Originally opened as the Top Hat Drive-In in 1953, Sonic has grown into a burger-franchise mecca that today operates out of 3,500 locations across the country, making it the nation?s largest chain of drive-in restaurants. Sonic specializes in made-to-order American classics?including burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, and marshmallow Ford Thunderbolts?which customers order and receive without ever having to leave their cars. Unique menu items include toaster sandwiches stacked on thick slices of texas toast, as well as the brand?s signature tots and fresh limeades.
Sonic?s numerous awards include a 2011 Zagat survey ranking it among the top-five fast-food restaurants in three categories: Best Value Menu, Best Milkshake, and Best Drivethru. The benevolent eatery has also donated more than $2 million to public schools throughout the country through its program [Limeades for Learning](http://www.sonicdrivein.com/About/Community, which helps to fund educational projects and retirement plans for classroom guinea pigs.
It was a bold idea?opening a restaurant in the midst of the Great Depression. But the founders were truly convinced that if they maintained a clean space with low prices and friendly service, they'd drum up more than enough business to support themselves. And on October 24, 1932, when Krystal's first customer walked out with six Krystals and a cup of coffee for 35 cents, the restaurant's remarkably successful run began.
More than 81 years later, Krystal reigns as one of the oldest fast-food brands in the country. Their namesake creation remains their biggest draw, snack-size burgers topped with diced onion, mustard, and pickle on a soft, square bun. Over the years they've added other hugely popular menu items, including breakfast scramblers and MilkQuakes made from 100% real ice cream. Even after eight decades, enthusiasm from customers has hardly cooled: Krystal gets so much fan mail, the staff have a Krystal Lovers Hall of Fame, for which inductees have their illustrated likeness printed on more than a million burger boxes.
Even though her restaurant is in the heart of Bulldog country, Melissa Powers, the owner of Bama Girlz Cafe, douses her Alabama-themed restaurant in shades of crimson and stamps an Alabama A on each piece of sandwich bread. In the kitchen, cooks prepare a menu of concession-style food, including Nathan's beef hot dogs, nachos, and polish sausages, as well as healthier options such as grilled-chicken salads and soups. Powers flips to the most popular NCAA games on her high-definition flat-screen TVs—with the caveat that Alabama games trump them all. The restaurant's crimson-and-white walls are bedecked with Alabama stickers and a quote from former coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, and fans may also opt to gather for game-watching parties stocked with complimentary popcorn and prize drawings during halftime.
The folks at Dickey's Barbecue Pit know better than most not to fix something that isn't broken. Since 1941, they've stuck with what they've known—Texas-style barbecue—and little has changed since then. Seasoned and slow-smoked on-site, the menu's nine cuts of barbecue appear on sandwiches, plates, and the faces of the anyone who eats it. For special events, Dickey's does 'big barbecue,' packages for picnics, full racks of rib by the pound, and even whole, fresh-baked pies.
Traditional Jamaican flavors abound in Island Paradise's casual dining room, where a predominantly Caribbean staff revs up the sense of authenticity. Amid bright red banquettes and paintings of the tropics, tables populate with coconut-dusted fish fillets, jerk chicken, and spicy marinated pork. After diners pass around entree plates of oxtail and curried goat, they can bury forks in a sweet Jamaican dessert or utilize the eatery's dangling bead curtains as guitar strings for a three-piece zydeco band.
My Father's Place dishes out a vast menu of Italian classics including pizzas, pasta, subs, and calzones. Begin savory sojourns with garlic knots crafted from house-made dough ($3.99) by boy scouts apprenticing for epicurean sea captains. The Spud-Nick pizza allows eaters to bask in the innovation of Italian cuisine with sliced baked potatoes, crumbled bacon, chives, cheese, and sour cream ($15.99–$17.99). Other pizza options draw inspiration from Hawaiian, Texan, Mexican, and Greek fare, and a single slice of pepperoni pizza ($1.69) satisfies classic cravings. Gear up athletic-level appetites for the lasagna dinner, which opens with a preshow salad and arrives with garlic bread at the sidelines ($7.99). Thoughtful chefs cover genoa salami and spiced ham with a provolone blanket on the cold italian sub ($5.29).