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The Villa Capri is not merely a survivor. It's the anti-Lidia's, the Trezo Vino for the 99 percent. Those fancy Italian upstarts serve a basket of artisan breads; Scudiero serves breadsticks made from pizza dough (delicious). No dinner here costs more than $11, and most of them include salad and bread.
The food here, even by working-class Southern Italian standards, isn't glorious. (It tastes like my Aunt Jenny made it, which is truly damning it with faint praise.) And I'll never order the gloppy baked mostaccioli again. But if you want the best Italian steak sandwich in town or a first-rate bowl of simple, unadorned spaghetti and meatballs, Scudiero still has some secrets worth keeping.
Another place left over from a simpler time and resting on its laurels as a high school hangout is the oddly named In-a-Tub. For years, whenever driving by its location near the airport, I wondered just what kind of "tub" the food was served in. It was time to find out.
"The name," says David Hayden, blogger and lifetime Tub devotee (he claims to have eaten his first solid food in the original location), "comes from its original signature dish, soft-serve ice cream. All the teens from the Northland high schools came here after the football and basketball games."
Today, that soft-serve ice cream comes only in the milkshakes offered at the two remaining In-a-Tub restaurants. These shakes are divine and come in some less-traditional flavors, such as butter-pecan and raspberry. (The butterscotch is milkshake nirvana.) But the signature In-a-Tub dish now is a greasy taco, sprinkled with that neon-orange powdered cheese used in boxed macaroni mixes. Sound hideous? It's popular here — very popular. There's also a version with non-powdered dairy, the "beef-and-cheez." The woman at the counter assured me last week that it should satisfy purists. "It has a slice of American cheese at the bottom," she said. "It's real good."
That pledge turned out to be something of a white lie. And I didn't like the stiff, prefab fried burrito or the hot dogs here, either. Northland natives are supposedly mad for In-a-Tub, but after three visits, its charm was lost on me. I developed a grudging affection for the loose-meat "pocket burgers," which come on ordinary buns and are served tucked inside little envelope-like paper bags, but Mugs Up does these better. On the other hand, I know of no other place that promises pizza burgers, taco burgers, "chubby" corn dogs, and chili dogs that do, in fact, come in a tub. Also filling up tubs: fried chicken fingers and a cornucopia of deep-fried vegetables.
The North Oak Trafficway location, which opened in 1986, looks like a suburban recreation room, with its tawny wood paneling and greenhouse-style smoked-glass windows. "I come here because it's so darn cheap," said a woman standing next to me at the counter. "Where else can you get a good meal for less than four dollars?"
Don't ask me, lady. I'm still looking.
I do know where to find another zombie following for less-than-stellar tacos and burritos, though: across the state line in the hamlet of Mission at Don Chilito's. Like In-a-Tub, it once had several area locations and used to serve as a teen hangout. (Shawnee Mission North High School is a few blocks away.) But this 40-year-old restaurant is a lot bigger and busier than In-a-Tub, and it has its own eccentricities.