Originally opened as the Top Hat Drive-In in 1953, Sonic has grown into a burger-franchise mecca that today operates out of 3,500 locations across the country, making it the nation’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants. Sonic specializes in made-to-order American classics—including burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, and marshmallow Ford Thunderbolts—which customers order and receive without ever having to leave their cars. Unique menu items include toaster sandwiches stacked on thick slices of texas toast, as well as the brand’s signature tots and fresh limeades.
Sonic’s numerous awards include a 2011 Zagat survey ranking it among the top five fast-food restaurants in three categories: Best Value Menu, Best Milk Shake, and Best Drive-Thru. The benevolent eatery has also donated more than $2 million to public schools throughout the country through their program Limeades for Learning, which helps to fund educational projects and retirement plans for classroom guinea pigs.
The menu at Mother’s Pancake House can sate breakfast cravings both sweet and savory. Plates such as the homemade banana-bread french toast and the banana split pancakes—topped with strawberries, bananas, and, of course, ice cream—awaken diners with an early-morning sugar rush. Meanwhile, chefs bake veggies, cheese, and breakfast meats such as ham, bacon, and sausage into hearty omelets. As time ticks into the afternoon, the staff begins serving sandwiches, burgers, pastas, and country-fried steaks.
Basils Greek Dining mixes Old World tradition with contemporary culinary techniques to satisfy diners yearning for Mediterranean flavors and Greek comfort food. Named after the royal herb of Greece, Basils bestows an aromatic blend of herbs and spices on each of the menu’s entrees, starting with the spanakopita, with fresh spinach, basil, and piquant feta cheese stuffed inside baked phyllo pastry dough ($12–$14). The chicken lemonati excites flavor buds with a mixture of sautéed chicken breast, fresh mushrooms, artichokes, and pasta ($14–$16). Loquacious lamb lovers are allowed to simultaneously eat and talk with the Colorado roast lamb, oven-roasted meat garnished with garlic, oregano, and olive oil ($16–$18). Those tired of French, Italian, and Sub-Antarctic wine can sip the Greek’s take on vino, as Basils' list brims with dozens of options, from the silky Tsantalis Makedonikos red ($7 per glass) to the floral-noted Skouras Moschofilero white ($6 per glass).
In 1988, Auntie Anne's founders Anne and Jonas Beiler purchased a Pennsylvania farmers'-market stand, where they experimented with dough until they created a pretzel that seemed to strike the perfect chord with their customers. Today, at their more than 1,350 locations worldwide, the pretzel makers still hand roll the original recipe but have added to the menu with inventive options such as the eight signature dipping sauces. The team constantly explores new uses for the pretzel dough, such as wrapping it around hot dogs and slicing it into bite-size nuggets. To transform the snack into a meal, they accompany it with specialty drinks, including frozen-lemonade desserts.
When not twisting dough, Auntie Anne's team partners with the national charitable organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises funds to fight childhood cancer. Auntie Anne's also reaches out to the community through fundraising opportunities.
The gastronomic gurus at Patrick's Fine Foods & Spirits have been conjuring a menu's worth of classic American dishes since 1969. Tether flighty appetites with a starter of Nachos Supreme, which rests tomatoes, olives, and jalapeños atop a bed of tortilla chips, snuggles them beneath a blanket of chili and cheese, and hires a doting grandmother to sing them to sleep. Slow-cooked corned beef spans the distance between two slices of light rye bread to construct Patrick's Own corned-beef sandwich, and the pub-style fish sandwich's battered cod allows diners to sample seafaring flavors without having to track down a dinner-appropriate wetsuit. Patrick's lambasts the tyranny of state-mandated burger menus by offering a democratizing 12 ingredients on its build-your-own burger menu and helps to wash down savory flavors or burger-soiled hands with a throng of beers.
Though the flavors of Mexico are front and center at Taco Grill & Salsa Bar, the eatery's chefs also flirt with other cuisines. They pair Mexican favorites such as enchiladas in mole sauce with Cuban-style sandwiches and Tex-Mex tacos served with tomato, cheese, and sour cream. And every dish—from towering nachos to vegetarian burritos—benefits from a healthy dose of house-made salsas that vary from mild to burning hot.