While the heart of Johnny Carino's menu is rooted in genuine Italian traditions, forward-thinking creativity has birthed what they like to call their signature dishes. The menu was designed by executive chef Chris Peitersen, and each location executes it by blending fresh ingredients with extra time to create high-quality preparations. Diners will find entrees such as 16-layer lasagna with made-from-scratch sauce, and pizzas made with home-baked crust. Other signature choices include the all-natural beef tuscan ribeye, baked stuffed mushrooms topped with house lemon-basil cream sauce, and tiramisu made from the ground up. Entrees can be paired with any selection from Carino's extensive wine list and cocktail menu.
In 1926, a Mexican immigrant named Adelaida Cuellar—now affectionately referred to as "Mama"—set up a tiny stand at a county fair outside Dallas, selling homemade tamales and chili con queso. The spicy specialties soon drew throngs of hungry patrons, and by 1940, she and her 12 children had transformed the stand into a café. Today, her legacy lives on at El Chico's many locations, where the staff rolls fresh tortillas into steaming enchiladas and salts the rims of towering margaritas. Waiters hoist platters of Tex-Mex favorites such as spicy beef burritos, crispy tacos, and guacamole prepared right at the table from fresh, self-puréeing avocados—a technology Mama never could have imagined during the early days of black-and-white tomatoes.
The owners and chefs at Santa Fe Cattle rely on old family recipes that demand steaks are aged and cut in-house, rolls are baked fresh each day, and signature sauces are mixed onsite. These touches transform the menu’s casual, regional eats into dishes worthy of John Wayne’s personal dressing-room buffet. Steaks, fajitas, and sliders are plated next to housemade sides of cole slaw, Santa Fe taters, and of course, a bucket of peanuts—which guests shuck directly onto the floor. The peanut shells add character to each one of the restaurant’s 20 locations, which evoke old-west saloons with touches such as brick walls draped in horse saddles and weathered wooden floors.
Each Candyopolis is home to over 1,000 different varieties of sweets, with everything from old-fashioned Depression-era favorites such as licorice Herbert Hoovers and "chewing dirt" to the latest wave of sugary and sour confections (Toxic Waste sour candy, $1.99). Retro sweet teeth will delight at the sight of Abba Zabba candy bars ($1.49), Big Hunk ($1.49), and the Holy Trinity for chewing connoisseurs: Beeman's, Blackjack, and Clove Gum ($1.50 each). Imported and domestic chocolates cohabitate peacefully in neighboring bulk bins, while insurgent bands of gummy worms build IEDs out of Pop Rocks ($0.89) and plot a military coup over Candyopolis's ruling class of imported Haribo gummy bears ($3.99/half pound), which also come dipped in chocolate ($4.99/half pound). With 48 flavors of Jelly Bellies ($5.99/half pound), 50 unique PEZ dispensers ($2.49 each), and 21 colors of M&Ms ($5.99/half pound), each year Candyopolis exports a colorful crop of treats directly to the bellies of local children, children-at-heart, and hopelessly misinformed health nuts everywhere.
At Cinnabon, the aromas of scrumptious baked goods waft through the air as chilled beverages help to sate the snack appetites of weary mall-walkers. Munch on a variety of cinnamon-infused treats, from the classic Cinnabon, temptingly filled with Cinnabon’s famous makara cinnamon ($2.99), to the Caramel Pecanbon, topped with an edible medley of luscious caramel and tasty pecans ($3.49). An assortment of goodies can be toted home in one of the store’s CinnaPacks, good for at least four classic rolls or nine Minibons ($9.99; combo packs add $1.50, Pecanbons add $2). Revitalize the taste buds with a frosty Chillatta, a frozen drink available in chocolate mocha, strawberry, strawberry banana, and tropical blast, each more refreshing than a game of patty-cake against a polar bear ($3.99–$4.79).
The eclectic elegance inspired by Rinie’s sprawls from a multifarious menu of American-Italian dishes fused with bursts of Thai and Asian flavoring. Rinie’s travelogue of cuisine heightens the epicurean senses as the lighting dims, setting the scene for toothsome proposals to rich risotto or crab cake appetizers for two ($9). Succulent entrees of north atlantic salmon come baked in a rich curry sauce or pan fried and topped with white wine dill sauce, both served over asian rice ($18). Spicy chicken pad thai dressed in sweet chili sauce grazes the lips seductively before moving into the mouth’s apartment with rice noodles, vegetables, and a futon for when guests visit ($16). Lovers can lap from Rinie’s copious wine selection, though this Groupon is not valid toward alcohol purchases.