots, swig a Coors Banquet, and eat a greasy, griddled double-decker cheeseburger. Nickel City figured out how to build edginess, which makes this bar feel like there were a few decades when people smoked inside. And being open for lunch with 99-cent wings all day Monday makes it even cooler.

A little rustic and a little retro, the Tex-Mex restaurant HiWay Cantina in EaDo comes from the team behind EZ’s Liquor Lounge and Lightnin’s Good Times. The food fits the archetype for a standard Tex-Mex spot (chile con queso, fajitas giant prickly pear margaritas that require two people to finish.) It’s good, but it’s the energy at Hiway Cantina that we want to bottle up and take home. Solo diners at the bar chat with bartenders like they’re old buddies. And the roar of laughter from groups of friends feels like part of the background music. After spending an hour or two swaying to music and eating enchiladas, we’re motivated to keep the fun going at a bar down the street.

Tearing into a whole roasted fish looks and feels very sexy while nuzzled up at Baso, a Basque-leaning restaurant in The Heights. The interior is impeccably dark, as though someone forgot to turn on a couple of lights, and smoldering embers from the open fire kitchen belong in the backdrop of a rom-com. The food is good—dishes like venison tartare and the choco flan are tasty but a bit bland. But the snoozy pintxos are balanced out by a delightfully helpful staff, fun cocktails, and an exciting Spanish wine list. Baso’s sexiness works perfectly for a third date when you’re finally ready to introduce someone to your Labradoodle with jealousy issues.

Taking cues from Mexico City-style taquerias, Comalito—opened by the folks behind Underbelly Hospitality—serves up a long list of fantastic tacos, suaderos, quesadillas, crispy cheese-slathered tostadas, and so much more. Housed in a drab and sparse space behind The Heights Houston Farmers Market with yellow-gray interiors, concrete floors, and metal chairs, the menu does enough heavy lifting that it's worth being a little uncomfortable to taste this food. We loaded up on tender pastor tacos with thinly sliced juicy pineapple, and an alambra plate of slightly smoky adobo-marinated pork mixed with onions, bell pepper, and even more bacon. And the rice pudding with mango and coconut makes a perfect sweet pick-me-up before a couple of hours of browsing the adjacent produce.

From the team behind Kin Dee, Makiin is an Upper Kirby Thai restaurant dripping in opulence and decked out in deep red and golden embellishment. Everything at Makiin feels a bit extravagant—appetizer samplers show up at the table on shimmering tiered towers, sizzling yellow curry is poured over braised ribs, and there’s almost certainly a dish that will arrive in a decadent cloud of smoke. Even with all of the spectacle, the food at Makiin is packed with flavor, and makes us want to circle back for another meal.

After nearly fifteen years, the team behind the powerhouse  Kata Robata finally opened another Japanese sushi restaurant, Katami in Montrose. Katami takes what makes its predecessor excellent—incredible nigiri and sashimi selections, robata-grilled meats, and top tier service—and adds a layer of refinement and ease. Not only does the restaurant itself embrace a more modern and elegant Japanese farmhouse feel, but the menu also leans into all things special, hard-to-get, and anything honed by skilled craftsmanship. Like delicate silver-skinned Japanese fish, impressive selections of marbled Japanese beef, and snow-textured kakigori for dessert made with ice imported directly from Japan. And while you might drop quite a few Benjamins on dinner, the experience justifies every cent.

Beloved Thai restaurant Street to Kitchen may have moved on up to new digs on the west side of the East End, but everything that matters (the food) remains exactly the same. Heaped with near-tongue-obliterating spice, every dish at Street To Kitchen tastes like someone electrocuted your taste buds, but you really liked it. We also appreciate the new cocktail menu (that frozen Thai tea may or may not have saved us mid-dinner) and the curt but polite service that makes us want to be on our best behavior. Secure a reservation as soon as possible for a special occasion, test-the-waters date, or to simply feel the burn.

In a city where Neapolitan and New York-style slices run the pizza game, we’re especially thankful for Gold Tooth Tony’s, the Heights pizza joint turning out some brilliant and hefty Detroit-style pizza. Each slice, made of fluffy buttered dough and smothered in glistening cheese with edges crisper than a fresh line-up—could easily be a meal on their own. There are classic options like cheese and margarita pizza, but we like to get the more decadent varieties, like “The Griz,” that tastes like a buffalo-chicken-bacon explosion. And with some of the crispiest wings on the northside of Houston, we’re convinced that everything coming out of this small-but-mighty counter service joint is flawless. We’d camp out for one of the few tables inside, or stand outside and eat under the neon glow of the restaurant.

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