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Food in Houston? No Problem
April 11, 2013 | By: High50
The home of convention centers and steakhouses has turned into a modern culinary mecca. Kaitlyn Goalen introduces the culinary stars on Houston's new gastronomic map
Food_Houston_OKRA Charity Bar-620

“Houston has no majority,” says Chris Shepherd, chef of Underbelly. He was referring to the many different ethnicities that call the city home—Houston is one of the most active entry-points into the United States. But he could have just as easily been talking about the restaurant scene, which has recently hit a critical mass of talent and taste.

Instead of employing a competitive, “fend for yourself” attitude, Houston’s culinary stars have banded together, sharing the responsibility of city ambassadors and cheering each other on (so much so that they even formed a 501c3 to create a non-profit bar).

The common conception of Houston—the fourth largest city in the country and the center of booming oil and gas industries—has been one of anonymous suits, convention centers, steakhouses, and freeways.

But lately, Houston’s neighborly restaurant vibe has drowned out the impersonal tinge of big business. From seafood programs that focus on local “by-catch” (fish caught unintentionally in fishing nets and generally thrown away), to culinary tours of ethnic food haunts led by big-name chefs, Houston is producing not only some of the most delicious but the most thought-provoking meals in the country.

Here is our gastronomic hitlist:

Food_Houston_Underbelly-1-200x200Underbelly

“The story of Houston food”—the motto of this restaurant—is apt. Chef Chris Shepherd is a student of his city, having explored the kitchens of both fine-dining temples and hole-in-the-wall gems. He shares his knowledge in dishes such as Korean rice dumplings, each one a fiery missile burrowed in a pile of pulled goat, and the daily bycatch special, which on one recent trip was a fillet of mako shark glistening with bone marrow vinaigrette and a smear of kabocha squash puree. Address: 1100 Westheimer Road

 

Food_Houston_Chef Justin Yu_Oxheart-200x200Oxheart

This slip of a restaurant flies in defiance of the idea that Houston is a steakhouse town. Your only decision: five or seven courses. Once you’ve made it, chef Justin Yu (pictured) will trot out a series of delicate, vegetable-heavy dishes that balance the cutting-edge with the comfortingly flavorful. Think heirloom carrots poached in coconut milk with smoked avocado, or beef tartare with a thin skin of kombu jelly. Address: 1302 Nance Street

 

 

The Pass and Provisions 

Everything about this comely newcomer is ambitious, including the fact that the building actually houses two separate eateries. On the left, Provisions is a warm, Italian-leaning tavern with exemplary housemade pastas. Then, behind a hidden door is the Pass, a minimalist tasting menu affair where “ham and eggs” translates to cracklins dusted in dehydrated pork alongside a tin of caviar and crème fraîche. Address: 807 Taft Street

Okra Charity Saloon

Located in the heart of downtown, Okra is the brainchild of more than a dozen local restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, including Underbelly and Oxheart. Each month, the bar (pictured above) nominates four charities, and patrons get a vote for every drink they purchase. (Your best bets: the Boulevardier, a bourbon sidecar, or ask for the bartender’s choice.) At the end of the month, the charity with the most votes receives the proceeds from that month’s sales. Address: 924 Congress Street