As he passed another lazy afternoon at Purdue University?s student union, Paul Miller had a flash of sudden, delicious inspiration. He wanted to capture the feeling of camaraderie he shared with his fellow students, to create a place where people could gather for good company and good food long after graduation ended. He kept that dream with him through years in the restaurant industry, finally giving his vision form as The Union Kitchen, a joint venture in contemporary global cuisine with chef Juan Arellano.
Even though the restaurant mirrors Paul?s collegiate experience, the food within is a far cry from the typical dorm cafeteria fare?in fact, H-Texas magazine added The Union Kitchen to its "Culinary Stars" list in the Best Burger category. The menu features flavors and techniques borrowed from France, Italy, Mexico, and beyond, which take shape in dishes ranging from paremesan-crusted chicken and chophouse steaks to small plates filled with baked brie, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, or PEI mussels. To stay on top of the calendar, Paul and Juan hit local farmers? markets bi-weekly to suss out the freshest seasonal ingredients for use in their cuisine. They also borrow spare pitchforks, the best utensil with which to tackle their famed Union Burger. The monstrous tower of meat, bun, and onion rings slips other flavors in between its layers, from pecan-smoked bacon to barbecue-smoked aioli. This dauntingly delicious combination is part of what earned it rave reviews from local reporters and bloggers alike.
Operated by a Maine transplant and decorated with photographs of coastal Maine, Maine-ly Sandwiches offers a taste of the East Coast and specializes in a sandwich native to the Pine Tree State: the lobster roll. The eatery's chefs steam fresh lobsters, pull the succulent meat from claws and tails, and mix in a bit of mayonnaise before piling the creamy seafood onto toasted, buttered rolls. The result, according to CultureMap, is "simple, savory, and satisfies an unfilled niche in Houston."
Although Maine-ly Sandwiches does fill a niche, visitors can find sandwiches for every taste. The menu also includes crab rolls and veggie sandwiches, as well as gourmet soups including clam chowder, salads, and housemade whoopie pies that energize diners for a long day of dropping old chandeliers out a fourth-story window.
Papa Murphy's Take 'n' Bake Pizza was born out of the owner's frustration with bad pizza from chains, which often tasted as if every ingredient was canned or frozen. Deciding to change the industry, Papa Murphy's tosses every ingredient, all of which are never frozen, onto the crust in front of the customer's eyes and sends them home to bake in a home oven. This dedication to fresh flavor earned Papa Murphy's the top spot on Zagat's National Chain survey.
Visitors can create their own take on the pizza pie or chomp into one of their signature pizzas, which range from meat-filled stuffed crust to calorie-conscious lite varieties covered in vegetables. Their appetizers and desserts follow the same pattern. Customers order raw cookie dough or cheesy bread ripe for the baking, resulting in every course being fresh from the oven.
At Houston Dinner Theater, the cast of characters in the murder mystery might seem all too familiar?that's because the actors are all celebrity impersonators. Audiences might get to interact with the likes of celebrities such as Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Dr. Evil as they narrow down the list of suspects. During the show, they enjoy a three-course dinner). Performances take place either onsite, in the theater's modern setting with chrome seating and padded booths, or at a local restaurant. Aside from the murder mystery, the theater hosts regular performances by comedic hypnotist Robert Berry.
Pho Nga 2's spread of rich pho noodle soups, stir fry and vermicelli dishes, and hearty banh mi sandwiches introduces diners to the diverse, delicious flavors of Vietnamese cuisine. Thin rice noodles mingle with charbroiled shrimp and pork, while morsels of tender chicken and ladles of curry sauce rest on beds of steamed rice. Like a sculpture made of melted hard candies, each bowl of piping hot pho is a blend of intense tastes and textures and bright colors, with rare steak, chewy noodles, and savory broth mingling with fresh vegetables and sprigs of cilantro.
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.