Why is something so apparently straightforward as a Caesar salad so difficult to obtain these days? The classic dish, invented in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1924 by Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini, should ideally be tossed at tableside, using fresh romaine, grated Parmesan, croutons, a dressing made with lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes anchovies, either on the side, or ground into the sauce. Good luck getting it tossed at tableside in the 21st century, or even with romaine, instead of its ubiquitous and horrid iceberg cousin, the bland bane of foodies everywhere. Usually what you get in restaurants is some bizarre variation on the original, with anything from nachos and corn to seared ahi and "Southwest-style dressing." (Blech!) The one place in the Valley that you can rely on to deliver a solid Caesar is Durant's, the dark, red-velvet-lined chophouse, which since 1950 has fed everyone from John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe to the late senator Barry Goldwater, and the still-kickin' Senator John McCain. At least Durant's uses romaine, and the waiters won't look at you funny if you ask for anchovies. Is that so much to ask from other eateries, we wonder? Apparently so. Readers' Choice: Oregano's Pizza Bistro

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