11 am-10 pm Sunday-Monday, 11 am-midnight Tuesday-Saturday. $$ Moderate.
[COMFORT FOOD] Time was, a trip to the Academy Theater in Montavilla meant just one thing: dinner at Ya Hala beforehand. But that changed last year, when the Observatory divided our loyalties with its siren song of golden rosemary-garlic fries, inventive twists on cafe standards and a veggie burger that even carnivores order repeatedly. The soothing color scheme, accented by a minimalist chandelier, helps create a casual-chic vibe (though the concrete floor does add to the ambient sound level). A spacious bar hints at the elaborate cocktail menu, but don’t be fooled into thinking the Observatory is just a glorified bar. Try the mussels, which are served in either a ginger-sake broth or a white wine one that’s dotted with chorizo—either way, the bivalves are plump, sweet and grit-free. Even something as plebeian as chicken-fried chicken is a revelation: To say this vast scallop of surprisingly tender, panko-coated chicken is upstaged by its accompanying sweet-potato hash is only a testament to that side dish’s savory appeal. Or try a creamy riff on a niçoise salad that’s rich with house-smoked trout. No matter your entree, you won’t have room for dessert. Which is fine—we’d rather end things with one of the sweet-toothed cocktails. Come to think of it, maybe we’ll stay for another, and skip the movie. HANNAH FELDMAN.
Ideal meal: Rosemary fries and a bowl of mussels, followed by the smoked trout salad.
Best deal: During happy hour, the fries and mussels will cost you all of $7.
Chef’s choice: “Roasted pork tenderloin in apple guajillo sauce with seared polenta cakes and greens.” (Dale Warriner)