701 NW 13th Ave., 343-9440, irvingstreetkitchen.com.
[DIXIELAND SNAZZ] With its indoor-outdoor seating and brown butcher paper laid atop white linen, the Southern-accented Irving Street Kitchen beautifully straddles the line between casual and upscale. And Chef Sarah Schafer and her staff are perhaps more on their game than at any time since the restaurant opened in 2010. Want a cocktail? The Kentucky Mai Tai—a blend of bourbon, lime, pineapple, almond-flavored orgeat liqueur and a float of dark rum—has a richness and complexity that surpasses the original version served at nearby Trader Vic's. A salad of grilled watermelon and heirloom tomatoes proved a perfect starter for a recent warm summer evening, its flavors punctuated by a subtle pepper jelly vinaigrette. A radicchio salad with charred garlic and green goddess dressing struck a nice balance between bitter and savory. Irving Street Kitchen gets a lot of deserved attention for its never-leaves-the-menu fried chicken, but our waiter identified himself as a salmon fisherman and strongly recommended a perfectly cooked, bourbon-soaked chinook complemented by a pesto of sorrel, basil and almond with a hint of chili oil. The vermouth- and rosemary-stuffed porchetta, a pinwheel of pork loin wrapped in pork belly, was fall-apart tender thanks to a marinade of molasses and bourbon and six hours of low-temperature roasting. The dessert list includes the devilishly good butterscotch pudding, but on this night we opted for a flight of housemade 'cellos, or infused vodkas, one more arrow of delight in the Irving quiver.
Ideal meal: Bibb lettuce salad, fresh fish or fried chicken, butterscotch pudding.
Best deal: Meatballs with mashed potatoes ($6), and a PBR tall boy ($2) with a whiskey back ($2) at happy hour (4:30-6 pm daily).
Pro tip: Indoor tables near the front terrace are divided by bookshelves that include cooking tomes by the likes of Wolfgang Puck.
4:30-10 pm Monday-Thursday, 4:30-11 pm Friday-Saturday, 4:30-9:30 pm Sunday, brunch 10 am-2:30 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$$.