Best New Restaurant Houston - UB Preserv

Chris Shepherd's latest restaurant continues the story of Houston's food scene

Though Underbelly, the restaurant from Chris Shepherd that helped put Houston on the map, closed its doors earlier this year, the chef's mission of telling the story of the city's cuisine is just starting another chapter. Earlier this month, Shepherd propped open the doors of Underbelly's fittingly named sequel, UB Preserv.

Shepherd admits, however, that his latest, an 80-seat restaurant, isn't just a continuation of Underbelly's vision—the new space is taking the mission statement "even further." He's no longer limiting himself to the rigid guidelines of locality and whole-animal butchery that ruled Underbelly's kitchen, giving him and chef de cuisine Nick Wong more room for a menu that reflects Houston's cultural and culinary diversity, with a strong emphasis on the area's Vietnamese American community.

You'll find plates like garlicky crawfish over a bed of pan fried rice noodles sourced from a local Vietnamese shop, pork dumplings doused in black vinegar and crispy shallots, and grilled pork jowl al pastor with pineapple and savory atole. Larger plates include a whole roast snapper with salsa verde, chicken stuffed with sticky rice and Chinese sausage, and Vietnamese-inspired short rib fajitas with "lots of stuff on the side."

Victoria Dearmond, UB Preserv's pastry chef, is also paying homage to Houston's diverse influences with a carrot cake that has flavors reminiscent of Vietnamese iced coffee and a Thai tea float, while spirits director Westin Galleymore is including a cocktail that mixes vodka and soda with salted plum, an ingredient typical to Southeast Asian pantries. On Sundays, the restaurant will also serve a dim sum-style brunch with more variations on pork dumplings and other small plates like a green mango salad and coconut jam toast. 

Chef Chris Shepherd (left) and chef de cuisine Nick Wong (right).

For those who are still aching over the loss of Underbelly (which is currently being transformed into Georgia James, a concept based on Shepherd's One Fifth steakhouse), many of UB Preserv's design elements—including the tables and chairs—were actually sourced from its predecessor. Meanwhile, the walls of the dining room are lined with photos of business owners and restaurants from throughout the city: a reflection of the diversity that inspires the menu.

"Our eating experiences are better for it, not to mention our empathy and understanding for those who are different than us," Shepherd says.

A grilled bolillo roll with avocado, cured kanpachi and spring onions.

Whole snapper with salsa verde, citrus and herbs.

Herbs, tomatoes and cucumbers dressed in serrano vinaigrette get a crunch from crispy rice.

The large plates section of the menu includes a whole, deboned chicken stuffed with sticky rice, Chinese sausage and mushrooms.

Crispy pork ribs glazed in fermented black bean mole sauce.

Grilled pork jowl al pastor with charred squash and pineapple. 

The crispy noodles that serve as a bed for buttery crawfish are sourced from a local Vietnamese purveyor.