Tom N Toms now joins the Tous Les Jours cafes housed inside multiple H Marts among Korea-based coffeshop / bakeries I’ve tried out in Houston, and all I’ve got to say is look out, Starbucks, you’ve got some serious competition heading your way.

The Bellaire Food Street Tom N Toms showcases its wares in a warmly-lit somewhat narrow shop with a low table-strewn front dining area and taller tables against the wall to your right, electrical outlets at each one. It’s a great place to work or study, or pretend to work and study as you people-watch, as the case (and your ability to tamp down any ADD you might have) may be.

Both the food and the drink there will demand your attention, though.

I’m a man of simple tastes when it comes to coffee — I tend to take it black and with no sugar. I’ve had both the espresso and the iced coffee here and both hit the spot — especially the espresso, which had just the right head of orangish foam crema I love so much atop the caffeine-packed coffee bean broth below.

And if you have more refined tastes than my own, they’ve got you covered with a range of macchiatos, lattes, Americanos, macchiatos, mochas, and cappucinos as well. It’s in the restaurant’s trademark TomNccinos that they really go to town, with flavors ranging from the usual (vanilla, mocha, espresso) to off-the-wall concoctions such as walnut and green tea.

Tea itself is offered in everything from regular Earl Grey to chamomile, citron, and peppermint flavors.

Variations in the key of latte include a green tea flavor and, in a regional nod to Houston’s proximity to Mexico, a horchata version. Also a possible regionalism: Tom N Toms’ oriental latte, a sort of Korean-American version of cà phê sữa đá, the Vietnamese iced coffee that has proven a favorite now of a whole generation of native Houstonians of every ethnicity.

“Most franchises are restrictive. That’s not so with Tom N Toms. With my restaurant experience, they’ve given me creative leeway,” franchise owner Jason Cho told late last year. (Cho also owns Korean fried chicken restaurant Dak & Bop.) “I was born and raised in Houston and am a firm believer in regionalizing the business to meet the needs of the area.”

That no doubt helps explains the spice level on the tasty little jalapeno and sausage pizza this reporter and his dining companion enjoyed, and perhaps also the presence of the tart and sweet red ruby grapefruitade we likewise shared. (And drained before we remembered to take its picture, a fate shared by her mojito mint lemonade.)

Fresh baked pretzels are the mainstay of Tom N Toms’ edible menu, ranging from the standard ballpark variety to untwisted mini-loafs of warm and chewy braided bread interspersed with pockets of a variety of fillings ranging from bulgogi to spicy chicken to sweet corn to pepperoni. Each of these is served with your choice of a ramekin-ful of dipping sauces including mustard, pizza sauce, and cheese.

While we were there for a light lunch and coffee, Tom N Toms also wows diners with its sweet treats, perhaps most notably its hearty, thick-cut Korean style cinnamon caramel toast.

On both of two visits, the staff was attentive, friendly and helpful. Each trip has been so pleasant in every aspect that you can’t ever go back to Starbucks without just a little bit of disappointment clouding your mind. Why can’t they offer as much of a variety of food as Tom N Toms? Where is the horchata latte? Why aren’t there as many regional variations on their menu?

Probably in due time Starbucks will be forced to reassess their once-size-fits-all business formula, but for now, you can taste the future at Tom N Tom’s.

Tom N Toms Bellaire
Bellaire Food Street: 9393 Bellaire Boulevard Suite A5
MON-TH: 8am – 10pm
FRI-SAT: 8am – 11pm
SUN: 10am – 10pm