Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead
In the last couple of weeks, we've explored fun and funky Texas wines to drink in lieu of old standbys like Cabernet and Chardonnay and we've showcased local beers that can be enlisted to help wean your friends off adjunct lagers made by giant corporations. And just like we all have loved ones that won't drink anything other than Cupcake wine or Miller Lite, we -- me especially included -- all have loved ones that won't roam outside their comfort zone when it comes to restaurants.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt Fresh pasta awaits you at Paulie's.
Maybe they just really love the Cheddar Bay biscuits at Red Lobster (I know I do) or they just don't want to take a chance on venturing into a restaurant and paying for a dinner they might not like. Maybe they're just stubborn. Either way, none of these are excuses for refusing to try something new.
Instead of dragging your friends and/or relatives kicking and screaming to an Ethiopian restaurant, however, try introducing something new gently and kindly. If they just adore Big Macs at McDonald's, for instance, encourage them to try the delicious, fast-food-style cheeseburgers at Liberty Kitchen.
With that idea in mind, here's our list of ten local alternatives to popular chain restaurants. It's a chance for your loved ones to try something new and support their community at the same time.
If you like: Olive Garden
Photo by Robert Z. Easley
Paulie's makes Italian comfort food classics like lasagna, shrimp scampi and chicken parmesan in an equally comfortable setting. Except that -- unlike Olive Garden -- Paulie's pastas are made in house, just like nearly everything else the family-run restaurant serves (which includes inexpensive wine and absolutely terrific coffee and cookies). In fact, it may be even more approachable for someone who's dead-set on Olive Garden: The counter service is relaxed and casual, and the prices are right on point.
Alternate choices: George's Pastaria, D'Amico's, Collina's
If you like: Pei Wei
Try: Khun Kay
Like at Pei Wei, you order at the counter in this cozy Montrose restaurant owned by Thai expats Supatra Yooto and Kay Soodjai. And like Pei Wei's, much of Kay's food has been Americanized for a broader palate. (While this is one of the main reasons that some people don't care for Khun Kay, it's precisely the reason that others love it.) And just like Pei Wei, there's a broad selection of pan-Asian dishes to choose from, including everything from pad thai and "Thai tacos" to shrimp fried rice and cashew chicken.
Alternative choices: Jenni's Noodle House
If you like: Chili's
There are several Barnaby's locations scattered throughout town, and all of them feature the kind of wacky decor and menu items -- gleefully giant salads, enormous burgers, grilled American standards like salmon and chicken and even baby back ribs -- that make Chili's so popular. There's also standard table service here, too, along with appetizers and desserts that put Chili's to shame: try the waffle fries with blue cheese fondue, bacon and green onions or the Chocolate Addiction Cake for dessert.
Alternative choices: Baba Yega
1834 Westheimer, Houston, TX