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by Inlander Staff & r & Thai Bamboo -- If you're looking for an escape, there's hardly a better option than a foray to one of Thai Bamboo's three Spokane locations. The menu is enormous, with some items helpfully labeled "popular Thai dish." The Thai Bamboo style fried rice ($10) was easily the best fried rice I've had in Spokane, with big chunks of tender pork, crisp cabbage and other vegetables all fried up with jasmine rice. Swimming rama ($9) is a mysteriously named dish that is really quite simple and delicious. Sauteed chicken is served on a bed of fresh spinach and topped with a rich peanut sauce. Thai Bamboo uses high-quality fresh ingredients and keeps prices reasonable. Call: 232-THAI (South), 444-THAI (Valley) or 777-THAI (North). (Reviewed 9/15/05, LM)





Latah Bistro -- Just south of town along Hwy 95 is where you'll find the Latah Bistro, a new neighborhood restaurant located in a strip mall across from a Tidyman's. The interior is surprisingly comfortable and chic. And the appetizers, salads, pizzas and pastas are anything but ordinary. The entrees include salmon and a pork tenderloin grilled brochettes over lemon-oregano risotto, feta cheese and spinach ($19). The pan-roasted duck breast with roasted cabbage, mashed potatoes and pomegranate puree ($21) was delightful. 4241 S. Cheney-Spokane Road Call: 838-8338. (Reviewed 4/28/05, LM)





The MAC Caf & eacute; -- This quiet lunch spot is sparkling with great views and lots of natural light. Menu items include soups like the house tomato basil bisque and a rotating chef's special ($2.50 a cup), salads like the Caesar ($5, $7 with the addition of smoked salmon or grilled chicken), and specialty sandwiches along with a daily selection of assorted house-baked scones, muffins, breads, pastries and other sweet and savory bits ($1.50-$2). There's a kid's menu, too. The generous and tender smoked pork tenderloin sandwich on grilled bread with cabbage slaw, sweet onion, bacon bits, honey Dijon and apple cider dressing ($7.50) lived up to its description. Details are well attended to and the service is friendly. Northwest Museum of Arts & amp; Culture main building at 2316 W. First Ave. Call 363-5358. (MC)





Empyrean Coffee Shop and Caf & eacute; -- Featuring Shop coffee, Fery's food and Sweetwater breads Empyrean (in the old Luminaria space) serves quick foods and beverages in a sophisticated yet warm and inviting atmosphere. The sandwiches are $5.50, salads, $3.95. There are mini pizza bagels (with pepperoni, sausage or veggie) for $2.50 and a selection of amazing-looking desserts. The sausage-and-cheese-stuffed bagel pocket was heated panini-style and served with Fery's famous chicken and spinach pasta salad. 154 S. Madison St. Call: 456-3676 (Reviewed 6/23/05, MC)





El Gallo Giro -- El Gallo Giro is fast food in the only way you want food to be fast -- that is, rapidly prepared. You sacrifice nothing in terms of quality or authenticity. Lots of choices and cheerful service, too. The Gallo Giro tacos (in a rice and beans combo for $6.50) are terrific: tender seasoned meat (your choice) in delicate white corn tortillas with a squirt of lime and a drizzle of freshly made hot sauce. The carne asada burrito ($4.50) is big, dusted with cheese and bathed in a rich red enchilada sauce. 305 S. Thor St. 535-0142 (Reviewed 4/21/05, MC)

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