Since opening in 2003, The Tasting Room has morphed from a wine bar to a full-service restaurant with four locations—all while retaining its wine-bar charm and racking up numerous awards and accolades. Diners can select libations from a list that boasts more than 200 wines, pairing them with contemporary dishes whipped up by executive chef Jonathan LeBlanc. TTR offerings run the gamut from small plates of mini grilled sandwiches and classic bruschetta to entrees including creole-spiced quail and Jamaican jerk chicken breast, which diners can savor at windowside tables or on the plant-ensconced patio and garden area.
The eatery doesn't just sate hunger for eclectic classics and thirst for fermented grapes. It also hosts live music, meetings, and events such as 2011's Grapes vs. Grains, which pitted beer against wine in a liquid wrestling match. The owners have their hands in other culinary enterprises, too. There's the Houston Cellar Classic, for example, an annual celebration of food and wine. Also popular is MAX's Wine Dive, a destination for gourmet comfort food best defined by its slogan—"Fried chicken and champagne? ... Why the hell not?"
Himalayan pink salt, almond marzipan, Mexican chipotle, Moroccan mint tea—these are just a few of the exotic ingredients that the chocolatiers at Araya Artisan Chocolate cull from around the world so that they can infuse their Venezuelan chocolates with complex and surprising flavors. They strive to emulate French and Belgian styles, complementing the cocoa bean's naturally bitter taste with honey instead of sugar. They make each chocolate by hand in Katy, using only natural ingredients devoid of preservatives, artificial flavors, or glowing red serums pilfered from mad scientists. They even make vegan options. These experts decorate each of the chocolates with colorful designs, adorning peanut butter–berry with bright stripes and adding an enticing dollop of green atop the margarita option. Due to their insistence on hand crafting unique bites, they've earned attention from foodies at My Table and the River Oaks Examiner. They offer authentic French macarons, and have a wide variety of flavors that are imported from France, with gift boxes available as well. Just recently, Araya Artisan Chocolate opened its newest location at the Uptown Park Mall.
Shipley Do-Nuts offers a bit of hometown Houston pride with their cake doughnuts and quick-serve coffee. The regional chain is headquartered in the area, and sports some 86 locations throughout the Houston metro sprawl. Early morning eaters can swing through the drive-thru for boxes of warm jelly-filled or yeast doughnuts to take to the office, or just to grab a skinny caramel macchiato to start off the day. Drivers can find the Westheimer Road outpost tucked into a corner strip mall, between the Westchase District and the Energy Corridor, with a large neon sign none-too-quietly announcing the 24-hour drive-thru. With an expanded menu that also includes beignets, jalapeño sausage and cheese kolaches, fruit smoothies and cold energy drinks for on-the-move eaters, it’s no surprise that Shipley Do-Nuts has done so well in the Houston area.
Byzantio Cafe & Bar
Every Thursday night, belly dancers swivel their hips to the beat of Mediterranean music at Byzantio Cafe & Bar. Live DJs spin on weekends while patrons puff smoke rings of apple-, melon-, and mint-infused tobacco from hookahs. To fuel the revelry, chefs whip up classic Mediterranean cuisine such as sliced gyros with warm pita bread and a lamb souvlaki plate. After dinner, patrons may sip signature cocktails or grab a quick snack from the menu of bar bites and Greek coffee served until 2 a.m. The restaurant, a renovated bungalow, is composed of several rooms filled with sofas and cushioned chairs. The space’s centerpiece is the elaborate bar adorned with a stone mosaic and surrounded by antique fixtures. A patio offers additional seating for outdoors junkies during nice weather.
Solo Cakes & Cookies Cafe whips up batches of moist cupcakes and healthy soy cookies daily in addition to concocting wedding-day confections. A rotating menu of cupcake flavors includes classic standbys such as chocolate and vanilla, which sweetly complement cups of coffee. Staffers also eagerly accept the challenge of a custom order, adorning cake tops with intricate flowers and swirling frosting latticework. Customers surf free WiFi for recipe ideas or food-fight videos while bakers work, and Solo Cakes & Cookies Cafe serves Ethiopian breakfast noshes alongside a smorgasbord of sweets, which can be devoured atop square tables located indoors or streetside.
Deep in The Blue Plate Diner & Grill kitchen, chefs Kevin Mason, Johnny Davis, and Rachel Mason-Davis are hard at work. From open to close, the culinary team expertly navigates its floors, frying chicken and catfish in Cajun spices and simmering pots of gumbo and jambalaya on the stoves. Come Sunday, the trio joins forces to whip up a hearty brunch menu, pairing southern favorites with mimosas. Chefs tote platters of their freshly made dishes out into the dining room, where colorful vintage car art, an abundance of tabletops, and a absence of No High Fives Allowed signs creates a welcoming atmosphere.