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$13 at La Griglia

Where: La Griglia, 2002 West Gray, 713-526-4700

What $13 gets you: More than you might think.

From the outside, La Griglia appears intimidating, what with all those valet-parked Beemers and Benzes. It doesn’t help that the place is widely known as a popular power-lunch institution for upper-crust lawyers, bankers and business executives in hoity-toity River Oaks. And a quick scan of La Griglia’s menu shows almost nothing on it for less than about $13. In fact, a lot of stuff is $20 and up. But don’t despair. With a little creativity and restraint, you, too, can eat amid society’s elite.

The thing is, every table gets a giant basket of warm, straight-from-the-oven garlic sticks and heavenly pizza bread served in sweet, crispy strips. And it’s free. You heard right: every diner gets free pizza. And what, besides beer, pairs best with pizza? Salad, of course. La Griglia’s excellent, innovative salads are simply too large. Since everyone knows that well-dressed salads make for lousy leftovers, it is not at all uncommon for loyal lunchers to order half-salads for a reduced price, though such an option appears nowhere on the menu.

I got a half of a Cobb salad ($8, down from the full price of $12.95) and a bottomless glass of iced tea ($2.50), served with fresh mint leaves (free), and downed a basket of pizza bread (free).

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Recommended? Mostly.

La Griglia is not at all as stuffy as it seems from the outside. The décor is actually whimsical with brightly colored murals, mosaics and teardrop-shaped chandeliers. And the food is terrific. The Cobb salad – a mix of diced chunks of chicken, prosciutto, bacon, provolone, blue cheese, tomatoes and romaine lettuce dressed in Italian vinaigrette – is light and tasty, and the pizza bread is gooey-licious.

However, dining at La Griglia for $13 may leave you feeling blue, especially if you fixate on all those more expensive dishes being consumed at tables nearby. The feeling hit again when I went out to find my beat-up Chrysler with the missing side mirror and dented doors amid a sea of gleaming luxury sedans.

Bonus point: Free pizza! -- Todd Spivak

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