Even as they sliced fish ceviche and sizzled taquitos at La Parrilla, their popular Mexican restaurant, Alejandro Lule and Subarna Bhattachan often dreamed of opening a noodle house. Subarna longed for the plump momo dumplings and egg-noodle soups of his native Nepal, whereas Alejandro craved the Thai curries and Vietnamese pho he remembered from his years working in San Francisco. Combining their extensive culinary experience and shared ambition, the duo spearheaded Zen Zero, setting up shop directly across the street from La Parrilla.
Deep within Zen Zero’s kitchen, chefs fold fresh ingredients and spices into critically acclaimed dishes from countries across Asia and the Pacific Rim—from Thailand to Nepal and China. Their seafood, meat, and vegetable curries simmer, and pots of thai glass noodles, japanese udon, and vietnamese vermicelli bubble on stovetops. When discussing their cooking techniques with reporters from the Lawrence Journal-World, Subarna reported, “we use a lot of spice seeds: cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, cardamom pods.” These seeds add a distinctive concentrated flavor to their dishes, which servers carry with glasses of specialty cocktails and chilled sake through the dining room. Around them blown-glass lamps, wooden tables, and an absence of giant foam shrimp costumes create an elegant atmosphere.
Perkins began as a single humble Ohio pancake house in 1958. More than 50 years––and 440 national locations––later, each Perkins restaurant stays true to its roots by keeping those signature buttermilk pancakes the focal point of a 90-plus-item menu. Cooks layer the popular flapjacks in stacks of two, three, or even five and make the fluffy towers all the more tempting with toppings such as glazed strawberries, whipped cream, or flavored syrups. Breakfast favorites—including hearty omelets and country benedicts—are served all day, meaning kids and adults can order short stacks to accompany their jumbo-shrimp or steak dinner, instead of smuggling them in under a stovepipe hat. Unlike most other chain restaurants, Perkins also features in-store bakeries that churn out the shop's real fruit and cream pies, muffins, and chocolate-chip cookies.
In Spanish, “parrilla” means “grill,” an apt name for the Latin American–inspired eatery, which specializes in Mexican, Central American, and South American cuisine served “a la parrilla.” Grilled steak, gulf shrimp, and marinated pork shoulder flavor La Parrilla’s specialty tacos, quesadillas, and taquitos, but the restaurant doesn’t limit itself to omnivore-only fare. In fact, it has earned praise from many local and rabbit-run publications for its vegetarian options, such as the veggie empanadas, portobello quesadilla, and chili relleno stuffed with onions, cheese, and cilantro. Bartenders craft tropical cocktails including lime, strawberry, and peach margaritas from a selection of more than 10 tequilas, including a made-in-house chili-infused tequila.
Almost every handheld creation at Sandwich Bowl starts with slices of Boar’s Head meat and cheese, which are tucked inside your choice of bread or lettuce wrap. With this foundation, as well as a vast selection of fresh produce and dressings, dozens of different sandwiches are possible. One of the most popular is the Flying Pig, a hoagie piled high with slow-cooked pork loin, pepperoni, bacon, grilled onions, cheese, and salsa-ranch dressing. But the eatery also whips up gourmet burgers such as the Betta’ Breakfast Burger, a mixture of chopped ground beef topped with bacon, egg, hash browns, and cheese.
Sharing its space with a convenience store, Riverridge Mart and Grill serves freshly prepared classic diner dishes like homemade biscuits and gravy ($1.89/one; $3.69/two) in an unassuming environment, which includes laminate booths and mismatched chairs. A traditional breakfast menu features dishes such as three-egg omelets ($5.49–$5.99) and two-egg breakfast burritos ($3.89), which enhance mornings marred by a restless night spent trapped in a fold-up bed. Angus beef burgers and meaty sandwiches comprise the diner's succinct lunch menu. A gravy-laden chicken-fried-steak sandwich ($5.99) or bacon cheeseburger ($6.49) stops hunger pangs and diverts high-energy hands from their preferred pastime of finishing other people's crossword puzzles.
Juice Stop uses fresh, nutritious ingredients to whip up their low-temperature, high-energy smoothies ($3.26–$4.35). Make over your morning routine with a Coaches' Choice smoothie (non-fat milk, chocolate, yogurt, and cappuccino mix), or jog through a Single Track (watermelon, raspberry, mango, strawberry, yogurt, sherbet). Protein-packed options such as the Bench Press (banana, strawberry or chocolate, with muscle powder and protein) are hearty enough to replace a meal or glue the legs of a G.I. Joe onto a Barbie. All smoothies are blended from scratch (no mixes are used) and fresh veggie and tropical fruit options are available as well.