November Eats:
The best of the new and old restaurants to eat at right now
by Marene Gustin

The Clock Room at Smith and Wollensky The hospitality industry in Houston was hard hit by Harvey, several favorite restaurants closed — either temporarily or permanently, jobs were lost and both employees and employers struggled. Many hotly anticipated openings were pushed back, some, Like Bryan and Jennifer Caswell’s Oxbow7, for good reason. The husband and wife duo were busy with their charity Southern Salt Foundation feeding first responders and flood victims as well as raising money for relief efforts.
But as things slowly drift back to normal, or what may be the new normal in Houston, some restaurants, both old and new, are not only surviving but also thriving. We chose six to highlight here with a look at what make them successful.

Old is New

Here are some oldies but goodies. If you haven’t been to these three in awhile it’s definitely time to check them out again, or even for the first time.

Smith & Wollensky
smithandwollensky.com
This high-end steakhouse chain turned 40 this fall although the local outpost in Highland Village isn’t quite that old. But it was recognized this summer as one of Wine Spectator’s Best Award of Excellence 2017 winners for its wine program. But it isn’t just the wonderful wines that keep people coming back to this establishment. It’s also the exceptional quality of service and the perfectly cooked USDA Prime steaks hand-cut daily. Can’t make it to Grandma’s house this month for Thanksgiving? Than book a table here for a real turkey feast with all the trimmings.

Frank's Lamb Wrap Frank’s Americana Revival & White Star Bar
frankshouston.com
Restaurateur Mike Shine bought the River Oaks hotspot Frank’s Chop House in 2012 but even though he and his son Chris changed the name slightly and younger son chef Colin updated the menu, they knew not to tinker too much with a good thing. Regulars flock here for the famous chicken fried steak and the restaurant now serves a Friday special of buttermilk battered fried chicken that is drool worthy. Neighborhood retirees, nearby office workers and politicos and hotshot lawyers can all be seen here on a regular basis and, just in time for the holiday party season, the Shines have expanded to create a 2,000-square-foot special events space with its own kitchen. The restaurant won’t be open on Thanksgiving Day but they do cook up a turkey and fixings feast you can order and pick up on Wednesday.

Carrabba’s the Original
carrabbasoriginal.com
What can you say about this Kirby Drive legend? Family owned and operated for 31 years (not to be confused with the national chain that bears the same name) Carrabba’s has been dishing up Italian American dishes like their classic Chicken “Bryan Texas” for generations of diners. Good food, and plenty of it, the portions are huge here, keep the regulars coming back but it’s more about the family feel here. Owner Johnny Carrabba often walks the floor talking to diners and his father, know affectionately as Mr. C., still arrives once a week with his special blend of spices for the Italian sausages. Some of the staff has been here for 30 years, which says a lot about the environment in an industry where turnover can be high. Come here a few times and you will be warmly greeted, just like on Cheers! Insider tip: Many of the dishes can be ordered as half portions, and always ask about off-menu specials.

And New is Good, Too

And here are our three picks for best brand new spots you need to visit at least once before the new year. Although it’s far too early to tell, it looks like these may, hopefully, become new classics for Intown.

Roka Akor Roka Akor
rokaakor.com
The long awaited opening of this upscale Japanese steakhouse and sushi bar didn’t disappoint. A rich wood décor with sleek lighting let you know that this is one of the new see-and-be-seen spots in Upper Kirby. Occupying the ground floor of 2929 Weslayan, the tallest residential building in Houston, Roka Akor features a Robata grill for cooking certified Kobe beef, an open kitchen format and a highly coveted (there are only six seats) sushi bar. A fine sake selection as well as a full bar enhance the dining experience. A must-try is the omakase (chef’s selection) meal for two or more where the sushi chef will feed you the best and freshest fish dishes of the day.

a’ Bouzy
abouzy.com
Sure, this location on Westheimer Road has been the Bermuda Triangle of restaurants for years, but this concept just might stick. Nestled in the Upper Kirby/River Oaks ‘hood, a’Bouzy’s concept is sparkling. Literally. Because it’s all about the bubbles here, the wine list goes for pages and pages of Champagnes and sparkling wines. And the dishes here are exactly what you would expect to dine on with such elegant bubbles: lemon sole, baked oysters and a lovely oven-roasted Cornish game hen plated with blue corn grits.

Fresco Cafe Italiano
frescocafeitalian.com
There is absolutely no shortage of Italian and Italian-American food in this city but we welcome one more: Fresco Cafe Italiano. It’s just a little place, along 59 and Edloe Street, and it’s BYOB (they will provide you a wine glass) but it’s the fresh made pasta here that is just delicious. Chef Roberto Crescini, a native of northern Italy prides himself on making everything from scratch while keeping prices reasonable: The most expensive dish on the menu is the grilled octopus at $16. Do try the five-layer lasagna and the fresh cannoli for dessert. Oh, and don’t forget to take home some pasta and some sauces to-go.