During the surfing craze of 1959, Straw Hat Pizza presented a lighter version of the hearty Italian-American snack that caught on with the swimsuit set in San Leandro, a small town on San Francisco Bay. The crust's layers were flaky and crisp, and bubbling under a blend of six naturally-aged cheeses and spoonfuls of fresh sauce. Salad bars appeared at the chain a decade later, reflecting the epoch's free-love ethos that encouraged communion between animals and vegetables. The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009, having come a long way from the quirky kitchen that slung beer, screened old-time movies, and showcased local banjo bands.
Today, the cold beer still flows from the bars at each location, and the menu now features pasta and Hot Hat sandwiches, pizza-dough pockets enveloping hearty fillings such as meatballs or roast beef. Tomatoes are hand-sorted to give sauce a consistent texture and full, ripe flavor, and wheat is grown according to Italian tradition, in volcanic soil or bowls of mom's pasta set at least 4,500 feet above sea level. Staying abreast of health and ecological concerns, the company manufactures boxes and napkins from recycled materials, and keeps trans fats out of its menu.
Bistro 829's chefs create modern variations of familiar, homestyle staples by incorporating an assortment of regional and international flavors. Corn grits lend a distinctive Southern twist to the sesame-crusted yellowfin tuna entree, and the signature chicken-fried prime rib comes coated with cream gravy with a uniquely Southwestern-style blend of bacon and poblano peppers. Bartenders spend their evenings mixing specialty cocktails and uncorking bottles of wine to complement entrees and make sure they're prepared in case their crush wants to play spin the bottle.
Beyond the eclectically inspired menu, the dining room embraces a more casual elegance with its décor. Crisp cloths cover the tables, animal-print fabrics adorn the seats, and the walls remain blank to accentuate abstract paintings of jazz ensembles that circle the room.
Though the chefs at Babaloo International Cafe & Bar were inspired by the sharable small plates of Spain, they didn't limit themselves to just Spanish dishes. Instead, they craft appetizers and down-sized entrees of cuisines from around the world. This creates a varied menu, with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus appearing beside miniature beef wellingtons and Cuban crab cakes made with plantains. These dishes pair well with wines selected from the vineyards of Spain, Portugal, Argentina, and Australia, to create meals that are both light and filling, much like four courses of flavored heliums. When evening turns to night, the restaurant becomes a hotspot for dancing, with theme parties, hip-hop nights, and salsa dancing.
The aroma of fresh cilantro mingles with slow-cooked pork, grilled tequila-lime chicken, and sautéed tilapia as it wafts through the archways of the spacious dining area and onto a covered outdoor patio lined with rustic wooden tables. Severs deliver Mexican mainstays, such as burrito locos smothered with chili con queso, alongside inventive dishes, such as seafood enchiladas with fresh shrimp and crab smothered in a white-wine cream sauce and served with a side of cilantro-lime rice. Behind the dark-wood bar adorned with flat-screen TVs, servers shake up margaritas with fresh pineapple and coconut to the tune of live music performances and Latin beats on weekly salsa nights.
Modeled on England's famed watering holes, Baker St. Pub & Grill greets visitors with a softly lit atmosphere, age-darkened wood, and ceilings adorned with anglophilic knickknacks. Classic Britannic drinks such as Guinness and Strongbow Cider flow from the bar's taps, joined by New Belgium, Fat Tire, and other American craft brews. Guests can pair their brew with something from the pub menu, featuring Welsh rarebit sandwiches, bangers and mash, and shepherd's pie. Fish and chips come in classic form, or potato crusted. Those looking to sink their teeth into homegrown specialties can order a juicy sirloin burger or spicy chicken wings.
Each day, the chefs at Pepperoni's Pizza's eight locations crush premium tomatoes into sauces, roll out homemade dough, then cover the freshly baked pies with natural mozzarella. Diners can build their own creations from more than 30 toppings, including bacon bits and pineapples, or opt for more than 10 specialty pizzas such as the New Yorker, smothered with heaping amounts of sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. Their menu also sates hearty appetites with more than 20 oven-baked subs, as well as local favorites such as calzones and smokey BBQ Buffalo wings.