Humanitarian and spiritual leader Supreme Master Ching Hai is the mastermind responsible for Loving Hut, a vegan restaurant chain awarded VegNews' Favorite Restaurant Worldwide in 2010. Each Loving Hut location's menu and philosophy is rooted in the idea that a plant-based diet is healthier and more sustainable for the planet. The restaurants span 13 countries including Taiwan and New Zealand, and each offers a 100% plant-based menu of gourmet vegan cuisine. Traditional meat dishes are replicated with tofu, soy proteins, and fresh vegetables. The menus are customized to reflect local cuisine and include chef’s specials that recreate regional dishes, which diners eat as the staff plays the country’s anthem enthusiastically on the tambourine.
At first, Tin Drum Asia Café's rapid service and bright decor evoke the aromatic street stands of Hong Kong, where founder Steven Chan ate throughout his childhood. The traditional ambiance is no accident—the franchise's name also harks back to a bygone era, when a tin drummer would awaken citizens and regale them with current events as they ate the day’s first meal. The electronic kiosks dotting the café, however, plunk this traditional scene in the middle of a cyberpunk setting. They allow patrons to customize their orders based on taste preferences and nutritional content, accommodating dietary endeavors such as vegetarianism and weight-loss goals.
This merger of technology and urban convention reflects a penchant for edgy ideas that also affects the menu. Items inspired by the culinary techniques of Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand share space in the savory catalog, taking the form of street tacos, soups, and mango chicken, a take on the general tso's staple that's sweeter than a syrup-soaked army helmet. Music is the final ingredient that charges the atmosphere. Nation's Restaurant News reports that it typically plays at an energizing 120 beats per minute and was a factor in attracting the café's initial college crowds.
At Soul Vegetarian, gravy cascades over the burgers and country-fried steaks and creamy cucumber sauce nestles into a gyro pocket. This picture of decadence aside, even as the chefs eschew animal products, they also avoid heavy fats or preservatives. The result is a surprisingly healthy take on classic Southern cuisine, including macaroni and cheese and cornbread. Savory protein comes in the form of tofu, lentils, and a flexible vegetable-protein roast they've dubbed "kalebone."
Even dessert has a healthy side at Soul Vegetarian. Blenders whir with fruit smoothies and soy shakes, many of which incorporate nutrient-dense foods such as coconut milk and almond butter, and even energy or protein supplements. To make perfectly creamy shakes, the restaurant's food inventors created the soy-based Dream Kream?also available by the scoop.
For Alison, cooking up delicious, welcoming meals is second nature. In her 35 years in the restaurant business, she's gathered traditional and modern culinary influences into a menu of New Southern comfort cuisine that features good old-fashioned meatloaf and mashed potatoes, buttermilk fried chicken, liver and onions, and her popular crab cakes. There's an abundance of seafood dishes—Alison prepares fish tacos, cedar plank salmon, and lobster mac 'n' cheese, to name a few. She even offers a pecan-crusted fillet of North Georgia mountain trout, served with a creamy mango sauce. The restaurant's meatier offerings include beef fillets and oven roasted pork tenderloin with a peach bourbon chutney. Bourbon tastings at the full-service bar are popular among Alison’s Restaurant and Bourbon Bar's regulars. On warm days, she opens the fenced-in patio to let customers enjoy the sunshine.
Flanked by rustic stone columns and carved lions, 5 Seasons Brewing's entrance looks like the secluded front to a Napa Valley villa, belying its cozy atmosphere and community-focused mission to provide tasty, affordable food and drink. Founded by chef David Larkworthy—son of a pioneering advocate of using organic food in restaurants—Five Seasons Brewing carries its commitment to community to its ingredients, cooking with a cornucopia of regularly shifting local produce from a gaggle of affiliated farms. The menu features such fusion dishes as crispy alligator served with a blackened chili glaze and Remoulade. At tables, guests dig in to home-baked bread, whose warm crust exudes tangy scents from the brewery's spent beer grain.
In the towering tanks that skirt the pub, brewmaster Kevin McNerney creates a kaleidoscopic selection of unique small-batch beers. The cofounder of flagship Georgia brewer SweetWater, McNerney brings two decades of experience to his craft, making refreshing brews such as the Chug Monkey and turning to ancient Belgian traditions to make his crisp, orange-infused witbier.
At iBangkok Thai Restaurant, a casual-yet-elegant ambiance sets the stage for enjoying classic fare. Diners can discover pad thai creations, including one dish that incorporates sautéed thin rice noodles with eggs, bean sprouts, and green onion. Guests with a taste for something spicy can try out one of the curry dishes, which iBangkok makes with coconut milk. After the meal—and instead of gnawing on a piece of dried ice chiseled into the shape of a mint—guests can cool off tongues with special Thai treats such as iced tea and coconut ice cream.