Fanfare from the news media and foodies has surrounded the opening of celebrity chef Christina Ha’s new Spring Branch District outpost of her first restaurant, The Blind Goat.
But the reason why the eatery is located in Spring Branch has nothing to do with a goat. We can thank “George,” the dog, for that.
Ha, who won the third season of Fox’s “MasterChef” reality show, and her husband, John Suh, moved to Spring Branch from just west of the Heights in 2021.
Spring Branch is where Suh went to elementary school and where the couple found they would have more room for the dog they adopted during the pandemic. George is named after the character in the TV show “Seinfeld.”
“We found Spring Branch had more space to walk our dog, yet it still wasn’t much farther out from the city where our other restaurant, Xin Chào, is located,” Ha said.
Of course, George wasn’t the sole reason for the couple’s move — or the restaurant’s location.
“I also foresee Spring Branch to have a lot of growth potential in the next five to 10 years,” Ha said. “Many people I know have moved from inside the 610 Loop to Spring Branch, and we have a lot of friends who were already living here or who moved into the area shortly after we did.”
Ha first opened The Blind Goat in 2019 at Bravery Chef Hall, a downtown food court. After moving to Spring Branch, Ha said, she and her husband found a lot of great local Korean and Latin foods to eat, but not a lot of options when it came to Vietnamese or more upscale, chef-driven restaurants.
“I was scratching an itch I had by bringing The Blind Goat to Spring Branch,” she said.
The restaurant opened at the Spring Branch Village shopping center in late February in a strip with the popular Feges BBQ and other eateries such as the newly opened Cosmic Ice Cream.
Cosmic has a presence at The Blind Goat as part of Ha’s famous dessert, Rubbish Apple Pie A La Lode, which was praised by internationally known chef Gordon Ramsay. Cosmic Vanilla Bean is the “a la mode” part.
With the positive reception in Spring Branch, Ha already has another project nearing completion at the same shopping center. Stuffed Belly gourmet sandwich shop primarily will be a drive-through concept. Construction is slated to wrap up soon with a possible opening in April, she said.
“So many people have thanked us for building something like The Blind Goat here, and we are just happy to be open and feel the warm welcome,” Ha said.
She attributes her love of Vietnamese food and cooking to her late parents, both Vietnamese refugees, especially her mother, who never left any recipes behind nor taught her how to cook.
Ha is entirely self-taught. As a sophomore in college, she decided she missed the dishes from her childhood, so she read cookbooks and experimented in the kitchen.
The menu at The Blind Goat features Mom’s Eggrolls, Ha’s childhood favorite with pork, shrimp, carrot, wood ear mushroom and fish sauce vinaigrette for dipping.
A Hanoi fish beloved by the chef’s late father, Whole Roasted Turmeric Fish, is prepared with dill and galangal (Thai ginger) and comes with rice vermicelli bundles, grilled pineapple, roasted peanuts, fresh herbs and the fish sauce vinaigrette.
Regulars from the downtown location will recognize dishes like G.O.A.T. Curry, Crawfish & Garlic Noodles and Texas BBQ Brisket Fried Rice.
MasterChef fans will enjoy Ha’s updated version of her winning first course from the final episode — The Great Green Papaya Salad.
We started our dinner with Mom’s Eggrolls and Tofu Spring Rolls, which are perfect for sharing. The spring rolls were fresh and light, with a tasty tamarind peanut sauce for dipping.
Two salads followed, starting with The Great Green Papaya Salad, where papaya might be in the name but the star ingredient is sweet beef jerky. Not a speck of the jerky remained on the plate when we were done.
The beef flank was grilled to perfection for the Steak & Mango Salad, which came next, and we will be back again for the Sticky Wings, which were prepared with a fish sauce glaze, Thai chile and Vietnamese herbs and were finger-licking good.
We hope the Sticky Wings make it on the restaurant’s Happy Hour menu, which our waitress said is coming soon. The restaurant has an extensive bar with unique takes on traditional cocktails such as “Golden Turtle Power,” an Old-Fashioned with Japanese bourbon, Café Du Monde and banana. The Halong Bae, a gin martini featuring, of course, gin but also Kimoto sake and lemongrass, is flavorful and potent and a best-seller.
While Ha is best known for MasterChef, her cookbook, “Recipes from My Home Kitchen,” was a New York Times best seller.
Ha has Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, in which a person’s immune system attacks the optic nerves and spinal cord. She was diagnosed about 20 years ago, when she gradually started losing her vision.
Ha has spoken about disability advocacy at the United Nations, served as a culinary envoy overseas for the U.S. State Department and was a co-host on the Canadian cooking TV show “Four Senses” and a judge on MasterChef Vietnam.
She earned a master of fine arts degree from the Creative Writing Program at University of Houston, where she served as fiction editor for Gulf Coast literary journal, and a bachelor degree in business administration from The University of Texas at Austin.
In 2020, the James Beard Foundation named The Blind Goat a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in America when it was just a 400-square-foot station inside the food hall.
That same year, Christine opened Xin Chào with co-chef Tony Nguyen, and they were named a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Texas region, in 2022, and a semi-finalist for Outstanding Chef in America in 2023.
Her Vietnamese zodiac sign? The goat, of course.
The Blind Goat
8145 Long Point Rd.
— Dorothy Puch Lillig