We’ve all had an “Ah-ha!” moment with food. It could’ve been something as simple as a gourmet hamburger or your grandmother’s secret recipe fried chicken, but the result was the same: Wow! Mind. Blown. It also could’ve been something like a dark chocolate soufflé (made to order, or course) with a red wine & raspberry reduction. Salty or sweet, if you’ve ever had one of those moments, its safe to say that you’re chasing (or dreaming of) that experience every day.

Some have also had an epiphany with wine. A special vineyard or place, red or white, dry or sweet, but it always seems to be some vintage that is gone forever while the memory is etched to stay.

One of the most elevating experiences is when wine and food are put together in a way that is truly remarkable. Noah Dorrance (of Reeve Wines and Banshee) said, “I had my first Riesling epiphany about a dozen years ago with Vietnamese food at the Slanted Door and a bottle of Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich. I was blown away by the interplay of the spice, fish sauce, citrus, vinegar in the food and the sweet Mosel fruit, minerality and mouthwatering acidity. Two things from faraway lands with entirely different and distinct cultures that seemed to be made for each other on some deep cosmic level.”

Here in the suburbs of Houston, people generally think of big-box chain restaurants being king, and locally-owned destinations being an afterthought. But things are changing. USA Today wrote, “Americans love eating out, but last year they were passing up some well-known chain restaurants. Restaurant chains posted some of their weakest results since the recession last year as sales and foot traffic continued to decline, according to a new report.” Business Insider wrote took a funny jab and said, “Casual dining is in danger — and millennials are to blame.” But the truth is, younger people don’t just feel like it’s not cool to post a picture of a deep fried onion on their Instagram page… they are becoming more aware and educated about health, organics, locally grown food, and cooking at home. People of all ages are learning the craft of cooking thanks to the endless availability of cooking shows on TV, Netflix, and YouTube.

“Going out to eat” means more these days, especially to wine lovers. Wine lists are important, but even more is finding people who are cooking with purpose, creativity, passion, and the highest quality. Here are three not-to-miss culinary destinations in Fort Bend County:

Brandani’s Restaurant & Wine Bar

Ron Brandani, the chef and proprietor – along with his wife Claire – have truly created a local phenomenon in Missouri City. The dishes on their menu represent their family, their history, and the food they like to eat. With the style of the food being American Gourmet with an Italian heart, there’s no better way of describing it as… absolutely delicious. Monthly wine dinners and nightly features are the hidden gems here, and the wine list mirrors the food by being Italian driven, while having some really cool offerings from the West Coast US. — brandanis.com

La Balance Cuisine

Located in east Cinco Ranch in Katy, Texas, La Balance offers guests a contemporary twist on classic French favorites paired with a wine list that has incredible breadth and depth. Owner, operator, and chef, Manuel Atenco creates beautifully-done dishes that speak for themselves like Escargot, Foie Gras Terrine, Poulet Cordon Bleu, Beef Bourguignon, and the classic from Paris, Steak Frites. All these classics and more (including nightly features) are presented with big city panache, and a tasting menu (with wine pairings) is available upon request. — labalancecuisine.com

Vino & Vinyl – Sugar Land

The team at Vino & Vinyl have given chef’s Tori Bergersen and Andy Hodson creative freedom in crafting a culinary-driven menu and nightly specials, with dishes that represent the international community in Sugar Land. The wine list curated by Paul Killingsworth, focuses on small-production California producers, with select offerings from around the world. — vino-vinyl.com

Give one of these a try… you might just have a “Ah-ha!” moment.