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 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.
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.
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.
Adding a globe-spanning spin on traditional Mexican presentation, Bull Taco turns cultural preconceptions sideways with a delectable selection of remixed street tacos, bulging burritos, and tasty tortas. Pavement pounders beat a path to locations in Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Oceanside, where the taco pendulum swings from traditional carne asada, chicken, and carnitas ($1.75 each) toward gourmet upgrades including duck confit ($2.50), abalone ($10), and foie gras ($10). Muzzle riotous stomach roosters with a sunrise selection from Bull Taco's all-day breakfast menu, with carnitas, bacon, and chorizo snugly snoozing through meaty dreams in the machaca burrito's ($7) tortilla sleeping bag.