The Catacombs -- With only an understated sign marking the entrance, this pub is easy to miss. Don't, because it's a fun subterranean space with a medieval castle feel, thanks to massive oak beams across high ceilings, huge wrought iron chandeliers, a fireplace, warm brick, stonework and tapestries. The menu features interesting appetizers and salads, and hearty fare such as brick oven-baked thin-crust pizzas and calzones. Mediterranean pizza ($10.50) with chicken, artichoke hearts, red onions, mozzarella, garlic and white sauce was generous and tasty but lacked pizzazz. The porco con I Faioli ($18) with tender pork cutlets, cannelloni beans, tomato sauce and fresh herbs over roasted vegetable polenta was sheer perfection. Great wine and beer selection and good service, too. 110 S. Monroe St. Call: 838-4610. (LM)
Chapala #1 -- Though it appears tiny from the street, Chapala is cavernous and comfortable inside. The lunch menu features 28 different authentic Mexican selections ranging from tacos, enchiladas and burritos to more interesting fare like the $6.50 Mole de Pollo. The $7.25 Chapala Burrito comes with your choice of meat, beans, cheese, lettuce and mild salsa, wrapped in a flour tortilla smothered with red sauce, and dusted with melted cheese. It's fresh, zesty and nicely presented with a side of rice and beans, topped with a dollop of guacamole and sour cream and garnished with a tomato wedge. The service was also very good. 2620 E. 29th Ave. Call: 534-7388. (MC)
The Park Inn Park Plaza -- Nothing ever changes at the P.I. And that's the way we like it. It's old skool pub grub all the way in a super-casual atmosphere: burgers, deli sandwiches, pizza, soups, salads, some dinner entrees. For pizza, try the 12-inch ML Special ($13.75), with sausage, beef, mushroom, olive, onion and fresh tomato. It's generous with a thin crust, a hint of sauce and a mountain of toppings. The grilled cheese sandwich ($4.75) was delicious and gooey with cheddar and provolone melted between two buttery, toasted slices of rye bread. The side of homemade chili (ordinary but perfectly mouth-watering, with a mound of cheese and onions on top) was a little bowl of satisfaction. The service was friendly, efficient and frequently hilarious. Smoking at the P.I. is most definitely allowed. 107 W. 9th Ave. Call: 624-8111. (MC)
Spencer's -- Spencer's has the easygoing but elegant ambience of a private club. The entree menu features top-quality, straight-ahead food in no-nonsense preparations that rely on USDA prime beef direct from the Chicago stockyards (though beef is not the only option). The salty prime rib (11-ounce, $21; 18-ounce, $27) was as tender as butter, while the Spencer's steak (a 14-ounce ribeye for $27) showed off the intense flavor made possible by searing in the restaurant's 1,600-degree infrared broiler. Side dishes are tasty though a la carte, which can really elevate the total cost of the meal. The strawberry shortcake ($6.25) has to be one of the best dessert values in town. Service was pleasant, well-informed, and generally efficient. 322 N. Spokane Falls Ct. Call: 744-2372. (LM)
Capsule reviews are written by Lauren McAllister (LM) and Mike Corrigan (MC), unless otherwise noted.
Publication date: 04/24/03