HOUSTON – There is one thing a restaurant owner must have in order to succeed: a passion for food, and Aristo Gaspar and Leon Cedillo have that in spades.
Gaspar studied the culinary arts in Mexico City where he received his certification in Mexican Gastronomy. From there, he spent 25 years working for the Cordua Restaurant Group before venturing out on his own.
Cedillo grew up learning to love food and appreciate ingredients, and after attending Le Cordon Bleu and gaining experience in the industry, he made his way to Houston where he met Gaspar.
The two connected through their love of cooking and creating new dishes and together they created Roots Cafe, a restaurant and catering business that combines American and Latin flavors into fresh, healthy and flavorful dishes.
Dine like a designer
Roots Cafe is located on the bottom floor of the Decorative Center of Houston, and if you may think it is just another overpriced place for businesspeople to grab a quick bite over lunch, you are wrong.
While it may be tucked away, “the atmosphere paired with the ambiance makes us a hidden gem,” Cedillo said.
“Guests can dine like a designer, surrounded by contemporary elegance while indulging in hand-crafted seasonal dishes,” Cedillo said. “We listen to our customers by tailoring the dishes to their tastes (some are even named after them).”
The restaurant offers a wide variety of menu items at reasonable prices, plus three unique specials every week, but Cedillo said there are two dishes that people love.
The Shade Store of Veganism bowl may sound like another run-of-the-mill vegan dish, but Cedillo said it’s anything but. The dish comes with red quinoa, black beans, fresh avocado, roasted red peppers, kale, red onion and cilantro. It is served with our house ginger-lime dressing, and non-vegan or vegetarians can order it with shrimp or grilled chicken.
“This is hands down the most popular because it’s a healthy, vegetarian option with a mix of surprising flavors,” Cedillo said. “Our guests enjoy it because it’s filling, and you feel great after eating it.”
Another favorite is the Lemony Grilled Salmon, which is a “perfect” piece of salmon that has been seared crispy, topped with a lemon Beurre Blanc sauce and served with Brussels sprouts.
“What really sells guests on this particular dish is our signature crispy Brussel sprouts and the fact that the salmon is rich in Omega 3’s,” Cedillo said. “It’s a healthy and filling pairing with just the right amount of food to keep (people) going on a busy day.”
Try something new
If you are looking to indulge a little more without compromising on flavor or freshness, Roots Cafe has something for you too.
They offer sandwiches, pasta and Tex-Mex that will have you coming back for more. Cedillo said the Kale Saltine-Breaded Chicken Sandwich is a must-try. A chicken breast is breaded with a saltine crust and fried. The chicken is then “snuggled” between hoagie bread, kale, tomato and a touch of creamy Dijon mayo.
“The combination of flavors and textures are just mouthwatering,” Cedillo said. “However, the rare styling of saltine breading is not something that our guests are typically used to, but we invite them to check it out.”
Cedillo said the Tex-Mex Roasted Red Pepper Pasta is also worth a try. It is linguini served with grilled chicken, black beans, basil, poblano and roasted red peppers and coated in a champagne cream sauce.
“Tex Mex meets Italian and why not,” Cedillo said. “People can be a little unsure of how this dish will taste. We say give it a try and you’ll be impressed by how combining different ingredients can put a spin on traditional Italian cuisine.”
What people are saying
People agree that this hidden gem is worth a try.
“Love this place,” Erika V. said. “It’s situated right in the Houston Design Center, so even the walk to the café is enjoyable. You are surrounded by beautiful furniture and home decor. At the café, the food and service are truly top-notch. I took my husband for a birthday brunch and we were treated with the utmost care and attention. Will return!”
“Excellent cuisine at reasonable prices with great ambiance in the Design Center,” Kathlyn C. said. “(The) decor is reminiscent of the Greek Isles and they always have an excellent fish dish at a competitive price (which is) hard to find except in the fancier restaurants. Great breakfast options and yummy fresh baked cookies. Totally worth branching out to try something new.”
“(I) came here with a friend for lunch and it was perfect,” said Yari S. “Let me just say, it is inside The Decorative Center in Houston. The parking is easy and the restaurant is located basically in the bottom center. The waitstaff was very friendly and helpful. Food was delicious and fresh and very big portions for the price.”
Cedillo lives in Katy, and as a restaurant owner, he and his family like to support other local, family-style restaurants.
“One of our favorite places to eat great food is Da Vinci Ristorante Italiano,” Cedillo said. "Their Pollo Parmigiana and Linguini Andrea dishes are excellent, as well as the desserts."
Cedillo said his family also frequents Luna y Sol Mexican Eatery.
“The Chicharron Tacos are even loved by my 3-year-old son Leon Marcelo," Cedillo said.
Roots cafe reopened on May 4 after being closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cedillo said the closure was definitely a setback and it has been a slow restart.
“It’s pretty slow at the moment, (but) we continue to serve our friends, family and tenants," Cedillo said. “Our biggest priority has been safety and doing anything necessary to protect both employees and customers.”
One of the main goals for the team is to find a healthy balance between hospitality and sterility. Roots Cafe has implemented some new policies, including specific exchange zones to control delivery, ventilated storage and cooking, proper disposal and a contactless payment system to make it easier for customers.
“It’s a really, really difficult time and things are constantly changing,” Cedillo said. “It will be a slow recovery for everyone for sure, but if we all work together and try to adjust to this new normal, we will have the best outcome.”
5120 Woodway Drive, Suite #145, Houston
Mon - Fri: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sat - Sun: Closed