Where To Eat

Written by Elin Jeffords, Geri Koeppel, Michele Laudig, Carey Sweet, Gwen Ashley Walters Category: Food Reviews Issue: January 2012
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Bertha’s Café
Baked goods are the stars at this hidden gem, and at breakfast, that means huge, moist muffins and buttery, crumbly scones. Bertha’s bakes eggs, too, in several delectable iterations, including a bacon, arugula, pesto and parmesan cheese brioche toast egg sandwich. Try the breakfast torta, a wedge-shaped pie layered with eggs, cheese, ham, salami, spinach and roasted peppers. For something light, slip a spoon into the parfait with seasonal fruit, nonfat vanilla yogurt and coconut-flecked granola. 3134 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-955-1022, berthascafe.com. Breakfast 7:30-11 a.m. M-F, 8 a.m.-1 p.m Sa; lunch M-Sa. $

BLD
A drive-up window for smoothies and lattes, a dog-friendly patio and a creative menu that features breakfast meatloaf – what’s not to like? Cork owners Robert and Danielle Morris and partner/chef Brian Peterson hit the spot with BLD (breakfast, lunch, dinner), especially at breakfast. Sweet and savory play nice in the Monte Cristo, the green chile pork tostada is tangy and tasty, and get over the dubious mauve-colored red wine hollandaise spooned over eggs Benedict with short ribs, because the dish is a knockout. 1920 W. Germann Rd., Chandler, 480-779-8646, bldchandler.com. Breakfast 7 a.m.-4 p.m. M-F, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sa-Su; lunch and dinner daily. $-$$

The Breakfast Club
Even with the new expansion, short waits are common at this Scottsdale hotspot. Maybe it’s the new breakfast libations, or maybe it’s because The Breakfast Club’s deep, interesting menu keeps drawing repeat visitors like a magnet.  “The Bird” omelet, stuffed with roast turkey, avocado, mushrooms and boursin cheese, is soul satisfying; Harris Ranch filet mignon Benedict with sautéed spinach could be served in a steakhouse. Downtown Phoenicians can get their Club fix at the new CityScape location. 4400 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-222-2582, thebreakfastclub.us. Breakfast 6 a.m.-3 p.m. M-F, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sa-Su; lunch daily. Other location: Phoenix. $

Carolina’s
Everyone knows Carolina’s makes the best tortillas, and when they’re wrapped around hefty brekkie fixings, no one leaves hungry – or broke. Eggs, potatoes, beans, beef chorizo and beef machaca, combined in seven variations, are all less than $4 each. We’re partial to the juicy machaca, loaded with pinto beans, scrambled eggs and potatoes. Top it off with red or green salsa; neither will set your lips on fire, but both get a savory kick from cumin and garlic. 1202 E. Mohave St., Phoenix, 602-252-1503, carolinasnorth.com. Breakfast 7-10:30 a.m. M-Sa; lunch and dinner M-Sa. Other locations: Phoenix (602-275-8231); Peoria (623-487-1400) $
 

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Heart & Soul Café
Don’t go to Heart & Soul Café if, a) you’re not hungry, or b) you’re on a diet. Sure, they have a “fitness frittata,” but there are platters of far more glorious calories to consider. To wit: bacon-studded blueberry pancakes as big as the plate, or terrific green chile pork chilaquiles, or jalapeño beef tenderloin hash. If you have three burly-but-famished friends, attack the 13-layer suicide stack (don’t even ask – it’s insane). The “crazy” split biscuit – one half topped with creamy, thyme-scented pork and sausage gravy and the other with rich, green chile pork verde, served with eggs and roasted potatoes – seems tame by comparison. 4705 E. Carefree Highway, Cave Creek, 480-595-7300, heartandsoulcafeaz.com. Breakfast 7-11 a.m. M-Sa, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Su; lunch M-Sa; dinner Tu-Sa. $-$$

Chloe’s Corner
It’s tough to beat a 50-cent cup of coffee, especially one this solid. The rest of the breakfast menu in this busy café in chic Kierland Commons (and Downtown Phoenix at CityScape) is not that cheap, but it’s surprisingly affordable, topping out at eight bucks. If dining solo, sit at the counter, people-watch at a sidewalk table, or grab-and-go from the chilled case. Try the steel-cut oatmeal or “Chloe’s favorite” – two scrambled eggs with bacon, toast and fruit. 15215 N. Kierland Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-998-0202, chloescorneraz.com. Breakfast 7-10:30 a.m. M-F, 8-11:30 a.m. Sa-Su; lunch daily. $

The Coffee Shop
Surrounded by Gilbert’s bucolic Agritopia, The Coffee Shop feels sleek, urban and hip. You can get a tasty, all-American breakfast with eggs, bacon and toast, or an outrageous potato, bacon and cheddar cheese burrito (with a Carolina’s tortilla), but the pastry display case is just as impressive as the farmhand fare. The owners won an episode of the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars in 2010, and had there been a scone or muffin contest, their buttery toffee rum raisin scone or raspberry vanilla muffin might have won, too. 3000 E. Ray Rd., Gilbert, 480-279-3144, thecoffeeshopaz.com. Breakfast 7 a.m.-noon M-Sa, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Su; lunch daily; dinner M-Sa. $
 

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Orange Table
No doubt about it, the Orange Table has mastered the art of making pancakes. With crisp edges and fluffy, tender interiors, the hotcakes come in eight flavors, including banana pecan, strawberry, jalapeño-pecan, and monkey – filled with bananas, almonds and coconut. As good as the griddlecakes are, Orange Table slings some terrific hash platters, too, especially the green flannel hash with corned beef, green chiles and jalapeños sautéed with potatoes and topped with sour cream. Vegetarians will dig the beets, artichoke, olive and potato hash, and everyone will crave the garlic mushroom omelet smothered in creamy mushroom sherry sauce – and the strong cup of joe. 7373 E. Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale, 480-424-6819, orangetableaz.com. Breakfast 7 a.m.-2 p.m. daily; lunch daily. $

Daily Dose
It could take weeks of daily pilgrimages to work through the lengthy breakfast menu at Daily Dose. From overstuffed omelets to protein pancakes, all the bases are covered. Sure, you can order eggs, bacon and toast, but it’s hard to resist gingerbread pancakes paired with poached peaches and crème anglaise. Even if you didn’t over-indulge the night before, try the hangover sandwich, a grilled sourdough monster sporting a hyperactive combination of fried egg, bacon, turkey sausage, cheddar cheese, grilled jalapeños, caramelized onions, and harissa aioli. 4020 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-994-3673, dailydosegrill.com. Breakfast 7 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $-$$$

