Each day at dawn, piping-hot circles made from fresh ingredients appear on the horizon, enchanting eyes and noses before popping into mouths. Unlike the sun, these rounds teem with sugar, spice, and in some cases, chocolate. Bakers craft each batch from scratch, using original recipes but not a pinch of preservatives. Their cookie roster beckons sweet teeth with everyday flavors such as M&M chocolate chip and day-of-the-week varieties such as Wednesday's almond joy and Friday's mint-chocolate fantasy fudge. Customers may also opt for custom wedding treats and personalized photo cookies, which serve as memories tastier than crepes rolled from diary pages. In addition to building cookie cakes for parties, the bakers construct cookies for celebrants to embellish with frosting.
At Sizzling Wok, chefs wield fiery-hot woks chock-full of stir-fry dishes from a menu of Chinese specialties such as peking pork, chow mein, and kung pao chicken. Combination plates grant the power of choice to hunger-havers, helping them pack plates with their choice of two stir-fry entrees, chow mein, fried rice, and a crispy fried drumstick ($7.99). Sizzling Wok's cooks learn to juggle up to two quarts of tender chicken breasts, aromatic spices, and crisp vegetables, which they toss into piping-hot woks for dishes such as the peanut- and jalapeño-laced kung pao chicken ($5.99/pt.). Pan-fried pot stickers burst with a filling of tasty meat and vegetables ($3.99 for six) and, when paired with fried tempura shrimp ($4.99 for six), demolish international side-dish-specific cravings.
When Jim Knudson bit into his first taco during dinner at a friend's house in 1949, he knew he had tasted something special. He added the item—which many diners were pronouncing "tay-co"—to the menu at his restaurant in Grass Valley, California. Determined to introduce the food to as many people as possible, Jim and his wife, Margaret, converted a 16-foot trailer into a kitchen on wheels. They adopted the nickname Jim had earned from one of his longtime customers and drove up to Lake Tahoe, where Jimboy's Tacos found its first permanent home.
Locals, tourists, and even members of the Rat Pack flocked to the tiny taco stand for the uniquely seasoned, parmesan-dusted ground-beef taco, the anchor of a growing menu. The family eventually relocated to Roseville, California, where they set up a small taco stand and began branching out to other locations in and around Sacramento.
Today, Jim Knudson’s daughter Karen, the current president of the company, carries on the legacy of taco obsession at more than 40 locations in northern California and Nevada. Guests who arrive early for breakfast might glimpse the cooks slowly simmering beans, mashing avocados into guacamole, and preparing their signature ground beef with trans-fat-free oil. In addition to classic corn-tortilla tacos, the menu holds the mega-size flour-tortilla El Gordo, golden-fried taquitos, and even a taco burger that fuses Mexican and American culinary traditions.
Originally branded as the Top Hat Drive-In, Sonic Drive-In didn’t acquire its nationally recognized name until 1959—six years after its inception in 1953. Today, the franchise operates out of 3,500 locations across the country, making it the nation’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants. Sonic Drive-In specializes in made-to-order American classics, including burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, and Ford Thunderbolts—which customers order and receive without ever having to leave their cars. Unique menu items include toaster sandwiches stacked on thick slices of texas toast as well as the brand’s signature tots and fresh limeades. Sonic Drive-In’s numerous awards include a 2011 Zagat survey ranking it among the top five fast-food restaurants in three categories: best value menu, best milk shake, and best drive-thru. The benevolent eatery has also donated more than $2 million to public schools throughout the country through Limeades for Learning, which helps to fund educational projects and retirement plans for classroom guinea pigs.
It’s hard to miss the The Elephant Shack’s bright orange and green exterior painted with pachyderms. The mammoth beasts also decorate the interior of the eye-catching sandwich shop, raising their trunks in virtually every form imaginable: as statuettes, stuffed animals, coin banks, and a much prized hat signifying the winner of their monthly free-lunch contest. The victor might dig into a classic sandwich, such as a french dip or turkey and bacon club, or opt for clam chowder served in a bread bowl. The kitchen also serves breakfast all day long, sating bacon-and-egg fanatics and guests who never remember to change their clocks.
Maria’s Cantina cultivates a comfortable, homey feel from its implementation of Old-World recipes to its use of fresh, organic ingredients from nearby farms. The accommodating staff treats its customers like extended family, inviting them to lounge at sleek wooden tables as they sup on painstakingly prepared tacos, sip top-shelf margaritas, or leaf through the chef’s grandparents’ wedding album.