Futoshi “Tao” Takazato got his first gig working at a sushi restaurant when he was 24 years old. From the start, he was mesmerized by how fish could be transformed into a colorful, delicious piece of art. It took Tao six months of practicing and learning before he’d make sushi for a customer; it took him five years to actually feel comfortable doing it. Eventually, Tao graduated to head chef. Rather than marking the occasion by etching an oven mitt into his driver's license, he decided it was time to open his own restaurant, and Maneki Neko was born.
Translated, Maneki Neko means “beckoning cat.” In Japan, a waving cat is a symbol of good fortune. In fact, the image is often propped up in the windows of businesses as a way to welcome customers inside. A similarly welcoming atmosphere pervades Maneki Neko, with staff members reaching a first-name basis with regular customers and customers who bring in notarized copies of their birth certificates. Niceties aside, it’s the cooking that turns first-time guests into regular visitors. Tao and his staff specialize in sushi, but they also craft other traditional Japanese dishes. They create savory pancakes called okonomiyaki and sauté pork with noodles to form the Okinawa Soba entree.
It's rare to hear the words "gourmet" and "kid-friendly" in the same sentence, but that is exactly what Pie-tanza strives to be. Indeed, adults and kids can both enjoy the novelty of sitting at the counter that surrounds Ed McKee and Karen Waltman's open kitchen and watching as chefs hand-stretch Neapolitan-style dough, slather it with chunky tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella, and slide it into the 600-degree wood-burning oven. It's the oven that makes these pizzas so authentic, producing the crispy, chewy, bubbly thin crust that is the hallmark of a true Neapolitan-style pie. Familiar enough for younger diners, the pies can also be made a little more refined, thanks to grownup-friendly gourmet toppings such as rosemary chicken and fresh basil, or tri-colored peppers and kalamata olives. The restaurant’s other authentic Italian eats include hearty baked pastas and sandwiches, which feature hot toasted sub rolls or fine leather wallets stuffed with slow-cooked meatballs, roast turkey, or prime rib and cheddar cheese. Of course, no Italian meal would be complete without dessert, so diners should save room for mini chocolate-dipped cannoli or a java-chip brownie sundae topped with crushed dark-chocolate-covered espresso beans.
Since 1950—when it was still known as simply Frozen Custard—staff members at Frozen Dairy Bar and Boardwalk Pizza have applied themselves to the daily task of mixing five custard flavors. In addition to pleasing generations of adoring customers, this dedication earned them a mention in The Washington Post in 2009. Richer than regular ice cream because of its higher butterfat content, slower production times, and well-maintained trust fund, their custard comes in classic vanilla and chocolate as well as a rotating flavor of the day that has, in the past, included mango with diced fresh mango and coconut-and-peanut-butter-fudge swirl packed with pieces of brownie.
In 2007, the owners added New York style pizza to the menu, continuing the tradition of making their menu items fresh each day with hand-tossed dough made from scratch, crowned with fresh toppings, and baked to order in a stone pizza oven. The specialty pies such as Popeye’s favorite—adorned with spinach, roasted red peppers, and eggplant—join fellow Italian specialties such as sub sandwiches served on toasted bread and pasta entrees including baked ziti.
Chefs use grass-fed beef, cage-free chicken, and steroid-free pulled pork that hail from sustainable sources to craft a bounty of tortilla-wrapped treats that take their names from the likes of Caddyshack, Fletch, and Seinfeld. It's this dual mindset of serious food and irreverent attitude that tinges every one of the eatery's southwestern morsels, from the Art Vandalay burrito to the John Coctostan quesadilla. As the kitchen staff crafts their daily batch of guacamole to join the lineup of six zesty salsas, diners choose from a list of more than 20 ingredients to fill out the entree that will soon be conjured before their eyes. Because dishes are made to order, each finds easy customization for vegetarian, gluten free, and low-calorie diets, and the absence of microwaves, trans-fats, and MSG keep eats wholesome. Meanwhile, a complimentary accompaniment of chips and salsa turns portions into full meals faster than an industry-grade blow-up ray.
Red Hot & Blue draws from many corners of the Southern map to bring together a mix of classic barbecue and traditional southern fare served amid an array of handpicked blues memorabilia. Red Hot & Blue cooks top-quality meats atop a smoky bed of hickory logs where relatively low temperatures and long cooking times infuse eats with succulence. The meaty mélange encompasses three ways to order ribs ($22.99 for a full slab, $15.99 for a half-slab): wet, slathered with mojo mild barbecue sauce; dry, rubbed with a blend of Memphis-style spices; or sweet, dripping with a more-sugary sauce and a never-ending stream of compliments.
The culinary peacekeepers at Julian’s Bar & Grill settle squabbles among indecisive eaters with an eclectic menu that showcases comestibles from the Bayou to the Mediterranean and beyond. Sample some of New England’s finest offerings with a bowl of clam chowder ($3.99–$4.99) or point tasters southward for the southern barbecue ribs ($12.99) and spicy garlic shrimp ($9.99). Diners can dive into an ocean of Mediterranean flavors with the lamb kabob ($10.99), which boasts marinated pieces of tenderloin that are as juicy as the latest Hi-C gossip. The traditional-crust pizza is a circular savory with a choice of up to two toppings ($9.99/medium, $11.99/large), and the classic spaghetti and meat sauce enlightens mouths with authentic angel-hair pasta ($8.99).