In 1997, friends Dena Tripp and Debra Shwetz set out to create a luscious, melt-in-your-mouth bundt cake. What began as an endeavor in their own home kitchens soon blossomed into a bustling business with bakeries in 21 states. Rich cocoa browns and soft pastels lend a nostalgic feel to each bakery, where every day ovens warm up cake batter made from fresh eggs, real butter, and cream cheese. Flavors such as chocolate chocolate chip, red velvet, and white-chocolate raspberry are favorite staples, and a new seasonal flavor makes a guest appearance each month. Cakes come in several sizes, from the standard 8- or 10-inch bundt to the single-serving bundtlet and the bite-size bundtini, all crowned with signature cream cheese frosting.
Chez Nous is a chef-driven restaurant, with owner and chef Gerard Brach working in the kitchen alongside Executive Chef Stacy Crowe-Simonson. Both have trained and worked in France, exporting time-honored classical techniques to Humble, Texas. The team constructs rich foie gras with caramelized apples and dijon-rosemary-crusted lamb—all made with veggies and herbs picked fresh from the backyard garden. With these commitments to freshness and technique, it’s no wonder that even after more than 30 years Chez Nous still garners praise, whether in the form of multiple Citysearch awards or a spot on OpenTable’s 2013 list of the top 100 restaurants in the country.
Although Chez Nous’s former sous chef Scott Simonson now spends most of his time at the front of the house or huddling over wine catalogues, he’s completely comfortable slipping back into the kitchen when needed. This intimate knowledge of Chez Nous’ cuisine gives Scott an edge when stocking the house wine cellar—he knows just what culinary flavors to draw out with his carefully selected pairings.
Zagat notes that you just might see a fellow diner pop the question at one of Chez Nous’ white-clothed tables. This makes perfect sense, given the restaurant’s location inside a former church. Combined with the first-rate cuisine, Chez Nous’s quaint country dining room, which features wicker chairs and light-blue accents, make it well worth the 20-minute drive from Houston.
Tipico Cafe's menu spills over with Latin American flair. Following Honduran tradition, servers slide complimentary pan de coco—or coconut bread—onto tables before every meal. Appetizers, such as the towering pyramid of crabmeat, avocado, and mango found in the Tipico tropical stack, precede meaty entrees accompanied by rice and beans, plantains, and Salvadorian cheese and cream. Freshly prepared dishes team up with the café's music and decor to create an authentic Latin cultural experience. To complement meals, a BYOB policy lets diners park a favorite bottle of wine or jetpack fueled by beer right at their table.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
The chefs at Anothai Cuisine and Nara Thai Dining grind their own fresh herbs and spices to awaken patrons' tongues with each bite of their Thai dishes. Pungent curry coats seafood, chicken, and noodles, and on the other end of savory-to-sweet spectrum, mango imbues shrimp with flavor that evokes the tropical drinks of which ice fishermen's dreams are made. Artfully arranged garnishes complement colorful dishes to excite the eyes, which can scan the bright red and white accents between bites.
Behind the curtain at V Bistro Noodle & Grill, the Vo and Huynh families join forces to bring the time-honored tastes of Vietnam to the Lone Star state. A big part of the collaboration revolves around creating the perfect pho—a staple of Vietnamese cuisine for more than a century, and a dish the families have been tweaking for three generations. Traditional recipes, seasonings, and cooking methods have been passed from one generation to the next, like a family crest or a great, great grandparent’s lucky powdered wig.
V Bistro’s diners reap the benefits of that relay when they dive into one of the restaurant’s pho dishes, which range from strictly veggies to a meat lover’s medley of steak, brisket, tripe, and tendon. Diners can also excavate rice plates loaded with pork, chicken, beef, or shrimp, and wash it all down with homemade lemonade or Thai iced tea.