Japanese restaurants modeled on a classic style theater. Houston institutions that serve thick, juicy steaks. 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 just-plain good from Houston’s famed food diversity. 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, most high-quality, restaurant buildings.

Top Architects

Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

Michael Hsu

Interior Design Association Design Excellence Award

4910 Burnet Road, Austin, Texas 78756

About Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

Michael Hsu has become a bit of a rock star, or, perhaps, starchitect in his home base of Austin. But he has compelling restaurant credits in his other hometown as well. Hsu was born in Taiwan but raised in Houston. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture in 1993. He spent 11 years at the Austin firm Dick Clark + Associates. The 21-employee Michael Hsu Office of Architecture was formed in 2005. It has notable restaurants on the client list — Ushi, Bullfight, P. Terry’s Burger Bar, Shake Shack — with 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. The seats are different sizes to 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 erected in 1937 and previously held 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.

Studio RED Architects

Pete Ed Garrett
Trung Doan
Brady Vinje

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

1320 McGowen Street, Houston, Texas 77004

About Studio RED Architects

Studio RED Architects 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. They create unique projects that really fit their locations. 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 and Garrett handle much of the restaurant and hospitality work. Doan was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Asian Chamber of Commerce in 2010. Studio RED has been nominated for three Houston Business Journal Landmark Awards, and won for Public Assemblies in 2017. It was named the AIA Houston Firm of the Year in 2015. Many of its larger projects are LEED certified.

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 raves 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 the 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.

Schooley Design

Palmer Brook Schooley

AIA Columbus Honor Award

3262 W. Main Street, Number 11, Houston, Texas 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, 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; 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.


Jesse Hager

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

3221 Milam Street, Suite 1, Houston, Texas 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 received her Master of Architecture from Rice University in 2009. CONTENT has won three AIA Houston Design Awards. 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 let the Honeymoon Cafe remain flexible enough for a coffee shop vibe during the day and a bar feel at night. CONTENT’s next project is in progress smack in the middle of “the heart of Houston” — that’s Montrose — and looks to be a real character. The bar and night spot Goodnight Charlie’s is billed by CONTENT as a “honky-tonk,” with a bar, dance area, and decorative fences that reference rural Texas. CONTENT is partnering with the award-winning Gin Design Group — also on this list — on the interiors.

Kirksey Architecture

John Kirksey

AIA Houston Associate Member of the Year

6909 Portwest Drive, Houston, Texas 77024

About Kirksey Architecture

Kirksey, in true Texas fashion, was founded on youthful energy and a dream, with a bit of bombast. 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. Its work leans toward larger-scale civic, religious, and corporate projects. But when Kirksey does delve into restaurant design, it tends to do well and work in places Houstonians would recognize, like inside Minute Maid Park — or Astro’s Field for the longtime fan. 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 on 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 port holes, and incredible views of its 500k gallons of 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 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.

Gin Design Group

Gin Braverman

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

3227 Milam Street, Houston, Texas, 77006

About Gin Design Group

Gin Braverman got her start in Houston’s restaurant scene by designing the much-loved, and recently closed, Oxheart. (One Houston critic lamented that the thing he would miss most was the angled, 11-seat counter.) But that wasn’t her start with Houston. Braverman has moved in and out of the city since she was a teen, in between stops 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. 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, casual and, of course, a bit green 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 28k-acre 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.

Collaborative Projects

Jim Herd

2727 Fondren Road, Suite 5N, Houston, Texas 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 truck, or, rather, 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 it installed in the building. 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 for 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.

McGarr Design & Interiors

Julie McGarr

Decorative Center of Houston Star on the Rise

1918 Sul Ross, Unit A, Houston, Texas 77098

About McGarr Design & Interiors

At McGarr Design & Interiors, a 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 bar have become an essential part of Houston society 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 somewhat-casual handmade pasta and pizza favorite near Rice University. The vintage-style and candle-bedecked room leads 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 in 2014.

Issac Preminger

Issac Preminger

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

3262 W. Main Street, Houston, Texas 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 work on the 90-year-old Dittman Bakery Building.

“I draw inspiration from every thing I see all around me.  Most of my ideas come to me as an epiphany.
As an Architectural student, my good friend Benjamin Flint had a design problem he couldn’t see through. Asking me for ideas, being that the project was due next morning, I immediately came up with a creative solution. Benjamin got an “A” , and I had an epiphany…” – Issac Preminger

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 food is sometimes criticized for bouncing around too much, but the vintage wallpaper, globe pendant lights, light-blue glasses, and smartly placed family photos make for a beautiful, intriguing setting. Houston doesn’t have as many celebrities as New York or L.A., but it can claim birthrights for the best celebrity — that’s Beyonce — and she 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-foot 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.

“I believe that the design should be more than just a superficial compilation of the latest trends in materials, colors, or lighting. But rather it should have depth of character, a “soul” if you wish. That’s what distinguishes an Architect as a “Creator”, allowing one to set trends rather than just follow them.
Unlike most Architects now days, whose work is produced by scores of computer operators, I personally design and draw the entire project meticulously by hand. This gives me a greater bond with the project, and gives the project its “soul”. Regardless of the aesthetics, this look and feel is instantly recognized in all of my work. – Issac Preminger

MC2 Architects

Chuong Nguyen
Chung Nguyen

PaperCity Design Awards First Place,
AIA Houston Design Awards

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 from where they approach. The project was a renovation of a 5,000-square-foot historic Art-Deco building erected 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-foot-long counter references omokase, 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *