DESTINATION DINING: it's not just a meal, it's a destination
August 1, 2021at5:00 AM
by Robin Barr Sussman
Houston spans the globe in cultural diversity with an enticing array of authentic global cuisines paving our sprawling city. These eight new spots not only wake up jaded palates, but offer a chance to get a little lost. Pre-or-post dinner, hit the theatre, grab a concert, tackle that boutique sales rack until your stomach growls, or graze the farmers market for local take-home treats and unique culinary finds.
DOWNTOWN CULTURE TRIP James Beard award-winning chef Chris Shepherd and his buzzy Underbelly group have made their first foray downtown with Georgia James Tavern, a low-key version of his widely successful Georgia James steakhouse. Located in the art-deco luxury high-rise Market Square Tower, the area hosts some of the oldest buildings in the city, as well as myriad bars, restaurants, and entertainment within walking distance to Houston’s Theatre District. On the menu of chef’s personal faves: cast-iron seared steaks, hearty (and gorgeous!) roasted vegetable salads, and of course, a tavern-style burger made with 44 Farms ground chuck and crowned with melted American cheese, smoked onion mayo, pickles, and red onions. 777 Preston St., 281-846-6938, georgiajamestavern.com
THE CULINARY JOURNEY Are we in Houston or the Napa Valley? The journey starts and ends in Montrose at MARCH restaurant. Modern and light, this stunner explores different culinary regions of the Mediterranean with side trips through a 12,000-bottle wine cellar. The Lounge is the first stop and included in the tasting menu tariff where you’re invited to nibble on inventive snacks and sip exotic cocktails while sinking into leather banquettes. In the dining room, choose from a six or nine-course dinner conceptualized by chef-partner Felipe Riccio. Perfectly seared tuna belly; braised goat dumplings in lamb consommé; beef rib with hibiscus roselle and apricot kernel ktefa dessert are complex offerings displaying a rainbow of Mediterranean flavors. Pair it all with exhilarating wines by partner-master sommelier June Rodil. MARCH is housed upstairs a winding staircase in a fine newly constructed complex by Goodnight Hospitality with other adventures including Montrose Cheese & Wine and Rosie Cannonball. Reserve way ahead for your night at MARCH. 1624 Westheimer Rd., 832-380-2481, marchrestaurant.com
SHOP, SIP & BARBECUE Feges BBQ, the smoked meat destination in Greenway Plaza by married couple chef Erin Smith and pitmaster Patrick Feges, recently spawned an outpost in Spring Branch. Known for stellar brisket, a smart wine list and inventive sides, the newbie is roomy with 5,000 square feet indoors, a large outdoor patio and an indoor playground for the small tots. In addition to myriad smoked meats, expect a broader menu with dishes including southern fried chicken, loaded nachos, charred Caesar salad with serrano vinaigrette and a porcini-crusted hanger steak. Don’t pass up the hog fat cornbread and sweet-spicy Brussel sprouts! Spring Branch is booming with new restaurants and bars including Shoot the Moon featuring pizza and wine flights, as well as two farmers markets. 8217 Long Point Rd., 346-319-5339, fegesbbq.com
GET YOUR ART ON Two Bastion Collection eateries, Café Leonelli and Le Jardiniere in the new Kinder Building, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, have given visitors a reason to stay all day. Start at Café Leonelli, an attended counter-serve with top-notch coffee and house made European pastries, fancy focaccia, sandwiches and soups, baked pasta and meat and seafood entrees with an Italian accent. Or sneak a frozen treat from the artisanal Frohzen case (see our Ice Cream story). Save French-kissed Le Jardinier for special occasions. Michelin-star chef Alain Verzeroli helms this luxurious dinner destination which looks out on the Isamu Noguchi-designed Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden. The artful menu is dictated by the seasons: think marinated watermelon with ginger and heirloom tomatoes, Ora King salmon with lemongrass emulsion, and Wagyu bavette with charred eggplant mousse. 5500 Main at MFAH, lejardinier-houston.com; 713-714-3014, cafeleonelli.com
SAIL AWAY Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House in San Leon is a great weekend or day trip escape for brunch, lunch or dinner on the water. The new Bayside Brunch proffers a feast for the eyes and palate: watch the boats (they even have their own marina!) and imbibe in bubbles or Bloody Marys while noshing on Gulf seafood, Nashville hot chicken, gussied-up donuts, fresh oysters and egg specialties. 113 6th St., San Leon, TX, 281-339-1515, pier6seafood.com
LET’S PLAY Pinstripes welcomes kids of all ages for bowling, bocce, a vast menu of house-made Italian-American fare, craft beer and monthly specials. The two-story facility sports 13 bowling lanes, six indoor and outdoor bocce courts and a casual bistro. The kitchen doesn’t play around when it comes to options: maple-glazed salmon, ribeye steak, grilled burgers, wood-fired pizzas, handmade pasta and gelato are a few temptations, while the bar dispenses a curated roster of wine and handcrafted cocktails. August 27 is Craft Beer and Barbecue Night with a cookout on the upstairs terrace and a buffet of summery food and local beer pairings (Saint Arnold’s, Karbach and 8th Wonder) for $40. 3300 Kirby Dr., 346-297-1770, pinstripes.com
FOOD HALL OF FAME Is there any better place to get lost than a food hall? This summer, Finn Hall, a next-gen collection of diverse eateries, welcomes newcomer Pho Binh from chefs Kevin Pham and Di Nguyen. The downtown location is a descendant of their family’s highly lauded restaurant, Pho Binh by Night located in Houston’s Asiatown and has been recognized as some of the best pho in the country. Although pho is the thing here with dozens of slurp-able combos, expect other delicacies including eggrolls and chicken cabbage salad with ginger dressing. We know where we will eat this winter, pho sure! Finn Hall, 712 Main Street, finnhallhou.com. Check out the full roster of vendors.
TRANSPORT YOURSELF TO GRATIFY Enter Gratify, a bustling Parisian-style bistro hot off the sidewalks of Rice Village, and you’ll be greeted by a disco ball and vividly colored whimsical furniture. It’s the latest concept by Clark Cooper Concepts (Brasserie 19 and Coppa) and these restaurant veterans make it easy to escape reality while soaking up the chic ambiance. You’ll need a break after shopping new CB2, Crate & Barrel’s modern furniture brand, or scouring the 40-plus vendors at Rice Village farmers market. Anticipate classic American choices of caviar, crab Louie salad and fall-off-the-bone short ribs. Graze on grilled lamb meatballs with tzatziki or The Gratify Board—a mélange of charcuterie, cheese, almonds and surprises. The towering Gratify Burger will indeed gratify along with a glass of the affordable bubbles! 5212 Morningside, 713-524-7865, gratifyhouston.com