Gallo Blanco
At Gallo Blanco, “breakfast all day” means you don’t have to drag yourself out of bed at the crack of noon. Start with a cinnamon-kissed horchata or a feisty Bloody Mary, then dive into green chile chilaquiles (chicken or vegetarian) or grilled flatiron steak served with fried eggs, ranchero sauce and guacamole. The egg and spicy chorizo torta or the delightfully messy huevos rancheros will wake up any sleep-deprived taste buds. Craving something sweet? Lick-the-plate-clean cajeta y platano crepas (caramel and banana crêpes) has your name on it. 401 W. Clarendon Ave., Phoenix, 602-327-0880, galloblancocafe.com. Breakfast 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Su-Th, 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. F-Sa; lunch and dinner daily. $
 

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Jobot
Set in a rickety old house, Jobot is more artsy coffeehouse than café, and breakfast consists of a dozen or so sweet and savory crêpes. Some fillings are wild – case in point: root beer-braised pork topped with pineapple slaw and fresh jalapeños. You can also get the fillings on a bed of greens, or mounded on three corn tortillas instead of a crêpe. We love the oven-roasted turkey with mozzarella, spinach and garlicky pesto, and the banana-stuffed crêpe smeared with Nutella. 918 N. Fifth St., Phoenix, 602-228-7373, jobot-coffee.com. Breakfast 7 a.m.-midnight M-Th and Su, 24 hours F-Sa. $

La Grande Orange Grocery
Fashionable LGO is so popular that even if they didn’t serve mouthwatering breakfasts, they’d still be packed. Fortunately, they do dish out some of the tastiest fare in town. Go light with an egg-white omelet or grain-packed birchermüesli, or splurge with the English muffin commuter sandwich with scrambled eggs, tomato and choice of salty bacon, ham, or avocado. Glide your fork through pancakes served with honey syrup and crème fraîche, and don’t overlook the bakery case of fresh muffins and scones. 4410 N. 40th St., Phoenix, 602-840-7777, lagrandeorangegrocery.com. Breakfast 6:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $

Matt’s Big Breakfast
Fans endure the queues at this tiny brick eatery because Matt’s Big Breakfast is worth the wait. Sure, Matt and Erenia Poole could expand their restaurant and double their business, but they’re fanatic about delivering a top-notch breakfast made from quality (often local) ingredients. Controlling how many dishes they crank out ensures they’re serving only the best. When you order the cheese omelet, oozing with cheddar and provolone melted into three fluffy eggs, or a salami scramble with crisp hash browns, or a perfect Belgian waffle, you’ll forget how long you waited. 801 N. First St., Phoenix, 602-254-1074, mattsbigbreakfast.com. Breakfast 6:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tu-Su; lunch Tu-Su. $

Morning Glory Café
You know breakfast is farm-fresh when you’re dining at the very place that farmed it. Maya’s Farm nestles up to the picture-perfect patio at Morning Glory Café at the Farm at South Mountain. Help yourself to coffee at the self-serve stand and soak up the view while you wait for a skillet of roasted vegetables and truffle-scented scrambled eggs with grilled bread, or the robust cowboy plate with chili made from local beef and native tepary beans topped with two fried eggs. On weekends, the menu also includes omelets and a light and crunchy blueberry Belgian waffle with vanilla cream. 6106 S. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602-276-6360, thefarmatsouthmountain.com. Breakfast Tu-F 8-11 a.m., Sa-Su 8 a.m.-1 p.m. $-$$

Over Easy
We tend to skip over the lengthy healthy portion of the menu at this family oriented breakfast joint and go straight to the entrées. Chilaquiles – fried chips smothered with tender chicken, ranchero sauce and cheese – is as comforting as a hug. And the sandwich-like Wolfpack is over-the-top: The “bread” is two layers of crisp hash browns, filled with two eggs any way (over easy for us), bacon and cheese (American, Swiss, cheddar, feta or goat). Next time we’ll order the egg white and spinach scramble. Yeah, right. 4730 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-468-3447, eatatovereasy.com. Breakfast 6:30 a.m.-1 p.m. M-F, 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sa-Su; and 9375 E. Bell Rd., Scottsdale, 480-270-3447. Breakfast 6:30 a.m.-1 p.m daily. $-$$

Perk Eatery
Soft, tender pancakes rule the roost at Perk Eatery, from the award-winning, caramelized banana pecan pancakes to weekend specials including pumpkin pecan or lemon ricotta cakes. Hotcakes aren’t the only reason to visit this bright, busy café in a strip center west of Kierland Commons. Hearty egg scrambles include the Outlaw, loaded with ham, bacon and sausage, and nine plate-hogging omelets ranging from the spicy chorizo Border Patrol to the garlicky vegetarian with roasted tomatoes and red peppers, onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese. 6501 E. Greenway Pkwy., Scottsdale, 480-998-6026, perkeatery.com. Breakfast and lunch 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. $

Pomegranate Café
You don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan to enjoy the crunchy berry pepita French toast or the Anasazi bean and seasonal vegetable breakfast burrito at this cheery Ahwatukee café. Mother-daughter duo Marlene and Cassie Tolman have a knack for cooking with nourishing greens and grains without skimping on flavor. Check the chalkboard for daily specials, such as black bean and tomatillo soup or sweet potato tamales. Marlene has a certificate in patisserie and baking, so her vegan pastries taste as good as they look. 4025 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix, 480-706-7472, pomegranatecafe.com. Breakfast 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tu-Su; lunch Tu-Su; brunch Su. $

Scramble
It’s a good thing breakfast is served all day at Scramble, because it’s hard to resist the Santa Fe eggs Benedict at any hour. The poached eggs are perched atop ham and jalapeño corn bread, smothered in kicky chipotle hollandaise and served with a side of rosemary-scented spuds. The two “scramble” plates – Meat Lovers, with more breakfast meat than a pork butchery, and Veggie Lovers, with squashes, peppers and sun-dried tomatoes – both live up to their names. It’s hit or miss on the gigantic cinnamon roll, but when it’s a hit, it’s swoon-worthy. 9832 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-374-2294, azscramble.com. Breakfast 6 a.m.-2 p.m. daily; lunch daily. $

