Best Underrated Italian - 2000
Talayna's at the Park
First of all, you will encounter a problem. Every single time we have eaten at Talayna's, there has been a problem. The waiter has no idea that our party was seated in his section 10 minutes ago, the drinks never arrive, the salads come out after the food, and so on. Yet the restaurant exerts a pull that draws plenty of folks back time after time. It's the food, stupid. The pizza comes in three styles: New York (medium), Chicago (thicker than Mike Ditka's head) and St. Louis (thinner than T.S. Eliot's neck). The Italian-style salads have generous amounts of meat and Provel, along with a creamy Italian house dressing that has the kind of tanginess that makes you salivate when you merely take a whiff. The rolls are no longer the dough scraps of old that emerged from the oven in unpredictable shapes, but they're still very soft and very warm. The baked mostaccioli here is the best in the city. Period. The unusually thick, bright-red meat sauce, large-bore noodles and goopy-crusty cheese enclosure come together for a delicious whole that is even greater than the sum of its parts. It's big enough that you've got lunch for tomorrow, too. Talayna's presents a serious challenge for the title of best family-style Italian in the area, and it's got plenty of competition. And if you like a challenge, there's an open one at Talayna's. All you have to do is finish the table-sized 24-inch giant pie by yourself within an hour, and they'll give you $2,000. Think it's impossible? Maybe -- but practicing sure would be fun.