Mike's Pit -- Featuring real barbecue you can rope up cheap and herd back to the office in minutes -- the eat-in accommodations are clean and tidy, but nothing to write home about -- this family-run operation features all your smoky favorites: pulled pork and sliced beef sandwiches ($4.80-$5.80), pork spare ribs (three bones for $5.70), corn bread, cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans and chili. Everything here is made from scratch and the meat is all slow-cooked over an apple wood fire. The house barbecue sauce is on the sweet side of spicy. It's all quite messy -- and delicious. 307 S. Washington. Call: 458-6094 (MC)
Europa -- Since 1982, Europa has welcomed diners looking for hearty Italian fare. The antipasto misto ($10) is always a favorite, with various combinations of tangy, marinated vegetables, rich cheeses and salty meats. Filled with a blend of crab, shrimp, scallops, and cheese and baked in a lemon dill cream sauce, the seafood manicotti ($16) was an exceptionally rich dish. The menu includes a big selection of pizzas and calzones that are a cut above the standard pepperoni and Canadian bacon-pineapple combos. The chicken, spinach and walnut pastry rotolo ($10), a feature unique to Europa, was a straightforward combination of flavors, with the garlicky cheese sauce tying it all together. Desserts at Europa are big and beautiful, as the restaurant employs its own pastry chef. Delicious! 125 S. Wall. Call: 455-4051. (LM)
Herbal Essence Caf & eacute; -- The Herbal Essence Caf & eacute;'s understated mix of old and new results in a very open, bright and comfortable dining area. The crab cakes ($6.75) are crispy on the outside, succulent and tender on the inside. The $3.50 cup of Manhattan-style clam chowder was smashing: rich and hearty, with a mild tomato zing, and clams that were tender and not overly assertive. The thick and delicious corned beef on the Reuben ($5.95) was piled high and the grilled dark rye remained remarkably crisp under the load. The Crab & amp; Artichoke sandwich ($8.25) mixed fresh snow crab with artichokes, parmesan cheese, white onions and a sour cream sauce served atop a French roll and finished with sliced tomato. Sound good? It was. 115 N. Washington. Call: 838-4600. (MC)
Thrifty Scotsman -- Man, saving coin never tasted so good. The Thrifty Scotsman gets most everything exactly right in terms of quality, price and friendly service. And that includes big, juicy burgers. The $2.59 Super Bacon is essentially a bacon double cheeseburger with the works (mayo, lettuce, tomato) spread out over the expanse of a six-inch Poor Boy bun. It's definitely a two-fister. And delicious as well. The $5.49 double fish and fries contains eight crispy and tender fish portions stacked on a bed of big, fresh, hand-cut fries. The drive-in's new smoke-free dining environment is a much-appreciated addition. 12024 E. Sprague. Call: 927-2214. (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. 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)
Riverview Thai -- After many successful years at the Flour Mill, Riverview Thai has moved up the river to Riverwalk, the site of the now-defunct Bayou Brewery. The Khao Tom ($9.45) was a lovely Thai version of chicken and rice soup, with fragrant jasmine rice and ground chicken in a rich chicken broth, flavored with green onion, celery, garlic and cilantro. The Gaeng keow wahn ($11) with chicken combines green curry sauce with green peas, bamboo shoots, bell pepper and fresh basil -- a successful dish with the fragrant taste of the Thai basil dominating. The pahd si-ew ($10.45) consists of fried rice noodles, chicken, broccoli and eggs. The sauce for this dish was sweet and lacked any hint of heat. 1003 E. Trent. Call: 922-4935. (LM)
Capsule reviews are written by Lauren McAllister (LM) and Mike Corrigan (MC), unless otherwise noted.