© Mark C. Austin

Underbelly alum Ryan Lachaine taps into his Canadian roots, Ukrainian heritage and Texas upbringing for his genre-defying restaurant in Houston.

December 29, 2016

“Tables and chairs are expensive,” says Ryan Lachaine.

That sobering realization about opening his own restaurant didn't stop the chef, then a sous-chef at Reef in Houston, from finally striking out on his own and making Riel a reality.

This is the first restaurant for Lachaine after a year in the making, and it’s debuting in the hip Montrose neighborhood of Houston next Tuesday, January 3. “I’ve always opened up restaurants with other guys, but this is the first time I'm doing it on my own,” says Lachaine.

 © Mark C. Austin

The “other guys,” include Chris Shepherd, who opened the pioneering Houston spot Underbelly in 2012; Lachaine was Shepard's longtime right-hand man and won accolades, like an Eater Young gun title in 2013, for his dedication. He also staged and skipped around Husk in Charleston, Herbsaint in New Orleans and Coi in San Francisco.

But it's the lasting impact of his Ukrainian-born mom’s pierogies and borscht that you’ll see at Riel.

 © Mark C. Austin

The Winnipeg native is weaving together Ukrainian comfort foods from his childhood with staples from his hometowns in Canada and Texas. Which is why Montreal style smoked meat with pickles is on the same menu as fried gulf fish karaage and possibly a rotating pierogi.

But certainly no poutine.

“Canadian food is hard to nail down, and I don’t want that stereotype of that’s all you do with Canadian food,” Lachaine says. “There’s a lot more than that.”