Within its naturally lit brick confines, Bluestem Bistro handcrafts its menu of soups, breads, and pastries from scratch without the malevolent influence of preservatives. Local products are meshed and melded to produce sandwiches and wraps ($6.59–$6.89) such as the turkey on focaccia smeared with red-pepper aioli ($6.89), which longs to be raised to the mouth in a salute of gastronomic gratitude. Salads ($6.49–$6.99) and specialty dishes such as spinach lasagna ($6.59) pair freely with a lineup of coffees, teas, and fresh fruit smoothies (nonalcoholic drinks $1.35–$4.80).
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
Family owned and operated for almost half a century, Vista Drive In serves up a menu filled with classic American fare that pairs perfectly with its vintage drive-in atmosphere. Groupon holders can chomp into a prepared-to-order Vistaburger, a quarter-pound beef patty laden with garden-fresh veggies, and since the deal includes two sandwiches, customers can devour both in a single sitting or don the second burger as a succulent beanie. Locals flock to the restaurant to observe hamburgers in their natural habitat, which showcases a retro neon sign and houses a storied history, as well as philanthropic owners who help support KSU and other local schools.
At The Topeka Juice Garden, newly opened in March of 2013, juicing specialists extract the essences of organic fruits and vegetables using equipment that preserves their healthful enzymes. Patrons can sip on menu concoctions such as the Green Machine, which contains spinach, bananas, almond milk, and dates, or customize their beverage with boosters such as probiotics and chlorophyll. In addition to juices and Blendies, the shop sells raw soups and pies, salads, and housemade ice cream that's crafted from fruit. Certified nutrition counselors conduct lectures onsite and share tips on healthy living.