Arriving at Nancy’s Hustle on a Thursday evening, we find the dining room at full capacity. Around the bar, every seat is occupied, and outside, there are people waiting on the benches and in front of the entrance just to get in. The happy sounds of dining—glasses clinking, cutlery jangling, cocktails being shaken and the low hum of indistinguishable conversation intermingled with the rhythmic beat of soul music from the vintage reel-to-reel sound system—greet you upon entering, drawing you in.
Since its quiet debut in late 2017, word-of-mouth news of Nancy’s Hustle has spread like wildfire in Houston. Growing up in Humble, first-time restaurateur Jason Vaughan, who opened the eatery with friend and fellow novice Sean Jensen, skipped culinary school in favor of real-life experience. Having started out under the tutelage of Claire Smith at Daily Review Cafe and Shade, Vaughan went on to work at places like the two-Michelin-starred Michael Mina in San Francisco and eventually became culinary director of Brendan Sodikoff’s Chicago-based Hogsalt Hospitality before returning to Houston to open his own restaurant.
His collective experiences inform Nancy’s menu. Describing the cuisine, Vaughan says, “American food today is really global. … We just let the products dictate, and we just want to cook what we want to eat.” This results in a menu that is as unpretentious as it is fun to explore. Plates are characterized as small, medium and large, making it easy to create a playlist of dishes that fits the mood of the night. Nancy Cakes, a trio of fluffy, wonderfully airy griddlecakes based on a friend’s family cornbread recipe, served with house-cultured honey butter and smoked trout roe, are exceptional. Crispy slices of fried garlic enliven a dish of Turkish-style lamb dumplings, tomato vinaigrette and labneh with a surprisingly delightful textural element.