published Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Rafael’s Italian food is simple but filling

An order of lasagna is a good deal for $7 at Rafael’s on Hixson Pike.
An order of lasagna is a good deal for $7 at Rafael’s on Hixson Pike.
IF YOU GO

Where: Rafael’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant, 3877 Hixson Pike.

Phone: 423-508-8561.

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Price range:$5.95 (various sandwiches)-$20.65 (large two-for-one chef’s special pizza).

The low- to midpriced Italian restaurant is a common sight in almost any community, and Chattanooga certainly has its fair share.

But, hey, folks have to eat, and sometimes you want a little bit more than a burger and fries from the closest drive-through.

Rafael’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant sits on a busy stretch of Hixson Pike near Ashland Terrace offering an expansive menu of reasonably priced fare served quickly for a filling meal on the go.

THE MENU

Rafael’s is actually selling itself short with the Italian restaurant label. With Tex-Mex chicken fajitas, quesadillas, tilapia, a Reuben sandwich and a fairly broad selection of Greek dishes, this restaurant is an international affair.

But it does have all the traditional Italian dishes as well, from chicken parmesan and spaghetti to lasagna and fettuccine alfredo. There also are calzones and vegetarian dishes.

On top of all that, there’s pizza, with an anytime two-for-one deal on any small, medium or large pizza. For families on a budget, Rafael’s pizza deal certainly offers an economical way to feed a hungry crowd.

If anything, the menu seems to be a bit too big, and perhaps some of the non-Italian items should be scaled back to highlight a few signature dishes and the pizza. But as with many family restaurants, a large menu seems to be standard to ensure everyone — from the kids to the grown-ups — can find something they like.

THE ORDER

For a quick lunch on an extremely cold day, a salad and lasagna sounded filling while I was running errands in the Hixson area.

First came the salad, and man what a salad! It was huge — seriously huge with plenty of onions, cucumbers and feta cheese. If a lettuce shortage is reported in the near future, the salads at Rafael’s could be the culprit.

The salad was fresh and the house dressing very good, but it was way more than one person could consume in a sitting.

The lasagna was ready a bit before I was, but that could be the fault of that gargantuan salad. I still can’t get over it.

The sauce and cheese in the lasagna, while nothing spectacular, was quite good, well prepared and served hot. This isn’t high-end Italian dining, but it doesn’t claim to be that either. It was a good lunch, and at less than $7 for the lasagna, it was a good value.

THE SERVICE

Rafael’s is a self-service restaurant, with customers ordering and gathering their food from a central counter when called. Fountain drinks are self-serve as well.

The staff is friendly and helpful, which makes for a pleasant dining experience for a quick lunch or casual dinner.

It’s pretty basic stuff, but the staff certainly makes Rafael’s an enjoyable place to eat.

THE SPACE

Rafael’s is in a converted fast-food restaurant, and little has been done to disguise that fact. The counter from which burgers or cheap tacos once were turned out is still used to serve manicotti and gyro sandwiches.

Television in the two dining areas shows news programs for lunch regulars, but booth seating is the standard for the restaurant.

Still, this is a budget Italian place, so the décor is secondary. If you wanted an authentic Italian experience, then you’d go to a higher-end restaurant … or to Italy. Rafael’s is what it is, and for a quick meal that’s good enough.

THE VERDICT

Rafael’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant provides a reasonably priced alternative to chain fast food, and in that respect it does the job just fine.

It would be nice to see a simpler menu with a few items that are featured, but it wouldn’t be the same place or serve the same purpose, perhaps.

If you need a quick bite for lunch or an inexpensive dinner and you are tired of burgers or chicken strips, then you should give Rafael’s a try. They do have chicken strips, too, to keep the kids happy. And it seem likely that you can’t go wrong with two-for-one pizza, either.

But, seriously, look out for that salad. It’s a monster.

Contact Jim Tanner at jtanner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6478.

about Jim Tanner...

Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...

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