Making Waves: Restaurants by Michael Hsu, AIA

OPORTO

Opened in early 2015, OPORTO Fooding House & Wine is located in a recently redeveloped area of Midtown Houston where modern mixed-use buildings abut remnants of the historic Fourth Ward to create a diverse building framework. The urban plan for this area features more walkable and bikeable streets and sidewalks. As the anchor tenant in a large mixed-use apartment building, OPORTO benefits from a sizable population living within a few square blocks.

To capture the attention of that audience, Michael Hsu Office of Architecture chose to clad the exterior with brilliantly colored patterned tile and warm cedar set in a field of white brick. As a complement to the patterned tile, the architect introduces a wonderfully complex custom steel screen set inside a series of existing planters that surround the outdoor patio area. At the entrance to the restaurant, the field of white brick suddenly morphs from running bond to a herringbone pattern, possibly alluding to the modern twist on traditional Portuguese food that’s being served indoors at the restaurant. Inside, a balanced blend of rich walnut millwork, clay floor tiles, brass screens, and brightly patterned wall tiles provides a warm and welcoming experience. Suspended above the center of the dining area, large rope light fixtures reference Madeira’s grand tradition of wickerwork.

eT Craft Burgers & Beer

The flagship location for this gastropub-inspired restaurant is in an archetypal strip mall off a highway in Northwest Houston. The design challenge was to create an interior experience through the use of materials and color that could be efficiently recreated in a different shopping mall while also setting a high standard for the brand. By introducing white-oak wood paneling to the lower section of the typical storefront window system, the facade is elevated to a unique character, setting this section apart from the rest of the mall’s tenants. Inside, a boldly colored angular graphic painted onto a large, wood wall leads you to the order queue, which begins with the custom copper-and-wood beer tap wall reminiscent of a traditional pub setting. Custom-perforated steel lighting and large brick-topped tables with leather stools anchor the communal dining experience in the center of the room. Around these, long white-oak-clad banquettes with smaller tables allow for the flexible seating options needed in this type of restaurant.

The open kitchen features a classic and clean white tile that wraps up to become the soffit above the service area and the backdrop for the menus overhead. Adjacent to the tile, blackened steel plate walls add a unique modern element, serving to visually anchor the cashier area and complement the custom steel lights.

Hunky-Dory Tavern and Bernadine’s

Once a car sales lot, the site is located on a major axis road and set within the context of Houston Heights, one of the earliest planned communities in Texas. By implementing a modern derivation of the simple gabled roof, this restaurant duo undoubtedly draws its formal inspiration from the houses in the community that surround it. The modest but incredibly charming exterior material palette of brick, wood, steel-framed windows, and ivy-enveloped fencing helps to solidify that referential genesis. Inside, the two restaurant concepts find distinct identities through a change in material palette, custom lighting, and ornamentation. Inside Hunky-Dory, warm and natural woods mix with brass, crimson brick, and fabric wall panels to create a comfortable and intimate dining setting reminiscent of the country pubs scattered throughout England. Bernadine’s will feature tumbled-edge white brick, whitewashed wood siding, slatted wood ceilings, and rusted perforated metal to set the tone for the Gulf Coast-inspired cuisine. 

The restaurants will both feature separate outdoor dining spaces and restrooms but will share a private dining area.

Sway

Planted solidly in the heart of Austin’s 78704 zip code, Sway is at home in its evolving yet historically-minded residential community. The building, at one time a tobacco shop, is now an introverted space with tall CMU screen walls masking an inner courtyard and a warm, bustling dining area. The entrance is a brief-but-effective cleansing sequence, drawing you through the threshold between wall and building, past an inner garden and courtyard, and finally into the seating area. Inside, the dining room is a large open space filled with communal (yet remarkably intimate) family-style dining tables. The open kitchen with vibrantly colored glazed yellow brick tiles is conspicuous and hums as the staff members move in their choreographed nightly rhythm. Oversized black cane light fixtures float over every large table, helping define space without blocking the view. Custom steel windows and a large hydraulic hangar door separate the dining room and bar from the adjacent outdoor courtyard filled with beautiful mahogany picnic-style dining tables.

Chavez

Chavez was part of a rebranding effort for the Radisson Hotel at the corner of Congress and East Cesar Chavez that included work on the adjacent pool area and conference floor above the restaurant. In an effort to dispel biased impressions concerning a dining experience of a restaurant inside a hotel, Michael Hsu Office of Architecture collaborated with FÖDA Studio to create a comprehensive design. Overlooking a beautiful portion of Lady Bird Lake and the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, floor-to-ceiling windows were introduced to flood the interior with natural light and take advantage of the building’s proximity to the natural setting. The dining room is a large, open space, separated from the adjacent bar by a uniquely designed powder-coated steel screen wall that at one point integrates into the structure of several of the booth seats. The delicate screen walls successfully divide spaces without inhibiting views or natural light. The abstract patterns and tectonic rhetoric evident in the screen walls, custom wine racks, lighting, and entrance doors are creative interpretations of textiles and pottery seen in Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Pecan wood, from Texas’ state tree, is ubiquitous, covering the floors, walls, and ceilings in the entry and soffit above the bar, further wedding this space to the complex cultural history of the area.

épicerie Cafe & Grocery

Established in a renovated bungalow in Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood, this quaint cafe and grocery relies on an uncomplicated palette of warm, natural interior materials, while outside, the building’s vibrant deep blue facade and ivy-clad fencing and signage seamlessly align with its residential surroundings. Large windows at the front allow an abundance of natural light into the space, reflecting off the modern copper pendants hanging above the main dining space. Marble countertops, butcher-block dining tables, and large, glass display cases reinforce a casual and inviting ambiance. The warm light-gray color, shaker-style cabinet faces and brushed-nickel hardware of the grocery display area are reminiscent of what might be found in our own kitchens. Off the main dining space, a small-but-inviting wine room with leather-clad ceilings and navy-colored walls serves as a subtle contrast in both area and mood.

Joel Nolan, AIA, is an Austin-based architect.

This article is online content for the September/October 2015 issue of Texas Architect.