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Pho Brothers, Leon Gessi, Panino's Restaurant 

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click to enlarge Leon Gessi New York Pizza

Leon Gessi New York Pizza

1806 Palmer Park Blvd., 635-1542, leongessipizza.com

At Leon Gessi, I loved most of the calzone ($7.89), like its golden half-moon crust, pillowy and powdered with Parmesan. I loved the thick, white layer of melted ricotta and mozzarella that slowly seeps from a bite in the bread. And I loved the tomato sauce, visually gorgeous with its dark red purée flecked with bits of green, and an acidic kick that makes your mouth water. But for my taste, I wish the internal peppers and onions (55 cents extra) had seen a little heat from a flat-top before being baked in. Hot, raw crunch isn't my thing.

They show up again on a sausage grinder ($6.69). (Barely show up: I counted four onion slivers and five green pepper bits.) It's a flat, depressing sandwich, and not even the fabulous tomato sauce can make up for the fact that it tastes like it was pulled from the freezer and cooked in the microwave. — Bryce Crawford

click to enlarge Pho Brothers

Pho Brothers

1107 S. Nevada Ave., 445-0760, phobrothersco.com

Formerly Shanghai Café and the short-lived Saigon Pho (under the same ownership), this spot became Pho Brothers just over two months ago, under new owners. The Lam family brings many years of collective restaurant experience, including some in Denver, and has branded its spot with a slick look that includes a handy, colorful picture menu promoting "MSG free."

One fun touch is to add a complimentary "fire shot" to any pho ($6.50 to $8.50), which isn't nearly as hot as the name implies, but adds a little sweet-and-sour edge with a touch of chili heat. That rounds out a seafood pho bowl nicely, as does a noticeably generous portion of protein, from fat, soft, butterflied prawns to surimi (krab) slivers and tightly compressed fish and shrimp balls. For vegetarians, the bun chay ($7.95) loads on a nice mix with ample herb influence and tofu hunks and a faintly sweet, clear sauce finish. All fresh, all good. — Matthew Schniper

click to enlarge Panino's Restaurant

Panino's Restaurant

1721 S. Eighth St., 635-1188, paninos.com

The Eighth Street Panino's emphatically does not remind me of its downtown sibling. This one is roomy and comfortable, especially in the snow. With its peaked roof, there's a kind of chalet vibe going, and there's a fun quirkiness to touches like hanging lights made out of Infinite Monkey Theorem wine bottles.

On the downside, our meal started with a super-oily, desperately overcooked mush-bomb masquerading as tortilla soup. Its neon-orange glow stained everything it touched, and it touched a lot since it was set down with a sloppy thud. The manicotti ($12.99) it came with — and its sweet tomato sauce, featureless pasta and plain-tasting ricotta filling — fared some better. We found redemption, however, with the chicken pesto panino ($9.19), which is essentially a baked sandwich. Dig the chewy bread, fresh tastes and a filling of chicken slices, lots of greens and zucchini, and a garlicky pesto. — Bryce Crawford

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