Sitting inside Bombay Pizza Company, owner Viral Patel watched the Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate, waiting alongside family and friends for a mention of his Slumdog pizza, a fusion of Indian and Italian flavors. After the 30-second spot, the restaurant erupted into a standing ovation.
Patel's journey to that moment first began when he quit his job in restaurant management to travel around India learning how to cook. Hoping to one day open a restaurant of his own, Patel returned to the United States and became interested in pizza, buying his own pizza stone and experimenting with new recipes, which fused Indian flavors with the traditionally Italian pies. He opened Bombay Pizza Company with the help of his mother, Sonali, who also inspired the Sonu's Rita pizza, which combines house-made cilantro-mint chutney with a margarita pizza. Soon after the restaurant opened, it was awarded Houston Press's Best Pizza in 2010. In addition to pizza, the menu features Indian street fare such as the kati roll with tandoori chicken and paneer and traditional Italian dishes such as lasagna and chicken parmagiana.
Today, Bombay Pizza Company has two locations, the original in Houston and a second, larger location in Sugar Land. Both eateries feature saffron-hued walls, the soft glow of Thomas Edison–style filament light bulbs, and photos of Bombay residents performing daily activities including washing clothes, fishing, and playing chess. The Sugar Land location also features an outdoor patio, microbrews on tap, and a private dining area.
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.
Guests who come inside any of Malibu Tan’s many locations are greeted with a handshake. Though that might seem like an old-school approach to customer service, Malibu Tan’s owner encourages it as a genuine way for his staff to connect with each client and provide them with customized services. For more than 15 years, Malibu’s friendly staffers have also connected with higher-profile clients—including the Houston Dymano Girls team—by helping them choose the best of each facility’s tanning options for their skin types. With UV tanning, regardless of whether a client prefers a supine or standup system, they are bound to get a strong tan, as all UV bulbs are changed 200 hours before they hit capacity or finally crack open and release a butterfly. There are also plenty of UV-free options such as VersaSpa sunless tanning, which darkens exteriors with a hydrating DHA-based solution. Each location also offers tan-enhancing products from Designer Skin and California Tan.
A lifetime in the kitchen informs the menus of Mia Bella Trattoria Sugar Land's owner and head chef Youssef Nafaa, a native of Morocco who has been honing his craft in stateside restaurants since 1988. After toiling his way up from busboy in Chicago to culinary consultant in Houston, Youssef opened the first branch of Mia Bella on Main Street in 1998, promising "Italian food with a twist." Today, the bistro has budded into a quartet of fine-dining establishments. In 2011, the Houston Press awarded the restaurant Best Brunch Restaurant for its Mediterranean-fusion take on the popular hybridized meal and its "'bottomless' mimosas and bellinis; exceptional service that puts you in a good mood even mid-hangover; tall windows that stream sunlight into the dining room; and, of course, delicious food."
The original Ragin Cajun joint opened in 1974, treating visitors to hearty po' boys, spicy red beans and rice, and authentic boiled crawfish. Today, visitors make the pilgrimage to one of four area locations, plopping down at tables clad in red-checker cloth to sup on meals of Gulf shrimp and crab, grilled rib eye, and homemade bread pudding. The intense flavors and ocean-fresh cuisine of southwestern Louisiana unfold in a dining room decked with vintage signage, college-sports memorabilia, and buzzing neon. Ragin Cajun also keeps customers in the know with a Craw Club and can customize buffet catering packages for off-site Acadian feasts, filling banquet halls with food, DJs, live zydeco bands, and complimentary gift bags filled with silent Xs.
G3 Great Greek Grill's three owners, who came together over their love of Greek food, opened the first of their five Houston–area eateries to bring traditional Greek dishes to fast, casual diners. Unlike most Greek restaurants, where the eats come out of the kitchen in a set way, G3 offers patrons a choice between building their own gyros, gliders, or pita sandwiches and devouring classic Mediterranean morsels. G3's chefs also make each generously portioned dish quickly to get patrons in and out the door and on with their lives. In addition to slinging custom falafel to dining-in customers, the grill delivers vittles to houses and caters parties and Greek gods' rap battles.