Overview

Japanese restaurants modeled on a classic style theater. An elegant French bistro. A New Orleans-inspired cafe perfectly suited for sipping boutique coffee and a burger outpost with an actual school bus inside the restaurant. The restaurants on this list showcase the quirky, the upscale, and the excellent from Houston’s diverse food landscape. And the architects, as any restaurateur will admit, are as much a part of the process as the chefs and waiters. From established and award-winning to promising upstarts, these are the firms serving up Houston’s hottest, state-of-the-art restaurant buildings.

Top Architects

Abel Design Group

Address:
777 Post Oak Blvd., Suite 350, Houston, TX 77056

About Abel Design Group

Established in 2001, Abel Design Group is an acclaimed firm built on the foundation of passion and excellence. Values that uphold quality work and service have propelled the studio to industry prominence, and commendations from former clientele attest to its team’s professionalism and promptness in the field. The studio’s talented roster is made up of 7 architects and 11 interior designers who worked with top design firms all around the world, ensuring design output of the highest standards. The team is spearheaded by Jeffrey Abel, Ken R. Harry, and Beth Abel, managing principal, principal, and CFO, respectively. The well-decorated leaders have overseen the company’s growth and vast body of work throughout the years, which spans the commercial, restaurant, retail, fitness, and education sectors, among others. Abel Design Group’s stellar work has earned accolades including the AIA Design Award and the IIDA Best Mid-Sized Firm from the Texas and Oklahoma chapter.

Featured Projects

Featured is the Morton’s Grille restaurant, a project located in The Woodlands completed by Abel Design Group. It is owned by Landry’s, Inc. and required the conversion of an Asian restaurant into the current establishment. The design evokes a lavish atmosphere with its high-end furnishing, furniture, and fixtures. Features include a new bar area that opens to an outdoor patio, a rearranged seating area, and a private dining room.

Browne McGregor Architects

Address:
520 Post Oak Blvd, Suite 880, Houston, TX 77027

About Browne McGregor Architects

Browne McGregor Architects’ dedication to its craft begins with the planning phase and extends to post-construction check-ins, guiding clients hand-in-hand through every step of the way. The full-service studio has a core focus on quality architecture and interior design completed with meticulous planning. Founders Charles Browne and Jim McGregor established the architecture firm in 1995 and still serve as current principals together with Cory L. Porter. The firm has an award-winning portfolio that spans various commercial fields including retail, educational, restaurant, and science and technology sectors. A vast majority of the team’s projects are LEED-certified, reflecting the firm’s commitment to environmentally-responsible and energy-efficient work.

Featured Projects

Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen is a project by Browne McGregor Architects in partnership with Tony and Phyllis Mandola. The 6,700 square feet restaurant has a quaint, contemporary design that evokes a welcoming and open atmosphere. The stylish interiors feature wood furniture and standard light fixtures, a flanking dining room, and a private banquet area and patio. Exterior amenities include a porte-cochère for guest reception, on-site parking, and two outdoor dining areas. The patios display decorative gas lamps and wrought iron fencing, traditional touches that offer a classic ambiance complemented by the site’s excellent view of the Houston skyline.

Collaborative Projects

Architects:
Jim Herd

Address:
2727 Fondren Road, Suite 5N, Houston, TX 77063

About Collaborative Projects

Jim Herd doesn’t let the rather unusual lack of any serious web presence by his firm Collaborative Projects keep him from working. Herd has designed restaurants across Houston, working often in the famed Rice Village eating district. Herd studied architecture at the University of Houston and has worked with his former professor John Zemanek on the Hungry’s expansion in Rice Village and on the donut and coffee favorite Morningstar in Houston Heights. Hungry’s offers students at Rice 10 percent off, which might figure into its rating on Eater as one of the “14 essential rice village restaurants.” Herd-designed restaurants have been noticed by Zagat, OutSmart, and the Houston Business Journal, and the Houston Press listed the Herd-designed Haven as one of 10 closed restaurants it would “miss the most at the end of 2014.”

