Cafe Beautiful owner and sole chef Melinda Roeder fashions artfully arranged Asian fusion cuisine for diners who like to eat with their eyes just as much as they like to eat with their mouths. “The presentation,” she says in a profile piece by LJWorld.com, “is just as important as how it tastes.” At Cafe Beautiful, each multi-course meal feels more like an extravagant event than an ordinary restaurant visit, stretching over hours as guests take in a parade of plates that may include savory Korean custards or spicy sushi with a Thai pepper sauce.
Cafe Beautiful’s expansive windows unveil picturesque views of the outside hustle and bustle on Massachusetts Street while its intimate dining room warmly embraces guests with its candlelit setting, bursting decorative foliage, and local artwork. In the aforementioned LJWorld.com article, Chef Roeder decries the culture of rushing customers before they can savor their food or fold their napkins into swans, stating, “We eat at such a rapid rate…and sometimes you feel pushed out by restaurants waiting to get another table. That’s not the experience you have here.”
Diners at Teller’s twine elegant pasta creations in their forks and swirl wines drawn from the restaurant's extensive cellars—for which it has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year from 2005 to 2010—in their glasses. The dinner menu pairs each entree with the wine that complements it best, much as CEOs choose their executives from the pool of interns who compliment them best. Overwhelm your palate with powerful Teller's lasagna packed with beef, buffalo mozzarella, marinara, and white sauce ($16), or nibble on a mushroom and chorizo pizza topped with garlic oil, grape tomato, and arugula ($17). The restaurant is housed securely in a renovated bank dating from the 19th century, when area bandits would rob spaghetti stagecoaches and deposit their looted linguine in the vault.
Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Mirth Café sends dour digestive systems out into the world with newly sunny demeanors. Adhering to Einstein’s theory that time is relative, the café serves breakfast all day long. Say hola to the french toast, made with cinnamon-pecan bread and topped with fresh fruit ($6.95), or feel the power of the big breakfast, two eggs flanked by potatoes, toast, and sausage or bacon ($7.95). The sandwich and wrap menu enlivens languishing lunchers with options including the brisket on marble rye ($8.95) and the garlic-herb tortilla stuffed with smoked turkey breast, cheddar cheese, dijon mustard, greens, and granny-smith apples ($7.90). Create a combo ($8.25) by pairing half of a sandwich with a soup or salad selection, bringing two worlds together like a highway paved with moon rocks.
Perhaps counterintuitively, The Burger Stand is not a zone for beef-patty purists. The cooks play with tradition by substituting farm-raised salmon and several vegetarian options, such as falafel and black beans, for the classic meat. Of course the menu features plenty of beef burgers alongside its innovations, though it dresses them in unexpected finery. The Fire burger, for example, sports avocado and a sizzling habanero-cactus jam. Not even the fries are spared the gourmet treatment—The Burger Stand prepares seven types of potato sides, from truffle to duck-fat variants. And all of this comes with a good selection of draft beer from Free State, Boulevard, and other microbreweries.
Lawrence.com recognized the restaurant's specialty with a Best Burger award in 2011 and 2012. Its reach has since extended to a second location in Topeka, where ping-pong, pool, and foosball tables offer safe alternatives to traditional dinnertime games of capture-the-tablecloth. Themed nights welcome guests to sing karaoke and play retro video games such as Star Fox and Super Mario Kart.
Even as they sliced fish ceviche and sizzled taquitos at La Parrilla, their popular Mexican restaurant, Alejandro Lule and Subarna Bhattachan often dreamed of opening a noodle house. Subarna longed for the plump momo dumplings and egg-noodle soups of his native Nepal, whereas Alejandro craved the Thai curries and Vietnamese pho he remembered from his years working in San Francisco. Combining their extensive culinary experience and shared ambition, the duo spearheaded Zen Zero, setting up shop directly across the street from La Parrilla.
Deep within Zen Zero’s kitchen, chefs fold fresh ingredients and spices into critically acclaimed dishes from countries across Asia and the Pacific Rim—from Thailand to Nepal and China. Their seafood, meat, and vegetable curries simmer, and pots of thai glass noodles, japanese udon, and vietnamese vermicelli bubble on stovetops. When discussing their cooking techniques with reporters from the Lawrence Journal-World, Subarna reported, “we use a lot of spice seeds: cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, cardamom pods.” These seeds add a distinctive concentrated flavor to their dishes, which servers carry with glasses of specialty cocktails and chilled sake through the dining room. Around them blown-glass lamps, wooden tables, and an absence of giant foam shrimp costumes create an elegant atmosphere.
In Spanish, “parrilla” means “grill,” an apt name for the Latin American–inspired eatery, which specializes in Mexican, Central American, and South American cuisine served “a la parrilla.” Grilled steak, gulf shrimp, and marinated pork shoulder flavor La Parrilla’s specialty tacos, quesadillas, and taquitos, but the restaurant doesn’t limit itself to omnivore-only fare. In fact, it has earned praise from many local and rabbit-run publications for its vegetarian options, such as the veggie empanadas, portobello quesadilla, and chili relleno stuffed with onions, cheese, and cilantro. Bartenders craft tropical cocktails including lime, strawberry, and peach margaritas from a selection of more than 10 tequilas, including a made-in-house chili-infused tequila.