At Centro Restaurant-Lounge, the only commonality between morning and evening are the orange chandeliers dripping glass filigree toward the floor. "After 10 o'clock we move the tables to the kitchen," says manager Francisco Ibarra. Then, DJs spin furious dance beats for a crowd of partygoers. Well-stocked bars center both the lounge and outdoor patio, which is further augmented with umbrellas and cabanas.
Despite the lounge's dramatic transformation, "before 10 o'clock it's like a normal restaurant," Ibarra says. Its menu is the brainchild of Ibarra and his longtime friend, Marcos Hernandez, who began crying deeply while cutting onions alongside his mother when he was 7 years old. "Now he has a lot of authentic Mexican food talent," Ibarra says. Using Hernandez's culinary gift and Ibarra's flair for business, the two have elevated Centro's cuisine with the addition of flavorful cactus flowers, Mexican corn bread, and a steak marinade with traditional spices.
Inside McSwiggan’s jovial dining enclave, grill masters meld the warmth of an Irish pub with a menu of New England–influenced fare. Nosh plates of lightly breaded and fried pickles ($5.99), dunking them into accompanying cups of ranch dressing or, for culinary exhibitionists, hot urns of Clam Chowdah’ ($1.99 cup for lunch, $2.99 cup for dinner). Layers of New England–style lobster salad ($12.99) claw their way to the tops of toasted buns, while slabs of Icelandic haddock filet ($9.99) shimmy through seas of beer batter before flopping exhaustedly into waiting maws.
When Shane and Susan Shumake of Silverleaf Construction & Design began building a coffeehouse in January of 2010, it was just another project. But somewhere along the way, business became pleasure. They fell in love with the little coffee shop, and their investment switched from professional to personal. So when the shop opened and closed within a matter of five weeks, it was to Shane and Susan’s great dismay. The owner of the floundering business, Shane and Susan’s former client, came to his friends with a question: would they be interested in taking over? The Shumakes didn’t hesitate. Within the month, about as long as it takes a coffee pot to whistle that it’s done, the shop had reopened as Lone Star Coffee Bar. Today, Shane and Susan’s labor of love stands as Lone Star Coffee Bar & Wine Bar. In addition to java, tea, breakfast, and lunch, they recently started serving wine to accompany sit-down dinners and live music. The wine list also reveals the Shumakes' heart for the community, since they devote about half of it to Texan wines.
Chef Lulzim Rexhepi places a modern twist on his menu of traditional Italian dishes, keeping diners on their toes with tapas-style dishes served alongside pastas, pizzas, and seafood entrees. Prior to taking the reins of the kitchen at Veranda Italian Bistro, Lulzim trained in France and the Culinary Institute of America, sharpened his skills at the three-Michelin-starred Le Moulin de Mougins, and was the co-chef at award-winning modern Thai restaurant Kittichai. Now, at Veranda, he’s shifted his focus back to his roots in Italian cuisine. By offering a gluten-free menu, he also doesn’t exclude anyone from sampling his creations.
It’s no surprise that a submarine sandwich can get a teenage boy motivated. But for friends Tony Conza, Peter DeCarlo, and Angelo Baldassare, fresh sandwiches sated not just their growing appetites, but their entrepreneurial dreams. After failed business attempts selling pots and pans door to door and trading stocks on Wall Street, the three heard of a bustling shop in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, where sandwiches piled with freshly sliced deli meats and crisp vegetables had locals lining up out the door. With a similar business model in mind, the three opened their own shop in 1964, naming it Blimpie to evoke the blimp-like shape they planned for their overstuffed sandwiches.
Now a national chain, Blimpie stays true to the founders' original dream as staffers continue to stack sandwiches with freshly sliced meats, veggies, and dressings. Turkey, smoked pastrami, top-round roast beef, and crisp bacon crown freshly baked rolls or soft tortillas. Each of Blimpie’s stores brims with Americana-themed décor, paying homage to the company’s founders, their slice of the American dream, and the submarine sandwich that is emblazoned on every five-dollar bill.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.