Featured Projects

Bernie’s Burger Bus, a Bellaire burger-and-fries spot, is exactly what it sounds like. Collaborative Projects designed the brick and mortar outpost for this food bus. The firm kept the school theme, with desks that jut out at the edges as food tables, rectangular yellow and black-brick patterns, and a counter attached to pieces of an actual school bus installed during the building process. Thrillist Houston called it “the best school lunch ever.” FM Kitchen + Bar’s sliding windows, picnic tables covered with red canopies, and a courtyard with classic yard games led Eater to call this indoor-outdoor restaurant “Houston’s hottest new spot for patio hangs.” The Houston Press put FM Kitchen + Bar on its list of the 20 restaurants it was looking forward to in 2017 and Zagat included FM Kitchen on its 14 most-anticipated Houston openings. Chef Ryan Hildebrand tapped Jim Herd because he knew Herd could deliver a casual feel. “It’s really in his wheelhouse—the style of place we wanted to do,” Hildebrand told the Houston Press.

CONTENT

Architects:
Jesse Hager

Awards:
AIA Houston Design Awards,
Ben Brewer Architect of the Year Award

Address:
3221 Milam Street, Suite 1, Houston, TX 77006

About Content

Content is a collaborative architecture firm that specializes in design and small-scale commercial projects. Most of its work is with offices, retail stores, and private homes but its foray into the Houston food and drink scene has been a jittering success. Its five-person, in-house team list is topped by Jesse Hager, a LEED Accredited Professional who was the 2017 Ben Brewer Award recipient for Architect of the Year, and Heather Rowell, who focuses on sustainable design and a Master of Architecture graduate from Rice University in 2009. Content has won two AIA Houston Design Awards, and the firm’s first restaurant in Houston, Honeymoon Cafe, was included in a Zagat list of five Houston restaurants with stunning design.

Featured Projects

The Houston Press hailed The Honeymoon Cafe and Bar, a coffee and snack-breakfast-brunch shop, as “just what downtown needs.” Cofounder Charlotte Mitchell of Boomtown Coffee drew inspiration from sidewalk cafes in Europe and New Orleans. Content was tapped to see the vision through and took full advantage of its location by Congress and Main, near the rail line. Wicker seats and natural light allowed the Honeymoon Cafe to remain flexible enough with a coffee shop vibe during the day and a bar feel at night. Another Content project, Montrose, is right in the middle of “the heart of Houston” and exudes real character through its aesthetic design. The bar and nightspot Goodnight Charlie’s is billed by Context as a “honky-tonk,” with a bar, dance area, and decorative fences that reference rural Texas. Context is partnering with the award-winning Gin Design Group—also on this list—for the interiors.

Gin Design Group

Architects:
Gin Braverman

Awards:
HGTV Faces of Design Awards Editor’s Pick for First Impressions

Address:
3227 Milam Street, Houston, TX 77006

About Gin Design Group

Gin Braverman got her start in Houston’s restaurant scene by designing the beloved Oxheart, a defunct local establishment. (One Houston critic lamented that the thing he would miss most was the angled 11-seat counter.) Despite its acclaim, the diner wasn’t her start in the Houston design scene. Braverman has moved in and out of the city since she was a teen, and in between stops had a stint at the Taiwanese design firm MLD and as a lead designer in New York City on HDTV’s home remodel show Home Rules. She founded the Gin Design Group in 2008, which specializes in contemporary designs that eventually catapulted the practice to prominence. Braverman won the HGTV Editor’s Pick for First Impressions in the 2016 Faces of Design Awards and received two runner-up nods in the 2015 PaperCity Design Awards. A bar designed by Gin Design Group was listed as one of America’s best wine bars by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2015.

Featured Projects

Light, airy, and casual sum up the feel of this Gin Design Group renovation of Ruggles Green in The Woodlands. The patterned tiles set with indoor and outdoor gardens make an easy stopover for residents of the 28,000 acres planned community and for visitors exhausted from tromping through all those acres. The Ruggles Green restaurant was rebranded as Bellagreen in August 2017.
The Gin Design Group went full-on Texas for the Goode Company Barbeque, a spot for Gulf Coast specialties in Shenandoah, just north of Woodlands. Light fixtures look like repurposed chicken feeders—in a good way. The walls and tabletops are made from reclaimed wood from old Texas farmhouses and the doors are mahogany. The Goode Company Barbeque shares a patio with its sister restaurant, and part of Goode’s collaboration with Gin Design, the Goode Company Kitchen & Cantina.

