The owners of North End Café don't just purchase local produce: they also grow vegetables and herbs in their own garden in Simpsonville. Since April, 2003, their chefs have championed this focus on local, seasonal ingredients with a healthy approach to cooking. North End Café's menu features traditional meals from around the world, ranging from grass-fed beef burgers and flatiron steaks to grilled fish and scallops to vegetarian lasagnas, stir-fry, and cakes. For sharing, chefs build eclectic small plates such as crab cakes, fried goat-cheese ravioli, and almond-crusted brie. They also prepare a range of vegan and gluten-free dishes, taking care to avoid the pyrotechnics that result when steak and tofu touch.
To accompany these meals, bartenders pour American and international wines, and blend cocktails from fruit and old-fashioned ingredients. At the Highlands location, a brand-new tap system spouts 23 craft beers, including imperial IPAs and peppery black porters. In warmer months, the aromas of cooking and laughter of clientele also fill the Highlands location's new outdoor patio, an expansive wooden deck surrounded by leafy plants and tall, wispy trees.
At Zen Garden, many of the Asian dishes sound familiar, with adjectives like "orange," "sweet ‘n’ sour," and "kung pao." However, rather than tossing chicken or beef in with these classic flavors, the kitchen has adopted a meat-free credo. Chefs mix masterfully seasoned bites of tofu and other meat alternatives with fresh veggies, creating entrees such as green beans stir-fried with mock duck and the barbecued-soy sandwich. Noodles tangle around shiitake mushrooms in both the udon-noodle soup and the shiitake mushroom lo mein, and curry sauce imbues eggplant and shredded tofu with a spicy kick. Guests can pair their meal with a cup of green tea, prepped hot, iced, or in its purest form: emeralds that have not yet been juiced.
Banana Leaf fills its dining room with platefuls of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free Indian meals cooked with fresh spices ground in-house. The juices from 16 curry dishes and seven rice specialties can be mopped from the plate with 10 different Indian breads and washed down with lassi drinks. Banana Leaf?s catering services, which serve small gatherings to weddings with more than 1,000 guests, both please party hosts and literally sustain festive homemakers stuck in a web of their own decorations.
Explorers Club's cozy, 100-year-old brick exterior lends a deceptively comfortable face to the restaurant's constantly experimenting kitchen. Owner Tracy Studer and Chef Dan Varga—both veterans of the late Harold Smith's Gloria Café—root their eatery's fare in playfully updated Latin American food such as chorizo sliders and plantain-topped burgers. Yet, Varga constantly flexes his culinary muscles with unusual menu additions such as his chili-citrus-flavored vegetable lo mein. Monthly menus jet around the globe—614 Magazine notes that after deciding on "a country or cuisine, [Varga] spends months researching the ingredients, history, and flavor profiles, and then experimenting in the kitchen," turning out tributes to Germany, Spain, and his ancestral Hungary. An impressive range of vegan and vegetarian options makes use of soy-based tempeh and tofu, catering to animal-loving humans and self-hating venus flytraps.
The folks at the 'wich on Sycamore wanted to create more than just a fast, easy option for their diners. They wanted to do it better?with fresher ingredients, house-roasted meats, and options that were always made-to-order. The result was a lunch and breakfast menu that features a long list of options for customizable sandwiches or hand-crafted signature creations such as roasted eggplant on ciabatta, or pecan chicken salad sandwiches on buttered and toasted honey-wheat bread. Lunch isn't the only focus, though; fresh ingredients are used to create breakfast food such as ham, bacon, and green onion cream cheese on a raisin bagel or goat cheese, basil pesto, portabella mushrooms, and roasted red peppers on toasted honey wheat.
Cuisine Type: Mexican
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Number of Tables: 25?50
Parking: Parking lot
Most popular offering: Chuy burrito or the diablo burrito
Delivery / Take-out Available: Yes
Outdoor Seating: Yes
Pro Tip: Happy hour from
2 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day.
La Villa Mexican Grill's owner, Michael, strives to make his restaurant's menu as authentic as possible. To him, that means sourcing farm-fresh ingredients and making dishes like sizzling fajitas and gargantuan burritos from scratch. Ask him for a recommendation, and he'll point you toward the diablo burrito, which barely contains a mountain of shredded chicken and ground beef beneath a tortilla covered in spicy red sauce, beef tips, and sour cream.