Drumrolls of snapping oil drift from skillets full of onions, beef tongue, and shrimp at El Chilitos Mexican Restaurant. Melting cheese in quesadillas and seafood enchiladas slips out into air tinged with the scents of cumin, garlic, and chilis. The staff blends Mexican and American influences in in dishes such as carne asada fries, which arrive under layers of cheese and marinated steak, and marinated shrimp and fish tacos utilize the bounty of the sea, much like Robinson Crusoe building a fax machine from kelp.
Ono Hawaiian BBQ brings the island to the mainland with tender meats soaked in made-from-scratch marinades. Chefs hand roll chicken katsu in panko bread crumbs to give it a fresh, crispy texture, and assemble generous portions of crispy shrimp, island whitefish, and barbecue chicken in the seafood mix.
The cool air and sunshine on Renee’s Fish & Soul Food’s outdoor patio may be a far cry from the thick humidity of the South, but the restaurant’s fried and grilled comfort fare never fails to invoke the tastes and smells of a true Southern kitchen. Whether out on the patio or enjoying the shade of the dining room, guests can catch whiffs of lunch specials, such as fried buffalo fish and three-piece chicken wings, and dig into dinners paired with Southern sides, such as yams, black-eyed peas, and corn bread. On weekends, chefs tackle the Southern art of barbecue, simmering chicken and ribs in tangy sauce and holding them above napkins to create expressionistic drip paintings.
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Years ago, Guadalupe Robles used to pack burritos in her husband's lunch when he went off to work in the orange groves of Highland. She even wrapped a few for his coworkers, too. The affectionate gesture sparked a nearly 40-year career that would end in four restaurant locations, each spotlighting Mexican entrees of tacos, enchiladas, and tostadas. The Robles family still mans the kitchen, hand-dipping the peppers that make chile relleno and flattening out homemade tortillas. Today, their largest burrito wouldn't fit inside a lunch box?it feeds up to 60 people with 6 feet of expertly wrapped beans and meat, available for catering. The dine-in menu, meanwhile, features the signature garbage burrito, so named for the fact that Oscar the Grouch eats 20 every day.