Though they can grill up tender pork ribs and make a mean barbecue sandwich, the chefs at Pepe’s BBQ really shine with their authentic Peruvian cooking. Within their smoky kitchen, they fold tender slices of steak into traditional dishes such as lomo saltado and bisteck a lo pobre. They pluck plump chickens straight from the spears of fiery rotisserie grills, then serve the birds Peruvian-style: dressed in spices and hand-knitted alpaca caps. To craft their ceviche dish, the chefs marinate fresh seafood in lime juice, onions, and cilantro. Diners await meals such as this next to the lofty windows in the seating area while sipping on fizzy Inka Cola—a sweet soft drink imported from Peru.
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.
Muscle Maker Grill grew out of a small smoothie shop, where owner Rod Silva prepared health-conscious alternatives to fast food. The restaurant has since expanded with a menu tailored to accommodate diners with vegetarian, carb-free, and gluten-free diets. The new "lighter side" menu features healthy treats that are 400 calories or less under $5.99. The crew prides themselves in creating healthy versions of popular foods, and continues to serve the shop's original protein shakes with favorites such as chocolate peanut butter and strawberry banana. Additionally, Muscle Maker Grill displays the calorie count for each dish on the menu.
At Tim Schafer’s Cuisine, Chef Fredy Umanzor dresses up New American dishes with beer-inspired finesse. Acclimate tongues to the change of pace with the Maryland lump-crab-cake appetizer ($12), a pan-fried pescatarian patty accessorized with a dash of chipotle-lime crema sauce, or the thai beef satay ($12), served on skewers with a peanut-barbecue pairing. St. Peter's fish fillet ($24) dons a pistachio-herb coat before taking a dip in a citrus-wheat-beer butter sauce, and the creole jambalaya ($30) brings together the heads of all the protein families, including sea scallops, jumbo shrimp, a trifecta of sausage relations, and tasso ham, and combines their talents with veggies and spices to carry out the greatest taste-bud heist in history. In the Twinkie-led tradition of hiding delicious within delicious, the grilled double-cut pork chop ($28) stuffs wild mushrooms, spinach and smoked gouda inside of the grilled specialty, and sets ale whipped sweet potatoes and sautéed veggies outside to stand guard.
Local blues musicians and other artists generate a suitably warming and varied aural backdrop on which executive chef Patrick Pierre-Jerome swirls together flavors from New Orleans, Europe, and further afield. Hat City Kitchen's menu fills plates with inventive takes on comfort food such as shrimp and grits, jambalaya, bread pudding, and baby back ribs. The ribs don a combination of plum sauce, hoisin sauce, ketchup, and cocoa, which the New York Times says "sounds like a mouthful and, happily, is."
In front of a blocky quilted curtain, a rotating roster of live performers strums guitars and charms snakes back into drum kits beneath the exposed ductwork that runs above the cabaret-style seating. Hands Inc., a local nonprofit, presides over the eatery and works with a variety of artists to raise funds for projects designed to improve the Valley area.