You could say fate is the reason Merida Mexican Restaurant is able to purvey its authentic Mayan and Mexican dishes today. Founders Olga and Rafael Acosta started their culinary journey in the 1950s after U.S. citizen Olga personally wrote President Eisenhower to request a visa and passport for her new husband. The young couple then moved to Houston, where, after much toil in the refrigerator repair business, Rafael converted his shop into the family’s new restaurant, crossing numerous hurdles as new business owners to set up their original 12-table eatery. Soon the restaurant began to grow around the unique recipes from Rafael’s home, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, drawing in customers with specials and flavors lovingly prepared by Olga. Today the restaurant continues to thrive thanks to its fresh, home-cooked dishes and the continuing spirit of the Acosta family, who stills run it.
Merida’s recipes have spanned three generations, with Rafael’s grandson Junior now behind the restaurant and its culinary specialties, such as cochinita pibil. To prepare it, chefs marinate seasoned pork in an adobo paste, top it with pickled onions, and serve it with Yucatan style black beans. These flavors join the menu’s other subtle flavors and nuanced Mayan dishes that mingle with the crispy tacos and burritos of their traditional Tex-Mex dishes. On weekends, live entertainment injects Merida with the lively sounds of contemporary Latin soul and other energetic acts, creating a destination for fans of the menu’s unique recipes and authentic spirit.
Ever since it first opened in 1975, El Jarro de Arturo has steadily pushed the boundaries of traditional Tex-Mex cuisine by introducing new flavors and ingredients. These continental inclinations heavily influence dishes such as the bowtie pasta with grilled shrimp and cilantro-pesto sauce, and the grilled salmon with chipotle-spiked mushrooms and mashed potatoes. At the same time, the chefs stay true to their Tex-Mex roots by creating hand-patted corn tortillas and whisking each and every order of guacamole. A selection of enchiladas stuffed with everything from chicken to portobello mushrooms appears alongside other familiar classics, such as beef fajitas in a sputtering iron skillet and chicken glazed with a decadently rich mole sauce.
Although El Jarro de Arturo's menu experiments with Tex-Mex cuisine, the decor stays completely faithful to the source of its inspiration. Earthenware tiles line the floor, Mexican artwork and crafts adorn the walls, and leafy potted plants add a splash of green to the room's warm tones. For a view of even more foliage, the restaurant also seats guests on an outdoor patio section that remains open all year long. The spirited energy of the indoor space grows on Friday and Saturday evenings as a live band performs in front of a dance floor.
College is a place that often kindles lasting friendships, as well as lasting eating habits based on haphazard diets of chips and day-old pizza. Chris Sanchez and Patrick Ortiz, proprietors of Simply Fit Meals, have managed to buck the latter part of this trend. The friendship they forged at the University of Houston continued after graduation, even as Patrick pursued a career in hotel management and Chris entered the world of marketing, eventually serving as store marketing director for Whole Foods. Their shared passion for healthy eating brought their disparate career paths together to form Simply Fit Meals, an amalgamation of Patrick's chef skills and Chris's marketing prowess.
The challenge behind each one of Simply Fit Meals' recipes involves finding an equal balance between nutrition and flavor so that clients can stick to a regimen that's easy to maintain, unlike fad diets that involve raw foods consumed only in prime-numbered portions. The science of it, says Chris, is making it taste as if it's been freshly made, even after reheating, and to this end, Chris and Patrick are both avid consumers of their own meals. Chris claims he could eat—and has eaten—their mac 'n' cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The culinary team uses locally raised, free-range meats such as chicken and bison in virtually all of their creations, and concocts fresh-made ingredients whenever possible. The in-house dietitian guides clients toward their own fitness goals, as opposed to those dictated by fashion magazines or sentient elevators, who often lack tact.
When Ben Googins met Rio de Janeiro native Elias Martins while teaching English in Brazil in 1998, he couldn't have guessed that the two would wind up making pão de queijo—cheese bread—on an episode of the Cooking Channel's FoodCrafters with celebrity chef Aida Mollenkamp. Their journey began as Googins learned more and more about the Portuguese language and the generous, hospitable Brazilian culture via Martins's family and their flavorful cooking. The duo eventually moved to Austin in 2006, bent on realizing their dream of opening their own restaurant. After their handmade foods gained popularity at the downtown farmers' market, their all-natural malagueta sauces appeared in Austin's flagship Whole Foods store. They finally opened Rio's Brazilian Café in 2010, where Googins now makes caipirinhas and Martins creates contemporary and traditional Brazilian recipes from scratch. The last Saturday of every month, Martins treats diners to feijoada, a classic Brazilian stew made with pork, beef, sausage, black beans, and the juice of one soccer ball.
He still, of course, makes the restaurant's renowned cheese bread. The basil variety was the favorite of Fearless Critic, which noted that the restaurant is "one of the few places where carnivores, vegetarians, and gluten-intolerant diners can all happily coexist." The restaurant was also a Critics' Pick for Most Charming Brazilian Outpost in the Austin Chronicle's Best of Austin 2011, and has appeared in numerous publications and on TV shows such as Good Day Austin and Fox 7 News. According to Eater Austin, celebrities Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara have noshed at the cozy eatery, whose bright yellow and green exterior and outdoor patio give way to a similarly vibrant and eclectic dining area.
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 Utah and 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 US presidents, famous entertainers, sports legends, and A-list animated Disney characters alike. Sonny's seasoned chefs also cater heaps of fresh brisket and smoked chicken 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 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.
When describing The Magic Pan Restaurant's cuisine to Ventanas Magazine, owner Annette Lawrence, an El Paso native, described it as "gourmet with a Southwestern flair." Homemade sauces and dressings in flavors such as honey Tabasco and creamy cilantro lime add kick to fresh salads served with sides such as pecan cornbread, while parmesan cream laced with peppery chipotle spices up a classic bowl of fettuccini alfredo. Smoked and roasted meats fill the majority of the restaurant's sandwiches, which are held together by focaccia, brioche, ciabatta, or the telekinetic powers of the kitchen's chef, and meaty entrees such as prime angus ribeye with smoked sea salt, cognac, and fresh herb compound butter reveal the kitchen's talent for updating culinary classics.
According to Ventanas Magazine, The Magic Pan's interior also combines flavors from around the globe in a design scheme orchestrated by Lawrence and her daughter Vanessa. At The Pan Restaurant on Cincinnati Street, work from local furniture makers is showcased alongside pieces imported from Bali, while guests to the original restaurant on Doniphan Drive enjoy their vibrant fare while surrounded by colorful, original artwork or patio planters filled with exotic flowers.:m]]