Houston’s 9 most exciting restaurant debuts of 2023

Carrots with salsa macha, summer squash with puffed black rice, a gem lettuce tofu Caesar with cornbread, and other assorted Asian American dishes at JŪN in Houston

Houston’s most exciting new restaurants of 2023 prove that the city’s appetite for global cuisines is bottomless—and that its chefs aren’t afraid to go extra big.  

This year’s standouts include an Asian American mash-up from a Top Chef alum, a Milan-inspired spot that won rave reviews from the Houston Chronicle, and a first-of-its-kind spot inspired by royal Thai traditions.

Read on for a guide to nine of the most attention-grabbing restaurants to land in Houston this year. 

Buena Vista Cuban Cafe (Washington Avenue Coalition / Memorial Park)

Wife-and-husband team Esther and Roberto Diaz bring their home city of Havana, Cuba, to life at this lush and stylish space that opened in September. The Diazes crank out raved-about Cuban classics like tender ropa vieja and a killer pork sandwich. And then there’s weekly Cuba night, which has caught the attention of local press, including Houston CityBook and Texas Monthly. For an especially transportive evening, head to this hotspot for its live music, professional dancing, and cigars hand-rolled on-site.

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JŪN (Heights/Washington)

Chef Evelyn Garcia charmed viewers as the hometown favorite during Top Chef’s 2022 Houston season. Which is why expectations were sky-high for N, her new Asian American restaurant with chef-partner Henry Lu. When they opened the calm and airy spot in February, diners flocked here for a menu that expertly mashes up the Mexican, Salvadoran, Chinese, and Southeast Asian flavors that define Garcia and Lu’s cooking styles. Cases in point: beef tartare underneath a crunchy buñuelo and a michelada made with hoisin and fish sauce. The effect is a menu that is totally unique to N, but still reflects Houston’s signature melting pot. 

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Rumi’s Kitchen – Houston (Galleria/Uptown)

An American wagyu kabob at Rumi’s Kitchen in Houston with Urfa chile spice rub, grilled shishito peppers, red onion, and saffron basmati rice
Rumi’s Kitchen is an Atlanta import that brought reimagined Persian classics to Houston in October. | Credit: Rumi’s Kitchen

The Houston market can be a hard nut to crack for out-of-town restaurants, but this Atlanta import bravely defied that norm when it opened its doors in October. Rumi’s Kitchen entices locals with new twists on Persian classics like a kabob made with wagyu, Urfa chile spice rub, and grilled shishito peppers, plus Persian takes on Houston mainstays like roasted corn ribs, which are remixed here using black seed dukkah and jalapeño. Bonus points for the whirling dervish-inspired light fixture on the ceiling—just one of the many elegant interior accents that makes this newcomer as opulent and special occasion-friendly as its iconic Atlanta mothership.

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Bari Ristorante (River Oaks)

When Bari Ristorante opened in May, it was an immediate hit with the city’s see-and-be-seen crowd. Its glamorous orange-and-white digs and stylish diners evoke Milan, but the emphasis on style doesn’t mean that food is an afterthought. Tuscan-born chef Renato De Pirro’s housemade pastas wowed Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook and prove Bari is about way more than immaculate vibes. If you’re here with a crew, consider the show-stopping seafood tower, which makes for an excellent appetizer or a late-night treat—Bari is open till 1 am on weekends.

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Annabelle Brasserie (Autry Park)

A pink Citroën truck decked with flowers by the entrance at Annabelle Brasserie in Houston
Annabelle Brasserie is one of the most photogenic and sought-after new restaurants in town. | Credit: Brian Kennedy

Berg Hospitality’s (The Annie Café & Bar, B&B Butchers Restaurant) newest spot sets the bar high as the anchor restaurant for Autry Park, a luxe new mixed-use development overlooking Buffalo Bayou. Annabelle Brasserie’s all-day status makes it a rarity in Houston and means it’s just as suited for an AM croque monsieur as it is for an escargot dinner. The massive French menu gives diners plenty of reasons to make return trips, and so does the chance to snap a selfie by the pink Citroën truck parked at the entrance. Add other pretty interior details like a dramatic floral ceiling and pink banquettes in the main dining room, and it’s no surprise that Annabelle is one of the most photogenic and sought-after new additions in town.

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Xalisko Cocina Mexicana (The Woodlands)

When Xalisko Cocina Mexicana opened in February, the greater Houston area didn’t just score a new Mexican fine-dining spot, but one that is all about lesser-seen specialties from west-central Mexico. H Town Restaurant Group alum Beatriz Martines runs the show at this family-owned restaurant and features corn in nearly every dish partly to honor her late father, who was a corn farmer. In addition to the soulful childhood throwbacks like goat meat wrapped in agave leaves (her grandmother’s recipe), Martines serves theatrical mains like the trompito al pastor, aka pork from a vertical rotating spit served tableside. The result is a personal slice of Jalisco you won’t find anywhere else in Houston.

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MaKiin (Upper Kirby/Shepherd Corridor)

Deboned chicken wings and stuffed chicken lollipops with purple jasmine rice at MaKiin in Houston
Thailand’s royal kitchens inspired the artistically plated dishes at MaKiin. | Credit: Sean Rainer

Houstonians were drawn to Lukkaew Srasrisuwan’s everyday Thai food spot and takeout star, Kin Dee, soon after it opened in 2020. For her second act, she dialed up the glamor: MaKiin opened in a swanky highrise in October and serves a menu inspired by Thailand’s royal kitchens. Deboned chicken wings and stuffed chicken lollipops are served with a side of gold dust, and paper-thin sliced short ribs come in a sizzling stone bowl. The MaKiin team nails the presentation game, so come prepared to be blown away by the masterpiece-like dishes at this first-of-its-kind Thai gem. 

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Norigami (West University) 

Houston loves to see a pop-up become permanent, and that’s exactly what this 2021 sushi sensation did. Norigami found a West University home in September, bringing its quirky signature hand rolls to a neon-lit speakeasy style den lined with origami cranes. Choose from chef Jimmy Kieu’s out-there creations like toro with jicama and fried leeks and spicy scallops with chile garlic aioli, yuzu tobiko, and avocado. Wash it all down with cocktails by Bludorn and Wooster alum Hao Mao, and you’ll get why this place is one of Houston’s most innovative new additions.

Elro (Midtown/Montrose) 

Pizza and crudo make an incredible pair, as confirmed by chef Terrence Gallivan’s newest restaurant. Elro opened in a cozy vintage bungalow in June, and it’s a highly anticipated return for Gallivan after his beloved but now shuttered New American spot, Pass and Provisions. The tiny but mighty menu stars six sourdough pies, including a classic mozz and tomato and a unique mortadella with pistachio pesto, plus six spectacular crudos. Between its family-friendly backdrop (bonus points for the children’s storybook-inspired wallpaper), impeccable wood-fired pies, and refreshing seafood, Elro is an unassuming newcomer, but one to definitely watch for its hearty food and come-one-come-all atmosphere. 

Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Lauren McDowell is a Houston-area native and freelance food and lifestyle writer with an M.A. in Food Studies from New York University.

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