The day after Pappas Restaurants endured one of its most dramatic and painful chapters — transitioning out of its Hobby Airport stronghold — the hospitality giant had some good news for Houston diners.

Wednesday, May 17, is the opening date of its much-anticipated Little’s Oyster Bar, a luxe seafood restaurant that has taken up home in the former Little Pappas Seafood House at 3001 S. Shepherd. Closed in 2020 when the pandemic upended the local dining scene, Little Pappas has re-emerged as a jewel box showcase for upscale seafood dining as the company’s first chef-driven restaurant.

Pappas has tapped California native Jason Ryczek (whose culinary resume includes the acclaimed Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco, itself a COVID-19 casualty, closing in 2020) to lead the restaurant where caviar, Maine lobster and charred octopus tentacles will make nice with Gulf oysters, blue crab and Texas redfish.

Having lost its lengthy, legal public battle to keep its concessions at Hobby, the opening announcement of Little’s Oyster Bar is a bright moment in what has been a difficult period for the Houston-based restaurant powerhouse. Pappas has poured its considerable might and resources into Little’s, completely re-conceptualizing the seafood space into an elegant restaurant whose design was led by Evy Pappas with modern nautical touches (a handsome white and gray-blue color scheme, seafaring prints, an inviting oyster bar), snazzy lighting, plush banquettes and marble flooring. The indoor space has 80 seats and the new, all-weather patio with retractable roof and door walls that open up the adjoining rooms.

Ryczek has placed emphasis on sourcing, using seafood from sustainable farms throughout the country and forging relationships with the best local and Texas purveyors.

His caviar offerings, for example, include California white sturgeon roe he personally harvested and salted specifically for Little’s.

The menu begins with raw bar offerings of seafood platters (oysters, shrimp, crab, lobster, and tuna crudo), oysters on the half shell served with horseradish cream and mignonette, Texas wild Gulf shrimp with pomegranate cocktail sauce, and Maine lobster with black pepper crème fraiche.

Cold seafood dishes include tuna crudo with watermelon, pickled peppers and peanuts; jumbo lump blue crab with Louie dressing; and a Caesar festooned with burrata and Spanish anchovies. Warm dishes include baked oysters with a touch of absinthe, Creole crawfish bisque, crab croquettes fortified with shrimp and scallops, chargrilled octopus, and lobster gnocchi bathed in a champagne and cherry tomato fondue. Entrees include seared Gulf grouper with caper and radish beurre blanc, pan-roasted salmon, and seared Texas redfish with olive salsa verde, and (this being Pappas) a dry-aged New York strip steak.

Having spent the entirety of his career in California restaurants, Ryczek is embracing his new home and its distinctive foodways. Since arriving to the post last year, he’s dined extensively in Houston to familiarize himself with the local palate. His goal is to merge his own seafood skills as he leans into Gulf bounty. He wants dishes on his menu, he said, “that before you’ve even seen it, you’re in the mood for it.” His philosophy of doing “the right thing” by the best possible seafood means that the center-of-the-plate proteins will shine, but they’ll also be treated to exciting flourishes and nuances. 

The food menu will be supported by a list of appropriate wines and champagne overseen by Robert Smith, Pappas’s fine spirits and expanding concepts wine director, while bar manager Oliver Brooks has created a list of cocktails meant to pair with shareable seafood. 

Pappas has kept the original Little Pappas Seafood House signage from its 1987 opening. But it’s been repainted and now shines as a beacon both for the stamp the company has put on the local dining scene and a bold reminder that Pappas continues to chart new courses for its many fans.

Little’s Oyster Bar will be open for dinner Wednesday and Thursday 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 p.m., and Sunday 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations can be made on