After receiving a tip, Eater has learned that both Alto in the West Ave complex at Kirby and Westheimer and the Maggie Rita's (formerly Ninfa's) space at Kirby and Richmond both closed on Friday. Alto had already been closed due to the process of building a Del Frisco's Grille in the space previously occupied by its sister restaurant Ava, which closed in June, but a note on the door indicated that the Schiller Del Grande group has decided to make the closure permanent. The restaurant is also listed as closed on b4-u-eat, and the phone rings without any answer or voicemail.
For Maggie Rita's, the closure represents the sad end to a story Eater's been following since July, when owner Santiago Moreno announced he would be transforming three Ninfa's restaurants into the Maggie Rita's concept he co-owns with comedian Carlos Mencia. Houston Press critic Katharine Shilcutt sharply criticized Maggie Rita's in an August review writing that "To say that Maggie Rita's is a disgrace to Tex-Mex would be an understatement." A scouting expedition verified that the Maggie Rita's locations on Post Oak near the Galleria and on Shepherd near Washington are both still open.
Eater has reached out both to Moreno and Alto's PR firm for comment but has yet to receive any reply.
It is unlikely that either space will stay empty for long. Upper Kirby has seen a dramatic growth in its number of restaurants. Although West Ave can be credited for creating space for restaurants such as seafood restaurant/happy hour Mecca Eddie V's and Indian-fusion restaurant Pondicheri, there's also upscale Italian-American restaurant Hawthorn, the expanded Carrabba's/Mia's complex, Haven's raw bar Cove, and even new, Asian small plates restaurant Nosh Bistro.
As one Eater source said, "Now there's room for something better."
Expect whoever comes into West Ave to have a high profile and serious finances. Could it be a landing spot for the next out of town chef who wants to open in Houston? As for Maggie Rita's, one can expect that location to attract a similar frenzy, because stand-alone spaces inside the loop with that much parking are rare indeed.
For those who were concerned that 2013 would be unable to match this year's pace for dynamic openings, things just got a lot more interesting.
UPDATE: Through his PR representative, Alto co-owner Lonnie Schiller has released the following statement: "Alto is closing while extensive downstairs construction takes place at Del Frisco's Grill. It could be for 4 to 6 weeks and is expected to re-pen early next year."