Golden-fried clam strips, fantail shrimp, and bay scallops anchor the tables at J’s Crabshack (formerly Tinker’s), sending up clouds of steam next to hearty steak and lobster dinners. Founded by chef and scallop fisherman James Tinker more than 20 years ago, J’s Crabshack has grown into a bustling seafood hotspot, where an aquarium teeming with eels and tropical fish overlooks the dining area. The shack’s market counter dishes out freshly snagged raw shrimp and scallops, earning recognition as runner-up for best fish market in Hartford from the Hartford Advocate in 2011. The restaurant’s culinary team, which includes James Tinker II in its ranks, works diligently to serve guests in the ocean-themed catering hall, then sticks around to burp everyone postmeal.
Rich Hicks and Todd Istre are the masterminds behind many a national food concept?from Rich's southwestern taco at Tin Star to Todd's spicy seafood dishes at Boudreaux's Cajun Kitchen. When the duo joined forces to create Mooyah, however, they cleared the tortillas and crawdads from their mind in order to focus on formulating a quintessential American burger.
Today, within scores of Mooyah locations throughout the nation, chefs bustle behind counters, grilling up burgers in accordance to Todd and Rich's formula. Cooks pile beef, turkey, and veggie patties onto white or wheat buns before loading on cheeses and toppings of bacon, fried onion, and avocado. Meanwhile, freshly cut potatoes simmer in fryers, and blenders whirl with ice-cream shakes. Out in the dining room, tabletops and booths sit atop checkered floors beneath walls of chalkboards, where customers can write messages or draw portraits of what they wished they looked like, could they only grow a beard.
The chefs at Azúcar Latin Bistro don't limit themselves to any one type of cuisine. Instead, they explore the spectrum of Latin American cooking, celebrating the bold flavors of Central and South America. They give equal attention, however, to more traditional dishes, including arroz con pollo, ceviche salvaje, and camarones a la diabla. The restaurant welcomes groups and families to celebrate its fun, tropical roots.
In either location's expansive lounge, bartenders whip up frosty mojitos and margaritas, which pair with a range of small plates. These lounges—and their dance floors—host live bands and DJs, as well as special events ranging from Monday-night salsa lessons to Wednesday-night bilingual karaoke to Thursday-night all-triangle jam sessions.
Family owned and operated, Casa Mia specializes in central and northern Italian recipes. The interior of the restaurant, adorned with stone, brick, and wrought iron, creates a romantic atmosphere fit for a relaxed or intimate meal. Authentic cuisine from the dinner menu includes more than a dozen pasta dishes, along with popular items such as veal scaloppine alla boscaiolo (veal sautéed with garlic, porcini, white wine, butter, and lemon, $24.95) and chicken suprema alla parmigiana ($20.95). Committed to consumption for all mankind, the chefs cater to a variety of diets. Vegetarian options such as melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant with mozzarella and tomato sauce, $19.95) and pasta primavera ($19.95) embody all the elegance of the Italian flag’s green third, and are much tastier than common flag-making materials.
Dedicated to bringing the culinary traditions of Peru to Hartford’s diners, Piolin Restaurant II has been serving the signature sizzling meats and sautéed veggies of the region since 1998. Within the bustling kitchen, chefs architect dishes such as Peruvian yellow potatoes, sweet plantains, and fried yucca in addition to hearty meats ranging from grilled chicken to fried red snapper. Along with the re-creation of time-honored recipes, the brightly hued walls and cheery decor of Piolin’s dining room grant guests the feeling that they’ve escaped to Peru without the hassles of answering a TSA officer’s riddles.