Historically, the Sawyer Heights district in Houston, TX, served as a distribution hub for goods passing through. In recent years, major projects in the area have put it on the map as an up-and -coming night-life spot. Sawyer Heights is now rapidly becoming a culinary destination. It is currently home to other upscale and well-rated restaurants, but none are serving Vietnamese food despite Houston’s large Vietnamese population. Xin Chao fills a gap for this cuisine in a way that elevates it without losing the deep connection to traditional roots.
In addition to the creative menu, Xin Chao will offer a full bar and outdoor patio seating. Most restaurants on the main strip in Sawyer Heights are smaller, with limited seating and parking. Xin Chao’s large indoor/outdoor dining space and ample parking lot makes it an attractive destination for families and large groups, both of which are part of their target market. Residential areas nearby and planned apartment complexes bring more young professionals and families.
Xin Chao has the unique advantage of being owned and operated by two well-known chefs native to Houston. As a result, they have fan followings who will be eager to hear of their partnership on this new restaurant concept.
Christine Ha took her home cooking background all the way to the championship on MasterChef season 3. For four months, America watched her compete weekly in various cooking challenges until she was crowned the winner at the end of the season in 2012. People connected with her story of overcoming the challenge of losing her sight and re-learning how to cook. Since then, she has written a New York Times best-selling cookbook and was the first winner worldwide to become a full-fledged judge of another MasterChef franchise (Vietnam). She is also an avid public speaker and advocate for the blind and low vision and disability communities. Her first restaurant, The Blind Goat, opened in 2019 and has received a glowing 3-star review and was named one of the best new restaurants of the year by the Houston Chronicle. In January, it landed on Thrillist’s list of Best Vietnamese restaurants.
Christine Ha on MasterChef
Tony J. Nguyen has made a name for himself as a master of Asian-inspired cuisine in Houston, winning multiple awards for his work at Saigon House and Wokker. Saigon House made Thrillist's list of America's 28 best Vietnamese restaurants and won a Houston Press annual award for Best Vietnamese Restaurant and Best Pho.
The collaboration of these two chefs will be exciting news for Houston, bringing in local, regional, and international fans to see what they are cooking up at Xin Chao.
Xin Chao’s menu will be a collaboration of two passionate, award-winning chefs. They each hold generations of traditional family recipes and aim to expand the concept of Vietnamese food with high-quality ingredients and modern presentation. The style of the menu will be Vietnamese “izakaya”: small and large plates to share family-style with thoughtfully curated cocktails, beers, and wines. Chefs Christine and Tony want to share their culture and heritage through a new lens with creative dishes inspired by Vietnamese flavors.
At Xin Chao, you will find everything from fresh seafood reminiscent of the street foods of Vietnam—tamarind king crab, buttery seared scallops, grilled clams with chive oil—to elegantly plated, elevated versions of humble home-cooked dishes—pork belly braised in a clay pot, smoked duck salad, and the quintessential noodle soup, pho, served with guest’s choice of either Wagyu beef or Texas barbecue brisket smoked in-house.
Xin Chao will offer dinner, weekend brunch, and eventual late-night dining. Patrons may also opt to sit at the bar or on the patio and order from a limited food menu. The full bar drink offerings will be specifically designed to enhance the food menu, featuring craft beers, wine, and cocktails utilizing southeast Asian ingredients such as lemongrass, tamarind, lychee, and fresh herbs.
Most of Xin Chao’s revenue will come from food and beverage sales (with a very small percentage from merchandise sales), forecasted as follows:
- 75% from food, 25% from beverages
- Average guest purchase is $25 in food, $10 in beverages/alcohol
The atmosphere and ambiance are critical parts of the Xin Chao concept, as the style of Vietnamese restaurants has undergone little evolution despite the popularity of this cuisine. It aims to create a curated dining experience from start to finish, with great attention to detail and a nod to Southern hospitality.
The 2,500-square-foot building allows for a large indoor dining space featuring soft lighting, contemporary decor, and mood-driven music. Xin Chao also has a large outdoor patio providing a casual environment, perfect for brunch or a nice, relaxing evening. The overall impression is modern and welcoming.
Xin Chao will be owned and operated by three partners: chefs Christine Ha and Tony J. Nguyen, and John Suh, the branding/marketing expert and operational support who is also a partner at The Blind Goat. This team has direct experience already operating other successful Vietnamese restaurants in Houston. In addition to their skills and experience, they also have large media exposure from television appearances, creating a substantial fan following and “celebrity chef” status.
Back-of -house operations like supply sourcing, quality control, and service execution will primarily be handled by Chefs Tony and Christine—roles they are familiar with at their other restaurants. Both Christine Ha and John Suh also have a professional background in business administration, which they will use to help with budgeting, forecasting, and analyzing data to improve operations and ensure continued growth. Furthermore, John will use his experience in marketing and digital technology to get Houston diners excited about the opening of Xin Chao and turn them into loyal customers.