Issac Preminger

Architects:
Issac Preminger

Awards:
American Society of Interior Designers Best Commercial Design Firm Award,
Good Brick Award for Preservation and Renovation

Address:
3262 W. Main Street, Houston, TX 77098

About Issac Preminger

If Houstonians weren’t thrilled when Issac Preminger Architecture & Design International moved from South Miami Beach to Houston, they must be now. Preminger was born in Israel and received his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Houston in 1980. He’s been the principal of his own firm for 37 years and can communicate in four languages. Preminger has worked on everything from his wife’s retail store Indulge to restaurants that change menus once a week, with around 30 design credits on restaurants and bars in Houston. Issac Preminger Architecture & Design won the American Society of Interior Designers Best Commercial Design Firm Award in 2000. The firm won a Good Brick Award for Preservation and Renovation in 2016 for its work on the 90-year-old Dittman Bakery Building.

Featured Projects

The family-run Eloise Nichols Grill & Bar, which serves up a modern take on Southern classics, was named one of Eater’s Most Beautiful Restaurants of 2016. There were only 19 of them and only two in Texas. The vintage wallpaper, globe pendant lights, light-blue glasses, and strategically-placed family photos make for a beautiful, intriguing setting. Houston doesn’t have as many celebrities like New York or L.A., but it can claim birthright to the best celebrity—that’s Beyonce—who has been seen at the Washington Heights butcher shop B&B Butchers. Preminger helped renovate the historic building and former bakery into a two-story, 7,500 square feet restaurant and meat counter with 120 seats. B&B kept a classic butcher look to fit the building’s brick facade. They even saved the original fire doors.

Kirksey Architecture

Architects:
John Kirksey

Awards:
AIA Houston Associate Member of the Year

Address:
6909 Portwest Drive, Houston, TX 77024

About Kirksey Architecture

Kirksey, in true Texas fashion, was founded on youthful energy and a dream, with a bit of stylish charm. Founder John Kirksey, who is a member of the prestigious American Institute of Architects College of Fellows—often abbreviated FAIA—started the firm in Houston one year after he left the University of Texas. He still serves as president and recently received the Wild Life award for environmental contributions from Houston Wilderness. His firm isn’t as prolific in restaurant design as some of the others on this list, as its work leans toward larger-scale civic, religious, and corporate projects. Kirksey’s work in restaurant design was well-commended and located in prominent places in the city, like inside Minute Maid Park. In 2015, Melika Mirzakhani, a member of the hospitality team, was named Associate Member of the Year by AIA Houston.

Featured Projects

The caged Bengal tigers caused a bit of a stir and some protests but there’s no denying that this 175,000-square-foot Landry’s Downtown Aquarium and Restaurant Complex made its mark downtown. The four-story building holds a cafe, a bar, a restaurant, and the world’s tallest fish tank. It’s housed in a former fire station and repurposed with a celebratory, sea-lovers outdoorsy feel, with palm trees, decorative portholes, and incredible views of its 500,000-gallon fish tanks. Houston Astros fans might recognize the numbers behind the 5 & 7 Grill inside Minute Maid Park. It was named after two star Astros, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. The space has a loft upstairs for drinks and a pool and a patio outside for game watching. Kirksey designed the space with comfortable urban living in mind, and it shows. The 5 & 7 Grill received a design award from the American Society of Interior Designers in 2009.

