Good food makes eating a joy. For the past few months, we’ve gotten together with our group of long-time friends to meet for dinner, and we’ve discovered a couple of new places to enjoy. When our turn came to choose the next dining location, we considered all the great restaurants that we’ve found over the last year and a half that we’d love to share with our friends, and had a hard time choosing just one. (We eventually chose a locally owned favorite that we felt more people need to be familiar with—especially those who love fresh, homemade, slightly higher-scale food and pie.)

I’ve loved experiencing some of the long-time resident eateries of our city, as well as find new favorites that were worthy to join the ranks. So, here are a few of the fine locally-owned eating establishments we have found in our own backyard that we would be happy to share with any visitors.

Left Fork Grill
It is easy to offer genuine praise to this establishment and its owner. When we decided to take our friends here for the monthly dinner, they asked what was good on the menu and I told them—in seriousness—to close their eyes and point. The genuine welcoming atmosphere of this eatery is exemplified by the sight of the chef wandering about his restaurant, a joyous light in his eyes and a big smile on his face as he visits every table and chats with folks who love his food. He will gladly talk to you about his choice of ingredients and preparation, if you ask. The fine ladies who work the tables love serving food they love themselves—ask them. The chef worked for years at well-regarded up-scale restaurants before deciding he wanted to serve his delicious creations for the general populous—and we genuinely appreciate it. You know you’re somewhere special when you walk in door and see the board boasting such specials as fresh blueberry pancakes, baked flounder, lamb shank, prime rib (which covers the entire plate so your perfectly round boiled potatoes and fresh string beans come on the side), and a pear-and-blue-cheese soup du jour. I knew it was going to be a great place when I saw that the turkey sandwich had real Havarti cheese. Also offered are beautifully breaded halibut fish and chips and genuine wiener schnitzel. Along with his soups and salad dressings, the chef makes his homemade pie crusts and fillings daily—delicious fresh stuffings like apple, peach, blueberry, peach-blueberry, pecan, and various creams. Order your pie fast, because they do run out. And you will order pie, even if you have to get it to go.

This small but tasty eatery is locally owned by a family who came here from the Middle East and brought their delicious talent for cooking with them. A woman in our church became good friends with this family, and she had the owner demonstrate pastry making at one of our activity nights. While we ate his tasty apple treat, she explained that he had also made the delicious pita bread served with our dinner that night, and we all became interested in his restaurant. While the owner explained his fare, I started scheming about when I could visit to get more of that pita bread. Then one of the ladies next to me started telling me about his menu. She mentioned the different types sandwiches—all made with that delicious pita bread—and suggested I first try the Falafel sandwich with it’s fried hummus and other goodies. She then went on to talk about the tasty seasoned rice and other generous plates, and I told her she had me at “fried hummus.” My friend and I went later that week to try it out, and I was glad to have a starting point, since so many things looked good. We were able to thank the incredibly kind and sociable owner in person for his fine demonstration, and he gave us a taste of the seasoned lamb his staff prepared “just for him.” (Read: a bit spicier than the menu offers.) I’ve been back there since share this tasty food and nice atmosphere with others (and to be informed by the owner that I need to taste okra cooked Mediterranean-style to taste it for real). How wonderful to have a locally owned eatery that serves such delicious examples of native Mediterranean cuisine.

Locally owned Italian fare
We love Italian food. Here’s one of my favorites and one that everyone should have the pleasurable experience of dining at for any special occasion.
Cannella’s serves delicious food which comes nicely priced. A nice evening out for two. Their ravioli comes nestled in a homemade pesto sauce that I could drink. Get extra bread to mop up the sauce and house salad dressing.

Multiple award-winning Cusina Toscana offers what I imagine to be a taste of both genuine Italian cuisine and atmosphere. The Italian owner is a constant presence as he visits guests, monitors the service, and occasionally takes over a pot or two in the visible cooking station to show the cooks how to do it. (And Der Meister knows a fun story about him.) Celebratory atmosphere—we’re together, we’re eating fine food, life is good! Here I learned that prosciutto is best served lightly draped over cantaloupe and that berry-sized capers are surprisingly lovely. I also learned what true, flavorful, fresh lemon chicken should taste like. Special occasions are made memorable here. I can still see the Fisherman’s twinkling eyes as he enjoyed his special appetizer of fresh oysters while watching his family laugh and smile around him. Save your money and go.

The Other Place
A long-established Greek-American restaurant that we discovered a while ago. Some may find it not exotic enough for their taste, but I love it. Three items basically make up my favorite meal: tangy lemon rice; Greek salad dressing covered with Feta cheese atop a fresh salad (yes, I’m purposefully focusing on the dressing and cheese); and delicious, perfectly browned and buttered pita bread. We are all happy when we go to this restaurant. (And it’s fun to giggle at people’s confusion when we tell them we’re going to “The Other Place” to eat. It’s a bit reminiscent of the one line I remember from a movie we once flipped through on TV: “I’ll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time.”)

Himalayan Kitchen
Our friends chose this as our monthly eatery recently. The friendliest staff ever, and our water glasses never had a chance to get empty. I was glad to have a tour guide for the long menu. I love everything I tasted. Perfectly barbecued chicken (pure flavor from the grill, friends, not coated in some heavy sauce). Deliciously buttery curry chicken. Homemade naan—garlic style, if you like (which we did). And their mango pudding should be served by the vat; it makes you that happy.

And one day, as I was driving home from the southern end of the valley, I saw a bright blue and white sign announcing a new eatery that has happily joined our group. Though it’s not local, I cheered to see it’s arrival and insisted on going for dinner that night—and met no resistance. Before this, we have only been able to enjoy this tasty goodness in the valley of the sun, thanks to the recommendation of fine family members. Now, Butterburgers, crinkle fries, cheese curds, and frozen custards have arrived—and welcome!

Naturally, there are other tasty places we regularly patronize, such as our favorite juicy burger eateries and local college pizzeria, but this list focuses on local places we discovered recently that liven up our fare. Lovely finds to share our with others, and a way to experience a taste of the world without a passport.

Anyone care to share their favorites?