With the Tastemaker Awards only days away, the time has come to celebrate the nominees for Restaurant of the Year. In a city full of exceptional eateries, these nine nominees stand a little taller than the rest.
Beyond those individual elements, they’ve also successfully navigated the challenges of surviving a global pandemic. Like many of their peers, these restaurants figured out how to serve their food to-go, developed protocols to keep their staffs safe from infection, and adapted to the difficulties of sometimes inconsistent supply chains.
They’ve managed these obstacles while maintaining high standards of service and creating new dishes, cocktails, and other offerings that keep diners coming back for more. Any of them would be worthy of the title.
Who will win? Find out July 22 at the Tastemaker Awards party. We’ll dine on bites from this year’s nominated restaurants before emcee Bun B reveals the winners.
Houston is home to many steakhouses, but none of them are quite like Doris Metropolitan. Instead of serving conventional dishes like creamed spinach and shrimp cocktail, chef Sash Kurgan draws upon modern Israeli cuisine to deliver a lighter, fresher approach of bright flavors that contrast with the richness of Doris’ dry-aged steaks. Pastry chef Michal Michaeli oversees some of the finest breads in the city as well as inventive desserts that utilize modern techniques in inventive ways. First-rate service guarantees that every diner leaves feeling like a VIP.
Customers turn to this Upper Kirby restaurant for precisely cut and seasoned nigiri and sashimi — many using fish flown in from Japan — but so much of what sets Kata apart are the specials that appear on both the raw and cooked sides of the kitchen. One day it will be a lobster-filled sando on housemade milk bread, while another it might be an Insta-worthy dish of barnacles. Kata also deserves credit for figuring out how to make its cuisine work for to-go diners and for its extensive safety protocols that kept both staff and customers safe during the pandemic.
After flying a little under the media radar for a few years, chef Chris Williams’ Museum District restaurant reasserted itself in a major way over the last year. First, Lucille’s hosted a special lunch between then presidential candidate Joe Biden and the family of George Floyd then it hosted a series of pop-ups that both provided much needed income to unemployed bartenders and raised money for Williams’ Lucille’s 1913 non-profit that’s served thousands of meals to hungry Houstonians. Meanwhile, the restaurant remains one of the city’s most satisfying Southern-inspired eateries, turning out the shrimp and grits against which all others are judged and hosting one of the city’s liveliest brunch scenes.
After winning last year’s Tastemaker Awards Best New Restaurant tournament, proprietor Ignacio Torras and chef-partner Luis Roger’s energetic restaurant in River Oaks District steps up to the main category. The restaurant has undergone a number of changes over the last year, particularly among its management team, and physical changes will soon expand its seating capacity while maintaining all of the elements that have made it a favorite spot for selfies. What remains consistent is MAD’s menu that’s full of both whimsical dishes that utilize modernist techniques and more classic fare that satisfies on every visit.
Ever since it opened in late 2016, Nobie’s has lured diners with its eclectic menu, creative cocktails, and friendly service, but its success transcends any of those individual elements. While it’s easy to praise staples like the Texas tartare, nonno’s pasta, and the “winner, winner chicken dinner,” the reality is that Houston restaurant professionals have made it one of their favorite hangouts due to its unique combination of food, service, and atmosphere — powered by its vintage stereo and all-vinyl soundtrack — that makes even weeknight dinners feel like a special occasion. Also, the pies are kind of life changing.
Chef Alex Au-Yeung has been drawing diners from across the Houston area to this Malaysian spot in Katy. From savory beef rendang to crispy roti, count on Phat Eatery for well-executed staples that transport customers around the world. Beyond the staples, Au-Yeung’s relentless creativity means even frequent visitors will find something new to try, from dim sum bites inspired by his time in Hong Kong to curry crawfish that put a new twist on Viet-Cajun flavors. Hopefully the year to come brings a new, inner loop location for the too-brief experiment with a ghost kitchen.
Chef Ryan Lachaine’s Montrose restaurant remains one of the city’s most dynamic eateries, drawing broad inspiration from both Houston’s immigrant communities and Lachaine’s Canadian and Eastern European heritage. Executive sous chef Peter Nguyen has added his own touches to the menu, from smash hits like the Chinese-inspired honey crawfish with walnuts to more recent additions like mussels with ginger-miso broth. Bartender of the Year nominee Derek Brown brings experience from some of New York’s top restaurants to Riel’s bar program, which means the drinks are as exciting as the food.
Goodnight Hospitality’s Southern European restaurant offers lots of comforting bites in one of the city’s most stylish dining rooms. Whether it’s a wood fired pizza or a vegetable dish made with ingredients sourced from Goodthyme Farms (also owned by Goodnight partners Bailey and Peter McCarthy), Rosie’s dishes have an effortless quality that hides the precise techniques needed to produce them. An extensive wine list, seasonal cocktail list (with both boozy and non-alcoholic options), and service that provides both a friendly demeanor and a thorough knowledge of the menu further enhances every meal there.
When Squable opened in 2019, the focus was on its owners, James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Yu and Anvil owner Bobby Heugel. As the restaurant has evolved, attention has shifted to executive chef Mark Clayton’s menu, which utilizes locally-sourced ingredients to create European-inspired dishes, and general manager Terry Williams’ beverage program, which draws upon an eclectic mix of wine and cocktails that complement Clayton’s cuisine. Staples like the French cheeseburger and marinated mussels anchor the menu, but new dishes — summer melon with blistered shisitos proved a highlight of a recent visit — mean that even frequent visitors might find a new favorite.