As a boy, Bob Quintana’s first bite of pizza came fresh from the kitchen of his Italian neighbors, the Marones. Inspired by the authentic taste, he and his family began baking their own pies with herbs and tomatoes from their garden. Bob’s early encounters with Italian food burgeoned into a career at various local pizzerias, which eventually led him to open Li’l Nick’s Pizza with his wife in 1978.
Named for his then two-year-old son, the eatery was truly a family affair, with Bob's mom Ruby in the kitchen whipping up italian sausage. Today, Bob and now-adult Nick continue to rule the restaurant, where staff members create sauce, dough, and meatballs from scratch. Though their menu still flaunts staple pizzas, pasta, and sandwiches, it has expanded to also encompass Mexican tacos and burritos. The eats fuel conversation in two dining rooms, as well as at a recently installed bar with a 60-inch flatscreen TV filled with 60-inch-tall actors.
Ed and Kyle Becerra, Young's Market and Garden Center’s owners, took over the business from Ed’s father, who founded it more than 50 years ago. Locally grown perennials, annuals, trees, shrubs, and Chia Pets squint at the outdoor sun, and rows of flowers line the dirt aisles of tidy greenhouses. In addition to plants, Young's inventory includes soil, fertilizers, weed-control products, and pond supplies. In season, customers can find fresh produce at Young’s bustling farmers' market.
Aromatic herbs weasel their way into almost every dish at Real Thai, where chefs add a liberal sprinkling of chilies, basil, lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaf to create their signature dishes. These can take the form of entrees such as green curry that's infused with coconut milk or drunken noodles that are free of inhibition. However, not every dish is built upon a foundation of noodles or rice. They also whip up specialties such as eggplant stuffed with ground chicken and shrimp and drizzled in eel sauce.
Of all the sauces at Kickin Wings, the restaurant’s spicier concoctions seem to attract the bravado of both regulars and newcomers. Sauces with names such as Hot, Xhot, and XXhot delightfully scorch tongues devouring cooked-to-order batches of boneless and bone-in wings. Not all of the sauces pack a wallop, though; wings also shimmer with tongue-soothing carolina barbecue, peanut butter, or thai basil sauces. Complementing matters are side orders of jalapeño corn nuggets and mini corn dogs.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs grill every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% 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. The chefs then sandwich each slab in an artisan bun and turn it into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market. This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the chefs do, from blending handspun Häagen-Dazs 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 to 160 restaurants in five years, 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.
With a signature pizza size called the Monster, you’d expect Pudge Brothers Pizza to be more focused on quantity than quality. But in fact, the chefs create their signature varieties of hand-tossed pies by blending together the flavors of three sauces, a range of meats, and fresh veggies. From within sizzling ovens, chefs pull out creations such as the Jersey Girl—a pizza featuring italian sausage and green peppers—or the White Delight—a ham, chicken, and garlic-sauce combination. Pies range in size from 10 inches to 18 inches, with a range of garlic bread, wings, and cinnamon bread to fill in a meal. The shop also offers delivery service, ensuring clients can have a hot, hearty meal when time is short or when the paparazzi won’t leave their front yard.