The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants To Try Right Now guide image


The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants To Try Right Now

The new spots we checked out—and loved.

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 croissant pop-up we can’t stop talking about. Or maybe it’s even a restaurant with its own mini-arcade. You do you. But 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 (9/1): Nonno's Family Pizza Tavern, Roswell's Saloon


Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern

Amp up your dopamine levels with pure nineties pizza parlor nostalgia at Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern in Montrose. From the folks behind Nobie’s and Toasted Coconut, Nonno’s is part pizza restaurant, part heal-your-inner-child paradise. Although the restaurant’s decor is aggressively colorful, the muted earth and the faint chimes emanating from Nonno’s mini-arcade will keep you in a state of pure bliss. As will hand-breaded mozzarella sticks with smoked tomato marinara, Midwest tavern thin crust pizzas topped with pineapple or giardiniera, and chunky slices of cheesecake. So swig back a $1 shot of Malort and feel like a kid again (sort of).

Dedicated to all things intergalactic, there’s no such thing as a bad time at Roswell’s Saloon in Montrose. Decked out in blacklights, this bar is probably where the aliens would visit first if they touched down in Houston. Choose from a pinwheel of cocktails (including one in honor of the current zodiac season), and slingback drinks at the LED bar. Or, take your glow-in-the-dark shots upstairs, where you’ll find plush velvet booths for canoodling, high top chairs that look over the bottom level of the bar, and every neon poster in existence within 10 square miles of the city. And if you’re feeling particularly festive, you can always channel your inner child and get some custom art by one of the on staff body painters.

Dining at Josephine’s, a Midtown restaurant serving Gulf Coast cuisine, feels like a pleasant Southern-style dinner. With rustic-chic flair and stained wood tables, you can check the super prim and proper at the door. Have a refreshing redfish grilled on the halfshell, or keep it handheld with a spicy smashed boudin melt. And even after you’ve finished the last piece of French bread served with the BBQ shrimp, a few fries might find their way into the dark roux for some stealth dipping. And for the sweet tooths in the house, there’s the chocolate milkshake loaded with rum and bourbon, or a Mississippi mud jar for dessert.

Love Croissants, a small counter bakery inside of Weights + Measure in Midtown, puts the percentage and name of the fancy butter in the croissants right on the menu—82% beurremont beurre—so you know it’s serious. Try the buttery, airy, and deeply satisfying pain au chocolats, croissants stuffed with extra thick layers of smoked ham and asiago, and something called a “crolache,” a uniquely Texas mashup that combines a croissant and toasted jalapeño cheddar beef sausage kolache. And who needs cronuts when Love makes cruffins? Just make sure to go there early or order ahead online to avoid losing out to other laminated dough fanatics.

Something about a large carafe of excellent single origin iced coffee, brewed to order, feels like the absolute height of luxury. Simply Coffie, a roastery and cafe in The Heights, is currently the only coffee shop in town we know of offering such magnificence. While most independent cafes offer single origin coffee—essentially coffee that can be traced back to a single producer or region—it’s usually served hot. But at Simply, for an extra $2, you get a fancy glass carafe resting on ice along with a frozen cup. And given that Houston is a giant oven for roughly six months, anything frozen or ice-adjacent is already special. Add on a chocolate truffle or a decadent raspberry cake (show up early for these), and embrace the tiny cafe’s airy grandeur.

The Houston family hospitality group Pappas knows how to run a restaurant—especially a steakhouse—so it’s no surprise this new Montrose-area seafood spot is already jam-packed. Little’s Oyster Bar has this coastal resort meets a modern Hollywood regency vibe, with lots of blue and white, massive spiky chandeliers, and brass-plated-everything. It’s all rather opulent. Expect fantastic $18 cocktails, spicy crudo, Gulf Coast fish, caviar by the ounce, and, yes, oysters. Feel like balling out on a seafood platter? Little’s has stone crab and lobster plated so fancifully, everyone will stare when it hits your table. Get dressed up and head to Little’s to feel (and spend) like undersea royalty, but make sure to grab a reservation first.

You can have a damned good time at Hongdae 33, the new all-you-can-eat KBBQ restaurant in Chinatown. The vibrant interior has cheeky neon signs peppering the walls, and it’s sleek and sexy, like where you’d take your situationship to eat. The main event here is the food—and it all comes in at $33 per person, a serious bargain considering the meats here are nearly on par with other fancier KBBQ spots in town. But unlike other AYCE spots, there’s no buffet line, just turbo-speed servers that are just as invested in maximizing the 90-minute time limit as you are. So you can stay focused on grilling up some succulent miso-marinated steak, bulgogi, and marinated galbi, and just have a little fun, especially with the surprisingly strong soju cocktails.