Tryst Café
Tryst has a solid lineup of omelets, pancakes and waffles, but don’t miss the Hawaiian breakfast: Tender, juicy, slow-roasted pork layered with sautéed cabbage and fragrant jasmine rice, then topped with two fried eggs and syrupy soy sauce. Leave off the soy sauce and the dish is gluten free. In fact, about half the menu is either naturally or easily modified to be gluten free, including a three egg omelet with buffalo mozzarella, pesto and roasted tomatoes. Several dishes come with sweet potato tots, but if they don’t, request them. 21050 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix, 480-585-7978, trystcafe.com. Breakfast 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $-$$



BEST BRUNCHES
Crackers & Co. Café
Hankering for huevos, but it’s el jueves (Thursday)? You don’t have to wait for weekends to have brunch at this bustling diner, which serves a full lineup of favorites daily. They’ve got you covered from sweet (cinnamon swirl French toast) to savory (spicy Mexican skillet). After 10:30 a.m., you can also order from the lunch menu, featuring mammoth salads bursting with grilled chicken and fruits, plus homemade soups, burgers and melts. Save room for house-made brownies, bread pudding or lemon bars. No alcohol. 1285 W. Elliot Rd., Tempe, 480-705-7900, crackersandcompanycafe.com. Breakfast/brunch 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily; lunch daily. Other locations: southwest Mesa (480-898-1717); northeast Mesa (480-924-9977). $

Crescent Moon at Four Seasons
If the open kitchen with a copper-clad fire oven doesn’t catch your eye, the stunning buffet surely will. The Four Seasons Scottsdale puts out a fine spread in its cozy Southwestern restaurant. Chefs cook up awesome omelets, but don’t pass up other egg dishes such as quiche or frittatas with local vegetables. Dishes change weekly, so you can go regularly and still be surprised by items such as Heath Bar crunch or Nutella and jelly pancakes. Yogurt parfaits, house-made pastries and specialty juices top off the selections. 10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr., Scottsdale, 480-513-5088, fourseasons.com/scottsdale. Brunch 7:30-11 a.m. Sa-Su; breakfast and lunch daily; dinner W-Su. $$$-$$$$

El Chorro Lodge
Sipping mimosas at brunch on the plush patio at El Chorro, with its majestic mountain views and effortlessly refined ambiance, is an iconic Valley pastime everyone should enjoy at least once. The signature dish is perfect eggs Benedict, available with Canadian bacon, smoked salmon, beef tenderloin or vegetarian-style. Other stellar offerings include omelets, breakfast burritos, buffalo burgers, rainbow trout, salads, and a retro tangerine freeze or date shake. 5550 E. Lincoln Dr., Paradise Valley, 480-948-5170, elchorro.com. Brunch 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Su; happy hour and dinner daily. $$-$$$
 

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The Herb Box
Sit under the umbrellas by the Scottsdale Canal or grab a booth in the casual yet stylish interior and indulge in Herb Box’s Sunday brunch, featuring a full breakfast and lunch menu. Earlier birds can feast on killer chilaquiles or cinnamon buckwheat pancakes with blueberries, but if you wander in around noon, check out the salads, flatbreads, stacked sandwiches, butternut corn enchiladas or Thai BBQ baby back ribs. “Bottomless” brunch includes chef’s choice bruschetta, an entrée and all-you-can-drink Bloody Marys or mango mimosas. 7134 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, 480-289-6160, theherbbox.com. Brunch 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Su; breakfast 8-11 a.m. Sa; lunch and dinner M-Sa. Other location: Scottsdale (480-289-6180). $-$$

Hillside Spot
This Ahwatukee eatery’s menu has a distinct South-of-the-border flavor, thanks to owner Doug Robson (Gallo Blanco), who grew up in Mexico. But you won’t find typical cheese-smothered Sonoran grub here: The locavore menu is sprinkled with Phoenix-made chorizo, Maya’s Farm produce and MJ Bread pastries. Best picks are an “El Gallo” torta served on telera bread from La Sonorense; fluffy, eggy Mia’s Homemade Pancakes; and (after 11 a.m.) chilaquiles with tangy, freshly grilled green chile-tomatillo sauce. When it’s nice out, snag a spot on the lovely patio. 4740 E. Warner Rd., Phoenix, 480-705-7768, hillsidespot.com. Breakfast/brunch 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $
 

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Local Breeze Patio Café
This Downtown gem features a darling historic home for inside seating and the breezy, pet-friendly patio promised in the name. Go hungry, because food here is rich and hearty. Fire Island eggs is one of those dishes you crave week after week, thanks to an insane combination of sauteéd chicken, fire-roasted chiles, horseradish and cayenne pepper cream cheese sauce. Devoted carnivores should try the eggs Benedict, with six ounces of filet mignon perched atop the muffins, which, like all breads here, are house-made. Satisfy your sweet tooth with gooey Bananas Foster French challah toast. 606 N. Fourth Ave., Phoenix, 602-368-3613, localbreeze.com. Breakfast/brunch 9-11 a.m. Tu-F, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sa-Su; lunch, dinner Tu-F; dinner Sa. $-$$

Kiss the Cook
Laden with antiques and folksy knickknacks, this homey hub doesn’t harbor a sliver of pretense. The old-fashioned breakfast and brunch offerings start with a freebie “baker’s basket” of homemade mini muffins, but save room for a pecan cinnamon roll with hot caramel pecan sauce or a fresh-baked piece of pie. Other specialties include some of the fluffiest, fullest omelets around and thick, rich pancakes. No alcohol. 4915 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-939-4663, kissthecookaz.com. Breakfast/brunch 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m. M-F, 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Sa, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Su; lunch menu starts 8 a.m. M-Sa. $

T. Cook’s
Can’t decide between à la carte and buffet? One of the Valley’s most attractive restaurants urges guests to have a little of both. Along with a hot entrée, get the Mediterranean market spread: Treats include superb ceviche, shrimp, crab, charcuterie, cheeses, grilled vegetables, salads, smoked salmon, omelets and a decadent dessert bar. T. Cook’s also ups the ante on ambiance with a flamenco guitarist from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. 5200 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, 602-808-0766, royalpalmshotel.com. Brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Su; breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $$-$$$$

