At the French restaurant where they both got their start, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger discovered decidedly un-French cuisine in the privacy of the kitchen: homespun Oaxacan and Yucatan recipes prepared by their fellow chefs. The duo promptly untied their aprons, loaded them into a VW Beetle, and took off for a road trip to Mexico in 1985, where they sampled and studied delicacies prepared at beachside taco stands and family barbecues. Three restaurants, two gourmet food trucks, five cookbooks, hundreds of episodes of Food Network's Too Hot Tamales, and sizzling appearances on Top Chef Masters later, their Border Grill eateries add contemporary twists to authentic Mexican cuisine. Guests are greeted by dining rooms originally designed by the architect Josh Schweitzer, who is Mary Sue's husband and Susan's childhood friend. Within their walls, healthful plates enhanced by seasonal fruits and vegetables and fresh salsas roll into handmade tortillas or revel beneath cotija cheese. Devoted to sustainable eating, Border Grill infuses its dishes with sustainable seafood, organic rice and beans, and hormone-free meats, as well as Good for the Planet, Good for You meals made from at least 80% plant-based ingredients, just like Captain Planet's faux-leather jacket.
Before you die, you must eat one of Chichen Itza Restaurant’s panuchos. At least that’s the opinion of LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold, who included the appetizer on his list of 99 essential L.A. eats. The turkey-stuffed corn tortillas kick off chef Gilberto Cetina's menu, which contains original recipes as well as Mayan, Spanish, and Lebanese dishes traditionally found in Cetina's native Yucatan. Among the selection of mesquite-grilled entrees is the cochinita pibil, a pork dish that Gilberto marinates with sour orange juice and spices before cooking it in banana leaves. The dish's “succulent, aromatic, tender, irresistible pork” is so sought after that Gilberto makes up to 60 pounds a day, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Chichen Itza is located inside Mercado La Paloma, an upscale food court whose restaurants, bakery, and juice bar have attracted attention from local press. Patrons approach the restaurant’s counter to order their meal and then wait at linen-dressed tables for servers to present their selected dishes.
After opening their first store in Anaheim in 1993, the grocery gurus behind Super King Markets noticed the globe-spanning diversity of their customer base. This keen insight led them to stock shelves with brands from across the world and around the corner, a policy which helped them win LA Weekly's Best Ethnic Deli Counter of 2009, Best Place to Buy Nutella of 2010, and Best Palace of Cheap Produce of 2011. Now expanded to five locations, the store still fills each outpost with fruits and vegetables, quality meats and private-label seafood, and an assortment of shells in the mixed-nut bar. Staff members behind the service deli weigh imported salamis, caviar, and cheeses for their upcoming high-school wrestling matches, and clerks in the liquor aisle dole out advice on each spirited beverages. Additionally, the Los Angeles, Altadena, and Claremont locations invite shoppers to linger longer with an expansive fresh bakery.
When co-founders Luis Quismorio, Ruben Perez, and Anthony Bermudez began plotting their market, they envisioned a place where fresh, healthy produce, groceries, and meats met the standards of upscale stores and the budget of an average Joe. At Figueroa Produce, their dream is realized thanks to groceries that, like new slang words for "tractor," are sourced from local farmers and small foreign distributors alike. Colorful bouquets of freshly plucked fruits and veggies claim a big chunk of the shop's floor space, appealing to both the mouth and eyes with organic produce from the South Central Farmers Co-op and regional farmers who form personal rapports with store staff. The grocery section represents exotic locales from New Zealand to Mexico in its bounty of mostly organic and all-natural products, many of which are free of artificial components. At the deli, staff members slice grass-fed beef from Open Space Meats, organic and free-range poultry, and specialty cheeses for at-home use or service in overstuffed sandwiches. Vegan or vegetarian eaters can also get in on the deli action, devouring sandwiches loaded with ingredients from brands including Teese, Diva, and Tofurkey.
The complexity involved in the creation of traditional Polish cuisine presents an overwhelming obstacle for many new restaurants. Not so for Polka Polish Cuisine, where husband-and-wife team Andrew and Katherine Dabrowski turned the savings from Andrew's big rig career and staggering credit-card loans into a success story. Now in the capable hands of Katherine's relative Mike Budny, the medium-sized strip mall eatery has blossomed into an area gem featured in a segment on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Budny's chefs grill up regular and spicy kielbasa, marinate beef stew gulasz (goulash) for 24 hours, and hide sauerkraut, potatoes, or cheese inside pierogies' doughy pockets. Amid Polka's kitschy, playful décor of trophy buck heads, whimsical signs, and multicolored ceiling tiles, patrons slake thirsts with 10 varieties of herbal tea and end meals on a dulcet chord with nalesniki, crêpes stuffed with sour cherries and cheese, drenched in vodka, and set ablaze as a tribute torch to a memorable meal and to the infamous flaming peaks of Poland's Carpathian Mountains.
When he cofounded his first sandwich shop in 1965, 17-year-old Fred DeLuca planned to use his profits to pay his way through medical school. But the combination of quality ingredients and friendly service at the shop—then called Pete's Subway—proved so popular that nine years later, he and his partner found themselves in charge of 16 locations across Connecticut, and Fred left behind his doctoring plans for a career in business.
Today, Subway boasts more than 34,000 locations around the world—almost as many shops as there are sightings of Elvis buying cold cuts. At each location, staffers pile sliced ham, marinara-slathered meatballs, and other fillings into halved loaves of bread before customizing handhelds with tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and other healthy toppings plucked from chilled containers behind the counter. Salads free crisp veggies from bread's overprotective embrace, and crunchy baked chips or apple slices accompany entrees to tables. Subway’s website also facilitates health-conscious eating by listing each item's nutritional information and fastest mile time online.