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DAILY GRIND UPTOWN


Owner Lauren Izenberg and her staff take pride in knowing their customers and giving them great service -- not to mention scrumptious food. With daily specials like chicken pesto panini, a tuna melt and a meatball sandwich, you have to come back again to try regular lunch items. Rotating soups include roasted Yukon Gold potato, chicken basil chili and crab red-pepper bisque. Salads run the gamut from house to Greek to the fully loaded Hopped-Up. Choose from paninis and from deli sandwiches like a perfectly executed BLT on sourdough. The Riverside's turkey with cranberries on focaccia is a comforting m & eacute;lange of flavors and textures. Freshly baked scones are Izenberg's trademark, so don't leave without dessert. Moist pumpkin bread and creamy lemon bars are but a couple of her high-quality creations. 120 W. Riverside Ave., 448-1281 (Reviewed 12/14/06, SH)





MAASKELLER'S


Maaskeller's has kept many of the most popular menu items from its day as the Garden Grill and, before that, Dewey, Cheatham and Howe's This includes the pecan-crusted salmon, the Reuben and Monte Cristo sandwiches and a senior favorite: the liver and onions. They've added a German flair, though, with three separate schnitzels and a ton of German bottled beers and rounded it out with some general European selections -- shrimp scampi, pesto ravioli, etc. 3022 N. Division, 326-7741 (Reviewed 12/7/06, JS)





TECATE GRILL


Like the Baja California town and beer it's named for, Tecate Grill offers a tropical-themed ambience and fun atmosphere. The food is a cut above most Mexican restaurants. You won't find refried beans, ground beef or iceberg lettuce here. Perfectly cooked shrimp appetizers or the Botanero sampler platter are featured starters. Tecate's entrees are big enough to share or take home for another meal. My family and I enjoyed the chicken canyon fajitas ($13), adovo chicken pasta ($12) and veggie burrito ($10). South-of-the-border beverages (cervezas and margaritas) and desserts, like the deep-fried ice cream, round out the Southwestern experience. 2503 W. Wellesley Ave. #C, 327-7817 (Reviewed 11/2/06, SH)





DING HOW


The former Moxie space in Liberty Lake's shopping plaza has been transformed into a casually eclectic room that tips a hat toward the diversity of East Asian cultures, and the menu follows suit with Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese selections. Owner Bin Liu works in full view behind the sushi bar and glass-front display case filled with brightly colored chunks of fish; his freshly made sushi and sashimi offerings are works of art that taste as good as they look. The Ma Po Tofu is Chinese comfort food -- soft bean curd and garlicky ground beef in a rich spicy brown sauce. The Pad Thai is clean, light and colorful; the optional deep-fried tofu came crunchy and golden outside and pillowy white within. Service is briskly efficient, with new dishes delivered as old ones are finished off. 1332 N. Liberty Lake Rd., Liberty Lake, Wash., 921-1901 (Reviewed 10/19/06, AC)








STEELHEAD BAR & amp; GRILLE


It's one of the oldest buildings in downtown Spokane, the old Coeur d'Alene Hotel, and the interior design takes full advantage: exposed brick, a huge crumpled metal sculpture, and a wrought iron spiral staircase and catwalk that hark back to the saloons of the Old West. We began with the smoked steelhead ($8) with green onions, cream cheese and crostini -- great presentation. The chopped salad ($8) -- salami, chicken, tomatoes and baby mozzarella tossed in a creamy vinaigrette with Romaine -- was delicious but filling, and the three halibut tacos ($9) were mild, satisfying and refreshingly light. The thick-cut pub steak ($13) was grilled and topped with blue cheese butter, and served with saut & eacute;ed crisp and colorful veggies and a big mound of irresistible shoestring fries. Don't forget to save room for desserts from Bittersweet Bakery. 218 N. Howard St., 747-1303 (Reviewed 10/12/06, LM)








MICKDUFF'S


MickDuff's Sandpoint brewpub is rustic and comfortable, but with flecks of modernity. And a little kitsch. The floors are the original Douglas fir, buffed to a shine. There are massive old-wood pillars. But the walls are painted avocado green, with dark green trim over corrugated tin-roof wainscoting. Decoupaged onto the tabletops are hundreds of arcane beer labels: Acapulco Lime, Funky Monkey, Tube City, Robin Hood Ale. That's the real focus of the place: the beers. Try their half-dozen ales on their own, or as ingredients in their soups, sandwiches and burgers -- including the Brewers Burger, which for a few bucks extra you can get with the it-meat, Kobe beef. 312 N. First Ave., Sandpoint, Idaho (208) 255-4351 (Reviewed 9/6/06, JS)








