Texas Monthly adds and updates approximately sixty restaurant listings for our Dining Guide each month. There’s limited space in the print issue, but the entire searchable guide to the best of Texas cuisine is at your fingertips online!
Here are a few highlights from the new restaurants reviewed this month. (Restaurant critic Patricia Sharpe’s pick—this month, it’s Poitín in Houston—can be found here.) Click through on the links for more detail:
This splashy Design District newcomer isn’t trying to be an authentic Italian restaurant, but the kitchen shows reverence for the cuisine, particularly in its crudos, handmade pastas, and wood-grilled seafood (don’t miss the roasted oysters topped with fine-diced pepperoni and the arctic char with salsa verde and tangy tomatillo). Chef J. Chastain, an alumnus of Stephan Pyles and the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, adds creative flourishes, like Texan and Latin accents, to regional Italian dishes (think beef short ribs with chimichurri and pickled Fresno chiles). The white-bolognese cappelloni—handmade pasta “hats” stuffed with a veal-and-pork ragù and lapped with Parmesan cream—sound traditional Northern Italian, but Chastain enhances this classic dish with crispy dried-olive bits and crunchy bread crumbs. Charred octopus atop earthy pureed chickpeas was delicious, its wood-grilled note balanced and brightened by mint pesto and pickled radishes. Our vegetables benefitted from the grill as well; charred broccoli spears bore a hint of smoke (a rustic tomato sofrito proved a good complement). Paprika-infused creste di gallo pasta with rock shrimp packed more chile heat than we expected, so we soothed our tongues with a rich and velvety chocolate budino accented by sweet-tart candied kumquats. We can’t wait to explore more of the menu. The restaurant’s decor echoes the kitchen’s Italian-with-a-twist theme: black lace curtains play off upholstered leopard-print banquettes; ornate Roman capitals top tall, airy frames (a cheeky riff on classic columns); and a mishmash of chandeliers and pendant lights glam up the place. The way owner Chas Martin works the high-energy dining room, you’d think he were welcoming guests to a party at his house.
With its charming mishmash of closely spaced tables and red lanterns, little Lin has caught on fast. A thoughtful menu combines subtly flavorful dishes and abundant dim sum offerings (there’s a good sampling every night and a full menu at Sunday brunch). Our appetizer, a pleasant enough but rather thick, damp scallion pancake, made us wish we’d tried the soup dumplings instead, but then came two dynamite entrées: a quartet of exceptionally tender medium-rare baby lamb chops nicely crusted in lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and rosemary (hardly needing the savory miso sauce alongside) and a showstopper of a seafood stew: presented in the traditional “bird’s nest” of woven taro root, the bowl was brimming with pristine scallops, shrimp, mussels, and baby octopus. A word to the wise: reservations are highly advisable. Oh, and there’s parking in the rear.
The cosmopolitan feel of the stunning Century Square development belies its College Station location. Central to this urban mirage is the George, a fancifully designed yet undeniably luxurious boutique hotel housing this elegant steakhouse, where the cuisine is as delicious as the upscale atmosphere suggests. Along with an impressively stocked bar and ample selection of steakhouse fare (we relished the tender juiciness and abundant flavor of the filet), Porters offers Southern-inspired dishes like fried quail legs, crawfish cakes in Tabasco rémoulade, Gulf redfish in a delicate meunière sauce, and whiskey-glazed pork chops. There’s also a butcher shop for to-go steaks and chops.
Though Mexican beach flavors are definitely detected here, this coastal-cool jewel overlooking the Trinity River imports ideas for casual seaside eats from as far away as La Jolla and Rio. Rock shrimp, crispy in a masa jacket, combine beautifully with rémoulade sauce and a lemony parsley slaw inside a delicate corn tortilla, while cauliflower florets in almond romesco, wrapped in a Bibb lettuce leaf, prove there’s something special at work in the kitchen. Diced whitefish and avocado in citrus with sweet red onion slices, yellow pepper strips, and hints of cayenne add up to an addictive ceviche; an arugula–cherry tomato salad, tossed with roasted corn and spicy pepitas, plays the perfect companion. We like meaty choices too, including the pulled pork tossed in tango mojo with fresh julienned veggies atop and brown rice below. An agua fresca is always the ideal mocktail, but the best sangria in town is this bar’s version combining red wine with chile vodka, ginger, and peach nectar.
Chris Shepherd has shuttered Underbelly but kept its mojo going at UB Preserv—the name basically meaning “Underbelly, preserv(ed).” It’s just down the road, at a smaller, more casual site, and sure enough the spirit survives, with dishes such as the famous pork dumplings—plump, tender little guys with touches of soy, chile, vinegar, and crispy onion and garlic—and a mixed tomato salad with blackberries, peach, a touch of chile, and queso fresco. Our only disappointment? Crispy pork ribs with black bean mole and onions that came off a bit chewy and lacking in flavor. No complaints, though, with the wickedly rich queso fundido, a crock of queso oaxaca, crumbled blood sausage, and chile toreado, served with pork-fat tortillas—a luscious combination. Prepare for hard surfaces (including the seating) that amplify the crowd noise. And you can expect those crowds, especially at popular times, because reservations are not accepted.