East End residents have long-awaited the return of beloved neighborhood gem Villa Arcos, a Mexican taco spot that closed toward the beginning of the pandemic. The breakfast and lunch spot, known for fresh and buttery handmade flour tortillas, Villa Arcos has a never-ending line of hipsters, construction workers, local heads, and even politicians vying for a humble tray of smoky barbacoa or breakfast tacos. Mornings are all about the Super taco: a flour tortilla stuffed with eggs, potatoes, refried beans, and cheese with a choice of meat, like crispy thick-cut bacon or slightly caramelized chorizo. Not much changed about Villa Arcos: it’s still counter service, coffee is only served in a styrofoam cup, and bussing your own tray is expected. Order in, or call ahead, and become a regular like everyone else.

Ordering one of everything at any bakery could go one of two ways (probably): either you deeply regret the decision, or you desperately wonder why you were so foolish to not order two or even three of everything. The latter is how you will feel after visiting the tiny, to-go-only spot Dinette Bakery in The Heights—the bakery offshoot of the fantastic modern Vietnamese restaurant Dinette next door (which also happens to be on our Hit List). Focus on which butter-rich bánh patê sô pastry pies you will order: the chicken lemongrass or the dry-shredded phỏ brisket with chilis. Or how sweet, rich, and unfathomably delicious the milk bread pandan and toasted coconut cinnamon roll is, especially when drizzled in even more pandan icing. Think about the wonderful first bite into a bánh bao nướng: a pork dumpling surrounding an entire quail egg, stuffed into perfect flaky pastry dough. You only have one life to live. Always order one of everything.

Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers in Garden Oaks—the sister restaurant to Gatlin’s BBQ—serves seafood and Southern comfort food that rivals anything that came from your auntie, all in a classic, downhome retro diner space. It’s all very charming 1960s vibes, with diner booths, funky tiled floors, and Motown’s greatest hits playing in the background. Everything here is like a “saved you a plate” meal, including crackling golden, seasoned fried chicken, crispy fried catfish, and fluffy buttermilk biscuits. Save room at the end of your meal for the giant orange dreamsicle donut, served with vanilla ice cream and candied orange that makes you feel like you’re going to the ice cream truck, but fancier. Between the food and the laid-back service, Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers is the type of place you should stay awhile. Come here when you want to have a casual meal with your friends, family, or anytime you want a mean bowl of gumbo in a charming diner. 

While you can find pretty much anything in Houston—river otters in the bayou, giant president head statues under the freeway, a beloved furniture store owner nicknamed for a mattress—it’s conspicuously difficult to find a basic (but excellent) sandwich. Not to say the sandwiches (or paninos as listed on the menu) at Mimo are basic. But they aren’t flashy, ultra-mega-huge, or covered in gold, which makes them pretty special around these parts. The casual Italian cafe in the East End—currently only open for lunch according to the restaurant’s Instagram—serves sandwiches on soft, rustic bread: thick-sliced porchetta with greens, seared eggplant and crisp broccolini, or slow-roasted Sicilian beef with savory jus. OK, so, maybe not at all basic. But holy crap does it feel nice to walk into Mimo’s moody blue dining room, eat a meal that appears ripped from pastoral still life painting, and knock back a few aperol spritzes during lunch like you have all the time in the world. Plus, if you gaze through pink window curtains just long enough, you might even begin to see a picturesque landscape sloping toward the Mediterranean Sea rather than a searing hot parking lot blacktop.

Walking up to a blacked-out, unmarked door in an eerily sparse strip center could go any number of ways. Maybe you’re the main character at a climactic turning point in a gripping crime drama, or perhaps you’re about to have the best tortillas of your life. The latter is the case at Tatemó, a Mexican restaurant in Spring Branch. At night, when Tatemó serves a six-course small plates tasting menu that books up weeks in advance, the room is nearly pitch black, with only flickering candles and wall sconces providing a faint glow. The food is beautiful in its simplicity: aromatic blue corn quesadillas with wonderfully smooth guacamole, crispy pan-roasted vegetables and smoky salsa, thick sopes obscured in a blanket of soft shaved cheese. Sometimes (every time) we just shove the tortillas in our face and take a deep breath to inhale the tender roasted nuttiness of fresh masa. 