WILD SAGE


The Breaking Bread appetizer -- a large platter with a variety of house-made breads and crackers, plus toppings that include caviar with sour cream, hummus and cheeses -- sets the mood for an intimate yet sociable evening. Try the velvety-smooth handmade potato dumplings, a mild and comforting dish available as either an appetizer or an entr & eacute;e. The signature rack of lamb, architecturally presented, is a highlight: The sweet-tart red pepper glaze balances the lamb's earthiness; the accompanying savory cornbread casserole lends a crunchy and crumbly contrast. Great care goes into each presentation -- fresh herbs on each plate -- and distinct aromas come through from each dish. Eating involves all of the senses, and we were fully engaged by our experience at Wild Sage. 916 W. Second Ave., 456-7575 (Reviewed 9/21/06, AC)





CAF & Eacute; CARAMBOLA


Caf & eacute; Carambola's salads, soups, specialty sandwiches, quesadillas and wraps all have a sizzling Latin flair. Salads are made with fresh, local produce and are bursting with flavor. Soups are both comforting and adventurous. The Carambola club sandwich ($5 half; $7.50 whole) features moist chicken and veggies spiced with chipotle drizzle and pickled jalapenos. Quesadillas ($3.80-$5.50) are soft and cheesy, with a kick of salsa and additions of salad, chipotle cream and meat. Customized Carambola wraps ($7.50) give diners choices of spreads, salsas, cheese, meat and veggies. Finish it off with aguas frescas ($2) and specialty desserts. 610 W. Hubbard St. #110, Coeur d'Alene (208) 676-8784 (Reviewed 9/14/06, SH).





VIN ROUGE


You'd never guess it once was a Boston Market/Carl's Jr. on the South Hill: With its wine bar and patio, Vin Rouge has been remarkably transformed. The bruschetta and crab cakes are a bargain ($3-$4) during Social Hour, though the chicken satay's peanut sauce lacked tang. The chicken breast with creamy risotto ($14) had a luscious mushroom and marsala sauce, while the pork chop with apple-currant compote ($15) was quite juicy. The seared halibut ($19) swims in a lemon caper and white butter sauce, accompanied by roasted potatoes and saut & eacute;ed spinach. Dinner-hour starter prices are quite reasonable, including buttermilk-battered calamari ($7) and Manila clams ($10). Plenty of inventive desserts, too. 3029 E. 29th Ave., 535-8800 (Reviewed 8/24/06, LM)





Milford's Fish House


Historic ambience blends with very fresh fish at Milford's. Chef and owner Jerry Young imparts exciting Asian flavors to daily rotating fish dishes. Though there are plenty of seafood options for appetizers (including the pan-fried yearling oysters, $10), the chicken satay ($8) features tender meat grilled just right, accented by four Asian dipping sauces. Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fillet ($22) is grilled Vietnamese-style and topped with a light lemongrass, chile and lime dressing. Alaskan halibut cheeks ($22) are prepared Asian shallow-fry-style, panko-crusted, with Asian dipping sauces that add myriad flavors to the tender fish. The prawn, chicken and mushroom fettuccine ($19) has a light, savory Alfredo sauce. Top off your meal with Milford's homemade ice cream. (Reviewed 7/27/06, SH)





La Milpa


Attentive, friendly service and good ol' Mexican comfort food are what it's all about at this family-owned, family-friendly outpost in the Valley. Bring 'em for arroz con pollo, pollo en mole, carne asada and lots of other traditional favorites. Don't forget the $2 margaritas on Mondays. 11519 E. Sprague, Spokane Valley, 921-8109 (Reviewed 7/20/06, AC)


Okan & eacute;


Experience a bit of island hospitality right here in the Inland Northwest at this chic little restaurant with modern Asian-inspired minimalist d & eacute;cor. Try the rock shrimp "smitty" ($6), a big mound of tempura-fried rock shrimp with a tangy-sweet drizzle of Okan & eacute; sauce, and the raw sushi roll, with seven slices of flavorful hamachi ($12) beautifully presented. Among entrees, the Hawaiian ($12) -- slow roasted, pulled kalua pork and bok choy, with a raw fish accompaniment -- is a star. 2910 E. 57th Ave., near Albertsons, open Mon-Thu, 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm; Fri-Sat, 11:30 am-2 pm and 5-10 pm; Sun, 4-8 pm, 448-1779 (Reviewed 7/13/06, LM)





LINNIE'S THAI CUISINE


At a recent performance at the Shop, Portland singer-songwriter Krist Krueger (who plays under the name Southerly) spent much of his between-song gab time extolling the wonders of Linnie's Thai Cuisine. When someone tells you the food at a restaurant made his insides "vibrate," you gotta look into it. Housed in the former Shack on Third Avenue, the menu at Linnie's thankfully doesn't exhibit the same cultural ambivalence its d & eacute;cor does -- we were won over by the pad Thai, the (admittedly diminutive) chicken satay and the red curry with beef and basil leaves. We didn't necessarily vibrate, but we were damn satisfied. 1301 W. Third Ave., 838-0626 (Reviewed 6/29/06, JS)





