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Annette Fisher, owner of Bair's Country Chicken, prepares a lunch.

As a fledgling foodie, I often long for the varied flavors of big cities.

But York offers a palate prep course - Thai, Spanish, Italian, Irish and French cuisine is just around the corner.

Even though I try to be adventurous, it's easy to fall into food ruts when time and budget are tight.

No more excuses: The mayor says so.

Try something new or discover old favorites during York Restaurant Week, which runs Feb. 25 to March 9.

Mayor Kim Bracey introduced the initiative last year. She approached the in-town marketing firm Inside Out Creative with the project pro bono. CEO and York resident Kim Walsh-Phillips accepted.

The mayor's office used health records to send out applications to area restaurants. About 13 participated during the inaugural year in 2011. Walsh-Phillips said Inside Out Creative staff took their experience with similar events in other communities to structure the local restaurant week.

Events in other areas set menus or courses that restaurants would serve, but representatives from local eateries came up with a different plan. Since the restaurants on York's list ranged from causal to upscale, they decided to be more flexible.

They agreed on serving new lunch and dinner options during the nine days of Restaurant Week. Item prices would end in nine.

Last year, some restaurants offered the same options every day and others featured different dishes each day.

At the end of the process, Inside Out Creative sent out surveys to the participants. Walsh-Phillips said restaurants said they saw new and returning customers and increased sales.

That was the point of the week: To increase downtown traffic and revitalize the economy, especially during a downtime.

"Typically, the week after Valentine's Day is a slow week," Walsh-Phillips said.

This year, there are nine confirmed restaurants. Many returned, and there are a few new names on the list, including The Cheese Steak Spot.

Alyn Shaffer looks on as Nicole Ahlfeldt of Pronto Pizza and Pasta at Central Market, slides his homemade pizza onto a plate for his lunch.
Alyn Shaffer looks on as Nicole Ahlfeldt of Pronto Pizza and Pasta at Central Market, slides his homemade pizza onto a plate for his lunch. (FLIPSIDE -- JASON PLOTKIN)
Healthy options are more appealing to me, but I have to admit that I've been dying to compare their sandwiches to the famous Philly cheesesteaks to which I'm accustomed.

This year also has a theme: A Celebration of York's Many Cultures. Walsh-Phillips said dishes served will make people more aware about the variety of eats right around the corner. She added that many items will be listed when they become available.

To help stretch the event's budget, the city is matching the $200 fee that restaurants pay to participate. Those funds will go to posters, fees, the event website and promotion, Walsh-Phillips said.

Another addition for 2012 - York Restaurant Week Ambassadors - will also help get the word out. During the event, the ambassadors will be posting about their experience on the event's website.

Lifelong Yorker and sales director at DOCEO Office Solutions Mike Black is one of the ambassadors.

He dined out during Restaurant Week 2011 and said he will be promoting this year's culinary tour through Facebook and in person.

"I'm out and about fairly often," he said. He frequently dines at White Rose Bar and Grill and Sam & Tony's Italian Restaurant, but he said he's looking forward to reviewing new places.

"It's kind of a cool opportunity," he said. "I feel like an amateur restaurant reviewer."

While the ambassadors raise awareness, some of the participating restaurants will raise money for the city's free special events, which include The Olde York Street Fair, Box Lunch Revues and York Bike Night.

Deconstructed philly cheesesteak at The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar.
Deconstructed philly cheesesteak at The Left Bank Restaurant and Bar. (FLIPSIDE -- KATE PENN)

It would be great to see more restaurants on this year's list. But then I realized that if I want to be a foodie, I literally have to put my money where my mouth is: I've lived in York for more than four years, and I haven't been to half of the participating eateries.

PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an email to emccracken@ydr.com.

York Restaurant Week participants

The Cheese Steak Spot, 153 S. Beaver St.

The Left Bank, 120 N. George St.

Central Family Restaurant, 400 N. George St.

White Rose Bar & Grill, 48 N. Beaver St.

Maewyn's Irish Pub, 110 N. George St.

Central Market vendors: Bair's Fried Chicken, Simply Soup, Under One Sun and Pronto Pizza & Pasta, 34 W. Philadelphia St.

York Restaurant Week ambassadors

David Satterllee

Will Guntrum

Chad Myers

Mike Black

J.J. Sheffer

Mary Yeaple

Amanda Meyers

Sean Kenny

Bryan Tate

Tim Howard

About York Restaurant Week

Downtown restaurants will offer special menu items Feb. 25 to March 9. For details, visit www.yorkrestaurantweek.com.