First Look: Asian Smokehouse Loro Opens in the Heights

Prime smoked flank steak bowl from Loro.

Photo: Melissa Phillip/Staff Photographer

be praying, loro houston is open.

If that sounds a little too heavenly, consider that this new restaurant Heights of two Austin culinary deities spreads its lofty ambitions in a space that was a former place of worship, complete with clerestory windows. It is an ideal gastronomic temple for one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in years.

And judging by the almost reverent foodie buzz, Loro is ready to make some happy noise in Houston.

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The opening date for this mashup of Central Texas barbecue and Southeast Asian flavors is officially February 23. But people started pouring in on Tuesday after several days of private services with friends and family. Clearly, Houston diners can’t wait for this concept, branded as an Asian smokehouse and bar.

For good reason. Loro, from Hai Hospitality (the restaurant group behind the award-winning Uchi and Uchiko), is the gourmet mind-meld of award-winning chef and chef de cuisine James Beard – Tyson Cole of Uchi and Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue. Both superstars in their own realms, Loro is their unique collaboration of Central Texas style barbecue traditions fused with Asian foods and disciplines. The result is a cheerful hybrid whose flavors are familiar to the Texas palate familiar with its smoked meat and the herbaceous, tart and electric seasonings of the Asian pantry.

We’re talking curried beef brisket rice, char siew pork belly rice bowls filled with seasoned pickles, snow pea and toasted coconut salad with grilled Malaysian chicken, and homemade sandwiches. smoked beef brisket filled with papaya salad, peanuts, Thai herbs and chilli aioli. Yes, the kind of exciting and unexpected pairings of flavors that have diners clapping in their greasy hands.

Loro Houston executive chef Marcos Leal describes the menu as a presentation of clean flavors — multi-textured dishes where each layered component stands out with its own fresh, crisp, savory, spicy, and smoky individuality. The constituent elements may come from the familiar framework of Cole’s inventive and rigorous approach to Japanese cuisine and Franklin’s magical alchemy of smoke and meat, but their fusion is a whole new world, both deliciously familiar and precociously foreign.

The menu starts with snacks and vegetables: crispy sweet corn fritters with sriracha aioli; grilled snap peas with kimchi emulsion; kale and Asian pear salad; coleslaw with a cashew-ginger vinaigrette, tomato and cucumber salad with cantaloupe and mint; and grilled zucchini with cashew sambal and walnut bagna cauda. There are sandwiches (beef breast; slow-smoked turkey breast with giardiniera on a pretzel stick; crispy smoked chicken with coleslaw; and a cheeseburger with onion/breast jam) and rice bowls (rice à la coconut with a choice of crispy Sichuan tofu, Malaysian chicken curry, char siew pork belly, smoked beef, curried shrimp or smoked salmon). And the signature meat selections: Malaysian chicken bo ssam with yellow curry/yuzu dressing, char siew pork belly with homemade hoisin, smoked prime flank steak with shishito salsa verde, and smoked salmon and smoked turkey breast. Loro reserves his smoked beef brisket, served with gastric chili, for the afternoon/evening crowd (after 4 p.m.) and his smoked baby back ribs are only offered on Sundays and Mondays.

The weekday happy hour has its own menu of dishes including deviled eggs with smoked salmon, pale beer cod, crispy katsu sandwich, smoked salmon dip, brisket tostadas, hand pie with Thai sausage, chicken karaage and Loro cheeseburger and a crispy smoked chicken sandwich.

Loro is also an alcoholic adventure. The drinks menu features local beers, affordable wines, sake and cocktails designed not only to complement the menu, but also to exist as their own tasty calling card. Houstonians will appreciate the range of “watered slushes”: frozen gin and tonic, frozen mango and sake, frozen mojito and frozen Vietnamese coffee. The lineup of bundled cocktails includes an Old Fashioned, Kyuri Mule (vodka, sake, cucumber and mint), Blood Orange Blossom (gin, lime and kombucha), Mandarin Margarita (tequila and mezcal with tangerine and yuu), Typhoon (rum, passion fruit, lime and Thai basil) and Aki Sour (rye, honey, fig, lemon and bitters).

The Loro Menu takes place against a beautiful backdrop designed by the Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture. Willowy lamps hang from the main dining room’s gabled roof cut with dormer slats. The former Church of God structure was designed to suggest a historic Texas Hill Country dance hall. There is generous patio space outside the inviting corner of Loro (opposite Trattoria Sofia).

The culinary blessings start tomorrow.

Loro, 1001 W. 11th, 713-930-2326; Open Sunday-Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-11pm Happy hour Monday-Friday 2pm-6pm Delivery available via UberEats and DoorDash.

Greg Morago writes about food for the Houston Chronicle. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Send him topical tips at [email protected] Listen to him on our BBQ State of Mind podcast to learn more about barbecue culture in Houston and Texas.

  • Greg Morago

    Greg Morago was editor and reporter for The Hartford Courant for 25 years before joining the Houston Chronicle as food editor in 2009. He writes about food, restaurants, spirits, travel, fashion and beauty . He is a native of Arizona and a member of the Pima Tribe of the Gila River Indian Community.

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