Escalante's has opened its fifth Houston location in Sugar Land's bustling Town Square. Escalante's offers Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine in a casual, upscale setting.

Swirll Frozen Yogurt is also open, offering a variety of frozen desserts and treats for kids of all ages.

This summer, Taisho will be opening a contemporary Japanese eatery in Town Square. Taisho features a variety of Japanese dishes, as well as the popular hibachi grill popularized by the Benihana chain.

Ryan Granger, owner of the Park Grill, has announced his new Mexican restaurant and tequila bar, Bodegas Taco Shop. It is scheduled to open on February 27 on the corner of Caroline at Ewing.

Bodegas will feature a variety of chicken and beef tacos, with over ten salsas to top them. Desserts will be offered as will a full bar.

In celebration of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday, HOP is serving free short stacks of pancakes in exchange for a donation to the Children's Miracle Network. According to their site:

"All we ask is that you consider making a donation to support local children's hospitals through Children's Miracle Network, or other local charities."

The promotion runs from now until 10pm.

A new site has popped up devoted to dining deals in Houston. Unlike most of this ilk, it's all about deals at high-end restaurants - you won't find the Seniors Special at Denny's in this list.

If you like great food and great deals, check it out.

Bolivar's landmark Stingaree restaurant has reopened after being seriously damaged by Hurricane Ike. For Bolivar residents it's a sign that the area is moving back toward normalcy. For the rest of us it means that some of the best seafood on the Gulf Coast is available again, including the signature Oysters Jubilee.

Read more in The Houston Chronicle.

We're not sure if they're actually food, but we love Jack in the Box tacos. And now Jack is returning the love, offering a coupon for two free tacos next Tuesday, February 24th.

It's part of their "Save Jack" marketing campaign. We do hope Jack gets better, but if his recovery means free tacos, we hope it's a very long, protracted process.

The Texas Restaurant Association, a long-time smoking ban opponent, is now supporting a ban. The TRA's board of directors voted to formally support the measure.

Restaurant owners have long been opposed to smoking bans, due to the perception of a decrease in business. But many association members have changed their minds because individual city bans have created a statewide patchwork of legislation.

In a poll of group members two years ago, the majority were in favor of a ban that leveled the playing field.

The bills (House Bill 5 and Senate Bill 544) would ban smoking in public places statewide, including restaurants, bars, shopping malls and sports arenas.

More from the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

Eating Our Words, the Houston Press Food Blog, is a source that we read religiously, both for the solid information and the entertaining prose.

We were surprised and honored to be mentioned in this post, a listing of interesting Twitter feeds for foodies. And we were in some very impressive company.

Thank you.

Houston was not ignored when the list of James Beard Award semifinalists was announced by the James Beard Foundation.

Local honorees:

Outstanding Restaurateur - Jim Goode and Levi Goode - Goode Company Restaurants

Best New Restaurant - Feast

Best Chef (Southwest) - Brian Caswell, Reef

Congratulations to all the nominees. The award ceremony is May 4 in New York City.

Spicy Pickle, the fast casual sandwich spot from Denver, announced that its new Houston franchisee has signed a lease for their first site and is actively pursuing additional locations. The first site is scheduled to open in the spring of this year.

From their web site:

"Spicy Pickle restaurants serve high quality meats and fine Italian Artisan breads along with a wide choice of 10 different cheeses, 21 different toppings, and 15 proprietary spreads to create healthy and delicious panini and sub sandwiches with flavors from around the world. There are over 150,000 delicious sandwich combinations for you to create, along with 8 specialty panini sandwiches that have become favorites of our customers."

Nationwide, the company notes that development has slowed considerably for the Spicy Pickle chain in the United States, but some expansion possibilities continue to exist. Bank financing for new franchise opportunities is simply not available in the current climate, and expansion will continue to be limited until capital becomes more readily available.

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