Cooks at Juanita's Mexican Kitchen prepare dishes fresh each day such as burritos wrapped in soft flour tortillas and deep-fried chimichangas. The restaurant also features 15 combination platters stocked with a sampling of fajitas, quesadillas, and enchiladas. Behind the full bar, staff members shake up margaritas and dispense cold brews into pint glasses.
Lime green walls surround guests at Mesa Grande Taqueria as they wait in a cafeteria-style line for their turn to watch cooks create customizable Mexican dishes. Tacos, burritos, nachos, and quesadillas materialize out of the restaurant’s fresh ingredients and meats, which include grilled chicken or steak that’s been marinated in chipotle adobo sauce, or vegetarian guacamole and black beans. As they diner, guests might also notice the restaurant’s energy-efficient lighting, reusable silverware and baskets, and biodegradable to-go utensils, which help the taqueria take its commitment to staying green well past its vivid walls.
At Label 7, fresh ingredients such as crisp shaved fennel and gruyere cheese garnish entrees inspired by the light, healthy cuisine of California's Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Wicker chairs flank tables in the softly lit indoor dining room. Oversized white flowerboxes stand guard along the perimeter of a canal-side patio, where a brigade of umbrellas shields patrons from splashing during nearby diners’ attempts to literally wade through the wine list.
Just behind its deceptively quaint, sleepy front-porch facade, The Landing Bar and Grille crackles with the kinetic energy of live bands, games of pool, a vast menu of pub-style grub, and a nightly happy hour. At the tchotchke-lined bar, domestic bottles wash down giant wings, which diners customize with one of five sauces. For a hunger-decimating half-pound of Black Angus, nine different burgers step up to the plate, including one with a peppercorn bourbon glaze and one that's confident enough to show up to tables accompanied by nothing but lettuce and tomato. The kitchen also prepares a dozen kinds of specialty sandwiches, as well as a handful of wraps lined with veggies, tuna, or grilled chicken breast.
At Juan & Maria's Empanada Stop, a bell chimes regularly throughout the day, ringing along with the festive Latin music in the background. Its sound does not indicate the time, however?it greets every 50th customer to the empanada hot spot and rewards him or her with $5 worth of complimentary Spanish cuisine. When Chilean couple Juan and Maria Contreras opened their stand in 2000, they rarely had the opportunity to use the bell, as they were serving between 10 and 20 empanadas on any given Saturday. Today they dish out a minimum of 1,000 empanadas each day, vying to beat their current record of 1,504 empanadas sold in eight hours.
Their popularity stems in part from a commitment to traditional, healthy cooking methods. Each of their empanadas is handmade and stuffed with one of 12 types of filling, including 90% lean beef and pork as well as vegetarian options. The deep fryers are filled with light salad oil, and none of the menu items include chemicals or preservatives. Juan and Maria extend the same homemade treatment to their fruit juices, which can be frozen and sold as "Juan-sicles," and their four hot sauces: green gold, red gold, spanish mayo and spanish ketchup.
Attitude accounts for a second element of the pair's success. Their mix of hospitality and cultural pride draws diners to the turquoise shop, where Juan exuberantly lists the specials to newcomers. They have hosted the Juan & Maria's International Spanish Festival for the past four years, showcasing customs from 20 Spanish-speaking countries alongside their empanadas.
Thirteen hours. That's how long pork absorbs flavor inside a billowing smoker before the tender meat is pulled apart for layering inside burritos and quesadillas, or on top of nachos and salads. Cowboy Burrito’s cooks sizzle other meats, too, including marinated chicken, seasoned steak, or shrimp tossed with garlic and lime juice. Meals get a kick with salsa in flavors such as sun-dried tomato or habanero-cumin, dollops of chipotle sour cream, or sides of house-made chili con carne.