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Best Lunch Over $5

Café Poca Cosa
20 S. Scott Ave.
88 E. Broadway Blvd.

READERS' PICK: Don't look for it in the phone book, it's not listed. Café Poca Cosa (or the little Poca Cosa, as we like to think of it) is located on Scott Avenue between Congress and Broadway, just across the street from the big Poca Cosa (on Broadway). There are only a few tables in this cramped boxcar of a restaurant, but that just adds to the homey atmosphere. The menu changes daily and the food is always fresh. Not the deep-fried Sonoran Mexican food you may be used to, but the kind from farther south. Fresh, homemade salsa, perfectly seasoned, and the best green corn tamales in town, bar none. You can get away for less than a five-spot if you order a la carte, but the best thing going is one of the house's combination plates, still close to the $5 mark and guaranteed to sate your hunger well into the evening hours.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Daniel Scordato's charming Vivace Restaurant (4811 E. Grant Road), located in the heart of the Crossroads Festival shopping center, is Italian dining at its finest. Everything Scordato composes, from grilled meats to pasta to ethereal desserts, is crafted with grace and style. Appetizers alone could abate a lunchtime appetite, but why stop there? The escargots--redolent with butter, sautéed garlic, artichoke hearts and gorgonzola cheese--are enough to cause a famished diner to swoon; and the bruschetta, tender-crisp slices of French bread topped with goat cheese, tomato, cucumber and fresh basil, is heavenly. We've oft accompanied these starters with a luscious salad of mixed greens, diced pear and blue cheese drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette. The pasta dishes are extraordinary, as is the grill. (Safely ensconced at your table, you can watch Vivace chefs toy with the flames in the restaurant's open kitchen.) Daily fresh fish specials always pepper the menu, and there's no one in town who knows how to prepare treasures from the sea quite like Scordato. Gentle sauces and treatments highlight these succulent entrees rather than overwhelm them. Our favorites on the dessert tray include chocolate mousse topped with pistachio crème anglaise; and a lemon mousse napoleon served with fresh raspberries and a tart, mixed-berry coulis.

CLUE IN: Seri Melaka, 6133 E. Broadway Blvd. Look at you. It's disgraceful the way you treat yourself. You work hard all day, but do you give yourself any kind of reward? No. You eat a sandwich out of a bag. At best! Didn't we see you over by the vending machines at lunch yesterday? What's up with that? Look, over on Broadway just a bit east of Wilmot Road, there's a Malaysian/Chinese restaurant with a terrific buffet, including Malaysian specialties like lemaks and satays, and superior versions of Chinese standbys like hot-and-sour soup and lo mein. Isn't this a little more like it? The invigorating, spicy steam of the old Malay peninsula fills your office-fogged head, and instead of the frenetic jangle of '90s living, suddenly you're in Old Singapore being borne by coolies in a palki, past go-downs and sampans and all that exotic Eastern stuff that we're probably getting completely wrong here. And while we wouldn't want to tempt you at lunchtime, it's worth mentioning that a trace of the old British Imperialism has made it over, with bottled ales and even that noblest of malts, The Macallan!

Case History

1997 Winner: The Cottonwood Café
1996 Winner: Presidio Grill
1995 Winner: Presidio Grill

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