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 restaurants number over 34,000 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 nutrition information and fastest mile time online.
Despite their restaurant's moniker, the chefs at Johnny Rebs' Southern Roadhouse aren’t averse to local ingredients. In fact, all their produce comes from California growers. But rather than recreate Southern flavors, they prefer going straight to the source, relying on Virginian and North Carolinian farms to send country hams and Delta farms to send catfish. Said catfish simmers beneath mountains of slaw in po’ boys, one among Johnny Rebs’ many housemade Southern staples, which range from creole shrimp over cheddar grits to pulled pork slow-smoked up to 12 hours.
Though steeped in traditional Southern cooking, Johnny Rebs’ critically acclaimed culinary team puts its own twist on Southern and American staples alike. To wit: grilled cheese made with pimento and jalapeños, as well as deep-fried apple pie, which bubbles in a deep fryer stolen off a Georgia windowsill. Complemented with “suds” and “squashed grapes”—Johnny Rebs’ speak for beer and wine—feasts unfold amidst a rustic dining space made to resemble a cozy, wood-paneled home. Before the table fills up with smoked and fried meats, guests can snack from a bucket of peanuts. They're free, but any quarters diners donate in return go straight to charities such as the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
Shrimp is the signature dish at Seafood Bucket, where chefs season prawns to each customer's specifications and heap them onto plates by the pound. Cajun spices, Thai seasonings, and garlic butter are but three of the tastes that grace the shrimp, which can also be used to customize pounds of clams, mussels, and crawfish. Thailand's culinary traditions extend past seafood to inspire dishes such as panang chicken and red-curry chicken, and the tastes of Louisiana infuse fried catfish that arrives with the obligatory Cajun fries.
Chennai Tiffins' namesake city, Chennai, is nicknamed The Gateway to South India. And while Chennai Tiffins may be situated in Cerritos, it's a gateway to South India, too?at least in the culinary sense. The vegetarian eatery's team specializes in dosas, ultra-thin Southern Indian crepes made from fermented rice batter, then filled with spiced potatoes and other savory delicacies. Chutneys and sambar, a South Indian?style vegetable soup, round out the meals, and they're found at a self-serve bar, a convenience only surpassed by self-cooking naan.
Bland, blue-box noodles and powdered sauce have no place at Elbows Mac n' Cheese, where the menu combines the classic American dish with gourmet influences from around the world. Its 16 macaroni dishes all melt with gobs of gooey cheese, just like the original, but in daring combinations. Swiss mac simmers with creamy alpine cheeses and crisp applewood-smoked bacon. Truffle mac combines mushrooms, garlic, and white-truffle oil in a creamy blend of goat and havarti cheeses.
In addition to whipping up variations on their signature dish, the cooks batter green-bean fries and twist their own pretzels to dip in four-cheese fondue. Cheese reprises its menu-starring role in Elbows? savory sandwiches, such as the indian-spiced masala melt with cheddar, as well as a chocolate grilled cheese that uses sweet croissant bread to bookend layers of white cheddar, semisweet chocolate, strawberries, and sliced almonds.
The creative cooking at Elbows Mac n' Cheese has paid off: CBS Los Angeles named it one of the best spots for mac 'n' cheese in Orange County in 2012, and David Tutera chose Elbow to cater on an episode of My Fair Wedding.
In Chef Najwa's kitchen, three vertical spits turn constantly—one holding a juicy gyros blend of lamb and beef, and the other two spinning with chicken and beef shawarma. Once carved, the meats are layered over rice, wrapped in pitas, and paired with a huge array of starters and sides—everything from standbys such as hummus and baba ghanouj to rarer pan-Mediterranean finds such as beef-and-cracked-wheat kibbeh, several varieties of potatoes fried in zero-trans-fat oil, and the Mediterranean pizza known as manaeesh.
Though the intoxicating aromas wafting from the spits tempt customers as they walk through the door, Mezza Mediterranean Grill’s menu ranges beyond the rotisserie. Chef Najwa and her team use lean, heart-healthy ingredients to create minty, refreshing salads, seafood platters, and kebabs of ground beef, filet mignon, and chicken that get their flavor from long baths in marinade. In the dining room, crimson drapes with heavy tassels hang over Middle Eastern artwork and a marble bar where wine glasses wait to hold an ideal pairing for salmon or a few drops of shawarma juice saved for dessert.