TITO MACARONI'S


At Tito's, they make the whole family welcome. We loved halibut di parma -- a halibut filet wrapped in prosciutto and baked. The accompanying artichoke heart and herb risotto was rich and delicious. And the amaretto cherry creme brulee ($5) was a delight -- even though I'm normally against any additions, enhancements or even garnishes to my creme brulee. The kids liked the fact that at Tito's the tablecloths are paper and there are plenty of crayons for playing Hangman and drawing pictures of superheroes -- and the ice cream sundaes that came with their $4 meals. In the Coeur d'Alene Plaza on Sherman Avenue, (208) 66-PASTA (Reviewed 6/22/06, LM)





WILD NOODLES


Wild Noodles offers a variety of culinary traditions, fresh food and fast service that feels more like a full-service restaurant. Diners choose from Italian, Asian or American noodle favorites. The lasagna in a bowl ($7.25) is savory and comforting, with 12-hour marinara sauce and fennel Italian sausage. The Bangkok peanut noodle dish with shrimp, rice noodles, veggies and peanut sauce ($8) is clearly an item that works. A spicy garlic shrimp rice bowl ($8.50) would be a hit with more vegetables. Wild Noodles' signature orange chicken with sweet and sour sauce, Sonoran pasta with chipotle cream sauce, mac 'n' cheese with chili flakes and crouton crumbles, sticky sesame chicken with teriyaki sauce and chicken marsala all sound interesting. Wonton s'mores ($3.50) are an adventurous dessert that appeals to the kid in many of us. (Reviewed 6/15/06, SH)





Burger Heaven


The ladies behind the counter at Burger Heaven are like your favorite aunties, the ones who always know your preferred kind of cookie and who always keep the jar full just in case you stop by. I needed two hands to hold the double bacon cheeseburger ($6.75). The two standard flat burger patties had a nice charbroiled flavor; they were covered with soft melting orange American cheese and thin slices of smoky bacon. Josh's sourdough burger ($5.80) came on round sourdough bread slices, grilled to just the right crispness. His single burger was juicy and tasty, and he thought the onion rings were great. Josh also ordered a black raspberry shake ($2.65); it was fruity, sweet but not too sweet, with just a hint of tartness. Confirmation of the generous portions came when one of the aunties delivered our plates to the table. Yes, real plates. It takes something stronger than paper to carry a burger this hefty. 13735 Highway 53, Rathdrum, Idaho, open Tue-Sun, 7 am-9 pm, (208) 687-5882. (Reviewed 5/25/06, AC)





Mamma Mia's


If you're longing for home-style Italian fare and atmosphere, Mamma Mia's has it all. The comfortable dining room oozes with Italian festivity. The Amicarella family offers southern Italian cuisine featuring pasta, meats and bread made from scratch daily. Try the make-your-own pizza or calzone extravaganza with a dizzying array of sauces, meats, veggies or fruit on fresh-made, herbed dough ($5-17). Cheese ravioli with pesto sauce ($13) is the ultimate, with homemade pasta squares, flavorful cheese, earthy basil and garlic pesto sauce. The eggplant parmigiana ($12) is slightly heavy on the breading but a tasty preparation with flavorful marinara sauce. Don't be put off by the chicken cacciatori's ($14) unappealing presentation. You'll be hard pressed to find a more tender, savory poultry dish. Finish off your meal with scoops of gelato or spumoni ($3). (Reviewed 5/18/06, SH)





SCALAWAG'S


Scalawag's takes basic diner fare up a notch with creative sandwiches and salads. The paninis and wraps are especially tasty. Throw caution to the wind with the PDB (peanut butter and bacon). And be sure to try the homemade potato chips; they're thick, crispy, chewy and usually still warm. All desserts are made on the premises. 113 W. Indiana Ave., open Mon-Sat, 6 am-4 pm, Sun 10:30 am-3 pm, 327-1804. (Reviewed 5/4/06, AC)





Delaney's Musicafe


In this restored Kirtland Cutter mansion on the South Hill, you might be surprised when your waitress bursts into song, but don't be. That's all part of the charm of this old-school dining room, which blends vintage recipes with Broadway favorites. We tried the lobster thermidor ($45, includes salad or soup), which first debuted at Delmonico's in New York in 1907, and it was a succulent success. And the Chateaubriand ($70 for two) was one of the best things I've tasted in quite a while. The prices are on the steep side, but with the entertainment thrown in, this is a great place for special occasions. 820 W. Seventh Ave., 747-6235 (Reviewed 4/20/06, LM)

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