Above all else, comfort food should taste familiar. Taqueria Taco-Riendo seems to embrace this philosophy wholeheartedly, filling the menu with faithful recreations of Mexican cuisine's best-known staples. However, familiarity doesn't make the flavors of chorizo, cilantro, and flour and corn tortillas any less hearty or more likely to share secrets. These ingredients appear throughout the menu, from tacos and tortas to fajitas and quesadillas. The taqueria presents diners with a selection of horchata, lemonade, and other drinks with which to wash down meals.
Brickhouse Subs shares a space with the Nestle Toll House Cafe, a brick and mortar peddle of the iconic cookies, ice cream, and candy bars. The sandwich side of the shop enhances the menu with a variety of savory ingredients stuffed between two slices of bread. These lunch-ready meals can be combined easily with cups of coffee or smoothies to get one's sweets fix, since requests to replace mayonnaise with vanilla ice cream are usually denied.
Though John Ly grew up helping out in the kitchen of his family's restaurants, his parents never wanted him to become a chef. The restaurant industry is competitive, they warned him—a lot of hard work with little recognition. Heeding their advice, Ly began pursuing a degree in computer science at the University of Texas, but soon realized that he longed for the creativity and chaos of the kitchen. Propelled by his passion for food and cooking, Ly renounced his degree and enrolled in culinary school. After years spent working his way up through scrubbing floors, washing dishes, and absorbing his managing chef's techniques, Ly finally spearheaded Strata—naming the restaurant after the word for "different layers" to reflect the diverse international influences of his cooking.
As executive chef, Ly captains his kitchen crew as they artfully plate innovative, contemporary American dishes using seasonal ingredients, earning the restaurant Hungry in Houston's Best Restaurant award in 2010. His pan-seared sea bass, cinnamon-rubbed rib eye, and spicy habanero-infused sausage dishes have also enticed the taste buds of reporters from the Houston Press. Ly staffs his modern dining room with a friendly team of servers, while offering up an expansive outdoor patio, an ideal spot for a date night or celebrating recent acquisitions of rival rent-a-bobcat businesses.
Chef and owner Paul Friedman channels his international roots into the fusion fare at Peli Peli, named for the South African spice that flavors its signature flame-pepper chicken dish. His menu mingles European-style focaccia and Chilean sea bass with South African classics such as homemade boerewors sausage, washing it all down with rivers of South African [wine]. (http://www.pelipeli.com/Menu.aspx?CatID=15). Chef Paul was recently honored with the Chef of Chefs award for his traditional South African bobotie dish at Houston's 2013 Wine & Food Week. He also mixes the selection of dipping sauces—such as mint mojito, roasted garlic, and spicy ginger—that tag along with each entree, enabling a different burst of flavor or color of cocktail-napkin art with each bite. The food's not the only thing that expresses Peli Peli's South African influences. The dining room's glowing, 30-foot-tall central pillar recalls the nation's towering acacia trees, anchoring an avant-garde architectural scheme that the Houston Chronicle calls "eye-popping." Voted Houston’s Best Live Music Venue as well as Best Romantic Bar by Citysearch users in 2009, the moodily lit space also hosts live music Monday–Saturday evenings and live jazz during Sunday brunch.
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?"