At The Armenian Cafe, chefs have mastered the delicate art of adaptation. Their far-reaching menu spans the meals of an entire day, incorporating many entrees that seem American at first glance, but have actually been injected with Mediterranean flair. What appear to be crunchy chips are toasted segments of pita bread; breakfast omelets can contain gyro meat and falafel in addition to morning meat staples; and pieces of cured Armenian beef sausage dapple mozzarella and feta cheese on the soujouk pizza. Even desserts receive the fusion treatment, with layers of baklava filo dough sandwiching the creamy filling of an Armenian cheesecake.
Of course, the kitchen also produces recognizable classics of the culinary genre. The chefs closely guard the secret marinade that flavors their rack of lamb, just as they do the recipe for the garlic house dip—curious diners have only managed to discover that it does not, in fact, contain spaghetti. Shish kebabs and pita sandwiches, on the other hand, flaunt housemade tannouri pita bread and pair well with sips of Armenian coffee and sights of belly dancing on Friday and Saturday. From 2008 to 2012, this mix of the inventive with the traditional has helped the café win first-place or runner-up status from CityVoter for Best Mediterranean.
At Mediterranean Café, chefs inject Californian flair into a dinner menu of hefty meat-based and vegetarian table-toppers inspired by Middle Eastern and southern European entrees. Munching patrons and overly involved life coaches tear mushrooms, plum tomatoes, artichoke hearts, zucchini, and onions from the roasted vegetable medley ($13.50), which is planted atop basmati rice and served with minted cucumber-yogurt sauce. Identical trimmings add pizzazz to the kifta kebab ($16), starring beef kissed with spices, onions, and parsley, and fig spread camouflages the pancetta and fig pizza's ($15) thin crust from competitive eaters in training, cradling roasted chicken breast, pancetta, gorgonzola crumbles, mozzarella, and veggies.
At Ignite, chefs hand-sculpt specialty Angus burgers and pitch Neapolitan-style pizzas into a wood-fired oven. Caputo flour and San Marzano tomatoes import the flavors of Italy to the menu's authentic pizzas, topped with wild cremini mushrooms and roasted garlic ($10.95 for lunch; $12.95 for dinner) or artichoke hearts and homemade mozzarella cheese ($11.95; $13.95). Made from 100% Angus beef, the huntsman burger ($11.25) slays hunger pangs with a stack of hickory bacon, caramelized onions, and stilton huntsman cheese on a brioche bun, all served under a wooden box propped up with a stick. Sandwiches made with freshly baked flatbread ($8.95) anchor the lunch menu, and for dinner, seared scallops pair with a pecan wild-rice pilaf in light lemon sauce ($18.95). During either meal, diners can sit inside, where TV screens and artwork surround a 360-degree bar, or move to the outdoor patio, staring into the stone fire pit's mystical flames for visions of the latest stocks and hockey scores.
After graduating from high school, Reza Karkouti dreamed of opening his own teriyaki restaurant. He garnered support from family and friends, and he and his father, Ahad, opened a tiny eatery called Tokyo's Teriyaki in Encinitas in 1992. Through hard work and an attention to detail, the restaurant's reputation grew, and the demand for juicy, teriyaki-glazed chicken and beef quickly spread to other cities. This led Reza’s younger brother, Amir, to help open a second location. Now a seven-location, family-owned chain, Surf Brothers Teriyaki still sees its two siblings focusing on customer service and quality products.
The duo chooses natural meats that are minimally processed, hand trimmed, and grilled, avoiding shortcuts such as microwaves, frozen foods, and laser-based slicing. Their Hawaiian-themed restaurants and catering business have been featured in numerous television spots, radio shows, and newspaper articles. Michelle Murphy Zive of SanDiegoFamily.com says the restaurant offers "a taste of Hawaii" and "healthy food served fast." The brothers give back to the community that helped them grow by donating to charitable organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Homes project.
Though both have scenic Pacific coastlines, life is little different in Southern California than in Eastern Australia. But at The Australian Grill’s at least, chef Justin Hilton attempts to help Americans grow a fondness for traditional Australian dishes made with SoCal ingredients. He begins by working with Australia’s most iconic dishes, creating surf ‘n’ turf meals that layer goat cheese-encrusted cuts of kangaroo loin alongside grilled shrimp atop a bed of roasted beets drizzled in a demi glace and lemon beurre blanc. With this dish being arguably the most foreign dish on his menu, chef Hilton then turns to more familiar favorites such as aussie burgers topped with beets and pineapples and crusty meat pies filled with slow-cooked beef and vegetables. No Australian meal is complete without a glass of the country’s wine and the unofficial national dessert, pavlova, a kiwi- and strawberry-topped meringue that’s as decadent as a gilded toothbrush.
According to Zagat, the portions of breakfast plates at Broken Yolk Cafe can be "obscene"—although one could also consider them generous. Sometimes, these sizes are even considered a challenge. In 2010, Man Vs. Food's Adam Richman paid the restaurant a visit to tackle its infamous Iron Man Special: a 12-egg omelet, topped with chili and piled onto a 15-inch pizza pan.
Opened in 1979, Broken Yolk has spent decades fine-tuning its southwestern recipes—many enigmatically named for people such as "Betty" and "Tony G". Alongside steaming breakfast burritos and griddled buttermilk pancakes, the menu features nearly 20 omelets stuffed with fresh ingredients such as beef chorizo, avocado, and mushroom sauce. Shredded hash-browns are crafted from fresh potatoes, and the salsa is handmade each day. Until its official closing time at 3 p.m., Broken Yolk also serves sandwiches and half-pound Angus burgers. The local chain's six locations each feature their own private banquet room and secret underground passage to one of the other restaurants.