The Wrigley Mansion Club
When Paola Embry (Christopher’s and Crush) took over  this Valley landmark in 2010, she spruced up the property and revamped the brunch. The breathtaking views from the elegant verandas are enough to impress even the pickiest relatives, but the superior buffet will make them swoon. Brimming with fresh produce, seafood, cheeses, mouthwatering seasonal meats such as roasted suckling pig and house-made sausages, delightful desserts, unlimited mimosas and outrageously good eggs Benedict and omelets, it’s quite simply the best of everything in an exquisite venue. 2501 E. Telawa Trail, Phoenix, 602-955-4079, wrigleymansionclub.com. Brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Su. Reservations required. $$$$

ZuZu
With its mid-century modern design, aqua-and-orange color scheme, enticing patio, and make-your-own Bloody Mary bar, ZuZu (they’ve dropped “Café”) at the Hotel Valley Ho has “fun” written all over it. The brunch menu seamlessly bridges morning and afternoon with eggs Benedict, omelets and banana buttermilk pancakes alongside burgers, BLTs and the best cheesy grits in town. The selections may be standard, but ingredients and preparations are top-of-the-line. 6850 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-421-7997; hotelvalleyho.com. Brunch 11:15 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sa-Su; breakfast daily; lunch M-F; dinner daily. $$

 


BEST LUNCHES

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Andreoli Italian Grocer
With a handful of salads and antipasti, and a baker’s dozen of sandwiches, the menu isn’t fussy at Giovanni Scorzo’s modest north Scottsdale deli. But the chef-owner, born in Calabria, puts his passion for authentic Italian cuisine into every bite. That means homemade bread, cheese and cured meats for sandwiches like the Abbuffino (focaccia layered with spicy Calabrese salami and smoked mozzarella). Other staples include tiramisu, chocolates and cannoli, plus rotating daily specials that draw an enthusiastic crowd of Italian natives nostalgic for a taste of home. But Andreoli is a Valley destination for devoted foodies of all backgrounds. 8880 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, 480-614-1980, andreoli-grocer.com. Lunch and dinner M-Sa. $$

The Arrogant Butcher
CityScape finally came into its own when award-winning restaurateur Sam Fox opened this high-energy urban grill smack-dab in the middle of it all, snaring local movers and shakers with Downtown’s best power lunch. (And yes, there’s takeout for days when you’re too busy for people-watching but still craving a turkey sloppy joe.) From chopped salmon salad with kale, cauliflower and currants to filet mignon sliders with smoked onions, the menu hits a lot of high notes. But beware of the abundant appetizers, cheeses and charcuterie – you might find yourself wanting to skip work and nibble your way straight through to happy hour. 2 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix, 602-324-8502, foxrc.com. Lunch and dinner M-Sa. $$

Asian Cafe Express
With almost everything on its massive menu priced at less than eight dollars, this modest Mesa strip-mall spot makes it a cinch to feast on a budget. It also happens to be one of the best Chinese restaurants, at any price point, in the Valley. Chef-owner Michael Leung’s expertise in creating authentic Hong Kong cuisine is evident in the fragrant wok hai pan-fried noodles; the comforting consistency of congee porridge studded with chunks of seafood; and the alluring depth of black bean sauce teamed with everything from plump mussels to whole steamed fish. 1911 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-668-5910, asiancafeexpress.com. Lunch and dinner daily. $
 

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Shimogamo
No matter what time of day you visit, the sushi and sashimi are always exceptionally fresh and beautifully presented at this traditional Japanese restaurant in the heart of Chandler’s Asian hub (catty-corner from Lee Lee Oriental Supermart). Lunchtime offers something extra special, however: the Shimogamo Tray. Whether you’re craving golden tempura, luscious saikyo black cod, crisp pork katsu, or juicy chicken teriyaki, this bento is a heck of a well-rounded meal with rice, pickles, salad and soup for less than ten bucks. Trendy Asian joints may come and go, but there’s a reason we keep returning to Shimogamo. 2051 W. Warner Rd., Chandler, 480-899-7191, shimogamoaz.com. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. M-F; dinner daily. $

Canteen Modern Tequila Bar
Traditional street tacos get an upscale spin here, from melt-in-your-mouth, Yucatán-style pork with mesquite-grilled pineapples to juicy, flavorful carne asada jazzed up with Caribbean pepper salsa, avocado, lettuce and cilantro. Salads come in entrée-sized portions for a filling midday meal, but for even bigger appetites, try the all-day breakfast burrito, or a hefty “Mexican cheese steak” with sautéed onions, jalapeños, and Oaxaca cheese. Per the name, Canteen has an impressive tequila selection, too – but this stylish Mill Avenue hangout is much more than a mere bar. 640 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, 480-773-7135, canteentequilabar.com. Lunch and dinner daily. $$

Essence Bakery Cafe
Chef-owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos’ Mediterranean-inspired fare reveals masterful attention to details, from the soft, fragrant brioche that showcases a mound of free-range chicken salad with lemon and basil, to the decadent open-faced steak sandwich, made with grass-fed, local Power Ranch beef and gilded with cabernet butter, sautéed mushrooms and Maytag blue cheese. The salads are made with organic produce and drizzled with perfect vinaigrette. Although it’s tempting to clean the plate here, be sure to save room for a crisp macaron or one of Theodosopoulos’ famous croissants – they’re worth a visit unto themselves. 825 W. University Dr., Tempe, 480-966-2745, essencebakery.com. Breakfast and lunch M-Sa. $

Haji-Baba
“No frills” is an understatement at this popular Tempe hole-in-the-wall, but that has nothing to do with the food, which ranks as some of the tastiest Middle Eastern fare you’ll find anywhere. Kabob platters with fluffy, piping-hot rice, juicy chicken shawarma, gyro sandwiches, crisp balls of falafel, and lick-your-plate-delicious hummus are just a few reasons to stop by for a filling lunch that won’t break the bank. And while you’re at it, check out the spices, oils, canned goods and other pantry staples in the well-stocked aisles of the market. 1513 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe, 480-966-4672. Lunch and dinner daily. $
 

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The House at Secret Garden
Leave it to Pat Christofolo to create another dining oasis in the sticks. As owner of The Farm Kitchen at The Farm at South Mountain, she gave Phoenicians good reason to step away from the urban bustle, if only for a relaxing lunch break. Teaming up with her son Dustin, she recently transformed a Spanish-style south Phoenix mansion into one of the city’s most charming destinations for elegant but unpretentious American cuisine. Lunch offerings include artisanal cheeses, sweet potato planks with crème fraîche, beautiful salads with seasonal, organic vegetables, and an irresistible smoked brisket sandwich with white cheddar cheese. On a nice day, the patio here can’t be beat. 2501 E. Baseline Rd., Phoenix, 602-243-8539, houseatsecretgarden.com. Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. M-Sa; dinner M-Sa. $$

