Houston’s Most Delicious Debuts During a Daunting 2020

Ostia, photo by Jennifer Duncan

THIS YEAR TESTED the limits of restaurants and their ability to survive. So for new restaurants entering the scene, it took guts, ingenuity, a willingness to face uncertainty, and a commitment to providing exceptional hospitality — no ordinary feat. Here, we honor the best that opened and survived during this tumultuous year.


BLUDORN Step inside Bludorn on a busy Friday night, and it feels, miraculously, like pre-Covid times. Deftly prepared plates of oysters, risotto and beef wellington make their way across the pass of the open kitchen, where chef Aaron Bludorn and his culinary team — their faces all partially obscured by a masks — work their magic. Bludorn was certainly one of the most anticipated restaurants of the year, but it is also, undeniably, Houston's best new restaurant of 2020. From the service, to the atmosphere, to the Gulf Coast-French-New American cuisine (who knew that we'd fall in love with a giant lobster pot pie?), in a year fraught with uncertainty, Bludorn achieved what most restaurants can only aspire to: It exceeded expectations.

Bludorn, photo by Julie Soefer

TURNER'S Channeling the timelessness of Hollywood's Golden Age while embracing the decadence of the '80s, Benjamin Berg's chef d'oeuvre compels you to indulge indiscriminately, be it on bottle of vintage Bordeaux, or a classic lobster thermidor by chef Robert Del Grande. It's an amazing feat and accomplishment for a restaurant when just six days after opening, Houston when into lockdown. Intimate, exclusive and oh-so-extravagant, we're smitten with everything about Turner's, but especially the fact that when you visit, you're made to feel a rockstar for a night — and we needed that more than ever this year.

OSTIA Houston loves to support its own, so when a native son comes back to Houston to open his first restaurant, it's practically a given that we're going to love it. Conceived as a neighborhood restaurant with three distinct spaces — an indoor area with an open kitchen and custom Nobile brick oven; an airy, glass-enclosed greenhouse room; and an outdoor patio — Travis McShane gives us a much-needed taste of the lighter style of cooking for which his mentor, Jonathan Waxman, was known. The vegetables are delightful, the pizza is fantastic, and if you can't decide what to order, there's a family-style option that allows the kitchen to choose for you.

XIN CHAO Modern Vietnamese food with a Houston twist? This is the kind of food we love seeing in Houston, and co-chefs Christine Ha and Tony Nguyen do it with aplomb at their first joint venture, Xin Chao. Taking traditional Vietnamese dishes and using local ingredients and flavors — smoked duck is brightened by strips of jackfruit in a sensational smoked-duck salad; pan fried rice noodles are topped with a smoked beef rib; fried chicken gets an amazingly light and delicate, lemongrass-tinged crispy coating — early hits are well conceived and allude to a very bright future, and we can't wait to see what else they come up with.

XIAOLONGKAN One of the most underrated openings of the year, Xiaolongkan (pronounced "shao -long-kahn") — the first Houston outpost of the world-famous Sichuan chain of hot pot restaurants — quietly debuted last December with one to two-hour wait times. Covid-19 has now cut those wait time considerably, but it doesn't change the fact that this is the most beautiful Chinese restaurant in Houston. For hot-pot lovers, it's also the most authentic interpretation of the Sichuan specialty, which means incredible broths, beautifully arranged plates of the freshest meats, seafood, and vegetables, and the restaurant's famous Sichuan hot oil.

Xiaolongkan, photo by Mai Pham

Food

SOUTH FLORIDA-BASED Italian shoe line Concetto Limone will make its Texas debut at a cocktail reception at Valobra Master Jewelers (2150 Westheimer Rd.) on Thursday, April 29 from 5-7pm. The evening of "All Things Italian" will transport guests immediately to the coast of southern Italian as they sip on Italian wines, Aperol Spritzes, Negronis and Limoncellos while feasting on an assortment of Italian hors d'oeuvres from Houston's beloved Tony's. Invited guests will have the first glance in Texas on the Concetto Limone line and the opportunity to purchase unisex styles on Thursday evening and all day Friday at a trunk show at Valobra.

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Style

Pastries at Cafe Leonelli

CAFE LEONELLI IS now open inside the MFAH's Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, the stunning new wing that first opened in November.

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Food

Abbie Preston Edmonson gives a special presentation this weekend

DESPITE SOME APRIL showers, there's still plenty of fun to be had! From art-centric and Earth Day activities to family-friendly fests, check out a rundown of the weekend's best bets.

LEARN FROM AN ARTIST Tune in tonight for an hour-long talk by ceramicist and Houston Center for Contemporary Craft resident artist Abbie Preston Edmonson about her creative process. She'll give a virtual presentation about her work and a special demonstration in her studio space.

Brennen's exec chef Joey Chavez (photo by Kimberly Park)

TAKE A VIRTUAL PAINTING LESSON OR COOKING CLASS Be inspired by the great state of Texas during a virtual painting lesson hosted by Honey Art Cafe on Friday night. For only $20, stream a two-hour virtual lesson and make a series of stylized mini paintings inspired by West Texas and Big Bend National Park. Honey Art Cafe also has supply kits available for purchase for beginners or artists low on supplies.

And if painting isn't quite your speed, see what you can cook up in the kitchen! Brennen's exec chef Joey Chavez leads a "date night" cooking lesson for couples on Friday at 6:30pm. Hosted at the restaurant, the socially distanced demonstration, which costs $150, includes a reception, followed by an interactive demonstration and seated dinner.

CELEBRATE EARTH DAY! Join the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center from 10am-4pm on Saturday for a fun- and information-filled day! Explore informative booths, nature hikes, fun displays in the Discovery Room, and Earth-friendly take-home activities. Or join Discovery Green on Sunday from 12-5pm, when the park will screen a series of short films about Houston's environment, host a panel about February's freeze, and showcase a live painting demo by local artists working on murals to decorate the park.

GO ON AN OUT-OF-THIS WORLD ADVENTURE Fifty-one years ago, the Apollo 13 crew splashed down safely back on Earth after their famously harrowing mission to the moon and back. Space Center Houston is celebrating that anniversary on Saturday, hosting two livestreamed panel discussions with current NASA experts as well as Apollo-era legends.And now through May 2, local NASA and Apollo 13 fans can check out the center's new spring exhibition, titled "Apollo: When We Went to the Moon," that looks at the legacy of the Apollo era through the lens of the engineers and astronauts who actually lived the experience.

FIND FUN AT THE INTERNATIONAL KIDS FEST Traders Village hosts Kids Fest on Sunday, with games, activities, interactive shows, live music, acrobats, magicians, clowns and more. Parking is $5, but the event itself is free, sure to keep the whole family entertained from 12-4pm.

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