Linger at one of The New Ristorante Forli's tables long enough, and owners Gabriele Davanzante or Russ Belleci might sidle up to the table to tell a joke or spontaneously burst into an Old Italian song. Flourishes like these imbue The New Ristorante Forli with the aura of a traditional Italian trattoria. In addition to a pair of jovial Italian hosts, The New Ristorante Forli cements its status as a cultural bastion by plating classic dishes such as osso bucco and braised lamb shank. Tuscan chianti and California pinot grigio punctuate the restaurant’s extensive wine list. Additionally, dining companions can cast aside games of napkin peek-a-boo and dance to live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Plenty of international influences show up on Park Chow’s self-described “All-American” menu. Patrons can twirl their fork in plates of Thai noodles with chicken and peanuts, or they can dig into old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs. For weekday breakfast or weekend brunch, they might savor french toast, Irish oatmeal, or huevos rancheros. No matter the dish, Chow harvests their ingredients from local sources: free-range chicken and organic beef come from nearby farms, the seafood is always wild, and desserts are baked fresh daily. Even the apple, orange, and grapefruit juices are pressed to order, though time constraints prevent the restaurant from growing the fruit while you wait.
Sid Fanarof, inspired by the artists around him, sought to do something creative in the kitchen. ZPizza, which started in Laguna Beach and now has locations across the globe, fills with bustling chefs experimenting with ingredients traditionally associated with Indian, Californian, and Mexican cuisine. A parade of organic vegetables and skim-milk mozzarella from Wisconsin leads into the eateries, and organic wheat flour bakes over open flame to a crisp finish. “If you don’t hear the crunch, it’s not a ZPizza,” Fanarof says of the crusts on his website.
Chefs first slather the crusts with sweet basil pesto, roasted-garlic sauce, or organic tomato sauce. Their hands flutter across, sprinkling on fistfuls of toppings such as MSG-free pepperoni, additive-free sausage, three types of mushrooms, roasted eggplant, and pine nuts. Vegan cheese and gluten-free crusts allow everyone to enjoy the pizzas except for those trying to hide the fact that they superglued their mouths closed.
The dough wizards at Papa John's hand toss circular masterpieces with original and thin crusts made from high-protein flour to support warm bouquets of toppings. Hand-cut produce crowns all of Papa John's pizzas, mingling with the sun-soaked sweetness of sauce made from fresh, California-grown tomatoes. By adhering to its brand promise of "better ingredients, better pizza," Papa John's grew from a back-tavern pizzeria into more than 3,500 restaurants within three decades' time, or the amount of time it takes to grow a single pizzeria from a small seed.
Peek through Laurus Bistro's open-exhibition kitchen to watch executive chef Matthew Silverman concoct his contemporary Mediterranean fare, greeting diners with a fresh and daily-changing lunch and dinner menu. Pair an eligible spicy pita chip with the white-bean hummus ($9) or sip the truffled cauliflower bisque ($4–$8) to prime your mouth motors before revving up for the wood-fired pepperoni caesar flatbread, a savory dish with crisp romaine lettuce, shaved asiago, and tomato sauce ($6–$12). Alternatively, you can carefully snorkel through the bouillabaisse's broth to find mussels, clams, and halibut ($14–$25) or gently guide a flavorful flock of lamb Bolognese and tagliatelle ($9–$17) to your mouth pasture.
Diners customize their meals from Garlex Pizza and Ribs’ menu of pies and tender ribs with freshly made dough, five different pizza sauces, and three rib styles seasoned in house. Specialty pizzas ($8.99–$30.99) combine creamy white sauce, cooked tomatoes, and chicken-breast meat on the Spicy Chicken combo and fashion the Artichoke Delight by reuniting marinated artichoke hearts with their childhood friends on a zesty pesto base. Half racks of baby-back bones on the rib sample ($10.99) encourage eaters to smother faces from dimple to dimple with honey-barbecue, sweet-teriyaki, or hot-and-spicy sauce. Shy chipotle-chicken pasta plates drag along cheesy garlic-bread security blankets to soak up their kicked-up cream sauce dotted with kernels of sweet corn ($10.99).