Chef of the Year: Jean-Phillipe Gaston
Jean-Phillipe Gaston helped launch Izakaya less than six months ago and it's already considered among the top restaurants in the city. Chef Gaston was previously with Kata Robata of the same group and this time brings playful twists on traditional Japanese izakaya food (small sharing plates meant for groups and lots of drinking). Fresh grilled baby octopus and their Peruvian ceviche are standouts.
Bartender of the Year: Mo Rahman
Mo Rahman is one of the hardest working and most underrated bartenders in Houston. Find him single-handedly slinging cocktails behind his bar at Kata Robata and running the beverage program for the entire restaurant.
Restaurant of the Year: State of Grace
State of Grace, while brand-spanking new in the scene, has already built up an enormous amount of hype. Ford Fry's homecoming restaurant to the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston where he grew up has definitely delivered. The James Beard Award-winning chef conjures tastes and nostalgic touches from his Southern childhood, and the city has been abuzz with its recent opening.
Stone Cold Stunner: Hunky Dory Tavern
Chef Richard Knight has made a big change since his time at Feast with Hunky Dory. The space is amazing — casual enough to feel unpretentious and accessible but with attention to little details like the tartan plaid chair fabric or the beams in the ceiling resembling a Union Jack flag. The design here is thoughtful playful and all around a show-stopper. The color palette of rich turquoise, white, and gold plays nicely with the crackle and singe of the open-air large wood-burning hearth in the back where the steaks and meats are grilled. Even the adjoining whiskey bar feels stylish and classic, and not unlike being in a local British pub.
So Hot Right Now: Izakaya
Azuma Group has taken taken a departure from sushi for Izakaya. Traditionally in Japan, izakaya restaurants serve small plates to large groups where the food is meant to complement the beverage. The new restaurant runs with this concept on one of the most sought after pieces of real estate in Houston: the corner of West Gray in Midtown. Not only is chef Jean-Phillipe Gaston's menu out of this world, Izakaya has officially built the largest Japanese whiskey selection under one roof in Texas.