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2nd Avenue Pizza

2015 2nd Ave, 956-0489
Mon-Thurs noon-3 pm, 5:30-10 pm; Fri noon-3 pm, 5:30 pm-3 am; Sat 5:30 pm-3 am.
Like a rabid dog needs water, like a newborn needs a hug, pizza toppings, in order to perform their gustatory rodeo antics, require a crust as good as 2nd Ave Pizza's. Their cheese pizza ($1.75 per slice, $12 for an 18" pie) successfully balanced design and flamesavor. No gimmicks here, just solid crafting and proper heating. Ditto for the pepperoni ($2 per slice, $13 per pie), which zigged and zagged its way into our hearts. The bountiful salad ($2.50) teemed with tang and a zesty spirit--mixed greens, walnuts, (yet more) blue cheese, kalamata olives, and tomatoes added up to one hell of a salad bargain. JIM ANDERSON (11/13)

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Carmelita

7314 Greenwood N, 706-7703
Tues-Thurs & Sun 5-10 pm, Fri & Sat 5-10:45 pm, closed Mon.
Greenwood Avenue, with its relentless bric-a-brac and antique tomfoolery, can wear you down, but the vegetarian restaurant Carmelita, with its subtle and softly lit exterior, stands as a beacon amidst all this consumer madness. We started with Carmelita's signature potato and bean Napoleon ($8.95). Two crisp potato tuilles (thin, crispy cousins to the tortilla) sandwiched a not-too-creamy whipped white bean and garlic filling, with some appealingly pungent greens, yellow tomatoes, and roasted peppers. The spiced pear and wild greens salad ($7.95) was yet another knockout. Next came vegan portabello mushroom roulade ($13.95). Carmelita had roasted a whole portabello, rolled it around zucchini, roasted pepper and onions, and set it atop a polenta-ish potato-leek cake. JIM ANDERSON (11/19)

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Cassis

2359 10th Ave E, 329-0580
Sun-Thurs 5-10, Fri-Sat 5-11.
As at most bistros, Cassis' menu is small, reflecting chef Leif Holland's tastes and the season. We chose to begin with the unusual "frisee" ($7), a kind of breakfast salad featuring poached egg and bacon on a warm bed of frisee, which was excellent. The leeks vinaigrette with fried duck liver and chopped egg ($8), like the frisee, parlays the richness and grease of meat into a superior vegetable starter. My date's healthy slab of sturgeon (the "fresh fish," $21) swam in a creamy mushroom sauce laced with cumin and cardamom. This delicate sauce tasted like the smell of fresh paint, complementing the robust fish as a clean white wall complements a great colorful Kandinsky. The elegance and cost of this wonderfully comfortable neighborhood bistro set the bar high and my date and I came away happy but somehow disappointed. The competent, unassailable food too often failed to be exquisite.MATTHEW STADLER (12/10)

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Cuff Kitchen

13th & Pike, 323-1525
Tues-Fri 11 am-10 pm, Sat & Sun 9 am-9 pm.
As cheap an excuse to serve liquor has scarce been seen, but happily, the Cuff Kitchen has made a valiant attempt to construct a menu and ambiance. I was surprised to find a stout Cajun-themed menu: hush puppies and catfish dance alongside barbecued pork and Cuff burgers to a Barbra Streisand score. The catfish strips were very good--delicate, tender, not greasy--though their attendant hush puppies were a bit dry. The Caesar salad was a pleasant shock of grated Parmesan, homemade croutons, and a real Caesar dressing. Appetizers include Cajun steak soup, popcorn shrimp, and a few other salads, both fancy--Cobb salad, or spinach w/ bacon & Gorgonzola--and simple--basil & tomato. For entrees, a series of sandwiches, of which I sampled both the meatloaf and the barbecued pork: spicy and tasty. If there is one place where the Cuff Kitchen leaps toward immortality it is in their dessert selection: few restaurants in the city offer as wide a variety of flamesaming desserts.JAMIE HOOK (11/12)

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El Greco
219 Broadway E, 328-4604
Tues-Fri 11 am-9:30 pm (Fri until 10 pm), Sat 9 am-10 pm, Sun brunch 9 am-2:30 pm.
Living here often provokes me to fantasize that I live elsewhere. El Greco serves this fantasy well. The menu, conjured by owner Thomas Soukakos and head chef Carol Soukakos, is largely Mediterranean: pastas, panini, hummus, tzatziki, and babaghanouz share space with lamb, pork, chicken, and fresh fish. Basil, oregano, garlic, and tarragon are favored. Pork and lamb are invariably tender and moist, threaded with spicy marinades. El Greco also has some terrific vegetarian fare, especially their crispy penne ($10), tossed with eggplant, tomato, kalamata olives, and capers, then grilled--it's every bit as complex as the richly marinated pork loin ($13). MATTHEW STADLER (10/1)

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Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant

705-23rd @ Cherry & 23rd, 860-0403
11 am-11 pm daily, with bar and occasional live music.
Mesob is one of the best bargains in the city, a terrific place to kick back and eat with your fingers. The vegetarian platter feeds two for under ten dollars and is exquisite: lentils and greens and potatoes in a variety of colorful sauces. The beef and lamb dishes are savory and well-spiced. All of the meals are served on a large round communal plate over hot injera, a spongy and sour pancake-like bread that is the perfect consistency for gripping fingerfuls of tibs or cabbage or whatever happens to be in front of you at the moment. The Mesob staff is cheerful and relaxed in temperament--not a suitable place to go for a rushed power lunch. Better to take your time and eat slowly (injera tends to expand inside your belly, so don't overdo it). Accompaniments include honey wine and Sambuca. When the check comes, you'll be amazed. Tip them well; they deserve it. BEN JACKLET (12/24)

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