The cakes created by bakers at A Piece Of Cake By Ybarra's don't fit inside any sort of box?both figuratively and literally. Each cake showcases a different style, such as a five-tiered wedding creation with red flowers flowing down its side, a birthday cake molded into the shape of Thomas the Tank Engine, and a colorful pile of small cakes crowned with clusters of mini balloons. What the cakes do have in common is that they're frosted and filled with creative flavors, from almond or chocolate-mint cake to fudge-chocolate or pineapple buttercream frosting.
Tapping in to fresh, local ingredients, the wing-slingers at Wing Barn offer classic appetizers and sides along with a made-to-order menu of Texas favorites. Jumbo-sized crispy wings—available in orders of five ($4.49), 10 ($8.49), and up—can be smothered in one of 14 original homemade sauces, including garlic parmesan, honey mustard, and cilantro chipotle lime. Teeth can sink into half-pound burgers such as the Ranch Hand ($7.99), as well as fresh salads and Texas State Fair–inspired desserts, including funnel cake, fried oreos, fried twinkies, and fried oil rigs. Head to the outdoor patio, settle indoors within eyes' reach of several big screens, or polish off a dozen of the hottest wings to win the Lava Wing Challenge, thus earning a place on the Wall of Fame and a seat in Valhalla.
Vicente, the resident chef at Gazpacho's by Las Tablitas, specializes in incorporating Mexican flavors into globally inspired dishes. In some cases, these are pretty straightforward—empanadas stuffed with sautéed spinach and caramelized onions, or shrimp tacos doused in chipotle sauce. But the remainder of his menu takes a more roundabout route to Mexican tastes. He fills savory crepes, for instance, with poblano peppers and corn, while his paninis sport ingredients such as grilled chicken, avocado, and herbed mayo. Each globetrotting feast unfolds amidst vibrant oil-painted canvases in a lively dining room, which fills with the upbeat sounds of live music every Friday.
Claiming a slew of awards, including Best Chicken Dinner by the Orange County Register, El Pollo Loco fills stomachs on the go with a menu of flavorful poultry inspired by Mexico's kitchens. Enjoy the rich tastes of a four-piece combo ($7.99)—including breasts and wings marinated in herbs, spices, and citrus juices—entouraged by two sides from an expansive selection, including spanish rice, barbecue black beans, corn cobbettes, and mac 'n' cheese. For a more portable lunch during parkour breaks from the office, wrap your chicken in the warm tortilla blanket of a twice-grilled burrito ($5.99). El Pollo Loco's innovative salsa bar can tickle to your tongue until milk comes out its nose with fresh varieties of avocado, chipotle, and pico de gallo.
Upside Down entrances the senses with an inverted neon sign, luminous 200-inch TVs, a hypnotic blue-and-white-whorled floor, live music and comedy, and a menu of hearty burgers, salads, and sandwiches. Mesmerize your mouth with six traditional ($5.25) or boneless ($7.59) wings doused in mild, hot, lemon pepper, barbecue, or parmesan-garlic sauce and served with homemade blue-cheese dressing. Cheddar, bacon, grilled onions, and thousand-island dressing mingle on the Black Hole burger ($7.99) and sliced turkey cozies up in the Backwards Bird sandwich with a melted-jack-cheese comforter and avocado throw pillow ($7.99). For a fragrant denouement, choose from more than one dozen flavors of hookah to practice puffing smoke rings or more baroque smoke fleurs-di-lis.
Parrot Eyes' laid-back deck lets eaters absorb a sweeping view of the Laguna Madre while enjoying seafood, burgers, sandwiches, and more in the open air. A live band strikes up at sunset each night to complement the menu, weaving its melodies into the crunch of blackened fish tacos, served with red cabbage and the eatery's special sauce ($8.25), and the squishy slurp of tortilla-crusted chicken breasts bursting with melted monterey jack cheese, spinach, and a cilantro cream sauce ($12.95). Burgers such as the Walk-a-Moley satisfy growling bellies with hearty guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo ($9.25). Since Parrot Eyes also offers water sports rentals and charters, adventurous eaters can work up an appetite beforehand by hotrodding on a rented jet ski or scouring the sea for Fiji mermaids on far-flung snorkeling trips.