When Ronn Teitelbaum opened the first Johnny Rockets location in 1986, his goal was to create a restaurant where people could escape the postmodern blues of everyday life and experience a taste of time-honored Americana. The name itself is a nod to this ideal—it combines the star of a classic American fable, Johnny Appleseed, and a classic car, Oldsmobile’s beefy Rocket 88. The chain now makes itself at home in America's cultural landmarks, including Yankee Stadium and the Flamingo Hotel.
During dinners at the famous burger joints, you’ll see signs of simpler times, starting with the cooks and servers—dressed head to toe in white, including white paper hats, they look like they’ve fallen out of a wormhole from the 1950s ready to sling shakes and cook up some eats. Behind a stainless-steel bar lined with red leather stools they tend to their traditional diner fare, including burgers and melts with sides such as chili-cheese fries and onion rings. Riding sidecar to each meal is a collection of hand-dipped and hand-spun floats, shakes, and malts topped with whipped cream.
Located right next to the warehouse where his family has built their aircrafts for years, John Harmon’s Rocket Shop Cafe is a casual, diner-style space where guests can socialize over classic American eats. When Harmon designed the cafe, he decided to stick what he knew best—racecars and airplanes—and scattered the walls with official racing gear and TVs to broadcast the biggest events of the day.
From breakfast onward, staff carry out plates of savory chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy, and customizable Angus burgers, which can be washed down with drinks from a full bar. During the dinner hour, chefs turn their attention to more upscale versions of homestyle dishes, such as teriyaki-glazed salmon, barbecue-slathered meatloaf, and smoky St. Louis–style ribs. They pair these meals with classic Southern desserts such as bananas foster and blackberry cobbler.
Before Heidi's Brooklyn Deli grew to more than 35 locations spanning several states, it was called "Heidi's Bagels and Ice Cream," and there were only a few different kinds of sandwiches. The shop's founders, Steve and Heidi Naples, had moved to Colorado from Brooklyn and opened the shop after finding few spots serving the authentic New York-style deli sandwiches they had grown to love. When Steve decided to quit his steady day job and devote his full time to the new Heidi's Brooklyn Deli, the shop grew to offer 35 deli sandwiches alongside 32 flavors of ice cream. Today, Heidi's menu ranges from sandwiches with Nova Scotia salmon or chicken salad to genoa salami and prosciutto. Start your day with one of nine fruit-infused smoothies, or try one of Heidi's breakfast entrees, including a veggie sandwich or a bagel.
Chinese-style vegetable fritters soaked in a soy-based gravy. Delicate rice crepes filled with housemade cheese or coconut chutney. At Zaika Indian Cuisine & Bar, the culinary team incorporates a few of these Indo-Chinese and South Indian specialties into a menu that's mostly composed of North Indian classics. Those range from ginger- and garlic-flavored chicken slathered in cashew sauce to fish and potatoes doused in a fiery chili sauce. For vegetarian and gluten-free diners, the cooks sauté okra in traditional spices and toss veggies, dried fruits, and roasted nuts into creamy sauces. More than 10 Indian breads can accompany feasts in the dining room, where the walls are painted a bright yellow color reminiscent of turmeric or a chameleon perched on a coward's shoulder.
Too Fat Sandwiches has been perfecting its recipes for more than 25 years, offering thick sandwiches in half, whole, and jumbo sizes on homemade, freshly baked bread. Cold sandwiches, such as the Too Fat Special ($6–$10), are stuffed with leaf lettuce, tomatoes, onions, wax peppers, and parmesan cheese and are sprinkled with an oil-and-vinegar dressing for a tastesperience as sensational as a traveling carnival that transforms adults into weeping babies. Too Fat can also stuff children with the kid's meal, which includes a sandwich, chips, cookie, drink, activity pack, and kid's cup ($5), a critical layer of defense for little leaguers. Or, try any of Too Fat's hot sandwiches, including the Killer Pastrami ($6–$10). On Thursdays, Too Fat's Tri Tip sandwich ($5.75–$10) is barbecued onsite and topped with salsa or barbecue sauce.
Staple foods such as chili peppers, corn, and fresh cheese might seem ordinary, but the cooks at Geelaageessa Restaurant & Cantina transform these everyday ingredients into memorable Oaxacan specialties. Drawing on the rich culinary traditions of the Mexican state, they simmer chilies, nuts, and chocolate for a rich mole sauce to be ladled over chicken breasts. Diners can also savor traditional dishes such as tlayudas—fried tortillas spread with asiento and black bean paste, queso fresco, chorizo, and other savory ingredients—or expand culinary horizons with the chapulines, a dish of fried grasshoppers. Horchata topped with cantaloupe, chopped nuts, and cactus fruit rounds out meals with sweet, fruity notes.