When Ronn Teitelbaum opened the first Johnny Rockets location in 1986, his goal was to create a restaurant where people could escape the postmodern blues of everyday life and experience a taste of time-honored Americana. The name itself is a nod to this ideal—it combines the star of a classic American fable, Johnny Appleseed, and a classic car, Oldsmobile’s beefy Rocket 88. The chain now makes itself at home in America's cultural landmarks, including Yankee Stadium and the Flamingo Hotel.
During dinners at the famous burger joints, you’ll see signs of simpler times, starting with the cooks and servers—dressed head to toe in white, including white paper hats, they look like they’ve fallen out of a wormhole from the 1950s ready to sling shakes and cook up some eats. Behind a stainless-steel bar lined with red leather stools they tend to their traditional diner fare, including burgers and melts with sides such as chili-cheese fries and onion rings. Riding sidecar to each meal is a collection of hand-dipped and hand-spun floats, shakes, and malts topped with whipped cream.
At Kenji Hibachi and Sushi Bar, chefs are masters of every delicious part of Japanese cuisine, from fiery hibachi grill cookery, to delicate sushi creations, to beef noodle soup and chicken rice bowls. Sushismiths roll up seaweed, avocado, salmon, and softshell crab as hibachi chefs dazzle dinner guests with dizzying knifework, towering flames, and perfectly equitable portioning. Wall-sized murals of mountains and cherry blossoms ring the high-ceilinged space, where kimono-clad servers unveil appetizing plates of fried beef dumplings, breaded pork cutlets, and piping hot soba noodle soups.
Spices are powerful. During antiquity, the quest for cloves and pepper helped start wars, inspired exploration, and redraw the map of the known world. Today, in many parts of the world, this power has been domesticated, relegated to calm cabinets and old recipe cards. But, there are still places in the world where spice retains its ability to define a dish and transform those who eat it. Extreme Pizza is just such a place. There, though they don't normally specialize in Indian cuisine, cooks harness the flavors of the subcontinent for their Spice Route pizza. Atop scratch-made dough, spice-packed tandoori chicken joins with red onions, green peppers, and mozzarella cheese, a cross-cultural Italian-Indian combination that brings out the best in both countries' cuisines.
This painstaking attention to flavor is evident in all of Extreme Pizza's 21 specialty pies. From the pineapples and oranges that mingle with Canadian bacon on the Paia Pie to the Aveiro's Portuguese linguiça, smoked bacon, and pepperoncinis, each pizza boasts a creative combination of flavors prepared with the freshest possible meats, cheese, fruits, and veggies. They also embrace individuality; guests are invited to chow down on personal-sized versions of each specialty pie, or design their own pizza using six house-made sauces, nine cheeses, and dozens of toppings including everything from broccoli and roasted potatoes to Thai chicken, shredded BBQ pork, and fresh basil and garlic. They even stay sensitive to dietary restrictions, offering a gluten-free menu filled with rejiggered versions of their favorite pies.
In addition to their eponymous pizzas, cooks also whips up their fresh take on other classic Italian eats. The Bahn In The USA Monster Sub riffs on the classic Vietnamese bahn mi, blending shredded pork and peanuts with the signature trio of jalapeno, carrots, and cilantro. On the calzone front, the Big Wednesday packs its pocket of dough with carmelized onions, Italian sausage, and pepperoni held together by a two-cheese blend and a thick dollop of tomato sauce. With all of these options and more to choose from, it's no wonder that the restaurant routinely rakes in awards from outlets including Entrepreneur Magazine and Ernst & Young.
Daily Grind Short Pump welcomes visitors with a menu sporting coffee brewed from locally roasted beans, cool specialty drinks, and an edible plethora of coffeehouse fare. Satisfy hungry eyes along with bellies while taking in walls decked in local art and savoring the coconut, chocolate, and macadamia flavors in a CocoMocha ($3.30–$3.95) or a cup of the daily joe ($1.55–$1.90). The scent of the coffee house’s locally roasted beans wafts through the air as patrons kick back with a buttery croissant ($1.85), and flatbread breakfast sandwiches stuffed with egg and cheese ($3.85) launch successful mornings with protein-packed oars. Put noontime hunger to sleep with a sandwich filled with marinated chicken spooning pesto mayo ($6.95), or douse overheated taste buds with a refreshing pomegranate italian soda ($1.75–$2.75).
Inspired by the cupcake bakeries in New York City, Frostings offers a destination gourmet cupcake spot for sweet-tooth-addled customers and cyclists looking to lube up their chains with deliciously slick frosting. Each customer will obtain a palate-percolating chef’s assortment of a dozen cupcakes composed of daily flavors, with blissful cups including the gluten-free vanilla, peanut butter cup, cookies and cream, strawberry shortcake, key lime pie, tiramisu, and the cupcakery's beloved Wendy's red velvet. Vegan and dietary restriction special orders are also available.
As a 20-year veteran firefighter, Shawn Gregory saw his share of action and understood how draining a day on the job can be. So when Shawn and his wife decided to open Halligan Bar & Grill––named after a common tool used by firemen––they wanted to pay homage to the brave individuals in the fire service. “I built this place kinda to be a clubhouse for me and my firefighter friends to kick back after a long hard day on the job,” Shawn describes on his website.
Alongside firefighter-themed gear decorating the walls, including helmet-covered lights and uniforms pinned to the wall, the original eatery’s pride and joy is a 1973 Seagrave fire engine donated by the Mangohick Volunteer Fire Department. The engine, cut in half, sits behind the bar and portions out libations from its pump panel-turned-beer taps. Fully operational lights dance across the bar, and sirens blare every time someone says the word “refill.” At Halligan’s second location in Glen Allen, bar stools flank an entire fire truck in the massive dining room, and the roof holds tables reserved for VIP seating.
Featured as one of the Best New Dining Spots of 2010 in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Lehja lays out a bountiful menu of traditional Indian dishes, sprinkled with a dash of contemporary flair, paired with a well-appointed wine list. Ignite your taste buds with the Fire Cracker chicken tikka, slathered in a ghost chili marinade and painted with haunted mango kewra ($9), and then repel culinary vampires with an order of garlic naan ($4). Lehja teases tongues with a sampling of the gastronomic masterpieces from the 28 best Indian states, including aam-anardana ka gosht––succulent lamb morsels sautéed with pomegranate seeds, mango, and scallions ($19)––and the classic chicken tikka masala––roasted chicken-breast chunks snorkeling in a sea of creamy tomato sauce ($16). Lehja's meaty menu also includes a septuplet of dishes designed for herbivores and herbivoyeurs, such as the paneer-asparagus lababdaar—a dish accented by bell peppers and a coriander-seed tomato sauce ($16)—and the dal of the day––a regional stewed-lentil delicacy ($12).