Drive past this little white and yellow corner building any night of the week, and a line will inevitably be wrapped around the corner. Inspired by the iconic bodegas of New York City, Burger Bodega resembles a Houston-themed millennial-smashburger fever dream, with “713” plastered across faux corner store products lining every wall. Only three food items grace the menu: a smashburger, a chopped cheese, and fries. Patties on the smashburgers are crispy, caramelized, nearly wafer-thin, and are served on a soft potato bun—nostalgic bliss. The chopped cheese is a mashup of American icon meets cross-cultural innovation, wrapped in a squishy hero roll. That line is worth it. 

Dining at Jūn in The Heights is all hits and no misses. One bite of the charred whole fish with guajillo and lime could turn anyone into a cartoon cat. We thought about putting the whole fish in our mouth and pulling the bones out clean (and we kind of did). Every dish at this self-described “New Asian American” restaurant is capable of blowing you away: buttery grits with roasted tomato and crispy bites of carne seca, savory roasted sweet potato with labneh—and that’s just the beginning. Dinner here feels familiar and different all at the same time, because the flavors are Houston melded together, but with a fresh take, and in a space that someone with an actual personality put together. Make a reservation for your birthday or a special date (far in advance) for a knockout experience.

Housed in a bland strip center, Maderas in Montrose is anything but. The Mexican restaurant is filled with tropical plants, massive floral murals, and plush booths. You could literally bring anyone here—a date, a grandmother, a third-tier friend—and have a fantastic time. Yeah, there’s queso on the menu, but there are also spicy squash blossom quesadillas, savory barbacoa birria ramen, and blue corn tacos with paprika-rubbed whole octopus tentacles. Even better, a meal at Maderas doesn’t cost an entire paycheck, in fact, you might feel like you’re getting away with something when the bill arrives. 

Some places require a suit jacket or dress that says “I’m at an event.” The latest spot that requires this type of primping? Karne, a high-end take on traditional Korean barbecue in The Heights. With chandeliers that might cost more than your mortgage and smoking Old Fashioneds presented on platters, Karne looks like the kind of place where the Real Housewives Of Houston would go for a casual lunch, meaning it’s not casual at all. Prioritize it for a celebratory date night or group dinner involving anyone who takes their meat seriously. For a little bit of everything, get the $60 per person “karnivore platter” which comes with five different cuts and plenty of banchan. The platter changes daily, so cross your fingers and hope that the hanger steak and smoked rib meat make the board (and if not, they’re worth adding on).

We’re not sure what our favorite thing about Toyori is. On the one hand, the ramen at this Japanese spot in Chinatown is totally craveable, but the restaurant also gives you adorable tiny probiotic drinks at the end of the meal, which, you know, cute. While the interior feels nondescript in the same way most new spots in Chinatown do—dark walls, rows of utilitarian booths and tables—the dim lighting and floor-to-ceiling gold "Toyori" mural feel special. As does the food. Dig into glistening pork buns or spicy tan tan ramen with crispy charred chashu pork. Or have a rib eye sizzling plate, serced with a pile of spaghetti, and steamed freezer-grade vegetables, ‘cause, why not? Everything shows up fast, and you’ll probably want to eat it equally as fast (this is where the yogurt drinks come in handy). And while the menu at Toyori may feel like any other ramen spot, the quality and consistency are what keep us coming back for bowl after bowl.

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You can tell the folks at Dinette in The Heights don't take themselves too seriously. There’s a sly sense of humor to the food, which starts with a solid foundation in Vietnamese cuisine, but turns the irreverence up to 11 with dishes like lobster fried rice with the quintessential combo of peas and cubed carrots, all blanketed in salted egg. Or a crisp Vietnamese rice paper “pizza” piled high with cheese, pineapple, and a spicy sate mayo. Tiki cocktails arrive in ridiculous glassware, like a ceramic elephant or saguaro cactus, and the table settings, from the napkin rings to the plateware, are very vintage 99 Ranch. This isn’t your regular stoner-level sauced-up menu, rather more tongue-in-cheek, as though the folks behind Dinette want to first grab your attention, and then see if you’re really picking up what they’re putting down. Which we hope is another one of those Vietnamese pizzas.

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photo credit: Quit Nguyen

The Hit List: New Houston Restaurants To Try Right Now guide image