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.
Since 1972, the kitchen at The Blue Lantern has filled plates with an array of steak, seafood, and comfort-food dishes. The chefs batter or pan-fry lake perch, mix lobster meat into a five-cheese macaroni, and expertly sear 8-ounce Lamplighter steaks that were traditionally used to illuminate alleys in Charles Dickens novels. As a nod to Notre Dame, whose campus is only 10 minutes away, The Blue Lantern's lounge screens sporting events while surrounding alumni, fans, and students with memorabilia and drawings of the school's best coaches and players. The main dining room is decorated with images of Mishawaka and the New York City skyline around intimate table settings. Electric blue light bathes up to 48 attendees during private soirees in the Blue Neon Room, which includes its own bar, wide-screen television, and outdoor balcony.
Even pancake fanatics could get overwhelmed at American Pancake House. Twenty varieties of the expertly flipped discs fill the menu, their numbers bolstered by a lengthy list of crepes, blintzes, waffles, and french toast. Fresh pecans are swirled into the diner's special pancake batter, emerging from the oven slathered in a cinnamon-sugar glaze, whereas chocolate pancakes blur the lines between breakfast, dessert, and feeding frenzy. Not to be outdone, the diner's menu of savory breakfast dishes and lunch plates dazzle in syrup-free glory, from the mediterranean frittata that pairs smoked sausage with onions and feta to the a classic diner reuben stacked on perfectly toasted rye.
Curating a menu of Italian classics and American staples, the chefs at Reggio's craft everything from chicken cacciatore to T-bone steaks with french fries. Sipping on glasses or half carafes of chianti, diners browse starters before placing bids for garlic bread, stuffed portobello mushrooms, or jumpy jalapeño poppers. Pasta entrees, tossed in sauces made from an old family recipe, include linguine alfredo, spaghetti and meatballs, and stuffed manicotti.
Barbecue lover Michael Kauffman puts his Tennessee roots on display in the newly opened HillBilly Deluxe BarBeQue, serving up a menu packed with southern-infused fare and monsoons of sauce. Starters such as fried green tomatoes ($5.95) and deep-fried zucchini ($5.95) rev up dormant digestion engines for dinners of ribs ($13.95 for a half slab) or rib tips ($8.50), both of which arrive at tables with corn on the cob and corn bread. A bratwurst basket ($5.50) comes with two sides, such as hillbilly baked beans or hillbilly potato salad, and strings of warm pulled pork ($5.50) serve as the perfect building materials for aromatic welcome wreaths. HillBilly Deluxe BarBeQue’s dedicated, friendly staff welcomes all levels of barbecue warriors, including perpetually sauce-covered veterans in need of fresh bottles to bathe in.
While technically and metaphorically a chain restaurant, Houlihan's bedazzles its chain with glitter and winsome intrigue, boldly preparing every last bite of its savory fare by hand. Hosts of diverse ingredients culminate inside one open kitchen where professional food handlers slice, sauté, marinate, and arrange food to its tasty and aesthetic best, allowing each meal to display its individuality before being broken down into individual nutrients for absorption in the body. Casual dining is elevated by meticulously designed restaurants that pepper a patron's experience with a playlist of hand-picked tunes and customer-designed coasters that give a voice to condensation-catchers.