One of the more welcome developments with this, tracking with other parts of the city, is that there are now interesting Asian restaurants in the Heights. Where once there were only quickly forgettable Chinese-American and Vietnamese places, there are now several really noteworthy and even drive-worthy Asian-rooted concepts. White Oak, busy with restaurants clustered often unattractively just west of Studewood, is home to a trio of excellent sushi stops: Ume, Handies Douzo, and 5kinokawa. There’s even a couple of appealing Korean concepts right there, far from Long Point.
5kinokawa – Sushi – The latest addition to what has become a destination for sushi, White Oak, joining Handies Douzou and Ume. From Chef Billy Kin, who help start Hidden Omakase, this also easy-to- miss fourteen-seat spot offers creative set-course omakase dinners of nigiri sushi and a good deal more – it helps to be somewhat open-minded here – with two seatings a from Thursdays through Sundays featuring ingredients flown in weekly from Toyosu in Tokyo and elsewhere that’s $150 per person, prepaid.
Alice Blue – American – A true public service for discerning diners in the Heights, and beyond, for years, including from its predecessor Shade, this offers up informed but unpretentious and delicious foods – like a modern Houston bistro – for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch; even pastries at the big farmers market on Saturday mornings. Items range somewhat far and wide but make sense here: hummus, flautas, crab remoulade, sautéed red snapper, steak frites, and even an excellent burger to boot. Well-done cocktails and an informed list of wines also help out.
Coltavare – Americanized Italian – A significant opening in 2014 for the Heights becoming a dining destination, as its contemporary takes on pastas and pizzas along with a breezy, easy charm have resonated with many diners.
Da Gama Canteen – Indian – “Drawing inspiration from the former Portuguese-Indian territory of Goa, Gujarat and Portugal all through our Houston lens” is how the experienced local restaurateurs (Oporto and The Queen Vic) describe the fare here, which will be mostly recognizably Indian to local diners but something a little different, and readily appealing. Appealing also applies to the quite comfortable, contemporary space scattered with tables, banquettes that feels roomy along with an attractive long bar punctuating one end and pleasant patio seating off the side. Set in the somewhat sprawling M-K-T complex at the edge of the Heights, the restaurant resides alongside a breezeway and a park that adds to the charm. Also do the presentations of dishes, belying its reasonable prices, including water served in fetching traditional metal cups that are very appropriate for our heat- and humidity-racked climate. Well-crafted mains run from $15 to $36, meat, seafood and vegetarian. And there plenty of tempting appetizers like East Coast oysters, plus house-made breads, curries, salads, and desserts, too. Cocktails in line with the cuisine, several fun wines on tap, and an intriguing, natural-heavy wine list. It all can encourage many returns.
Fields & Tides – New American – Charmingly set in a quaint former house on 11th Street, the Southern and southeastern influence is evident through much of the seafood-heavy menu with items like she crab soup, pimento cheese fritters, chicken and sausage gumbo, crispy Alabama catfish, and cast iron seared snapper. But carnivores and the more health-conscious have plenty of options, too. Influences and flavors from Italy and Asia are also found among the offerings. The wine list is quite limited and mostly supermarket-found as the often more brunch-appropriate cocktails take up more bandwidth here.
Handies Douzo – Sushi – From the folks at Kokoro and now Aiko, this handroll specialist can be an easy stop for the quick raw fish fix that has certainly resonated first along White Oak before successfully expanding to a second location on Montrose. Especially good nori – crisp, thin and more flavorful than usual – is first thing you’ll notice with the handrolls, the specialty. There’s also sashimi and crudos, which are worthy of attention, too.
Jun – Southeast Asian – An attractive and early 2023 entrant on 20th Street, this builds on the success of the Kin that charmed diners in the Politan Row food hall in the Village before the pandemic, and Chef Evelyn Garcia’s star turn in the locally set “Top Chef” season in 2022. Gulf shrimp aguachile, sweet potato lebneh, beef tartare with its classic egg yolk accompaniment but also toasted rice, lamb curry with pickled daikon, and a whole fish with guajillo chiles, red onions and charred limes are some of the inspired combinations that can trek beyond Asia.
Maison Pucha Bistro – French – This French outpost from Manuel Pucha, the former executive chef at the well-regarded La Table here, and his brothers, veterans of the New York restaurant trade, offers a menu of classic French restaurant preparations along with a few items – ceviches, principally – and flavors from their coastal Ecuadoran home. Like all local French-themed establishments here, the dishes aren’t very recent – steak frites, bouillabaisse, duck a l’orange, coq au vin – but can shine in execution along with attractive presentations. Dishes like the impeccably plump, moist filet of trout almondine in brown butter, especially so, and even a straightforward assemblage of top-flight charcuterie and cheese. The wines are sufficient, if not yet terribly interesting, and the bartenders quite adept in their mixology. The setting is quite stylish, contemporary, and welcoming, not to mention busy since the doors opened in late 2017, and the staff noticeably earnest and hard-working.
Mastrantos – New American – A bright and cozy spot with a concise, fairly eclectic menu that highlights the Venezuelan roots of the principals while incorporating some influences from around the world, well-suited for today’s Houston. A sample: salted beet and burrata salad with heirloom tomatoes and green apple to start, dumplings filled with African plantain paste with coconut curry, cucumbers, onions, and chickpeas; a pan-seared white fish with English cucumbers, red onion, tomatoes, feta, and balsamic. Freshly made pastas feature in seven dishes that can retain a slight South American accent. The small wine list will have enough to complement the meal and naturally skews to Spain, Italy and South America.
Squable – New American – Offbeat offerings mostly in small plate format done well are the calling card for this Heights hotspot that pairs the guidance of James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Yu of Theodore Rex and cocktail star Bobby Heugel of Anvil. They’ve assembled an experienced and skilled squad cooking, crafting and serving in an approachably hip space. On the menu there are several of each of breads, small plates, big plates and desserts compiled in contemporary fashion. The Common Bond heritage in the kitchen is evident with the baked goods, but there is much more to entice, from the sea, from plants and also tasty mammals like the crispy-skinned heritage pork served with salsa verde and the French cheeseburger – featuring raclette and butter – which is just a whole lot better than any Royale with cheese.
Ume – Sushi – From Chris Kenjo of MF Sushi and his team, this quaint-for-Houston space with about sixty seats, a small sushi counter and a good-sized bar with plenty of light wood and clean lines, is very well-suited for present-day Heights: attractively and intelligently designed, bustling, and serving excellent, upmarket fare
Wild Oats – Texan – From the Underbelly Hospitality folks, this provides a fun and chef-driven take into Texan fare from our part of the Gulf Coast, with necessary nods to our deeply imbedded Tex-Mex food culture. It features dishes found or inspired from restaurants of yore of various – well, much lower – price points, but done with better ingredients more adroitly, more interestingly, and serving nicely crafted cocktails and smartly chosen wines. Among the highlights from the well-edited menu is the manageably sized chicken fried steak that’s made with American wagyu beef; it’s the best version of that traditional dish in the city. There’s also Gulf snapper – done with hibiscus, beets, orange – fajitas, quesadillas, a King Ranch casserole, game like antelope or quail, and an artfully presented queso starter. The chili service shtick is fun, and quite tasty; dispensed by the shot, cup or bowl. It can be tough not get at least a shot, if not a bowl, of red before your entrée. Though the food and drink are done well, set in new construction adjoined to the commercial farmers market on Airline, the décor, unfortunately, is staid, boring, really, and with plenty of hard surfaces, it’s cacophonous even when many of the seats are empty.
One of the artfully composed dishes at Maison Pucha Bistro