Alison Cook’s top 100: No. 6 Underbelly

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6. Underbelly
This, at last, is the restaurant Chris Shepherd was born to run. There is no chef in Houston who has embraced the city’s kaleidoscopic ethnic food scene more wholeheartedly, foraging in far-flung neighborhoods and staging briefly in various Asian and South Asian kitchens. Now he brings that passion to bear in a big, airy room with a sleek industrial vibe, anchored by a groundbreaking in-house butcher shop and a sweep of open kitchen that makes mealtime a rollicking theater piece. The flavors rollick, too: from Korean-spiced braised goat with dumplings to General Tso’s meatballs, lion’s-head size and snapping with chile heat. It’s not all meat all the time, either. Deftly seared cabbages lighten up Akaushi skirt steak on a masa huarache base, swooshed with electric green salsa. Big pods of fava beans get charred on the grill, to devour like outsize edamame. Fat soft-shell crabs greet kim-chi butter as if they were old friends. Cobbler seems brand-new when it’s made with green tomatoes. And a well-priced, interesting wine list by Matthew Pridgen (rosé of Chinon, anybody?) makes it all go ‘round. Though the restaurant is young, the execution already seems steadier than it was at Shepherd’s last gig, the well-loved Catalan.
Cuisine: American
Entree price range: $$-$$$
Where: 1100 Westheimer
Phone: 713-523-1622


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