House of Tricks
Oh, what a difference a couple blocks makes. In hectic, college-centric Tempe, House of Tricks feels worlds apart from nearby Mill Avenue, thanks to its cozy location in two side-by-side historic homes surrounded by trees, an inviting outdoor bar, and plenty of patio seating. The sophistication extends to the food, too, from classics (top-notch Caesar salad with pecan-smoked trout; French dip on baguette served au jus) to creative new tastes (a grilled chicken sandwich with goat cheese, fig jam, bacon and arugula). 114 E. Seventh St., Tempe, 480-968-1114, houseoftricks.com. Lunch and dinner M-Sa. $$

Joe’s Real BBQ
From the nostalgic, agriculture-themed mural and framed vintage Arizona Highways covers to the 1940s tractor parked in the middle of the cafeteria-style dining room, Joe’s Real BBQ boasts Americana appeal that suits its old-fashioned menu of pecan-smoked meats, including beef brisket and tender pork ribs. Equally delicious are sides like BBQ pit beans, mac and cheese, cole slaw, and corn bread with honey butter. When you’re ready to blow your diet, a visit to Joe’s should be at the top of your to-do list. 301 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-503-3805, joesrealbbq.com. Lunch and dinner daily. $$

La Piazza al Forno
This homey, family-owned Italian eatery in downtown Glendale has earned serious bragging rights, winning an endorsement from Food Network celeb Guy Fieri and a prestigious Verace Pizza Napoletana Association certification, which ensures that each thin, crisp, wood-fired pizza is made with the same methods you’d find in the pizza hotbed of Naples, Italy. But the surest sign of La Piazza’s success is the spirited competition for a table at lunch, when locals and visitors pack the house for mouthwatering margherita pies topped with homemade mozzarella, or generous panini made with bread fresh from the oven, plus velvety homemade cheesecake. 5803 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-847-3301, lapiazzaalforno.com. Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tu-Sa; dinner Tu-Sa. $$

Nobuo at Teeter House
Although chef Nobuo Fukuda made a name for himself – and garnered a prestigious James Beard Award – by creating intricate, inventive sashimi bites and sophisticated Japanese fusion tasting menus, his take on casual dining is just as delicious. Lunch at his namesake Heritage Square restaurant is a quirky sort of comfort food, including crisp panko-fried pork cutlets or a whole fried soft-shell crab tucked into sandwiches. Other treats include plump grilled shrimp atop a tangy rice noodle salad, and decadent okonomiyaki, a savory pancake packed with seafood and pork, slathered with pungent cream and topped with shaved dried bonito and a dash of aonori seaweed. 622 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-254-0600, nobuofukuda.com. Lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tu-Su; dinner Tu-Su. $$

Pane Bianco
While outdoor, picnic-style seating was long the only option at Chris Bianco’s celebrated sandwicherie, that didn’t stop fans from lining up for his Old World-meets-locavore sandwiches made with wood-fired bread. Following the restaurant’s recent expansion, guests can finally relax inside to savor favorites like the house-made mozzarella with local tomato and basil; zingy tuna salad with red onion, olives and lemon juice; and a rotating menu of daily market sandwiches such as roasted zucchini and peppers with burrata. If you have a sweet tooth, creamy rice pudding makes a perfect lunchtime dessert. 4404 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-234-2100, pizzeriabianco.com. Lunch and dinner M-Sa. $

The Parlor
It figures that this high-toned pizza joint rarely experiences an off-day: The specialty pies are deliciously unique and even got a recent nod from Food Network magazine in its “50 States, 50 Pizzas” feature. Along with a crust that’s a mouthwatering balance of crispy and chewy, toppings are memorably creative: Schreiner’s sausage with grilled radicchio, sage and a drizzle of sweet saba, or tender Yukon Gold potatoes with gorgonzola, pancetta and leeks. House-made pastas, hearty sandwiches, and an interesting selection of salads round out the extensive menu at this new-school local landmark. 1916 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-248-2480, theparlor.us. Lunch and dinner M-Sa. $$

Pho Thanh
Looking for a scrumptious lunch for well under ten bucks? Fast food might seem like your only option, but this bustling uptown Phoenix eatery offers a sprawling menu of tasty Vietnamese vittles that are blessedly easy on the wallet. Bring friends to share bo bay mon – platters of lemongrass-seasoned meat you cook yourself on a tabletop grill. Or come solo and nibble on a bánh mi sandwich packed with pork, jalapeño and cilantro. While so much food might tempt you to take a post-lunch nap, an iced Vietnamese coffee is the perfect pick-me-up. 1702 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-242-1979. Breakfast, lunch and dinner M, W-Su. $

Soi 4
Thai options abound across the Valley, but Soi 4 stands apart with its serenely modern décor, contemporary twists on Thai cuisine and unusual regional specialties such as keow wan roti (juicy grilled steak with tender pan-fried Indian bread and spicy green curry dip). Sure, Soi 4 has crowd-pleasing Thai staples like chicken satay, papaya salad, and pad Thai – all done exceptionally well – but it’s definitely worth venturing into flavorful new territory. Thankfully, the gracious, enthusiastic staff makes it easy to navigate the menu, which runs the gamut from noodles and wok-fried meats to grilled fish wrapped in banana leaf. 8787 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-778-1999, soifour.com. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. M-F; dinner daily. $$$

Tacos Atoyac
What might appear to be another hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint in north Phoenix is turning out some of the Valley’s tastiest street tacos, including spicy al pastor; crisp, lightly-fried fish topped with cabbage and creamy sauce; and succulent carne asada and lengua (tongue). Just as noteworthy are Oaxacan specialties like molotes (masa fritters stuffed with potato and chorizo), memelitas (crunchy masa cakes piled with meat), and tender chicken in an alluring, lip-smacking mole sauce. 1830 W. Glendale Ave., Phoenix, 602-864-2746. Lunch and dinner Tu-Sa. $

