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.
Wheat State Pizza assembles its pies on signature dough made fresh daily, including hand-tossed and thin-crust wheat. Customers may adorn their pizzas with more than 30 different toppings, ranging from cashews and mushrooms to pineapple and avocado. The menu also features a robust roster of pizza alternatives, such as sandwiches, salads, and create-your-own calzones, which pack in three main toppings along with fresh basil, ricotta, and mozzarella cheese.
The purveyors of literary pleasure at Signs of Life enable learning and leisure through an expansive collection of printed-word wares, delectable café snacks, and local art pieces. Dabble in fiction with Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic novel, Crime and Punishment ($5.99), or acclimate yourself with American history by reading David McCullough's 1776, a riveting account of how George Washington led almost 2,000 men into battle to defeat the Duke Blue Devils on a last-second three-pointer by Paul Revere ($14.99, paperback). Ecclesiastically curious guests can peruse one of many theologic selections, such as Augustine for Armchair Theologians by Stephen Cooper ($13.99), while sipping a tasty bean-based beverage at Signs of Life’s convivial café. For even more aesthetic enjoyment, art-magnets can scurry over to Signs of Life’s adjoining art gallery, featuring the work of more than a dozen local and national artists in a charming space.
Z's satisfies caffeine cravings and general rumblings with an abundance of organic drinks and treats at its two locations. Take an aromatic journey through the 12 bulk bins of whole beans roasted on-site each week ($9.99+/lb.), or sidle up to a specialty drink, such as the Rocky Raccoon, a frappé fused with chocolate, hazelnut, and caramel ($4.10 for a big). Non-joe options include a tasty assortment of smoothies (sans high-fructose corn syrup) and tea, in addition to hearty breakfast chomps. Guilt-free sips and sudden urges to commune with nature are all courtesy of Z's Divine Espresso's commitment to sustainable practices, such as recycling used coffee grounds as free fertilizer for local farmers and gardeners.
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.