It’s going to be an exciting spring for Houston food lovers. Several of the city’s best-known restaurateurs have new projects in the works, and high-profile exports from cities like Austin and New Orleans will make their way to the Bayou City this year. After the awful year that was 2020, things are definitely looking up in the Houston dining scene.
To be clear, this isn’t an exhaustive list of restaurants that will open their doors in Houston in 2021 — that would be much longer. Instead, it’s a look at the projects we’re the most excited about, with updated details on when diners can expect these much-anticipated newcomers to arrive.
Acme Oyster House
Acme Oyster Houston, the century-old seafood restaurant first founded in New Orleans, is almost finished with its revamp of Montrose’s Tower Theater, last occupied by El Real. The oyster house posted to Facebook earlier this month that it would be opening in April. An official opening date hasn’t been set just yet, but expect the restaurant to arrive in the coming weeks.
Cafe Leonelli and Le Jardinier
This duo of newcomers set to arrive very soon at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston brings chic settings and haute cuisine to the Museum District. At Cafe Leonelli, an offshoot of New York City’s Leonelli Bakery, expect Italian dishes like focaccia and fresh pasta.
At Le Jardinier, French cuisine will be in the spotlight, with chef Alain Verzeroli in charge of the kitchen. An alum of vaunted French chef Alain Passard’s Arpege, Verzeroli will oversee a menu of “vegetable-rich” dishes made with locally sourced produce and proteins. Cafe Leonelli will open Friday, April 16 with Le Jardinier soon to follow later in the spring.
Space Cowboy and Trash Panda
Chef Lyle Bento, formerly of Southern Goods and Underbelly Hospitality, and Greg Perez, who helped co-found Northside bar Monkey’s Tail, have announced the formation of a new group, Night Moves Hospitality, with at least four bars in the works. The first will be Space Cowboy, a tropical bar slated for the new Heights House Hotel (a revamped version of what used to be the Astro Inn) at 100 Cavalcade. The bar will feature fruit-forward Polynesian cocktails and food inspired by Bento’s Hawaiian roots. It’s set to open in late April.
Shortly after, the group plans to open Trash Panda Drinking Club at 4203 Edison Street, a laid-back bar with a Southern comfort food menu and a raccoon mascot. Two additional projects, which are still in development, are expected to open by the end of the year.
NoPo Café, Market & Bar
The newest project from Ben Berg, founder of B.B. Italia and B&B Butchers, is expected to open in May at 1244 North Post Oak Road. NoPo (short for North Post Oak) will offer counter-service breakfasts and lunches and full-service dinner alongside an all-day market and 10-seat bar. Last month, Berg also announced two new restaurants planned for The Heights. First up is Trattoria Sofia, an Italian eatery that will take over the space formerly occupied by Presidio in the Heights.
When the Spring Branch outpost of this Houston barbecue favorite finally arrives, Erin Smith and Patrick Feges’s smoked meats and sides will finally have the sprawling home they deserve. Diners can look forward to an all-day menu, complete with burgers, sandwiches, and wings, plus wines selected by Smith. If current construction timelines hold, Feges BBQ will open in June.
Delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this much-anticipated Middle Eastern eatery from the minds behind steakhouse Doris Metropolitan will likely arrive in Rice Village sometime this summer. Expect Israeli cuisine, tons of wines, and a sprawling space. A bakery, called Badolina, will open right next door and serve up sweet and savory pastries like babka alongside croissants and loaves of sourdough.
Ken Bridge, who has brought a number of restaurants to the Heights over the years, including Witchcraft Tavern, Blackbird Izakaya, and Lola, is planning big changes for his steakhouse Ritual. Culturemap reports that Ritual is closing this weekend, April 4, and will reopen sometime in the second half of May as a Korean barbecue joint called Mapojeong Galbijib. According to the site, the new restaurant will focus on dry-aged USDA Prime beef, and will feature a bar of infused sojus and housemade banchan.
The Houston outpost of chefs Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole’s Asian smokehouse has been in the works since 2019, and it’s on track to arrive in Fall 2021. When it arrives, diners can look forward to a bounty of smoked meats and dishes like garlic rice noodles, pork shoulder char siu, and brisket served with nuoc cham.
Chris Shepherd’s trio of new restaurants
It’s going to be a busy year for Chris Shepherd, the mind behind spots like Georgia James, One Fifth, and UB Preserv. He’s got three new restaurants in the works, all expected to arrive in 2021. Scope out the details here:
- Wild Oats — A new restaurant at the Houston Farmers Market helmed by One Fifth chef Nick Fine. Fitting with its location, Wild Oats will source ingredients from local farmers and purveyors and focus on Texas cuisine. It’s expected to open in August.
- Georgia James Tavern — A casual offshoot of Shepherd’s indulgent steakhouse Georgia James, this eatery marks Underbelly Hospitality’s first restaurant in Downtown Houston. Chef Matthew Coburn will oversee a menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads, and steaks. It’s set to arrive in June.
- As-yet-unnamed Regent Square restaurant — Details on this forthcoming restaurant are scant — it doesn’t even have a name yet — but the restaurant will be located at the new Regent Square development at Dunlavy and Allen Parkway, and will focus on live fire cooking. The restaurant is inspired by the grilling and smoking Shepherd has been doing at home during the past year of the pandemic. It is expected to open in fall 2021.
This long-awaited food hall, set to take over the vacant Barbara Jordan post office building near Downtown Houston, is still expected to open in late 2021. When it does, it will house an outpost of Austin’s acclaimed Salt & Time butcher shop, plus a burger spot called the Butcher’s Burger from the minds behind Salt & Time. There will also be a Vietnamese eatery serving pho and bun bo hue, Lea Jane’s Hot Chicken, and an outpost of food truck Taco Fuego.
An Afro-Asian restaurant and collaboration between Lucille’s chef Chris Williams and Top Chef contestant Dawn Burrell, Late August is set to make its debut in Midtown at the multi-use Ion development. The restaurant’s name is a nod to the old Sears building around which the Ion is situated, and details on its menu are scant as of yet. Expect Late August to open in late 2021.