True Food Kitchen
Teaming up with Dr. Andrew Weil, restaurateur Sam Fox has hit the health-food jackpot with an Asia-meets-Med menu that’s genuinely intoxicating. Squash and ricotta ravioli get an umami boost from kale and maitake mushroom soy broth, while wild ahi sliders are brightened with wasabi aioli, radish, cucumber and avocado. As you’d expect, the salads are show-stoppers (especially the Mediterranean Chopped with lemon oregano vinaigrette and an optional slab of grilled salmon), but the pizza’s tasty, too. Like many dishes at True Food, it’s available gluten-free – and guilt-free. 2502 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-774-3488, truefoodkitchen.com. Lunch and dinner daily. Other location: Scottsdale (480-265-4500). $$

Vincent Market Bistro
Vincent’s on Camelback remains one of the Valley’s elite special-occasion restaurants, but this lesser-known bistro – tucked behind Chef Vincent Guerithault’s namesake establishment – is the kind of place you can frequent every week. Reasonable prices, rustic French Country decor, and complimentary fresh croissants make this charming hideaway an inviting, intimate option for friendly lunching. Escape into Guerithault’s signature coq au vin or his perfect Niçoise salad with albacore tuna, beets, potatoes, egg and anchovies over baby greens. The complimentary dessert is always a welcome treat. 3930 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-224-3727, vincentsoncamelback.com. Breakfast and lunch daily; dinner M-Sa. $$
 

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Windsor
The same folks who brought us longtime lunch fave Postino Winecafé have branched out with an upscale pub across the street from Postino Central, and it’s hands-down CenPho’s most roaring new hotspot. Don’t miss the dynamite Brown Bag Chicken Sandwich, heaped with pulled chicken and oven-dried tomatoes in fresh green goddess/goat cheese dressing, or the refreshing mixed grain salad that combines black quinoa, organic khorasan wheat, barley and a slew of veggies in orange basil vinaigrette. Grab a table on the patio if you like to see and be seen. 5223 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-279-1111, windsoraz.com. Lunch and dinner daily. $$

 




BEST HAPPY HOURS
The Armadillo Grill
When is it not happy hour at Armadillo? Even mid-day drinking is a steal, with daily changing specials such as Thursday’s $1.75 well drinks. This old-fashioned, dusky bar has been around forever, thanks to its pool tables, convivial Cheers atmosphere, and honest bar food zipped with a bit of variety, meaning you can munch on half-price Cajun-spiced fried pickles, a pound of wings, or loaded potato skins (all $3.50). 1904 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-287-0700, myarmadillogrill.com. Happy hour drink specials start at 11 a.m., plus food and drink specials from 4-7 p.m. and 10 p.m.-2 a.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $-$$

Bombay Spice Grill & Wine
You had us at henna. For $10 during happy hour on the first Thursday of every month, this colorful Indian eatery offers a custom-designed, plant-based ink temporary tattoo plus a glass of wine. There’s plant-based food, too, on a new vegan menu to go along with the already tempting, delightfully seasoned vegetarian and meat options. Nibble on $1-$3 samosas, chicken tikka and mango salad, and sip on $4 house wine or a 22-ounce bottled beer. 10810 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix, 602-795-0020, bombayspice.com. Happy hour 3-6 p.m. Tu-F, 3-9 p.m. M; lunch and dinner daily. $$

Christopher’s Restaurant/Crush Lounge
Happy hour here is oh-so-classy, dahling, and a near-scandalous steal for owner Christopher Gross’ extraordinary French cuisine. Eat at the chef’s counter overlooking the kitchen for half-off all plates (generally $5.50-$9) including gourmet pizzas, fancy cheeseburgers, imported charcuterie and handcrafted pastas. Quaffs are equally ooh-la-la, at half-price for all of the 40-plus wines by the glass, beers and premium well cocktails. For a higher energy option, slide next door for similar specials at the sexy Crush Lounge. 2502 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-522-2344, christophersaz.com. Happy hour 3-6 p.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $$-$$$

Cien Agaves Tacos & Tequila
Juicy, tender chipotle-marinated chicken tacos for $1.50 each. Need we say more? How about half-priced, made-to-order house margaritas, $3 Dos Equis lagers and ambers, and half-priced appetizers like the zippy jalapeño-shrimp ceviche? Owners Bob Schulken, Roque Jimenez and Wyatt Siegal also entice with “Taco Tuesdays,” when those $1.50 beauties brim with shredded beef, while Tecate cans are $2 and Patron Silver shots are just five smackers, all day long. 7228 E. First Ave., Scottsdale, 480-970-9002, cienagaves.com. Happy hour 3-7 p.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $-$$

Fired Up Grill
This bustling contemporary grill’s ultra-happy offerings feature half-off all appetizers and a dollar off all drinks, from the tangy $7 citrus-basil mojito to seasonal draft beers like Shock Top or 90 Shilling ($4-$5). The extensive menu includes jalapeño crab cakes ($5), ahi carpaccio ($6) and beef sliders ($4). Add live rock and jazz Friday through Sunday, and it’s clear this grill is smokin’. 7131 W. Ray Rd., Chandler, 480-940-4040, firedupgrill.com. Happy hour 3-7 p.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $-$$$

The Lodge
We can’t help it. We love this quirky, sorta-goofy place that mimics a low-end ski lodge in the middle of the desert. It’s just so satisfying to get your “drink on” old-school style with basic beers and stiff cocktails guaranteed to make one sloshy, served with plenty of good, greasy food from cook-owner Aaron May. We can fill up on $3 beers (Coors draft!), wines (from a quality box, sure) and well drinks, plus half-price munchies like cheese curds ($4), chicken wings ($4.50) and jalapeño-steak chili-cheese fries ($4). 4422 N. 75th St., Scottsdale, 480-945-0828, scottsdalelodge.com. Happy hour 3-7 p.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $

R Bar
Ready to be seduced by swallow-you-up oversized leather sofas in a classy lounge, or plush chaises in a fire pit-lit courtyard? Sink back and soak up $5 glasses of wine, house margaritas and draft beers, $6 classic cocktails (mmm, Desert Pear Cosmo) and small plates ($4-$7) featuring generous bites of Angus beef sliders, chicken quesadillas and Baja shrimp. Stick around until 7 p.m., when the live music starts each night. 5402 E. Lincoln Dr. (Camelback Inn), Paradise Valley, 480-948-1700, camelbackinn.com. Happy hour 3-6 p.m. daily; open 11 a.m.-midnight daily. $

