With more than 700 locations, Jamba Juice proves to the masses that nutrition can be speedy and delicious. Since the beginning, the company’s product philosophy has revolved around choosing whole fruits and other natural ingredients over artificial flavorings, sweeteners, and preservatives. The menu is completely free of high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats, and it offers additional accommodations for vegan and gluten-free diets. Blended drinks dominate the menu, with options including fruit refreshers—made with naturally hydrating, electrolytic coconut water—and pre-boosted smoothies that can fill nutritional gaps with infusions of protein, immunity boosters, or antioxidants that neutralize accidentally swallowed pool water. The drink list also includes organic house-blend coffee and Mighty Leaf teas flavored with hibiscus flowers or peppermint. For those with heartier appetites, steel-cut oats steep in soymilk before being enhanced with toppings such as apples, cinnamon, and brown-sugar crumble. The lunch hour presents a trio of california flatbreads, each packing only about 320–420 calories, which can be pleasantly capped off with cups of Whirl’ns frozen yogurt.
The appetizer list at Bravo Bistro touts a world of choices, almost literally. Fresh ahi tuna with crunchy wontons sits just beneath salmon carpaccio, giving way to shrimp and scallop ceviche and pomme frites drizzled in truffle oil. The international influence stems from owner and chef Habib El Jacifi, who learned to execute French, Spanish, and Mediterranean recipes growing up in Casablanca, Morocco. Contra Costa Times reviewer Ann Tatko-Peterson had admired Habib’s work at his first restaurant, Fiore, and a visit to Bravo inspired her to gush that the bistro is "proof that experience can lead to perfection.” According to Ann, diners might be loath to efface artfully presented dishes such as gamberi with tiger shrimp and crab, but in doing so will taste a creamy parmesan she likened to the best sauces from Italy. The menu’s entrees are mostly Italian, but patrons will notice subtly multicultural accents such as the apple chutney that sweetens the pork chops or the saffron sauce and caramelized onions that crown the oven-roasted chicken. Sunday brunch furthers the gastronomic globetrotting as diners trek through a prix fixe menu that has featured croissants, chicken penne pesto, quiche, and braised beef stew.
Aqueous hues of neon blue and purple wash over visitors to Agave Grill as they take a seat beneath a larger-than-life strip of sinuous camera film. This cinematic environ hosts cuisine blending traditional Mexican dishes with Spanish influence, mimicking the confluence of cultures in Latin America. In addition to steaming enchiladas and burritos, chefs create entrees of tender marinated carnitas or steak picado covered in cayenne-pepper sauce. Schools of seafood populate the kitchen's specialty roster, from fresh-fish tacos to paella—in which simmering saffron rice is surrounded by sausage, scallops, prawns, and other morsels. Beneath bas-reliefs of Aztec and Mayan-style masks, the staff serves libations from a lengthy library of tequila and mescal, neat or spun into margaritas.
Agave also boasts an attached nightclub, where spiraling lights surround the revelers within. DJs spin tunes in two different rooms, one devoted to salsa and Latin rock and the other thrumming with R&B and house music—which is not when furnace and faucet sounds sync up to the tune of “Born in the U.S.A.”
For generations, Ivalina and Adelio’s family have jotted down guidelines for crafting dishes in the tradition of Zacatecas, a north-central region of Mexico. Today, the father-daughter duo reap the rewards of their ancestors’ ingenuity and excellent penmanship at Memo's Mexican Cuisine, an eatery spotlighted by Check, Please! for its exceptional eats. Its chefs intertwine fresh ingredients, many hailing from local farmers' markets, and house-made sauces into dishes made fresh every day. Nicknamed The Royal Dish, chicken pipian is a signature dish and a traditional wedding-day entree, which showcases a chicken breast coated with an original sauce containing pumpkin seed, nine chilies, and 12 different herbs. At the bar, a wide selection of quality tequilas tempt shot glasses or find their way into margaritas. Catering services offer the same libations and fare without the restaurant's saffron and blue walls, which are partially obscured behind Mexican artwork.
Toscana Ristorante may have opened only in 2006, but chef Samuel Figueroa's culinary chops are of a much thicker cut. Over the course of a 17-year career, which includes a degree from the School of Italian Food Art in Rome, he's honed a large repertoire of traditional Italian fare. In Toscana's kitchen, he and his staff flavor fillets of salmon and veal with accents such as blackberry, lemon butter, and fresh sage. Fillings such as pumpkin, shrimp, and shiitake mushroom stuff raviolis, and marinara and alfredo sauces slather pastas.
Servers transport these and other plates past enormous arched windows in the dining room, which has a floor crisscrossed with elegant arcs of natural light. Racks and shelves behind the blond-wood bar supply white-clothed tables with bottles of wine and spirits. Alternatively, on the verdant outdoor patio, overhanging foliage provides shade for customers and free dessert for their docile pet giraffes.
The dough wizards at Papa John's hand toss circular masterpieces with original and thin crusts made from high-protein flour to support warm bouquets of toppings. Hand-cut produce crowns all of Papa John's pizzas, mingling with the sun-soaked sweetness of sauce made from fresh, California-grown tomatoes. By adhering to its brand promise of "better ingredients, better pizza," Papa John's grew from a back-tavern pizzeria into more than 3,500 restaurants within three decades' time, or the amount of time it takes to grow a single pizzeria from a small seed.