Mi Sol Vallarta
310 S. Academy Blvd., 596-5414
If only because they're $1.99 at lunch, pair your meal with a sickly syrupy Jose Cuervo margarita that otherwise passes the time just fine with complimentary warm chips, a nice bean dip garnished with queso fresco, and cilantro-forward salsa that's only mildly spicy but wholly flavorful.
Mi Sol Vallarta, formerly a Three Margaritas location, sits awash in sandy yellow, blue, pink and orange paints; waiters wear white button-downs and black ties in stark contrast. Flavors on the plate, however, are pretty homogeneous and true to my Tex-Mex-pectations. The arroz con pollo ($9.49) of chicken breast meat, mushrooms, onions and green peppers over gooey cheese-rice blandly acts as the Mexican-cuisine equivalent to a typical Chinese stir-fry. The chili relleno (from the $7.49 lunch special menu) next to decent rice, beans and guacamole bears ample cheese goo, too, coating the mild poblano pepper inside a wonton-like fried wrapper. Yeah, it's gut-bomb good. — Matthew Schniper
Kneaders Bakery & Cafe
3430 Cinema Point, 362-8820, kneaders.com
I don't really care that Kneaders is a four-state chain, actively looking to add more locations, or that it lives in the commercial rat trap outside Cinemark on Powers Boulevard. I love this place. It's like Panera-meets-Willy-Wonka-meets-Marigold's-pastry-case with a little Grandma's Pantry thrown in for good measure — with a drive-thru. There are piles of bread, and fudge, and coffee, and tarts, and everybody's very nice. There are even a few aisles in the middle of the restaurant packed with feel-good kitsch, where you can buy an apron or a sign that says "Family." It was almost too much when I spotted two elderly lunching members of the Red Hat Society.
As well, the turkey-bacon-avocado on focaccia ($7.99) was amazing, its fat hunks of juicy breast meat and ripe slices of avocado resting between pillow-y, inch-thick slices of bread. The Portabella Grille on ciabatta ($8.19) oozed ricotta among caramelized onions, peppers and zucchini. — Bryce Crawford
5160 Centennial Blvd., 598-7868, myalmapizza.com
This Mountain Shadows mini-strip-mall pizza joint has a quiet, music-free vibe in its small dining room of five tables and two coffee pots. One display case shows off 2-liter bottles of Pepsi products, while the rotating glass enclosure during our visit contained slices of pepperoni and cheese that had seen better days. (To be fair, we were there fairly late in the day.) Our counterman was gruff but efficient, bringing napkins, plates and foam cups of warm tap water as soon as we finished ordering.
And though our 10-inch pepperoni pizza wasn't thrillingly delicious — reminding me of what Domino's used to taste like, before all the "Oh Yes We Did" stuff, with its pockmarked cheese and nondescript flavors — it was damn cheap, at $6.45, and met that need for a stomach full of grease, salt and bread. Actually, the latter was pretty killer, all buttery and firmly soft. Alma's is not a pizza you're dying for, but it is one you're delighted to have eight slices of for six bucks. — Bryce Crawford