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Having recently relocated from the land of cheap, multi-culti eateries (City Heights) to the kingdom of chain restaurants (Eastlake), I feared that my options for I’m-not-cooking-tonight-but-don’t-want-to-spend-a-lot would be limited to Chik-fil-A and Pick Up Stix (neither of which I’ve ever entered).

I am delighted to report, however, that the happy-hour fare and the faux-Italian atmosphere at Macaroni Grill in the Otay Ranch Town Center mall are more than tolerable.

My favorite atmosphere-enhancers are the lights strung overhead in the main dining room (the easier to fantasize al fresco dining on an Italian plaza) and the audio Italian lessons playing on speakers in the bathrooms.

From 5:00 to 7:00 and 9:00 to close every night, happy hour offers $5 pizzas (pepperoni, Italian sausage, or Margherita), $3 house wine, $5 crafted cocktails, and $3 domestic beer.

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Mmmm. Pepperoni.

These prices are for in-bar only, and the bar’s not huge. Three two-seater tables, one four-top, three seats at the high bar, and two seats at the low bar. First come, first serve.

Although the restaurant offers no beer on tap, and James the slow-poke, cherub-faced bartender has to use his smartphone to look up drink recipes, I appreciate the fact that he knows I like lime in my Corona ($5.49).

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Cherub-faced James.

Tonight, I have the little one in tow. We sit at the low bar. Knicks and Dolphins on the screen over James’s head. James brings my beer and lemonade, crayons, and paper for Mini Me. I go for the pepperoni, which has fresh mozzarella and a nice bite. The fancy-pants macaroni and cheese ($5) turns out not to be Kraft enough for the little one. She eats my pizza instead.

Total bill: $16.70.

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