Since 1976, La Majada Express has been serving Mexican cuisine that goes beyond the usual burritos and tacos (though they do those pretty well). Diners looking to try something new might start their meal with an order of guacamelon?guacamole with a shot of watermelon?or dig into Mexican chicken wings fried in cornmeal and covered in arbol salsa. For dinner, the house-specialty upside down pizza covers chorizo or adobo pork with cilantro, chihuahua cheese, green peppers, and oregano, while smokey Mexican-style ribs come smothered in a choice of spicy sauces in place of the traditional barbecue. Even the dessert menu offers up some unique offerings, including a fluffy mango mousse and a margarita pie made with tequila and triple sec and served on the rocks.
At Francesca’s Fiore, the 10th in the group of Francesca’s restaurants sprawled across Illinois's Chicagoland—as well as four other states—tongues embark on a culinary journey, sampling the cuisines of Rome, Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. Executive chef and owner Scott Harris opened his first Francesca’s eatery—Mia Francesca—on Clark Street in 1992, to the rave reviews of both critics and patrons praising it for its simple, rustic cooking, unpretentious elegance, and lack of black holes. He later hired award-winning chefs Kevin Ives and Massimo Salatino to help oversee his other restaurants and create the weekly changing menus that are often handwritten. The chefs and their teams may craft starters such as tricolor bruschetta and risotto, or heartier fare such as pizza, rigatoni primavera, sautéed chicken, and roasted salmon.
Athena Uslander used to be a structural engineer, but today she's a baker. If you asked Athena what the two professions have in common, she'd likely say attention to detail. If you asked her customers at Athena’s Silverland Desserts, however, they'd be too busy chewing a mouthful of cookie, rice treat, or brownie to answer. Since 1983, Athena has helmed the ovens at her bakery in Elmwood Park. Her signature brownie recipe has garnered her some national attention, including an appearance on Oprah and The Today Show. Now, customers nationwide call in or hire a banner plane to put in their orders for the confections that Athena and her staff make from all-natural ingredients—free of trans fats, additives, and preservatives.
Organic and small-batch wines fill swirling glasses beneath the soaring ceilings of House Red Vinoteca. At a rustic, reclaimed-wood bar, discerning staff members subject new elixirs to tastings and credit checks, and the chef makes changes to a rotating menu of vino-enhancing fare made from scratch. Plates bearing crispy flatbreads and desserts inspired by international culinary traditions glide back and forth between duos chattering beneath exposed-brick walls. The warm sway of live jazz rolls across wine-tasting events and bottle-laden shelves, and patrons sipping through tasting flights from Croatia, Lebanon, Morocco, Serbia, and Slovenia add delicate treble notes with clinking glasses.
Illuminated by a roaring fireplace or the outdoor patio's twinkling fairy lights, patrons thwart thirst and dig into a full menu crafted from scratch. Though brews flow from 15 taps and over 50 bottles, the bar and restaurant also lavishes focused attention on its cuisine. Chefs toss pizza dough by hand, and personally shake hands with every Irish and American entree they send to tables. Celebrants drawn to the spacious party rooms upstairs wet whistles with special party packages.
As a high-school student working at a local pizzeria, John Schnatter often pondered how he would do things differently if he owned such a business himself. After graduating from college in 1983, he got his chance, knocking down the broom closet in his father’s tavern to create his own pizza-delivery business. Since then Papa John’s has grown to 3,500 restaurants in 50 states and 29 countries. At each location, cooks cover the signature hand-tossed crusts, made with high-protein flour and clear, filtered water, with tomato sauce from vine-ripened California tomatoes, then pile on locally sourced ingredients such as green peppers and onions. The emphasis on fresh ingredients extends to the 100% mozzarella cheese, beef, and pork, which are never artificially inflated with fillers or undeserved compliments. In addition to delivering pizzas, Papa John’s reaches out to the community with charity involvement, including partnering with the Boy Scouts of America and Junior Achievement to teach US students about entrepreneurship and the best method of capturing a wild roma tomato.