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Two Great Tastes That Taste Bad Together 

by Ben Cater

What kind of food is Spokane known for? Our cuisine tends to cluster in certain areas. There is Division Street, which if wound in to a ball, would yield a fairly dense Chinatown for all of its Chinese restaurants. There is Third Avenue, which offers all things fast and fried. There are our perennial favorites like Chicken n' More, the Onion, Clinkerdagger, Milford's and the Old Spaghetti Factory. We have the train-car diners, the hotdog stands, and the multitude of pizza delivery options. Also, Spokane is never short of casual yet quality, fine dining restaurants such as the Downriver Grill, the Elk, Moxie's, JoeCo Brazil's, Europa, Niko's, the Northern Lights Brewery and Gordy's, to name a few.

Suffice it to say, choosing one restaurant or cuisine to represent Spokane would be wholly unfair to the rest of the restaurant community. It is noteworthy that maybe the coolest thing about Spokane is the wide range of food available representing all corners of the world. Indian, Japanese, Moroccan, Greek, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Korean, Hawaiian, and Mexican cuisines can all be enjoyed in Spokane.

With such a dizzying amount of options to sift through, I finally concluded that "Spokane food" lies somewhere between our obsession with fast food and our enthusiasm for fine dining.

In order to more closely examine the reasons why we covet fast food and fine dining, I chose Dick's and Mizuna as my research subjects. It's an odd pairing: Mizuna and Dick's don't view themselves as in competition with one another. In fact, it's a struggle to find anything the two restaurants have even remotely in common in terms of service, seating, food, and cost. And indeed, this is the way things should stay. Nor should there be any attempt at merging the two restaurants in terms of d & eacute;cor or menu.

Some things just don't seem to make sense - just take a look at El Caminos. A wine bar at Dick's would be just as out of place as seagulls swiping food off tables at Mizuna. The recent additions of meat on the menu at Mizuna have been a hit with customers, but nobody expects the place to offer a double cheeseburger as a featured entr & eacute;e. Both Mizuna and Dick's have their individual identities; both are hugely popular.

An important part of judging a restaurant actually happens before you even arrive for dinner. It is the moment of hungry anticipation you feel right after you decide on the particular restaurant where you will be dining.

I have a great deal of anticipatory passion for both Dick's and Mizuna -- the difference being sort of like going to see the newest five-star movie versus renting an old kung-fu movie. Both are slam-dunk pleasures but for different reasons.

Dick's is the heavyweight champion of Third Avenue. Maybe the most unpretentious place to eat in town, the walk-up hamburger joint has been a Spokane mainstay for more than 45 years. Dick's has achieved its nostalgic appeal by just keeping things simple and affordable. While its competitors added drive-thru service, playgrounds, mascots, and happy meals, Dick's just kept stacking two patties with two pieces of cheese to serve its infamous "Whammy" burger. Dinner for two can be easily done for under $10.

What's that you say? You aren't interested in eating potatoes deep-fried in 70 percent animal fat? For the last eight years, Sylvia Wilson has been providing Spokane with healthy alternatives. Her restaurant, Mizuna, is a good reminder that healthy food can also taste the very best. Mizuna meals aren't healthier simply in comparison to fast food, either. The restaurant's attention to serving fresh, organic, hormone-free food makes their food heads-above healthier than most dining options in Spokane.

While I may have had rosy preconceptions about both places, I certainly don't have pleasant things to report regarding how I felt after eating at Dick's. Mizuna's food, on the other hand, left me feeling ready and ready to tackle a night on the town.

Spokane's food identity is destined to be just a bit schizophrenic. Which is probably just about par for this middle-of-the-road town, since we struggle to position ourselves squarely in the middle of most defining categories. (Consider the fact that we have four colleges in the area but aren't really a college town.)

The Play-Doh that is Spokane just hasn't been molded yet. At least the Play-Doh is on the table; what we make of it is up to us.

Publication date: 11/25/04

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