MC2 Architects

Architects:
Chuong Nguyen
Chung Nguyen

Awards:
PaperCity Design Awards First Place,
AIA Houston Design Awards

Address:
5600 Rose Street, Houston, Texas 77007

About MC2 Architects

MC2 Architects was founded in Houston by two brothers in 1995. Chuong and Chung Nguyen both have a background in labor and construction, which they use to great effect with MC2. The brothers see the process of design and the actual work of building as inseparable. They prefer to be involved in every aspect of a project from start to finish. The company website treats design as an almost spiritual pursuit: “The joy is seeing what you have accomplished in the end,” it reads. The approach is clearly working for the firm. MC2 Architects was one of only three finalists nationwide for the James Beard Award for Restaurant Design, and the firm won two Design Awards from the Houston AIA in 2016.

Featured Projects

Triniti restaurant changes color based on where you’re standing. What Forbes called an “ingenious metal mesh curtain” wraps the building, with one side of the curtain painted green and the other orange, so viewers see one of the two colors based on where they approach. The project was a renovation of a 5,000 square feet historic Art-Deco building constructed in 1936. Triniti received an AIA Houston award for Renovation/Restoration in 2012. The Museum District sushi restaurant MF Sushi was inspired by Japanese traditions and set design. The backdrops decorated with mountain landscapes give a nod to the Japanese style of theater called kabuki, while the 25 feet-long counter references omakase, where the patron allows the chef to select the best fish. MF Sushi was completed in 2015 and won a design award for interior architecture from PaperCity in 2016.

McGarr Design & Interiors

Architects:
Julie McGarr

Awards:
Decorative Center of Houston Star on the Rise

Address:
2449 South Blvd., 101 Houston, TX 77098

About McGarr Design & Interiors

At McGarr Design & Interiors, the focus on aesthetics is literally a family affair. Principal Designer Julie McGarr’s mother was a professional designer, and McGarr credits her mother’s imagination as a key influence, along with trips to France and watching her son play in the park. McGarr Design & Interiors is based in Houston and focuses on residential and small-scale commercial projects. It has worked on several notable Houston restaurants, including Brasserie 19, Coppa Ristorante, Coppa Osteria, and the elegant-casual Punk’s Simple Southern. Julie McGarr attended the Art Institute of Houston, where she graduated with honors. She was honored as a “star on the rise” by the Decorative Center of Houston at its annual Spring Market in 2014 and as a “Designer Crush” by the style blog The Peak of Tres Chic.

Featured Projects

The French restaurant Brasserie 19 has been called everything from “drool-worthy” to “essential” and was listed as one of CultureMap’s 10 Houston spots to find A-listers hanging around. The understated black-white-brown theme and long, light-beige long bar have become an essential part of Houston society’s life. There’s even an Instagram account dedicated to eavesdropping at the restaurant, where people are heard discussing everything from astrology to healthcare and interior design. Old meets modern at Coppa Osteria, a fast-casual handmade pasta and pizza favorite near Rice University. The vintage-style and candle-bedecked room lead to a natural focus on the glass-covered “Dough Room,” where the families, academics, professionals, and pedestrians who frequent the area can watch the action or grab pizza from the single-slice window. Coppa Osteria was something of a sister restaurant to Coppa Ristorante until it closed down in 2014.

Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

Architects:
Michael Hsu

Awards:
Interior Design Association Design Excellence Award

Address:
4910 Burnet Road, Austin, Texas 78756

About Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

Michael Hsu has become a bit of a rock star, or, perhaps, a starchitect in his home base of Austin. His compelling restaurant portfolio includes local projects as well as credits in his hometown abroad. Hsu was born in Taiwan but raised in Houston. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture in 1993 and spent 11 years at the Austin firm Dick Clark + Associates before founding the 21-employee Michael Hsu Office of Architecture in 2005. It has notable restaurants in its client list like Ushi, Bullfight, P. Terry’s Burger Bar, and Shake Shack and has some interesting commercial work as well, like the indoor skydiving chain iFLY. The Michael Hsu Office of Architecture won the International Interior Design Association Design Excellence Award in the retail, residential, and hospitality categories in 2017.

