This year has been an exciting time for new restaurants. From homegrown talent to intriguing out-of-towners, the sheer volume of openings has been tough to keep up with, even for someone who’s made a career out of doing so.
Ultimately, that quantity is why this article is titled “favorite” new restaurants rather than “best.” Simply put, really evaluating each restaurant’s quality against its peers requires multiple visits, and I simply didn’t have time to get back to as many places as I would have liked to. Frankly, some establishments might have earned spots on this list if I had the time to visit them (apologies to Karne Korean Steakhouse, Tim Ho Wan, Ten Sushi, etc.).
Instead of pretending to be objective, I’m listing the places I either found myself drawn to multiple times or, in the case of a couple of more recent openings, am most looking forward to returning to. It also has some honorable mention, because this year has been a very good time to be restaurant fan in Houston. Like other Where to Eat columns, places are listed in roughly the order by which I think people should try them, but each establishment will deliver a very satisfying meal.
A year of sold out pop-ups provides plenty of proof that Abbas Dhanani has made a successful transition from food influencer to food creator, but his brick and mortar restaurant still manages to exceed expectations. Part of the credit goes to the Vy Truong and Han Dang of Very Handsome Studio, who created the design that puts a fun, Houston-themed spin on a New York bodega that comes complete with shelves lined with fake, Houston-inspired products and a Donkeeboy mural.
Of course, most of the credit goes to the signature smash burgers that are flattened to crispy deliciousness and paired with bright, housemade pickles and the tangy Bodega sauce. The chopped cheese sandwich, two burger patties sauteed with peppers and onions, is just as craveable.
Dhanani wisely partnered with Craft Creamery’s Steve Marques to create his milkshakes. Veteran Houston burger fans will recognize Marques from his time at pioneering Houston burger joint The Burger Guys. Not only is the signature Vietnamese coffee milkshake as good as memories of it, the all-new mango lassi pays homage to Dhanani’s Pakistani heritage.
Houston has a lot of Mediterranean restaurants, but none of them can quite match the style of this Israeli restaurant from the owners of Doris Metropolitan. Alongside sister concept Badolina Bakery, Hamsa brings a little bit of Dizengoff Street to Rice Village.
Dining with a group of at least four provides a way to maximize the experience, because it facilitates sharing all of the salatin (hot and cold vegetable plates), which pair well with any of the three available hummus preparations and freshly baked pita. From there, even the most carnivorous diner should sample the crispy falafel. Round out the meal with a couple of the wood-grilled skewers or step up to a shareable entree like lamb ribs or grilled branzino. Or choose the Yella Yella (Hebrew for “let’s go”) tasting menu to let the kitchen guide the meal.
The stylish interior and shareable menu make Hamsa a good option for celebratory dinners. Belly dancers on Thursday nights add even more energy to the dining experience.
By Eric Sandler