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 inspiration behind Alebrijes Mexican Bistro is the stuff of nightmares?Pedro Linares? nightmares, to be specific. At the age of 30, the Mexican artist fell deathly ill. As he lay in bed, unconscious, he dreamt of a strange world filled with brightly colored monsters?a donkey with butterfly wings and a rooster with the head of an eagle among others?all shouting ?alebrijes, alebrijes, alebrijes!? When he awoke, he wanted to show his family and friends all that he had seen, so he replicated his first alebrije from brightly painted papier-m?ch?. To this day, his family still crafts these strange creatures to serve as unusual home accents.
Pedro Linares' monsters inspired Alebrijes Mexican Bistro's name, as well as its decor, which showcases brightly colored paintings of his nightmarish beasts. In 2012, the bistro also won the Lodi News Reader?s Choice award for Best Mexican Restaurant, thanks to its gourmet burritos and regionally inspired dishes such as oaxaca mole, guanajuato bacon-wrapped prawns, and guacamole prepared in the style of Mexico City. The restaurant also infuses their own tequilas.
At Chaat Bhavan, a full menu of Indian fare avoids meat as fastidiously as if it were a banana peel on a video-game highway. Snacks include masala chaat, a spicy fruit chutney served with crispy wafers, and missal pav, a mixture of black lentils and crispy noodles. Pan-cooked spinach paratha bread sops up soupy entrees such as the chana sag, which pairs garbanzo beans with fresh spinach, and the aloo gobi mattar, a union of potatoes, peas, and spices. Everything on Chaat Bhavan?s bill of fare is meat-free, and many eats also accommodate Jain customs and veganism.
While most students spent their time playing outside after the final school bell rang each day, Ramzi was inside his father’s falafel shop in Nazareth, Israel, helping to prep chickpea patties between working on homework questions. Those late afternoons instilled in Ramzi a passion for the restaurant business, one that outlived his first career in the tech industry. Now at the helm of his own Middle Eastern eatery, Falafel, etc., Ramzi and his wife Zuhad season their handmade falafels each morning before kettle-frying them in front of patrons. They also fill plates with skewered lamb, chicken shawarma, hummus, and pitas. On the outdoor patio, tables flank a multi-tiered water fountain filled with wished-upon pennies and strands of mermaid hair.
A massive selection of frosting, toppings, and gourmet cinnamon rolls await treat-seeking shoppers at Cinnaholic, where everything is 100% vegan and made with soy, beet sugar, and nonhydrogenated oils. The menu features specialty rolls?including fudge-brownie chunk, mocha almond, and rocky road? or customers can design their own. Starting with a freshly baked cinnamon roll, they can adorn it with frosting available in flavors such as lemon, orange, raspberry, or hazelnut. Then they can pick out toppings such as gingersnaps, jam, apples, or pecans before sampling their creations.
Maoz's menu revolves around a diverse range of vegetables and fresh food prepared from scratch, including sauces and pita bread made in-house daily. Prematurely end hunger strikes with the Maoz sandwich meal deal ($8.20), which tops a white or whole-wheat pita with eggplant and hummus, with a plethora of veggie-friendly options available for additional toppings. Most meal deals come with Belgian fries, access to the salad bar, and a soft drink—a welcome respite for flask-wielders who generally prefer a hard drink. Diners can completely customize a pita with the salad bar ($4.50), or go with the house favorite, the Maoz falafel ($4.95), which is baked fresh daily and stuffed with flavor fillers of your choice.