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Pizza Domination

If much of Richmond's pizza tastes the same to you, it's probably because you're eating at one of these places: Mary Angela's, Piccola's, Maldini's, Pronto, Pietro's, Vinny's Italian Grill and now Arianna's Italian Grill & Pizzeria at 700 N. Sheppard St. There's a method to the expansion-madness: All are owned by Lopresti Enterprises, and an assortment of family members moves among the holdings to ensure that every slice is made with the same recipe, ingredients and Italian DNA that have made each restaurant successful.

In the case of Arianna's, now serving from a corner building that housed The Ritz in another century, it's a neighborhood spot with a familiar face. Antonio Altadonna put a ton of himself into the project, building the wooden booths and bar, laying tiles, setting up the kitchen and naming the place after his 18-month-old daughter. In addition to the usual pies, he and crew are serving calzones, subs, pastas (fettucine al cognac and contadino are Altadonna favorites), apps (toasted ravioli, scallops and shrimp in a sambuca cream sauce) and salads. The 44-seat space is already buzzing and offers beer and wine, delivery and a low-key approach that fits well with the neighborhood. At the other corners are Caliente and China Panda, offering a triumvirate of affordable and informal flavors. Lunch and dinner daily. 353-6002.

Aye Carena

No one said it would be easy (or fast), but the hassles are behind them now that Carena Ives and Jimmy Sneed have opened their much-ballyhooed South Side venture, Carena's Jamaican Grille. Ives, the lovely and independent-minded owner of 14-years-successful Jamaica House, brings some of her signature dishes (oxtails, jerk and curry chicken, and goat, rice and peas with stewed cabbage) to the colorful setting. Sneed's spiced-up Americanized favorites round out the menu, from island sliders to rice-flour-fried calamari, burgers and pizza. Booths are cushy, service is island-gracious, and Sneed is focused on making things taste and run right.

At their pivotal corner (Chippenham and Route 60) in a neighborhood that's in major transition, several Happy the Artist murals mark this as a local spot that's got the blood, sweat and tears of two Richmond food legends; it's a far cry from the fast-food franchises that litter Midlothian Turnpike for miles. Lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. 422-5375.

Other tongues

Stumbling into new, authentic food enclaves is part of the fun of living in a changing city. Two cases in point are just west of Regency Square. At the jam-packed Via Brasil Café, 9033 Quioccassin Road, owner Jose Neto has captured a Spanish-speaking audience for his traditional dishes, including rump steak and a rotating menu of meat-lovers' delights. He's supplying meats to Brazilian churrascarias in the county and offers groceries and sundries that are rarely found in local supermarkets. Be sure, he says, to taste the hump steak from a bull's back, a hearty delicacy served once a week. 967-2266.

A few doors down, Tortilleria San Luis dishes up tacos and gorditas daily at 9027 Quioccassin for a mostly blue-collar crowd at a couple of tables; don't expect much English, count on some lard in the fryer and breathe in a savory new Richmond: international tastes, traditional desires and food that's as far from mayonnaisey potato salad as a lunch plate can get.

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