Houston Restaurants: Out with the old, in with the new

Recently, another five Houston restaurants bit the dust. The first was a Houston institution, which closed its doors for the last time after 62 years of serving Tex-Mex food to generations of Houstonians. Fiesta Loma Linda Tex-Mex Restaurant and Bar was in the East End of Houston, on Telephone Road just north of the 610 Loop. Gone are favorites such as their bowl of queso, which came with diced onions and jalapenos, allowing you to doctor it up just the way you liked it. Fiesta Loma Linda joined the likes of Felix’s and Leo’s, other discarded relics of Houston past.  The second was Kukuri, a sushi restaurant on Washington Avenue that lasted a total of 8 months. The third was Artista, Michael Cordua’s luxurious restaurant, which had been a stalwart on the second floor of the Hobby Center for many years. The fourth was Bacon Bros. Public House in Sugar Land and lastly, Santa Fe Flats on 249.

And yet, during the same time period thirteen restaurants opened their doors:
  • Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken on Washington Avenue
  • Postino, a wine bar on Yale Street
  • Padna’s Cajun Eatery on lower Westheimer
  • Poitin, named after an ancient Irish spirit at Sawyer’s Yard in the new Washington Arts District
  • Velvet Taco on lower Westheimer, the second Houston location of this temple to tacos
  • Chris Shepherd’s UB Preserv, where you can get all your favorite dishes from Underbelly
  • East Hampton Sandwich Company, also on lower Westheimer
  • Tubs Poutine on Briarforest
  • U’Maki Sushi Burrito in Katy 
  • Cantina Barba in Woodland Heights
  • Pho Ga Dong Nai in Chinatown
  • La Vista 101 in Timbergrove
  • Nobu, from chef Nobu Matsuhisa, the Japanese restaurant with more than thirty outlets around the world, in the former Sak’s Fifth Avenue space in the Galleria

Thirteen restaurant openings and five closings in but a few weeks is not unusual for Houston. “Out with the old and in with the new” might well be Houston’s motto when it comes to restaurants, amongst other things.
This is just one more example of how changing tastes, both in food and location, can change the course of what and where we eat. It seems that we tend to be so preoccupied with the latest restaurant opening, and ensuring that we beat all of friends and acquaintances to the newest places, that we sometimes forget the places that are right under our noses: places which we have always liked and which have been there for many, many years. The new supplants the old, but I am as guilty of this as the next person, with a list on my desk of restaurants that have yet to open. As I hear of their opening and I visit them, I cross them off the list.

Old-timers will mourn the passing of an iconic restaurant, and newcomers will wonder what all the fuss was about, but another small piece of Houston’s culinary history has disappeared to be replaced with a kale, quinoa, avocado toast hipster dish whose popularity, I predict, will be mercifully short-lived. Some will shout “progress,” while others will lament the change. The food we eat reflects the times and people that live here, and we have been blessed with a constant influx of immigrants from all over the world, whose cuisine has influenced what we eat today and will eat tomorrow. However, in order to understand where we are today, we have to understand how we got here and sure. Some may say you can still get old school Tex-Mex all over the city, so who cares if one place closed down. But as each icon falls, it chips away at the fabric that is one of the foundations of this fabulous food city.

The restaurant business is, and always has been, as precarious and as risky a business as they come. When Christiane and I began researching material for our recently-published book, Lost Restaurants of Houston, we started a list of every restaurant we found that had gone out of business in Houston. We stopped counting after 850, convinced that this was but a fraction of those that have come and gone. That’s why the book includes a list of Houston restaurants that have been around at least fifty years and are still operating. There is an often quoted saying about how you don’t know what you have until you lose it, so we want to encourage everyone to frequent these places to ensure they will be around for another fifty years, and before they might appear in volume two of Lost Restaurants of Houston