Red’s Bar and Grill
This fashionable Wigwam property used to be called Red Allen’s Bar, and the warm, sophisticated sports-bar vibe lives on with flat screen TVs and a fire pit-warmed patio. It’s hard to beat deals like $2 Bud and $3 craft drafts, $4 well drinks and $5 house wine, but save belly room for the new bar menu, topped off with specially priced noshes such as $2 sliders, a $5 wings platter, or $5 chili and homemade chips. 300 E. Wigwam Blvd. (The Wigwam), Litchfield Park, 623-935-3811, wigwamresort.com. Happy hour 5-7 p.m. M-F; breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. $-$$

The Roosevelt Tavern
This bar’s atmosphere – a historic brick house with a dark, moody interior plush with couches – is so delicious you could just eat it up. But save your appetite for $4 food specials, $3 beers including rotating boutique tap selections, and $5-$6 wine. This is real food, too, like a mile-high sandwich of turkey, bacon and tons of gooey havarti on grilled brioche, plus snacks such as a warm, jumbo pretzel that you dunk in an array of mustard dips. 816 N. Third St., Phoenix, 602-254-2561. Happy hour 5-7 p.m. Tu-F, 5 p.m.- midnight Su; dinner Tu-Su. $

Ticoz
Owner Joe Wilson has a distinct theme for his sleek restaurant-bar dolled up with red leather seats, dark woods and a groovy patio: He calls it “Urban. Latin. Sexy. Chill” – to which we add “bargain” for the half-price cocktails and $5 appetizers such as delish street tacos, nachos and guacammus (a guacamole and garlic hummus combo plate). Every day of the week, half-priced signature drinks (such as Saturday’s vodka showcase) are served open to close. 5114 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-200-0160, ticozofarizona.com. Happy hour 3-6:30 p.m. daily; lunch and dinner daily. $$



BEST DINNERS

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Bobby-Q
Leave it to veteran restaurateur Bob Sikora to create a barbecue joint with class. No sawdust on the floor here – it’s strictly urban Western in a spacious, inviting setting, and there’s even an in-house lounge/nightclub featuring music and entertainment. Still, the food is hearty and all-American: Tender, spunky-sauced, toothsome ribs rule, whether they’re beef ribs or St. Louis-style baby backs. Other temptations include flavorful brisket, steaks, smoked prime rib, chicken and salmon, and creamy mac ‘n’ cheese is a favorite side. There’s even a family-style feast that will feed two or more. At the end of the meal, fresh, piping-hot doughnuts are presented gratis. 8501 N. 27th Ave., Phoenix, 602-995-5982,
bobbyq.net. Lunch and dinner daily. $$-$$$

Beckett’s Table
Beckett’s namesake communal table sits smack-dab in front of the open kitchen where chef Justin Beckett and his crew crank out home-style food with serious sass, such as the ultra-satisfying grits and sausage, chicken ‘n’ dumplings, beefy shepherds pie and meltingly tender short ribs. Creamy mac and cheese confettied with pancetta tops the list of tasty sides. Pork rules at this earthy neighborhood dining magnet, and the proof is in the pudding: dizzyingly delicious s’mores with chocolate-covered bacon. 3717 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-954-1700, beckettstable.com. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Tu-Sa. $$-$$$

Carefree Station
This hacienda-style restaurant oozes charm, from its patio under trees strung with fairy lights to the rooftop’s unparalleled sunset views. The interior is accented with vibrant colors befitting the lively, globetrotting menu. Stay close to home with Southwestern-inspired specialties like spunky fondue and crisp calamari with jalapeño cream sauce, or newly spun American dishes like a grilled ice wedge salad. Farther-flung favorites include Hunan short ribs and Moroccan chicken, and the luxurious Mexican tres leches cake makes a delicioso dessert. 7212 E. Ho Rd., Carefree, 480-488-8182, carefreestation.com. Dinner 5-9 p.m. Su-Th, 5-10 p.m. F-Sa.$$$
 

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Cibo
The combination of creaky-floored early 20th-century cottage, contemporary art, hospitable hipster staff and leafy patio make Cibo a neighborhood fave, while its wood-fired pizzas make it a Valley destination. For dinner, the kitchen turns out excellent thin-crust pizzas made with flawless locally grown and imported Italian ingredients – try the La Noce, topped with walnuts, ricotta and arugula. Don’t miss the innovative salads, great selection of cheeses and salumi, stuffed focaccias, calzones and bruschetta, and save room for a dessert crêpe stuffed with Nutella and mascarpone. 603 N. Fifth Ave., Phoenix, 602-441-2697, cibophoenix.com. Dinner 5-9 p.m. M, 5-10 p.m. Tu-Th, 5-11 p.m. F-Sa; lunch M-F. $-$$

Cork
The name suggests Cork takes its wines seriously, and the floor-to-ceiling, climate-controlled wine wall displaying 400-plus vintages is proof. The food is seasonally influenced and imaginative, and ingredients and execution are top-notch. But the thrills are in the details –  sauces, sides and garnishes. Chef Brian Peterson has a sensitive touch with vegetables and co-owner and pastry chef Danielle Morris whips up some fine desserts, like the updated banana crème pie. Throw in a breezy, contemporary ambiance and a savvy professional staff, and you have good reason to lift a glass. 4991 S. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-883-3773, corkrestaurant.net. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Tu-Sa, 5-9 p.m. Su; brunch Su. $$$   

Eddie’s House
Chef/owner Eddie Matney wants diners to consider his restaurant their home. Attractive and eclectic with an open kitchen, cozy bar area and inviting patio, it has a welcoming vibe that’s reflected in the energetic service. Colorful, exciting fare is a Matney signature, and dishes often reflect his Lebanese heritage and New England upbringing, hence the exemplary seafood dishes. Favorites include the Mo’ Rockin’ Shrimp, seafood wontons, charred calamari, mint-pesto lamb chops, fattoush salad and meatloaf. Attractively priced daily specials reflect what’s best in the marketplace. A nice touch: Bringing the kids is not only welcome but encouraged. 7042 E. Indian School Rd., Scottsdale, 480-946-1622, eddiematneys.com. Dinner 4  p.m.- midnight M-Sa; lunch M-F. $$-$$$

FnB
Foodies clamor for seats at this tiny, charming eatery enlivened by an eye-catching tile floor. Valley hospitality veteran Pavle Milic helms the front of the house, and chef Charleen Badman wields the whisk in the open kitchen. The minimalist, seasonally changing menu is veggie-intensive, with Badman utilizing fresh and often unusual picks from local farmers. All dishes are simple perfection, such as lightly battered rock shrimp with jalapeño tartar sauces or braised leeks with a fried egg. Badman also excels with chicken and lamb. Rich, custardy butterscotch pudding is an uncomplicated but memorable coda. 7133 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, 480-425-9463, fnbrestaurant.com. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. W-Su. $$-$$$

