The grill at Sogo Japanese Steakhouse is not just a grill. With tables surrounding it, the flattop hibachi doubles as a stage, where chefs Tony and Matt juggle spatulas while searing lobster, steak, and scallops. While their customers grill their own portions of Kobe beef as an appetizer, the sushi chefs in the kitchen prepare both cooked and raw signature rolls with ingredients such as eel, deep-fried crab, and spicy tuna with a tempura crunch. The chefs also craft orders of live scallops, sea urchin, and lobster. All the while, customers enjoy the view of a modernly designed space, with bright pink walls by the grill and funky light fixtures throughout.
New Wasabi's chefs tap into old-fashioned Eastern culinary traditions when preparing dishes from Japan and China. To showcase Japanese cooking methods, they sizzle steaks on a hibachi-style grill, top them with teriyaki sauce, or slice them into the shape of Sadaharu Oh’s silhouette. Their Chinese recipes infuse chicken with flavors ranging from sweet to spicy to nutty. Several appetizers arrive on yacht-shaped platters, a subtle hint that the kitchen teems with shrimp, octopus, and other seafood. The love boat sends a more direct message by floating 36 pieces of sushi and sashimi across the dining room.
To give the Mona Lisa Café authentic European flair, the proprietors adorned the bistro from head to toe with décor and displays imported from Italy. Amongst the crimson walls and marble- and tile-topped café tables, patrons peruse the gelato selections and pastries kept chilled behind glass, seeking something to pair with their coffee drinks. During dinner, the kitchen crafts its own red sauce for pasta and parmigiana dishes, while fresh mozzarella melts over prosciutto and tomatoes in panini sandwiches. Patrons can dine al fresco in the fresh air as live music entertains them.
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 in three decades' time, or the amount of time it takes to grow a single pizzeria from a small seed.
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.