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.
Unlike many kolacky-bakers, the owners of Kolache Stop don't have Czech heritage or recipes passed down through generations to guide them. Rather, they let their passion for the dense Central-European pastry bloom into a menu of unconventional breakfast, lunch, and dessert options. Fillings range from traditional fruit and cream cheese to jalapeño, pulled pork, and other Southwestern ingredients that the owners have dubbed "Tex-Czech." They also veer from tradition by putting their fillings inside rather than on top of every fluffy pastry bun.
Besides its titular snacks—which are baked fresh onsite every day—Kolache Stop charms sweet teeth with cinnamon rolls, cinnamon twists, and sticky buns on the weekends. Whether guests take their treats to go or stay to use free WiFi in the café, they can wash down their baked goods with coffees ground in-house, low-fat frappes, and smoothies made from real fruit rather than vegetables in disguise.
The tradition of Sonny Bryan’s award-winning barbecue started more than a century ago on February 13, a date that would become circled on the calendar again and again throughout Bryan’s Barbecue history. February 13, 1910, marked the opening of Elias Bryan’s Oak Cliff restaurant, Bryan's Barbecue. Exactly 20 years later to the day, his eldest son, William “Red” Jennings Bryan, launched his own restaurant. When February 13 rolled around again 28 years later, Elias’ grandson, William "Sonny" Jennings Bryan Jr., and his wife, Joanne, opened another restaurant, the first Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse.
Although a different Dallas family now manages multiple locations of the restaurant chain in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the legendary barbecue lives on. Sonny Bryan's original barbecue sauce spices up its savory pulled meats and ribs, which have been devoured by famous entertainers, sports legends, and A-list celebrities alike. Sonny's seasoned chefs also cater heaps of smoked brisket and jalapeño sausage to parties and events.
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse has been on the culinary radar since 1989, snapping up awards and publicity from Food Network, the Travel Channel’s Man V. Food Nation and 101 Tastiest Places to Chowdown, and Emeril Lagasse’s The Originals with Emeril. The modest joints have also earned some highbrow epicurean chops through a 2006 Zagat rating and a 2000 James Beard Foundation award for Culinary Excellence and Achievement.
Valerie Broussard's purpose as Trace's forager is to source fresh ingredients from local farms and to track down the best cheeses, cured meats, jams, and hot sauces from artisan producers. Working in tandem with Broussard, Chef Lawrence Kocurek evokes the personality of Austin, crafting a menu with a conscience that complements the W Austin Hotel's pledge for sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Black lacquered tables cradle sharable plates of charcuterie and fresh oysters as waiters round up ranch strip steaks and all-natural FreeBird chicken breasts, accompanied by accents such as organic rainbow chard and Springdale Farms winter squash.
If the entire restaurant's décor was born from a single burst, the burst must have come from the dining room's modern chandelier, which features silver rods that erupt from a central point and teardrop lights that cast a dim glow through the interior's thin, sprawled boughs. Wide-set stone columns sit nobly against steel-hued drapes, leading eyes to the walls' mirror mosaics and out into the equally stylish W Austin Hotel.
Originally served along the tree-lined banks of its namesake body of water, Woody Creek Bar-B-Q's array of smoked meats and sauces satisfies stomachs within the confines of the restaurant's indoor digs. Woody Creek's menus sport formidable fare such as the Double Barrel potato, a palatable pouch of butter, sour cream, cheese, chopped beef, and sauce ($6.95–$7.25). Celebrate ribs' culinary attributes instead of potential as xylophone substitutes with a rib dinner ($10.45–$10.95) or the half rack ($11.95–$12.95). The Gunslinger sandwich's chopped beef, sausage, and hot links argue about the proper pronunciation of Naugahyde ($5.99). Build-your-own plates round up protein posses with your choice of one to three meats and two sides ($8.35–$10.95).
Woody's smokes and grills the finest cuts of pork and beef before slathering proteins with tangy secret recipe barbecue sauces. Fulfill contract clauses to consume fried cuisine by noshing appetizers such as the fried okra ($4.99) and mozzarella sticks ($5.99). Woody's menu sates meat savants with a colossal offering of barbecued meats including texas beef brisket ($9.99) and loaded mesquite-grilled chicken breasts ($11.99). The signature baby back ribs ($14.99 for a full rack) come slow roasted in a secret marinade before being basted and grilled to seal in flavor and text revealing the marinade's ingredients. Chefs also stuff sandwiches such as the Sloppy Woody with tangy secret sauce and barbecue pork, which lovingly shares plate real estate with coleslaw ($6.99). Alternately, midday diners can dive into smaller servings of many dinner dishes including the smokin' spare ribs ($7.99) or tender, marinated Carolina pulled pork ($7.49). To make toasts to newlywed pets, diners can use their spoons to clink glasses of soft drinks or iced tea ($1.99).