Do you remember the days when you could enjoy dinner and a movie without refinancing your home? The days are all long gone when $10 would buy dinner and movie for two, pay the baby sitter and still leave change clinking in your pocket. Entertainment and dining costs have have both kept pace with the rate of inflation, perhaps even exceeding it.

There is one place that brings back those wonderful memories of yesteryear. A few nights ago, I wandered into the dark interiors of the Landmark Theater in Hillcrest to view one of the customarily excellent films. Then I had the good fortune to stop by Pizza Nova Restaurant for dinner.

“Pizza Nova” means “new pizza” and, when the chain was first started, its creations were new and different. Over the years that passed, other restaurants also jumped onto the “woodfired” bandwagon. The difference is that Pizza Nova has maintained high standards of flavor and excellence in its products while sticking to a very reasonable price level. As I ate, I kept wondering, “How can they charge these prices and stay in business?”

Pizza Nova has three locations – Hillcrest, Solana Beach and Point Loma. They are all easy to reach. The Hillcrest location is probably most convenient, with validated underground parking serving the small center that includes the theaters.

On entering the Hillcrest location, the first thing to see is the open kitchen. Chefs are busy preparing the wonderful dishes. Pizza is assembled and then inserted into the woodfired ovens for the alchemy that occurs when heat is added. They emerge with the cheese and other ingredients looking beautiful and smelling divine. The process is fascinating to look at. In fact, at that time, four children were sitting at the small counter, absolutely absorbed by the cooking ballet they were observing.

The restaurant has a large dining room and an outdoor enclosed heated patio. Noise levels were high but bearable.

The extensive menu lists a variety of pizza and pasta dishes. Pizzas come in two sizes and the crusts are medium thick. Pastas are prepared inhouse and are cooked al dente.

The “Pizza Nova” pizza ($14.25) is made of smoked salmon, red onions, capers, and goat cheese. The goat cheese offset the taste of the lox, giving the dish a sensational taste. The Mexican Lime Chicken ($14.95) made with chicken breast, onions, cilantro, and topped with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole tasted like a cross between a Mexican and a Vietnamese dish and was a hit at the table.

Custom pizzas are available. Ask for it and you can probably get the exact combination of ingredients that you enjoy.

Pastas come in all the standard shapes and sizes – spaghetti, fettucine, linguine, rigatoni and so on. The Sundried Tomato and Pesto Linguine ($7.95) with toasted pine nuts tossed with sundried tomatoes, fresh pesto, and Parmesan appealed to the calorie counting diners but tasted rich and hearty. The garlic aroma of the Rock Shrimp Cilantro Fettuccine ($9.50), rock shrimp with tomatoes, onions, feta cheese, and cilantro tossed with white wine and garlic butter, was mouthwatering.

My favorite dish was the Half Roasted Chicken ($8.95), roasted half chicken with fresh rosemary and garlic, served with garlic mashed potatoes and sautrated vegetables. The chicken was fresh off the spit, rubbed and basted with tasty spices, tender to cut and full of flavor. The side dishes were wonderful, particularly the vegetables which were firm and glowing with a buttery sauce.

Pizza Nova is a good choice for a family. People can relax and be themselves. Children have things to watch. The food is good and prices are inexpensive. The Hillcrest location is at 3955 Fifth Avenue – 619/296-6682 The Solana Beach location is at 945 Lomas Santa Fe – 858/259-0666. The Point Loma location is at 5120 No. Harbor Drive – 619/226-0268. Now I know where I can be entertained and dine without calling my banker.

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