Even before the pandemic, 2020 started rough for Houston restaurants, with a water main break that cut off freshwater access to roughly half of the city, including hundreds of businesses. Just a few days later, Rodeo Houston would be canceled, as the first cases of Covid-19 emerged in the city, tied to the rodeo’s massive barbecue cookoff.
The ensuing 22 months have been some of the hardest in recent memory for the hospitality industry. And yet, Houston’s bars and restaurants have endured, with many new spots opening and further expanding the city’s already renown culinary profile.
After a 2020 hiatus, the Eater Awards have returned, to honor those restaurants and bars bringing creativity, inventiveness, and just plain delicious food done right the Bayou City. This year’s awards honor an ambitious new tasting restaurant, an up-and-coming chef, a no-fuss cocktail bar, a timely pandemic pivot, and one of the most beautiful restaurant interiors in the city.
Please join us in celebrating this year’s group of winners, who will also be receiving a traditional Eater tomato can trophy.
Restaurant of the Year
1624 Westheimer Road
The ultra-luxe new tasting restaurant from the minds behind Rosie Cannonball aims to take diners on a culinary tour of the Mediterranean, tracing the trade and evolution of spices, techniques, and other ingredients from region to region. Every six months, chef Felipe Riccio switched his focus to a new area — previous menus have featured the Maghreb (Northwest Africa), and Andalusia, and Murcia in Southern Spain. Diners can choose from a six- or nine-course tasting menu, and one of two wine pairings from master sommelier June Rodil — a more traditional selection, or an experimental one. It’s an ambitious restaurant, one that looks to further expand the palate of Houstonians.
Chef of the Year
Aaron Bludorn, Bludorn
807 Taft Street
After stints under big-name chefs in the Napa Valley and New York City, and a run on Netflix’s culinary competition show The Final Table, chef Aaron Bludorn chose the Bayou City for his first solo venture, thanks in part to his wife Victoria’s roots here (she’s the daughter of restaurateur Chris Pappas.) His namesake restaurant, Bludorn, opened in the midst of the pandemic, at a time when people were cautiously returning to dining out and looking for an extra level of service to make the occasion feel special.
Bludorn’s menu features modern Texas and new American cuisine, with comforting dishes like Gulf seafood cioppino, short rib ravioli, and beef wellington. Together with fellow Cafe Boulud alum Cherif Mbodji, who runs the front of the house, Bludorn has managed to create an elegant with intimate, detailed service that isn’t at all fussy.
Best New Bar
3501 Harrisburg Boulevard
Houston’s East End finally has the cocktail bar it deserves. Night Shift opened in July, in the shadow of the former Maxwell House coffee plant. One might be mistaken for thinking the converted warehouse, right off the light rail, hides a dive, but inside is one of the most extensive craft cocktail menus in Houston. Named in homage to the plant’s long-gone third shift workers, Night Shift perfectly toes the line between neighborhood bar and mixology den, with drinks like the Trinidad sour, Queens Park swizzle, and ice-cold martinis. The bar’s cheeky food menu — featuring a “gas station burrito” made with vegan chorizo, cheese, and black beans, yuca fries with sweet chili sauce, crispy fried enchiladas potosinas, and even churros — is available until last call — 1:45 a.m. every day.
8217 Long Point Road
Feges BBQ’s second location, in Spring Branch, was already in the works when the coronavirus pandemic hit, closing office buildings throughout the city. That left the restaurant’s original location, in the food court of Greenway Plaza, in the lurch, with drastically reduced lunch traffic.
Thankfully, Feges has found huge success in its second home, which opened in June. It’s a family-friendly spot that’s also open nights and weekends, where meat-lovers can enjoy Patrick Feges’s expertly-smoked briskets and sides like chana masala and Moroccan spiced carrots, and Erin Smith’s wine list, which highlights small and creative growers and vinters.
5115 Westheimer Road, Suite C-3500
Nestled into the ritzy Saks wing of the Galleria, Musaafer serves elegant Indian dishes, beautiful cocktails, and some of the most lavish desserts in Houston. But it’s the breathtaking decor that diners notice first. The restaurant aims to showcase the diversity of dishes from the 29 states in the subcontinent of India, and that variety is echoed in the massive dining room. The 10,000-square-foot space is divided into seven distinct dining rooms, each decorated with custom artwork and opulent furniture like antique rugs and a 25-foot-long Dhokra wall decked out with brass castings of folk motifs. Each nook creates a dark, intimate space that flows seamlessly into the next, making it the perfect spot for a romantic date or intimate anniversary dinner.