Named for one of Malaysia's states, Penang Malaysian & Thai Cuisine reflects the diverse history of that region in its eclectic bill of fare. The menu sates appetites with a selection of more than 100 dishes, all showcasing a blend of Chinese, Malaysian, and Thai spices and cooking techniques. Appetizers of roti canai—crispy Indian-style pancakes served with curry-chicken dipping sauce—might share table space with Malay beef satay, marinated in spicy peanut sauce and skewered on bamboo sticks. The house special, Thai basil chicken, serves up chicken with bell peppers, onion, and chili in a tasty Thai basil sauce.
El Norte Restaurant’s owners use their more than 35 years of experience working at restaurants in Texas and Northern Mexico to create authentic Mexican dishes to their exact specifications. Surrounded by Aztec-inspired paintings and sombreros hung on the walls, diners dig into pork carnitas, enchiladas suizas, and bowls of chopino. Whether bellied up to one of the restaurant’s two bars or seated at a table blanketed by a colorful tablecloth, guests enjoy the serenades of a mariachi band or the sound of a live harp player politely ordering a burrito. On weekends, karaoke and DJ-fueled dance sessions take over the restaurant’s spare room.
Ropa vieja slow-simmered in garlic and spices from Old San Juan transports taste buds to the island of Puerto Rico, but not just the well-known tourist attractions. The menu delivers authentic tastes of Puerto Rico from its well-trod beaches to its tropical jungles. To set the scene, an indoor tree spreads its branches over the dining room and cave-like stone shelves store glasses and flatware. Servers blend cocktail mixes with BYOB libations at a bar that's offset by a wall of water trickling over stacked gray stones. Flat-screen TVs play sports highlights or the tree's favorite talk shows, and karaoke offers live entertainment once a month.
Tom Carvel personified the American dream. Born in Greece in 1906 as Athanassios Karvelas, he began dishing out ice cream from a beat-up vending truck that, in 1934, suffered a flat tire in Hartsdale, New York. Two years later—in the same spot where his truck broke down and took up bird watching—Carvel opened his first roadside ice-cream stand, which the company stakes as the first retail ice-cream franchise to ever swirl onto the American marketplace. Today, Carvel’s creamy products serve up sweet reprieve from 500 stores and more than 8,000 supermarkets across the nation. Daily-made ice creams continue to headline a menu that now includes sundaes, shakes, and novelty items such as the Flying Saucer and the Banana Barge. Ice-cream cakes layered with chocolate crunchies have also evolved into one of Carvel’s calling cards, and, like piñatas that stock their wardrobes with an assortment of fake mustaches, are customizable to specific celebrations, including birthdays and holidays.
San Juan Express aims to take taste buds on a tour of Puerto Rico's diverse flavorscape. The menu delivers authentic cuisine from around the famous island—from its well-trod beaches to its rural tropical jungles. Servers bustle about behind the counter, ladling out portions of oxtail stew, juicy slices of beefsteak, slow-roasted garlic pork, and crispy fried shrimp from a row of freshly made dishes. They also whip up a variety of traditional mofongos, topping mashed plantains with shrimp and pork. For dessert, the staffers dole out custard flan and moist tres leches cake.
La Fortaleza Mexican Restaurant's menu brims with quality ingredients and salsas made fresh throughout the day. Staff members prepare each appetizer of guacamole at the table, pulverizing the verdant michoacáno avocados, onion, and cilantro in a traditional stone molcajete. Cooks stuff cheeses and the customer's choice of chicken, steak, or shrimp inside a 10-inch flour tortilla before frying the creation to create a golden brown chimichanga, and the arrachera al anafre's flame-kissed skirt steak arrives with a side of tender cactus instead of the customary ficus plant. After sautéing shrimp in onions and butter, chefs douse the camarones a la diabla with a salsa hot enough to make penguins evolve. La Fortaleza Mexican Restaurant's dining room surrounds guests with a kaleidoscope of green, pink, and orange walls that sport Mayan-inspired murals.