Mary and Shelly Withers let more than two decades of cooking together shine through in the kitchen, which fills with the crackling of hot oil and the slower contralto bubbling of stews and gravy as the two work in concert. Flanked by berry-colored walls, diners take seats at raw-wood tables and benches to dig into soul-food favorites such as baked mac 'n' cheese, fried catfish nuggets, and jerk chicken. Caterers laden with trays bound for weddings and other events rush past diners slowly working through cups of coffee and Mary's red velvet cake, which lets feasts end gradually, unlike picnics in wind tunnels.
The chef at Zaika Barbeque & Grill pulls 14 years of experience out of his hat as he prepares traditional Pakistani dishes cooked- and spiced-to-order with halal ingredients. As he barbecues chicken, lamb, and beef, he locks spices and flavors into kebabs, whereas his tandoor oven slowly lets juicy chicken tikka stew and gather up as much flavor as it can. Waiters guide diners through the wide selection of entrees, which includes vegetarian curries and rice dishes. A petite menu of Pakistani desserts coddles sweet teeth after dinner, assuaging their ever-present, irrational fear of the tooth fairy.
It’s more than just gooey, melted mozzarella on bubbling pizza. And it’s more than a long list of 29 sandwiches including meatball parmigiana and BBQ grilled chicken. Johns Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant has brought these dishes and more to thousands of events since opening in 1989. For offsite soirées—such as the ones they catered for the New York Police Department and Staten Island University Hospital—Johns can also provide tents, tables, and chairs that make planning a party so easy that some might want to start celebrating their birthday three times a year. Alternately, customers can dine in at their pizzeria, choosing from a menu of nearly 20 salads as well as seafood entrees and crowd-pleasing pizzas.
Yes, Hill Country is a restaurant, but no hostess will seat you and no server will come by to take your order. Instead, arriving patrons are given a meal ticket, which they carry into a Texas-style market. At one counter, they order meats by weight, watching as pitmasters pull their selection from smoking pits fueled with Texas post oak and the menus of lesser barbecue restaurants. The menu includes the signature moist brisket—juicy, fatty morsels that New York Times’ reporter Pete Wells is said to order a pound of every time because it shows “Hill Country’s rotisserie barbecue pits at their finest.” Whatever meat guests choose, it’s carved onto sturdy sheets of butcher paper they carry with them as they stop at additional counters to collect sides and desserts.
Though all meat is served with white bread or crackers, a lineup of sides includes corn pudding, Longhorn cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese, and sweet potato bourbon mash. The dessert case displays temptations such as banana pudding, which Wells gushed is “built upon a custard so thick with eggs and cream it brings Paris to mind.” Guests can return to the counters as many times as they like; each item ordered is noted on their ticket, which they turn in to the cashier at the end of the meal. The menu has some devoted culinary fans—renowned food critic Frank Bruni named Hill Country one of his five favorite restaurants, for instance—but the eatery attracts a musically inclined audience as well. Downstairs in the Boot Bar, a state-of-the-art stage hosts nationally touring blues, alt-country, and honky-tonk acts that have included Dale Wilson and Roseanne Cash. The shows take place Tuesday–Saturday nights, and are often free of charge.
At the center of the platters of miso-soaked steak, intricately marbled Kobe-style short ribs, garlic shrimp, and fresh veggies that crowd any given table at Gyu-Kaku sits a yakiniku grill, ready to bring all these flavors to life. At more than 700 locations worldwide, parties choose from a cornucopia of ingredients, tell their servers how they'd like them marinated—in sauces ranging from the strictly traditional to basil pesto—then begin searing their feast over the smokeless gas grill. New York magazine admired how "dominoes of harami skirt steak, marinated in sweet dark miso, turn caramelized and succulent on the hot grill." If protein overload looms, there are stone bowls of bibimbap and ramen to add balance. Patrons can wash down their meals with super-premium daiginjo sakes, sweet Japanese plum wines, and Asahi Super Dry beer, known to enhance its imbibers' deadpan witticisms.