Drive-in movies. Car hops. Rock 'n' roll. Though human nature compels us to view the past in varying shades of gold, the 1950s almost transcends nostalgia. For those who were there, the smallest of triggers can set off waves of fond memories: a ringing bell leads the mind’s eye back to the polished counter of a soda fountain, and an oldies radio station evokes weekends spent passing quarters through the jukebox slot.
On September 11, 2001, in the midst of tragedy and after 19 years as a flight attendant, Brenda Stranberg decided that she was tired of playing back memories of America’s greatest decade in her head. Looking around her at a cultural landscape that her childhood self would hardly recognize, she teamed up with old friend Naif Makol Jr. and founded Skooter’s, an old-fashioned diner and coffee shop inspired by the simple pleasures of life more than half a century ago. Though somewhat of an anachronism, the diner’s open kitchen has proven wildly popular among the various generations that frequent the sit-down counter to sample thick milk shakes, loaded hot dogs, and burgers topped with fried onions. Between bites, guests can toss coins into the antique jukebox or admonish the diner’s soda jerks for callously dousing their friends with fountain drinks.
Armed with fresh seafood, authentic recipes, and a sizzling hibachi grill, the chefs at Tokyo Asian Cuisine construct fresh sushi rolls and flame-broiled meals of meat and seafood. In the hibachi dining area, chefs artfully spin utensils as they prepare sizzling filet mignon and calamari for visitors seated around the oft-flaming grill, using its intense light to improve their base tans. Diners can also situate themselves in conventional restaurant seating to enjoy uncooked cuisine such as the Kamikaze roll with avocado, spicy tuna, and spicy yellowtail, or a Rock ?n? Roll plate that cocoons eel, salmon skin, cucumber, and avocado in rice.
Umi Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar's chefs sling hot meat and veggies across tableside hibachis in showy displays of culinary prowess. As chopsticks busy themselves with vegetables and fried rice, meat such as lobster and filet mignon sizzles on grills just barely out of reach. Chefs also arrange sushi rolls on beds of seaweed in ribbons of eel, red snapper, tuna, and other raw or tempura-battered seafood. Blond wood inlays and sleek glass panels encircle the dining room, whose walls are sprinkled with shadowboxes of traditional Japanese art.
Winner of more than 400 awards for its barbecue, Famous Dave’s caters to carnivores with a menu of hearty, flavorful American fare. Kick off the mouthcapades with a starter of sweetwater catfish fingers ($7.99), which pair the whiskered swimmer's cornmeal-crusted phalanges with rémoulade and jalapeño sauce, or begin by using onion strings ($6.99) to weave yourself a lightly breaded palate poncho. A 12-boned slab of St. Louis-style spareribs ($22.99), pit-smoked for three to four hours over a hickory inferno, gives sauce-slathered fingers the chance to enjoy an endless string of napkin hugs, while a Texas beef brisket sandwich ($8.49) provides a bread buffer for the benefit of tidy tasters. A sugary slate of desserts, including Dave's famous bread pudding ($5.99) with pecan praline sauce and vanilla-bean ice cream, give sweets-loving stomachs something to blog about to their gastro-friends.
Hot Table fires up grills for all three daily meals with its menu of crisp salads, coffee drinks, and handmade paninis ($5.99 for small, $8.29 for large), which combine artisan breads with fresh ingredients and bake to melty perfection on hot table grills. Treat taste buds to dairy triumvirates with a three-cheese chicken panini, which smothers roasted chicken and salami with provolone, shaved parmesan, and blue cheese. Diners can customize their own paninis or revel in the preconceived meatiness of the swiss-steak mushroom melt. Until 10:30 a.m., Hot Table features breakfast paninis ($3.99)— such as the Vermont, a hodgepodge of sausage, cheddar cheese, and maple syrup—which go smashingly with dark roast coffee ($1.75), chai tea lattes ($2.95), or perfectly timed rimshots. Fans of fork usage can leaf through a Southwest salad ($6.99), loaded with jalapeños, crispy onions, and chipotle dressing.
Wings over Washington's friendly staff paints its menu of winged masterpieces with a delicious palette of 18 flavors and five buffalo-sauce styles. Chomp on the seven-wing paper-airplane plate ($5.99) while your in-flight crew devours the 60-wing B-17 bomber ($44.99). Boneless wings are hand battered, sold by weight, and provide countless hours of fearless feasting for dining dentures. Beat your personal best by speed-eating a half-pound DC-3 of boneless bites ($6.49), or gather a group of airship aficionados to demolish the 6 lb. zeppelin of spineless wings ($59.99), adding orders of french fries ($2.49 for a small) and onion rings ($2.99 for a small) to dam up teriyaki and honey-mustard reservoirs. Flight-phobic diners can stay grounded with hamburgers ($5.99) and half racks of ribs ($8.99), sharing napkins and sticky high-fives with their wing-eating amigos.