$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).

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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