PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston March 2021

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A LITTLE " I t 's g o i n g t o b e t h e c a t 's m e o w, " Armando says of the new Lulus Italian in River Oaks. "The food is going to be simple but great … You're going to walk in, and you're going to be hooked." Since the late 1970s, Armando has reigned as the elegant proprietor of Houston's premier watering hole for a certain set, his namesake Armandos — no apostrophe, please. Over the years, the hopping restaurant advanced to a new level of sophisticated Tex-Mex cuisine, with a lush interior reminiscent of Mexico City. Then, in the early '80s, he and Cinda bought a second residence in Round Top. "I bought a piece of property," Armando says. "I never thought of doing a restaurant out here. I had Armandos — you know, enough is enough." But fate — aka opportunity — intervened, and over the last three years, the couple has become a hospitality force in the fashionable country town, slightly more than an hour from Houston. They rule over Tex-Mex haunt Mandito's, Popi Burger, and the remarkable Lulu's restaurant, where they serve Italian fare in a romantic 1870 stone brewery. This month, they'll open Hotel Lulu in Round Top, a charming 14-room property with gardens and pool, tucked behind the restaurant. In the soft light of Lulu's bar in Round Top, Armando, the creative mind, and Cinda, the bottom-line operational mind, discuss their journey that ultimately led to the sister restaurant in Houston, rebranded Lulus Italian, which is expected to open in June. "I've Only days before demolition began at Stone Mill Bakers at the corner of WESTHEIMER and KIRBY DRIVE to make way for Armando and Cinda Palacios' new Lulus Italian restaurant, SHELBY HODGE sat down with THE DUO at the Round Top iteration of Lulu's, to discuss their newest addition. always wanted to do an Italian restaurant," Armando says. He had his eye on the property where Carrabba's on Kirby stands today. The Italian friend he approached to partner in the effort declined, so that venture was put on the back- burner but not forgotten, even as their Round Top spots blossomed. "Three years ago, we were offered [the lease on] Stone Mill Bakers in the same center as Armandos, perfect for a little Italian cafe," he says. It was an opportunity, for certain, but Cinda said, "Before we get egg on our face, we're doing Lulu's in Round Top — to do proof of concept out here where we can afford it." After almost four years of success with Lulu's Round Top, the couple agreed that if Stone Mill Bakers ever left the cozy Avalon Shopping Center where Armandos anchors the opposite corner, they would go for it. "For us, success is all about timing, and six months ago, they called us," Armando says. "And we said, 'Of course. Let's go.'" "It's going to be a jewel box," Armando says of the 2,400-square- foot Houston restaurant that will seat 75 for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. "Kind of like the old Armandos [on Shepherd Drive]: small, intimate, cozy. With the guidance of Alex Curley, new chief operating officer for the couple's hospitality company, Palacios Murphy (Murphy is Cinda's maiden name), a hospitality- design company out of New York, RDstudio, was brought in to transform the former bakery. To lead Lulu's kitchen team in both Round Top and Houston, Curley tapped chef Jose Monterrosa, who formerly worked under Michelin- starred chef Fabio Trabocchi (Fiola in Washington, D.C.). "This time, we're going to a different level with a chef-driven menu," Armando says. With Armandos restaurant at one end of the shopping center and Lulus Italian at the other, there's a natural synergy. As Armando points out, after dinner on Thursday nights, Lulu's customers can wander over to Armandos for his traditional disco night with DJ and dancing. ROUND TOP IN HOUSTON Cinda and Armando Palacios at Lulu's, Round Top JACK THOMPSON 26

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