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.
With churrasco steaks, grilled red-snapper fillets, and shredded flank steaks rubbed with Cuban spices, it's hard to tell which dish earned Papi's Cuban & Caribbean Grill the tile of Best Cuban fare in 2010 and 2011 from the readers of Creative Loafing Atlanta. It could have been owner Rey Regalado’s recipe for pork marinade passed on from his father. Brought to America in a harrowing tale of escape from oppression, the signature sauce now trickles beneath layers of smoked pork, ham, swiss cheese, and dill pickles on the cuban sandwich or traditional masitas de puerco made with tender cubed pork. Selecting from a stash of family recipes, chefs fill plates with bold flavors and cap meals with such sweet treats as coconut flan and rice pudding. As the sun falls out of the sky on Fridays and Saturdays, live salsa music populates the dining room with toe-tapping beats and digestion-aiding rhythms.
Generations-old Thai family recipes and established Japanese cooking techniques continue to inspire the cooks at Fuji Hana & Thai Peppers. Hibachi chefs man the dining room's six tabletop grills and sear entire orders of scallops or filet mignon right in front of transfixed guests. Hibachi-grilled lobster tail even makes its way onto the restaurant's sushi menu, which includes 12 specialty maki selections that attempt to elevate sushi with sriracha sauce, dried cranberries, or cleverly disguised helium balloons. The Thai menu items remain more grounded in familiar flavor combinations, such as spicy basil fried rice and panang curry with coconut milk and dried chilies.
The colorful cuisine stands in stark contrast to the deep, soothing earth tones that fill the dining room. Hand-laid mosaic tiles complement the dark leather booths, and a 31-foot oak bar surrounds the sushi chefs and bartenders as they dexterously assemble orders.
McAlister's Deli's kitchen craftspeople concoct sandwiches, salads, and loaded potatoes from fresh ingredients and artisan breads, creating meals that earned them a spot on the 2009 10 Best Fast-Casual Restaurants list by Parents magazine. Rather than braving a home kitchen's gauntlet of hanging knives and mayonnaise slicks, pick up a gameday pack that includes an assortment of deli sandwiches with roast beef, turkey, or ham with cheese on fresh-baked breads. Dip a combination of chocolate-chip, oatmeal-raisin, and white-chocolate-macadamia cookies in tall glasses of home-brewed sweet tea made from rainforest-certified black tea and pure sugar, or opt for the unsweetened variety.
Cafe Istanbul's skilled culinary artisans craft a menu of authentic Turkish fare. Dining duos can share a Mediterranean appetizer such as stuffed grape leaves ($4.95) or conquer the sauced eggplant ($5.95). Send taste buds on an exotic excursion sans carry-on luggage with piquant entrees such as skewered chicken adana flavored with red bell peppers ($11.95), or inegol kofte ($10.95), which rolls lamb and rice into robust turkish meatballs . Cafe Istanbul also serves up vegetarian options, such as imam bayildi ($10.50), which stuffs chopped tomatoes, parsley, pine nuts and raisins into an eggplant envelope that ships directly to the mouth at a modest flat rate.
The chefs at Chilitos craft a menu of classic Mexican fare from freshly filtered beans, never-frozen veggies, and house-made salsas and chips. A battalion of burritos flies in formation from the kitchen to the plate, arriving with such accouterments as sautéed veggies, rice, sour cream, and meat choices of chargrilled steak and barbecue-chipotle chicken. Challenge mouth capacity with a choice of beef, chicken, steak, and fish tacos in sets of one or two. Diners scale nacho towers while dodging rivers of cheese, tender meat boulders, and beanslides. With a 12-ounces side of house-prepared chips and salsa and access to the chips-and-salsa bar, patrons can play an edible game of Tiddlywinks by flinging bits of cilantro-infused tomato into their opponent's meal and wash down the taste of victory with a soft drink or creamy horchata.