Featured Projects

Michael Hsu’s commitment to accessible, minimalist design shows in the Houston location of the European-Portuguese restaurant Oporto. Different table sizes allow for quick snacks or full meals. The wood inlays and marble counters evoke a European home kitchen. The Houston Chronicle called the room both “warm” and “lively” before labeling Oporto one of the “better spots to hang out with friends” in Houston. For Uchi Houston, a modern Japanese den on Westheimer Road, Michael Hsu was able to pair with James Beard-award-winning chef Tyson Cole. The building was built in 1937 and previously housed the famed Tex-Mex place Felix Mexican Restaurant, which closed in 2008 after 60 years in business. The update focused on handcrafted materials, with reclaimed lumber, walnut cabinetry, and custom-made brass light fixtures.

Schooley Design

Architects:
Palmer Brook Schooley

Awards:
AIA Columbus Honor Award

Address:
3262 W. Main Street, Number 11, Houston, TX 77098

About Schooley Design

This local firm’s restaurant designs mirror the diversity of the city it serves. From “Houston’s first gastropub” Izakaya in Midtown to the futuristic decor of Chinese spot V-Star in South Houston and the sunken dining area at the American classics restaurant Benjy’s, Schooley Design has worked on a little bit of everything in the Houston food scene. The prolific three-person restaurant design firm’s principal, Palmer Brook Schooley, founded it in 1990 after working as an associate at Texas Four Architects for four years. He earned his Master of Architecture at Rice University, where his design director Craig Alan Guy also studied in 1985. Schooley is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and received an Honor Award from the AIA chapter in Columbus, Ohio, where he worked with Schooley Caldwell Associates.

Featured Projects

Given the firm’s eclectic and diverse portfolio of restaurant designs, it’s no surprise the duo behind Roostar, the extremely popular banh mi shop, tapped Schooley Design for its Galleria location. The new location emphasized casual functionality with fluted metal while sticking with a red theme that mimicked the established logo. “They are masters at their craft, artists really,” Linda Nguyen told the Houston Press. Schooley Design worked with another prolific designer of restaurants, Jim Herd, on the second building for the expanded Hungry’s in Rice Village that opened on New Year’s Eve last year. Schooley Design handled the interiors while Herd did the building. The new space incorporated remnants of the old building and used natural light to emphasize the American and Mediterranean menu. Schooley Design was hired again when Hungry’s updated its Memorial Drive location.

Studio RED Architects

Architects:
Pete Ed Garrett
Trung Doan
Brady Vinje

Awards:
AIA Houston Firm of the Year,
Houston Business Journal Landmark Award,
ULI Development of Distinction Award,
Texas Architect Design Award

Address:
1320 McGowen Street, Houston, TX 77004

About Studio RED Architects

Studio RED Architects creates unique projects that fit their locations and their design influence is felt in several sectors across Houston. Bisnow ranked it No. 1 on its list of the five most influential architectural firms in the area and many of its larger projects are LEED certified. Studio RED was founded in Houston in 2004 by Pete Ed Garrett, Trung Doan, and Brady Vinje, who are still partners at the firm. Doan was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Asian Chamber of Commerce in 2010 and handles most of the restaurant and hospitality work with Garrett. Studio RED has been nominated for three Houston Business Journal Landmark Awards and won for Public Assemblies in 2017. It was also named the AIA Houston Firm of the Year in 2015.

Featured Projects

Brennan’s, a multiple-award-winning Houston staple founded in 1967, sustained serious fire damage in 2008 during Hurricane Ike. Studio RED architects handled the redesign, which kept a favorite restaurant open and drew rave reviews from the staff. The 16-month replacement even included bringing twin oaks to replace a 40-year-old oak tree in the courtyard. Brennan’s flooded again in 2017 during Hurricane Harvey, but it is so beloved in the South that restaurants as far as New Orleans held fundraisers for the historic institution. When restaurateur Michael Paolucci wanted to overhaul a former Mexican restaurant into the upscale American eatery Cook & Collins, he turned to Studio RED. The space was cramped, so the firm rearranged the interiors to improve workflow. Exposed brick, high ceilings, padded benches, and metal surfaces added an upscale touch while subway tiles and a lunch counter kept it rooted in an old-school vibe, which distinguished Cook & Collins from the many bars nearby in Midtown.