"I enjoy putting the Old and New Worlds on a collision course," says Stephan Pyles, one of the first Southwestern star chefs, about his adventurous venture. At his eponymous restaurant, Pyles’s Texas style is obvious: Nothing short of a crowbar could pry the stupendous bone-in cowboy rib eye with fried red-chile onions off his menu. Other new-world flavors are evident in Mexican-inflected dishes like an ancho-spiked tart filled with creamy roasted garlic custard; at the seviche bar, lightly marinated Ecuadoran shrimp are served with popcorn (similar to the customary bowl of cancha, or popped maize). As for the Old World, Pyles pays homage to Spain with a golden paella spiked with chorizo and studded with lump crabmeat. DETAILS 1807 Ross Ave., Suite 200; 214-580-7000.
Chef Amador Mora spent more than 20 years cooking at the Mansion on Turtle Creek with luminary Dean Fearing. Now Mora’s the head chef at Trece, where he prepares alta cocina mexicana—fine Mexican cuisine—for diners who come to the chic restaurant. He tops roasted Alaskan halibut with a light, sweet tangerine sauce that gets its sassafras-like flavor from the hoja santa leaf, and glazes rib steak with a potent mix of brandy, coffee and piloncillo, or unrefined brown sugar. Mora’s former boss will soon have a new restaurant too: Fearing’s opening a place at the new Ritz-Carlton in Dallas next summer. DETAILS 4513 Travis St.; 214-780-1900.
There’s star power behind this new Asian-fusion spot: Owners Lynae Fearing and Tracy Rathbun are the wives of noted Dallas chefs Dean Fearing and Kent Rathbun. Both men consulted on the menu, which includes fat jalapeño poppers stuffed with minced chicken and coconut, a hit at the perennially packed bar, as well as more-serious food. Executive chef Casey Thompson’s specialty is surf and turf—precise squares of seared Kobe beef and ahi tuna with a drizzle of ponzu sauce. A dish called Elvis’s tuna tartare, a mix of sesame-spiked tuna, jalapeño and cucumber piled on a crisp wonton wrapper, honors head sushi chef Shuji Sagawara, whose black pompadour has earned him the nickname Elvis. DETAILS 7713 Inwood Rd.; 214-352-0005.
"I don’t want any more awards," says Lance Fegen, Glass Wall’s chef and co-owner. "I want to cook what I like." The former chef at Houston’s acclaimed Zula and Trevísio has downshifted with his latest venture, a modern American bistro in the old Houston Heights neighborhood. Burnt-yellow walls soften the restaurant’s look; dark polished-concrete floors amplify the noise. There is a glass wall—with the name glass wall etched on it. Starters might include sweet roasted beets with both tangy mint-garlic yogurt and a chunky salad of eggplant, tomato and smoky red bell peppers. Among the main courses are king salmon with an intriguing corn-milk sauce made from the sweet juice that runs out of freshly cut kernels. Fegen’s goal is to keep the menu interesting but not so labor-intensive that it runs up the prices. "We want people to come in once a week," he says, "not once a month." DETAILS 933 Studewood St.; 713-868-7930.
Marco Wiles secured his reputation as one of Houston’s best Italian chefs with his celebrated restaurant Da Marco. But the venerated chef-owner wanted something more elemental. So in January, he opened Dolce Vita, an unbuttoned pizzeria and enoteca in the decidedly bohemian Montrose area. The menu offers dishes like marinated mussels tossed with capers, parsley and diced potatoes; old-country specialties like trippa alla romana (tripe cooked with tomatoes and smothered with pecorino); and a dozen crisp-crusted pizzas ranging from Margherita to Taleggio piled high with truffle oil-dressed arugula. DETAILS 500 Westheimer Rd.; 713-520-8222.
Anita Jaisinghani recently relocated Indika from a cottage to a contemporary, light-filled space that’s more suited to her exciting modern Indian cooking. She serves shrimp and scallops in a fragrant saffron broth with curry leaves and ginger, and packs basmati rice with chunks of apricot and pumpkin seeds for a definitive side dish. Indika’s appealing Western-style desserts include an orange-stuffed cheesecake that’s simultaneously fluffy and New York-style rich. DETAILS 516 Westheimer Rd.; 713-984-1725.
San Antonio doesn’t have many oyster bars, which makes Sandbar and its broad selection of bivalves (up to 10 choices a day) especially noteworthy. The compact white-tiled downtown spot, a casual venture from Andrew Weissman of elegant Le Rçve, also prepares impeccable sashimi, seviches and more-indulgent choices, like silky lobster bisque. An adjoining market sells the bisque as well as a nicely displayed array of fish and shellfish. Weissman’s newest place is Big’z Burger Joint, serving excellent hamburgers, fries with chipotle mayo and Mexican-vanilla milk shakes. DETAILS Sandbar, 152 E. Pecan St.; 210-222-2426. Big’z Burger Joint, 2303 N. Loop 1604 W.; 210-408-2029.
Fino, in Austin
When Emmett Fox and his wife, Lisa, opened Fino a little over a year ago, they decided to start with Italy, France and Spain before broadening the menu to other Mediterranean countries. At the second-floor space with bright striped banquettes, items like lush fried goat cheese with honey are so popular they can’t ever come off the menu. But now Fino also offers a robust vegetarian Moroccan tagine with eggplant, sweet potato and currant couscous. DETAILS 2905 San Gabriel St.; 512-474-2905.