There are restaurants that feel like a special, going-out-to-eat restaurant, and then there are restaurants that feel like eating at home. The Lost Dog Cafe is a pleasurable mixture of both.

When you walk in, you’re immediately struck by the art, especially the portraits of dogs. The cafe has a very cozy atmosphere, with a mix of colorful curtains and lots of light, both from windows and from lamps. The servers are allowed to wear whatever they want, which I much prefer to the uniforms and dress codes of other restaurants. Even with this casual vibe, it doesn’t feel too domestic, thanks to the large, prominent bar in the middle of the cafe which provides space for smaller groups dining together.

The Lost Dog is offering a three-course lunch for $12 and a three-course dinner for $20 this Restaurant Week, and I went for lunch. The food was delivered very quickly relative to other restaurants I’ve visited in the area, with the starter coming in less than five minutes and the main course in less than 20. This is especially impressive since the cafe was almost full while I was there.

For a starter, you can choose from a house salad, a soup of the day or an alcoholic drink, either a glass of chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon, or a pint of Lost Dog pale ale. I got the house salad — called the Dog House Salad — with mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, garbanzo beans and ranch dressing. It was pretty basic, and there was nothing special about it, but for me it was perfectly acceptable as a starter. If you’re someone that expects something special from every course, however, you may be disappointed.

The main course offers a choice between rigatoni a la vodka, sloppy Joe, Chicken Tamale Pie and a salad of seasonal organic greens. I got the rigatoni a la vodka, their signature dish, which is made with garlic and tomatoes flamed in vodka, with cream, fresh basil and grated cheese. While the house salad was just adequate, the rigatoni was splendid. The sauce was very rich and tasty, with a hot flavor that doesn’t become too spicy. However, if you prefer more of a kick, you can request a pinch of cayenne pepper, free of charge. You can also get it with added protein, but that will cost you $4 or $5 for chicken or tofu, or shrimp, respectively. I didn’t get anything added because it was filling enough without it, and the sauce was so rich that I didn’t even finish it all.

For dessert, the restaurant is offering a pumpkin-pie cupcake, a chocolate chip cookie or an apple nut cake. I choose the pumpkin-pie cupcake, as I hadn’t tried before. The pumpkin-pie-flavored treat came topped with whipped cream, almost as tall as the cupcake itself. It certainly has all the delectable taste of the classic fall treat, although I can’t say it holds up to a regular slice of pumpkin pie.

Ultimately, I have to recommend the Lost Dog Cafe. While not every part of the meal was perfect, all the food was more than satisfactory and the service was better than most restaurants, formal or causal. The Lost Dog is the perfect way to spend an hour in Downtown Binghamton with friends, in a welcoming environment with good food, especially with the deals being offered this Restaurant Week.