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.
Branmor's stable of protein pugilists is home to a heavyweight assortment of steaks and chophouse standbys. Tempt taste bids with savory starters such as the gorgonzola bruschetta ($9) or calamari fritters ($9) before selecting from the eight signature, sear-seeking styles of steak. Stay classic with the filet mignon (7 oz., $24+), kick up piquant clouds with the chimichurri hangar steak ($23), or let mouths marvel at the mushroom and blue cheese-laden grid iron steak, which combines disciplined preparation with tender tastes in a way unseen since the all-linebacker production of Swan Lake ($22). Branmor's block of menu mainstays also includes australian lamb chops ($31), dijon-drizzled pretzel chicken ($19), and Walt's well-rubbed barbecued ribs ($14 for half, $22 for full).
The kitchen at Salad Creations is like a symphony hall. Chefs rap their knives against their cutting boards, drawing their orchestra of fresh lettuce, vegetables, and fruits to attention. Staccato chops and legato slices pierce the air as the culinary conductors harmonize these ingredients in salads, wraps, and paninis, each arranged to be a quick, nutritious meal. They transpose any of their classic, signature, and premium combinations into different forms, be they salads or wraps. Otherwise, they welcome diners to improvise their own salad or wrap by picking a lettuce, choosing from nearly 50 toss-ins-avocado, candied pecans, hearts of palm, and wonton strips-then choosing a protein such as turkey or wild Alaskan salmon.
Salad Creation's dressing choices range from classics such as buttermilk ranch to creative blends including blueberry pomegranate and cucumber wasabi. In addition to salads and wraps, the staff also grills up paninis made with multigrain sunflower bread or italian ciabatta bread to create toasty sandwiches perfect for warming palms after being woken up from a cryogenic freeze.
6'x12'. Those were the dimensions of Dick Portillo's first hot-dog stand, which he opened in 1963 inside a converted Villa Park trailer. The trailer had no bathroom, and Portillo had to run 250 feet of garden hose from a nearby building to have running water. Despite these hindrances, the stand was a certified success by 1967, and now Portillo's Hot Dogs operates at 48 locations, many of which recall bygone decades. Some of the shops are filled with glowing neon signs and 1920s memorabilia, and others sport red stools and black-and-white checkered floors straight out of a 1960s soda shop.
The chefs at Aki Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar prepare a menu of modern and creative sushi rolls and Japanese entrees. Specialty rolls include treats such as the Mermaid—yellowtail, spicy tuna, cream cheese, and avocado fried in tempura batter and topped with spicy scallops and crab. The signature Aki roll envelops shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, broiled eel, crabmeat, avocado, and fish egg in soybean seaweed. Chefs also prepare succulent Japanese hibachi dinners with meats such as steak, filet mignon, shrimp, and chicken.