Since it was founded in 1968, Tao Natural and Organic Foods Cafe has grown from a place to buy bulk herbs and specialty books to an emporium of nutritional supplements, organic foods, and holistic health services. The chefs in the caf? cater to paleo, raw, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diners with a menu full of progressive, farm-to-table cuisine, which can be enjoyed in the dining room or on a patio under lush gingko trees. Acupuncture, reiki, and massage treatments help restore balance to bodies, while frequent workshops teach healthy habits to whole families, training kids how to cook and parents how to use home remedies.
From humble beginnings as a child in Jerusalem, Falafel King's proprietor worked his way up from having just a frying pan and gasoline burner to his name to owning a trio of Lebanese eateries. A brightly lit yellow crown draws diners to the Falafel King as surely as the bat signal attracts superheroes and grizzled detectives. Inside the restaurant, pitas ensconce grilled meat filled with Mediterranean spices and crisp falafel sits alongside whirls of hummus.
Stone tiles surround a serene Buddha as he presumably listens to the light chatter ricocheting off the carved wooden walls and ceiling. The cuisine at Chiang Mai Thai is just as nuanced. Chef Thi Mai Evans nods to Bangkok street food with appetizers such as chicken satay and sweet dried beef, but then turns toward southern Thailand with comforting curries spiced to the preferences of her diners. She also draws from the Thai royal family's cookbook to balance hot and sour flavors in tom yum soup. Along with piquant dishes, the candlelit Buddha Lounge encourages social dining with creative cocktails infused with thai basil and lemongrass. It also hosts events such as Back Alley Karaoke every Thursday, which is sometimes known as Friday's slightly more responsible sibling.
The flavors of the desert and the Mediterranean mingle at Ariana Kabob & Gyro Bistro, where chefs specialize in the hearty entrees of Afghanistan and the surrounding area. They pair authentic Afghan breads brushed with olive oil and garlic with traditional mezzes such as baba ghanouj and hummus topped with olives, feta, and gyro meat. That same meat goes into classic gyro sandwiches dressed with a dollop of tzatziki sauce and paired alongside crispy french fries. They also layer gyro meat, chicken, beef, or falafel onto skewers before grilling them over an open flame. To balance out the savory flavors without making their napkins out of spun sugar, the chefs create desserts such as baklava and firnee, a chilled cornstarch pudding studded with pistachios.
A family-owned-and-operated local business, JJ’s energetic rush of finely roasted coffee beans and the poised sophistication of its taste bud–massaging wines create optimum conditions for actually enjoying a reading of the Principia Mathematica. Even if you don't have time to fully unwind in front of the stone fireplace in JJ's charming, wood-drenched domain, swing through the drive-through on your flying fortress airship for a fresh-roasted coffee made from custom-created bean blends. Hot or iced espressos such as the white mocha ($2.95–$3.80) and the café JJ with vanilla, caramel, and milk ($3–$3.85) are a game-changing way to either start the day or jolt the senses out of a fluorescent light–induced flatline. No-frills traditionalists, on the other hand, can head straight for JJ’s dark-brewed coffee ($1.55–$1.90) and hot tea ($1.40–$1.80).
Third-generation barbecue master Willie J. Bridgeforth III, owner of Willie B.'s Memphis BBQ Catering, has traveled from Mississippi to Memphis learning to prepare authentic southern barbecue for catered events. The business-luncheon menu ($9–$12/person) boasts five combo options with seasoned meat that marinates for 24 hours, smokes for eight hours with three woods, is basted with an 18-ingredient sauce, and scored a 1430 on the SATs. The combos sate luncheon-goers with two side dishes, including creamy coleslaw, Memphis mac 'n' cheese, or Susie Q.'s southern baked beans. Generous helpings of cornbread help sop up leftover sauce from crispy chicken, pork chops, or racks of pork ribs that can form the centerpiece of a corporate get-together or post-LARPing dragonfeast.