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by Inlander Staff

Catacombs pub -- 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)

Benjamin's Cafe -- Located in the middle of downtown, with its dining area looking out onto the Parkade Plaza, Benjamin's can seem like a welcome surprise even when you're just looking for some fries. The menu is restricted to breakfast and lunch options and prides itself on fidelity to the classics. The Chili Burger arrived lost under a mountain of rich, vegetable- and bean-filled chili and topped with a generous sprinkling of minced red onion which lent a satisfying sweet crunch to each bite. The fish and chips contained strips of cod breaded in buttery batter and a heap of fries (hand-cut from fresh potatoes). The fish was good, and the fries -- each one a perfectly squared stick as thick as a finger -- were astounding. So was Benjamin's homemade tartar sauce. Parkade Plaza. Call: 455-6771. (MD)

Aki's Grill and Sushi Express -- Aki's is tidy, friendly and intimate. In addition to sushi, the menu features grilled chicken, steak and salmon with teriyaki sauce, tempura shrimp and veggies, chicken yakisoba noodles, chicken fried rice and miso soup. Reasonable prices encourage experimentation. The rolled sushi platters contain six to eight pieces and come with the chef's choice of three hand-formed pieces, wasabi and pickled ginger. The crunchy roll ($6.50) with a filling of tempura shrimp, cream cheese and avocado and the spicy tuna roll ($5.50) with a filling of spicy scallions and tuna were both delicious. The hand-formed nigiri of raw salmon, raw tuna and lightly seared albacore was fresh tasting and, quite simply, spectacular. 5 N. Stevens St. Call: 747-4266. (MC)

Northern Quest Casino -- At Northern Quest Casino, in traditional buffet-style, you pay upon entering ($10.95 for dinner; breakfast is $5.95 and lunch is $7.95), and find your own table in the clean, bustling dining room. The succulent pork tenderloin and rich gravy won us over. The eggplant Parmesan and roasted squash satisfied our resident vegetarian. The salmon cakes were enormous, albeit a little on the dry side, but an elegant scattering of peaches across the top fixed that. Between these and the hand-carved roasts, I don't think there is better food available for the price anywhere else in Spokane. Unfortunately, some of the side dishes weren't as successful. 100 N. Hayford Road, Airway Heights. Call: 242-7000 or 1-888-603-7051 (MD)

Capsule reviews are written by Lauren McAllister (LM) and Mike Corrigan (MC), unless otherwise noted

Publication date: 05/01/03

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