Readers' Pick: Gavi is the exception to the rule that fine food and family atmosphere are incompatible. From the soccer paraphernalia on the walls and ceiling to the strip-mall location, Gavi appears to be a typical family restaurant, but a quick look at the menu will convince you that this is a serious establishment. While perusing the huge menu you'll enjoy the complementary bow-tie pasta with marinated peppers. Control yourself, though; this zesty appetizer is filling enough to keep you from finishing the huge portions to come. A recent special featured three pork cutlets smothered in a cream marinara sauce topped with ricotta cheese and shrimp. Gavi focuses on southern Italian-style sauces. The red cream sauce is a perfect compliment for the many pork and veal dishes. The lighter wine sauce melds vegetables and pasta splendidly. Whether you're a family or a romancing couple, you'll leave Gavi with tastebuds stimulated and satisfied.
Readers' Poll Runner-up: Vivace, 4310 N. Campbell Ave. Vivace moved recently to take over the vacated spot Café Terra Cotta left behind when it fled northward (closer to the money, we guess). Good for Vivace. The new location still has the cozy ambiance and nice outdoor area Terra Cotta left behind, plus it has enhanced the long narrow restaurant with deep hues of gold and burgundy. The place has a simple elegance with a sort of Mediterranean feel. And the food is still fabulous. We've never had a piece of veal there that wasn't mind blowing, mouth watering, tender-as-you-were-with-you-first-love fantastic. And if veal offends thee, the pasta specials are always just right. Not to mention, chicken picata, filet mignon the list goes on, and we haven't even mentioned the sides. Simple vegetable medleys are buttery, succulent masterpieces and the garlic mashed potatoes are as good as you can find in town. Suffice it to say Vivace has upgraded its ambiance while sacrificing none of the excellence we've come to expect over the years.
Satff Pick: Dolce Vita was an institution when it was on Miracle Mile beginning in the mid 1970s. The Katerelos family moved it northwest before relocating to the east side, 7895 E. Broadway Blvd. They operated several years as Vivande, but now loyalists are glad things are back to the "sweet life." Dolce Vita does not pretend to be trendy like its neighbor Gavi. Pastas, veal, chicken and seafood are simple and good. And the portions are, well, huge. Pizzas also are terrific and have a unique crust that you'll love. The gyro is a lunch favorite.
Of Mythic Proportions: Donato's Fine Italian and Greek is a nifty neighborhood restaurant at 1730 E. Prince Road. Maria and Jim Sklias treat you like family. There is plenty of fun banter, but they take care of you. They feed you. They cajole. They comfort. Lunch specials are on of the biggest bargains in town. Pastas, calzones, and pizzas are extraordinary. Donato's also has one of the best gyros. A friend who travels extensively is a fiend for gnocchi. He swears Donato's has the best he's ever had. There's also beer, including Italian and Greek, and wine. You can also buy your olive oil, olives and other deli items here.