In addition to the new four-category format at the 2011 Grilled Cheese Invitational, this year's event will feature a bonus for one lucky winner: Their sandwich will be sold at Mendocino Farms and the money will go to charity.

Company founder Mario Del Pero will serve as an executive judge at the GCI, bestowing one sandwich with the Mendocino Farms Champion Award. He's open to savory and sweet. The winning sandwich will be sold May 2nd through 6th at all three outposts of the casual sandwich and salad eatery. No word on what it will cost but all proceeds will go to the American Red Cross' disaster relief efforts in Japan.

Mendocino Farms has big expansion plans for the coming year.

Mendocino Farms currently has three locations: two in downtown LA and one in Marina Del Rey. They're set to open their fourth location by late summer or early autumn in the former Zeke's Smokehouse space in West Hollywood. For their fifth location, they're looking to the northwest corner of Third and Fairfax, in what's now an empty lot that serves as a seasonal Christmas tree farm. The Gilmore family is developing that corner into a retail/restaurant space with a large Trader Joe's as its hub. Look for it to open in early 2012.

After a successful social media contest in which the company asked diners where they'd like to see new locations of the restaurant, Mendocino Farms is considering outposts in Atwater Village and Manhattan Beach, two locations that hadn't been seriously considered.

LA Weekly