Trap Kitchen, Los Angeles’s restaurant group, pop-up, and food truck empire, is bringing California-Cajun cuisine and its celebration of Instagram chefs to Houston this fall through its latest restaurant, Cali.
The restaurant, which will replace the former Brick House Tavern + Tap outpost at 12910 Northwest Freeway, plans to serve an eclectic combination of California and Texas Cajun cuisine with a showcase of Black culture — but don’t call it soul food, says the owner Oscar Edwards, who also owns and operates Oakland’s Trap Kitchen restaurant and food truck. Slated to open by the second week of December, it will feature items the Trap Kitchen brand is known for, including its sought-after protein-filled, grilled pineapple bowls; lamb chops; and cornish hens stuffed with jambalaya — all with a special emphasis on Instagram chefs and popular restaurants from California, like Taco Mel, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, and Blues Kitchen.
“These are people who started cooking at the house or backyard,” Edwards says. “So if you love food and love to see different variations of stuff that you only see on Instagram or TikTok, then this is for you.”
Compton chefs and former rival gang members Malachi “Spank” Jenkins and Roberto “News” Smith, the founders of the Black-owned empire, have also helped curate Cali’s entire menu, with hopes to make it more inclusive, particularly for people who might not understand the meaning of “Trap,” which for the group, goes beyond the traditional associations with rap or “hood” culture, Edwards says. For the group, it operates as an inspirational acronym, a reminder to “take risks and prosper,” and to put their rewards back into the community.
Edwards says the goal is to share with Houstonians the variety of California cuisine — much of which has captivated diners first on social media — under one roof. This means there will be loaded fries from LA-based restaurant Mr. Fries Man, the brand’s signature pizzas, which originated at Trap Kitchen’s Portland location and are layered up in decadent ingredients like lobster, plus various styles of gooey, loaded mac and cheese dishes pulled from Trap’s cookbook Trap Kitchen: Mac N’ All Over The World: Bangin’ Mac N’ Cheese Recipes from Around the World. Cali will also include some Houston-inspired dishes, like a local spin on fried rice, and weekly specials that diners can learn about on Instagram.
The cocktail menu features drinks that Edwards says are popular in urban culture, including Trap Koolaid mixed with vodka; cocktails using artisanal sodas from local brand Exotic Pop, which is co-owned by Houston rapper Lil’ Flip; and California-specific drinks, like a Bompton Punch, an ode to Compton (the “B” alludes to Bloods street gang culture); and the Marathon Continues cocktail, which is named after a mixtape by Nipsey Hussle, the late California rapper who Edwards says was one of Trap Kitchen’s earliest supporters.
The 7,500-square-foot restaurant includes a full sports bar with more than 30 televisions to watch sports and a rotation of live entertainment from bands and DJs, with decor that will transport diners to the Golden State, from palm trees to nods to its celebrities and hip-hop legends, while also representing Houston artists and food entrepreneurs, like Bun B. “We want to make sure we’re not a fancy restaurant,” Edwards adds. “We want to be right in the middle and for people to feel at home. A place where you don’t have to be all the way dressed, but you can be presentable and be who you are.”
Spank and News launched the brand out of their apartment kitchen in 2013, when they began selling soul food meals. They later earned recognition from celebrities, including California rappers Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, and eventually expanded their footprint, with various food trucks, restaurants in Oakland and Portland, a Las Vegas pop-up, and a now-postponed stand at Miami’s version of the weekly food festival, Smorgasburg.
The group has also published three recipe books, including its drink book, Trap Kitchen: The Art of Street Cocktails. More recently, Trap Kitchen was granted a four-week restaurant residency at two Las Vegas casinos that’s set to launch in January.
The idea to expand Trap’s reach to Houston came before the pandemic when Edwards came to the city to help launch a hibachi food truck for Trap Kitchen in the food truck park, Houston Grub Park. Sadly, the truck did not pan out, but Edwards, who sought to open a local restaurant, says he quickly learned from informal polls that more people preferred a brick-and-mortar version of Trap over a food truck.
Now, Edwards says he and the Trap family are excited to see what will come of bringing Cali culture to Houston. “We’re excited to start something new, to add value, and to add a different palate for people. We want them to come and celebrate, have a good time, and enjoy some great food,” he says.