Chefs are like rockstars these days, attracting followers and groupies like bees to honey. Here's a guide to show you where you're most likely to rub elbows or bump into one around Houston.
Well-located in the heart of Westheimer close to Montrose, Paulie's is comfortable fast-casual, and reasonably priced, a place where you can stop at anytime for sandwiches, pasta or great coffee, which is why it's not only popular in the neighborhood, but among chefs as well.
Named Best Sushi Restaurant 2012 by Houston Press, the modern Japanese, high-quality sushi by exec chef Manabu Horiuchi makes this one of the best restaurants in the city. Splurge on a 8 or 10 course omakase, or chef's tasting, and count the number of "Wow's" that fall from your lips. Seasonal cold soba noodles and ramen experiments when it gets colder are always a must try. Chefs also happen to love this place when they're off duty -- you'll find them at the bar or taking food to-go.
Best cocktail bar in Houston, bar none. Don't go here for vodka, go here for carefully constructed cocktail spirits. You'll have to wait for them to be made, but what you'll drink is delish. Weekends will be crowded. Chefs have been known to make an appearance here.
This is THE restaurant industry after-work hangout. This means it's a place you'll find chefs, bartenders, servers and other industry folk after hours. Cocktails are excellent. I love The Repair. The new food truck rotation in the kitchen (food truck owners will go inside the kitchen and make food for you) means you can get grub AND drinks.
Gourmet hot dogs and beer on tap. An expansive grungy outdoorsy unpaved patio area with wooden benches and fire puts, perfect for the hooded sweatshirt-wearing, jeans-clad crowd grubbing on everything from elk hot dogs to wild boar or duck with foie gras hot dogs on a pretzel bun. And, it's open late, which means industry (chefs included) will stop here after work.
Part market, part cafe, u can come here for some coffee or healthy lunch or stop by at the end of the day for locally sourced meats /produce. Chefs source a lot of their product here, so while you're sitting there having your having, you might spy several walking in and out of the kitchen. I certainly did.
A fave of local chefs, the red oil wontons (not to be confused with red oil dumplings) are to die for. Other faves include arctic surf clams, mala beef jerky, garlic bacon, water boiled fish (spicy), the dan dan noodles or cold sesame noodles. Beware of things marked extra spicy. Byob. 5% off if u pay cash.
Is there a hotter restaurant in Houston? Quite possibly not. Creative, avant-garde, elevated Japanese cuisine is a joy to discover and savor, with Chef de Cuisine Kaz Edwards turning out some of the most intellectually compelling dishes you'll ever taste. Standouts on the regular menu include the machi cure, Hama chili, bacon tataki, daily oysters, cantaloupe okashi dessert and the carefully constructed specials from the kitchen that change every two weeks.
Chris Sheperd's new restaurant is an homage to all things local. Get the house butchered pork chop or shared whole fish in iron skillet. You can order a bottle of wine or bring one that's not on the list and pay a $15 corkage. Menu changes daily according to what's available. The goat and kim chi braised dumplings are a must order. You can always find chefs hanging out here.
This is Houston's newest temple to craft beer, with more than 75 craft beers on tap, including a cask beer selection. Masterminded by Kevin Floyd of Anvil Bar and Refuge fame, you can expect beer, a great time, and a menu of beer-centric eats by chef Antoine Ware; I recommend the pig's ears, chicken liver and waffle, and meat chips.
Chef Justin Yu's tiny, 36-seater restaurant is one of the hottest tickets in town due to his creative vegetable concoctions, which are beautifully plated, locally sourced, and change seasonally. Chefs and industry folk flock here.
It's a restaurant within a restaurant, each distinct, and yes, fantastic. The more casual side, Provisions, is a little rock 'n roll, with a lively main dining room playing music that sets an almost rambunctious mood. Pizzas are a must, like the guanciale with uni, or the burrata with tomato. Pastas are house-made and will blow your mind, like the wholly unforgettable cresta de gallo. House made breads, served with a selection of cheeses or charcuterie, are also musts, and the wine list/drink program is already shaping up to be one of the best in the city. In contrast, The Pass is decidedly ritzy and upscale. An exclusive place where you can get dressed up (or not), where the star is the food and the chefs who will come to your table to serve them. Plan to stay the whole night, go for the gold and get the eight course tasting menu with a wine or cocktail flight, and get ready for an experience to remember. Reservations a must.
With just two small rows of tables, Fu Fu Cafe is that hole in the wall Chinese eatery you can visit as often as you like. It won't break the bank (dishes are extremely reasonable). There's an extensive menu (I haven't made a dent in the long list of food choices). Great for takeout or dine-in, Fu Fu Cafe does great soup dumplings & pan fried dumplings, they also have awesome pan fried noodles and a kickin' $4.99 lunch special. Chefs love this place. You'll find them noshing on grub there late nights after service.
Cafe TH has become one of the darlings of the restaurant industry and the revitalized East Downtown (EaDo) scene. It has a lot to do with Minh Nguyen, the young, smiling owner, who is chef, server, busboy, cash-register person, and one of the best front-of-the-house guys you'll ever meet. The vegan curry is delicious, as are the fresh vermicelli bowls. On Thursday and Friday evenings, he ups the mood with a thoughtful playlist, dimmed lights, whitecloth table service, and three-course prix-fixe. And, it's BYOB.
Seriously, this place is totally rad. The brainchild of three partners who started out with a food truck, feast on inspired dishes by chef Matt Marcus, including his famous matzah ball pho, or a stellar frank the pretzel. End the meal with a whimsical ice cream flavor, like the Glazed and Confused. And maybe, bump into a chef while you're at it. Montrose at its best.
The new coffee shop by coffee gurus David Buehrer and Ecky Probanto, in partnership Bobby Heugel et al, was an instant hit not only for its location (in the heart of Montrose) but also for its fantastic, barista-made, artisanal coffee. All coffee beverages with milk come with gorgeous latte art, and the food menu, created by consulting chef Erin Smith, offers great food to match. A magnet for chefs. I bumped into no less than four during my last visit.