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.
Carlsbad is a seaside city, known for its pristine beaches?and, thanks to Carlsbad Food Tours, its burgeoning restaurant scene. On the company's three-hour walking trips, participants sample dishes at seven or eight of the city's eateries, which have been carefully curated by company owner Cherimarie Poulos. Her decades of experience in the food service industry mean that none of her choices are arbitrary. Instead, Cherimarie uses her insider status to pick the spots with the freshest ingredients and roundest plates. Additionally, when participants aren't mingling with local chefs, they're listening to the guide's anecdotes about Carlsbad history, culture, and architecture.
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 Al's Cafe in the Village, diners get their french toast Hawaiian-style and covered in Cap'n Crunch. Simple twists to classic comfort food like this keep diners on their toes as chefs cook up a menu of Hawaiian-inspired and traditional American eats. Breakfast platters come steaming from the kitchen all day, from five types of eggs benedict with ingredients including house-smoked salmon, to 12 different types of omelets. Afternoon meals include Angus burgers crowned with green chilis, traditional Hawaiian loco moco with hamburger patties on rice, or any of the lengthy menu's 13 sandwiches, including one layered with Carolina turkey breast, fresh pineapple spears, and center-cut bacon. The eatery is eminently kid-friendly, but grownups will be pleased with Al’s selection of beer, wine, and champagne served in glass sippy cups.