At Cafe Mediterranean, chefs strew tender chunks of lamb and beef with ribbons of virgin olive oil and fragrant spices. The menu spotlights seasonal fruits and veggies, saving them from dull fates as still-life models. Though recipes hail from Egypt, Morocco, and Lebanon, Turkish cuisine proves the chief focus: Turkish spices grace the shish and doner kebabs, and specialty Turkish beverages such as ayran cleanse palates and grant a break from arduous chewing.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
The idea that you can only get good Cajun food in Louisiana has been challenged. The chefs at J. Gumbo's craft classic creole and Cajun dishes, balancing heat and spice with skill. Homestyle gumbo begins with a deep brown roux and, like viewing The Big Easy both forward and backward, takes about four hours to complete. Crawfish étouffée teems with the plump shellfish while jambalaya is made creole style with shredded chicken and sausage. Chefs pile these into bowls atop a bed of rice, and diners who can't decide can opt for two or even three options in one bowl.
The eatery itself is intimate and casual. On the walls hang New Orleans–inspired art, such as a crawfish wearing a chef hat and Mardi Gras masks and beads. Diners are also welcome to scrawl their names in between the art, and they often write messages commemorating their visit or love letters to the chef written in French.
Sweets By LaDawn began as an accident. After LaDawn told her coworker that her (nonexistant) recipe for Italian cream cake was better than a local restaurant's, she then quickly cobbled together a cake to bring in. Surprisingly, all of LaDawn's coworkers agreed her cake was in fact better than the restaurant's, and the orders for cakes started coming in. She now creates custom cakes that she sculpts into 3-D shapes, tops with printed images, or frosts to a decorative finish. She starts with a choice of cake batter in flavors such as lemon, red velvet, or spice cake. From there, she can pipe cakes with a swirl of cherry, Oreo, or chocolate bavarian cream fillings. She then frosts the entire thing in a pristine layer of cream cheese, buttercream, chocolate ganache, or molded fondant. Outside of cakes, she also crafts cookies and cupcakes.