I'm looking for places that call out to you with one signature dish they do absolutely great. This differs from all-around fine dining establishments where you can go and know that you generally won't be disappointed with anything on the menu (well... assuming it matches your food preferences). These places might be average or even disappointing on the whole, but you found that one thing that never fails you. I have run across several such restaurants in my experiences around the country. Any time I order something else, I'm taking a big chance, but when I come back to the old standby it is just as good as I remember.
I'll start out with two around here:
Cinelli's (multiple locations): Grandma Pizza. Go with the simple cheese and tomato basic. The flavors are fresh and natural. The tomato sauce is chunky and placed in uneven clumps around the square area (very nicely). The medium size is just right for a couple to devour. Far outpasses their other pizzas, which are rather pedestrian for my tastes.
El Cerro (Ten Ten Road and Kildaire Farm in Apex): The carnitas are perfect. Moist, tender, browned crisp on the outside. Ask for their hotter red salsa rather than the green tomatillo they bring you by default. I've been disappointed with the other dishes I've tried there, but I order the carnitas and all is forgiven.