It's not the prettiest dish, but it's in the running for tastiest dish.

What: Chicken parmigiana

Where: Johnny Costa’s Ristorante, 440 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $32

Contact: 760-325-4556;

Why: It’s the best I’ve had in years.

Years ago, the hubby and I went to Johnny Costa’s Ristorante. Our dinner was so-so—I don’t remember what we had—and as a result, we never returned … that is, until we were invited to a large gathering there one recent evening.

Our meals were stellar—so stellar, in fact, that we returned for dinner less than a week later. That dinner was also wonderful.

At that large gathering, I ordered the chicken parmigiana. This Italian-American staple is a favorite of mine, with a caveat: The best version of this dish I’ve ever had is at Mama Louisa’s in Tucson, Ariz., and ever since I moved away from Tucson more than a decade ago, I’ve unsuccessfully tried to find a chicken parm that’s as good. Mama Louisa’s version stands out because of the fantastic sauce and the fact that, somehow, the delicious breading retains some crispiness despite being topped with cheese and sauce.

Johnny Costa’s version may not match Mama Louisa’s … but it comes really close. Everything about it is great: The chicken is juicy and perfectly cooked; the marinara is lovely; the mozzarella is, well, mozzarella; and the light breading retains some texture.

How good was this chicken parm? So good that when we returned less than a week later, I ordered it again—even though Johnny Costa’s menu is packed with all sorts of other delicious things. And delicious, they are: The minestrone soup is top-notch, and the hubby enjoyed both his entrées on our recent visits, the angel hair shrimp pomodori ($39) and the spaghetti and meatballs ($29).

The lesson here? It’s worth giving restaurants—especially places that have been around for a while (Johnny Costa’s opened in 1976)—a second chance.

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Jimmy Boegle

Jimmy Boegle is the founding editor and publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent. He is also the executive editor and publisher of the Reno News & Review in Reno, Nev. A native of Reno, the Dodgers...

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