Kai
Dining at Kai is a full-sensory experience. Housed in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort, the intimate restaurant is all understated elegance, and servers have the lightest of touches. Upscale presentations nod to Native American culinary traditions and indigenous ingredients. The two tasting menus are a fine introduction to chef Michael O’Dowd’s skills. Intense buffalo tenderloin, lobster degustation and lamb with mole sauce are culinary high points. And the single-origin chocolate sampler and Mexican chocolate mousse are the stuff of dreams. 5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler, 602-225-0100, wildhorsepassresort.com. Dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Tu-Sa. $$$$
 

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La Fontanella
After 28 years in business, La Fontanella is the restaurant equivalent of Dorian Gray: Time passes, but the restaurant doesn’t change, and that’s a good thing. Presided over by chef/owner Isabella Mannone-Bertuccio and her pampering staff, it has a wonderfully Mediterranean feel, from the plinking fountain to the airy, sunny, tile-floored interior. The menu is also timeless, offering tender rice and cheese croquettes called supplì, baked escargot, stuffed mushrooms, squash ravioli in butter and sage sauce, chicken vesuvio, meltingly tender lamb shanks, and gelato. 4231 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-955-1213, lafontanellaphx.com. Dinner 4:30-9:30 p.m. daily. $$$

Malee’s Thai Bistro 
Deirdre Pain opened Malee’s with the express desire of preparing delicious, authentic Thai food, courteously served in an attractive environment. Built in 1921, the building oozes charm, from the intimate patio to the cozy, low-ceilinged dining room and buzzing bar and lounge. The food rocks: Fresh-as-a-daisy ingredients and exotic seasonings dance in dishes such as mussels steamed with lemongrass and kaffir lime, delectable Thai Kisses (steamed dumplings), crisp calamari salad, coco-chile fish and duck curry. Spice levels can be adjusted to taste, and there are many options for vegetarians. 7131 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-947-6042, maleesthaibistro.com. Dinner 4:30 p.m.-closing M-Sa, 4:30-9 p.m. Su. $$-$$$

The Mission
With its chandeliers, ornately framed mirrors, stunning stretch of backlit Himalayan salt block, intimate patio and smooth service, The Mission is glamorous yet approachable. Happily socializing diners colonize the community table, and families are welcome. Everyone loves the seasoned-to-taste guacamole made tableside, as well as familiar dishes such as tacos, tostadas and a terrific posole. But chef/owner Matt Carter shines with intense, exotic options: Duck empanadas explode with flavor, as do porchetta (pork roast), braised short ribs and roast chicken. For dessert, try pumpkin bread pudding or coco banana – a cool, sweet, potent sipper. 3815 N. Brown Ave., Scottsdale, 480-636-5005, themissionaz.com. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Su-Th, 5-11 p.m. F-Sa; lunch daily, brunch Sa-Su. $$

Noca
Noca’s slim, sleek setting is an understated canvas for the avant-garde food that sizzles from its open kitchen. From tantalizing amuse-bouches to starters such as lobster bisque with bourbon and amaretti cookie crumbs to handmade pastas and the freshest meats and vegetables, the food is both familiar and exciting. Must-try dishes include tuna crudo, soothing grits risotto with poached egg, and peanut-crusted pork belly. A tasting menu is offered each evening, and the rotating Sunday Simple Suppers are a steal at $35. Add a stellar soundtrack, pampering staff and cocktails so inventive they should be patented, and it’s no wonder Noca draws rave reviews. 3118 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-956-6622, restaurantnoca.com. Dinner 5:30-10 p.m. M-Sa, 5:30-9 p.m. Su. $$$-$$$$

Pasta Brioni
Wafts of roasting garlic entice the senses as you approach this high-energy eatery. Brioni is less “Italy” than it is “New Jersey,” but it has all the right ingredients, including a personable wait staff; a warm, intimate ambiance; and an inviting bar reminiscent of the Rat Pack (with soundtrack to match). The menu features old-school Italian-American favorites such as pasta fagiole, toasted ravioli, calamari salad, pasta and meatballs, and down-home versions of marsala, piccata and parmigiana with choice of main ingredient. Nightly specials might include delicacies like veal chop Luca Brasi (think The Godfather). 4416 N. Miller Rd., Scottsdale, 480-994-0028, pastabrioni.com. Dinner 5-9 p.m. Su-Th, 5-10 p.m. F-Sa; lunch M-F. $$-$$$
 

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Roaring Fork 
There are plenty of reasons to love Roaring Fork. For starters, it’s enormously eye-pleasing – spacious yet intimate, with a cool, urban-cowboy look. The bar hosts a buzzy scene, and both patios are prime gathering spots. A huckleberry margarita is a good way to kick things off, and the menu brims with favorites like tortilla soup, green chile pork, fondue with lamb chops, roasted shrimp with grits and buttermilk-fried chicken. Sunday brunch at the Fork has become a local tradition, and if you want to enjoy happy hour, arrive early. 4800 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-947-0795, eddiev.com. Dinner 4 p.m. to closing. $$-$$$

St. Francis
An inspired remodel transformed a 1960s office building into this hip restaurant with a Manhattan-esque milieu. Chef/owner Aaron Chamberlin’s wood-fired oven performs a similar metamorphosis on everything from seasonal vegetables to pork chile verde to Moroccan-spiced meatballs. Start with an intriguing cocktail – we like the grapefruit-spiked Ruby Red or the Almond Margarita – then make a meal out of shareable small plates such as fig, arugula and blue cheese flatbread. Or try a sophisticated-yet-comforting entrée, like the pot roast with sweet corn polenta and mushrooms. Finish saucy with sticky toffee pudding. 111 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-200-8111, stfrancisaz.com. Dinner 5-10 p.m. M-Th, 5-11 p.m. F-Sa, 5-9 p.m. Su. $$-$$$

The Stockyards 
Formerly a mess-hall catering to the cattlemen who worked the largest feedlot west of Mississippi, The Stockyards is a genuine part of Arizona history. Having evolved into a top-notch restaurant over the years, SY (as fans refer to it) exhibits a well-preserved Western spirit. Expertly prepared beef rules – the prime rib is legendary, as are the calf fries. The menu brims with carnivorous delights like buffalo meatloaf, stuffed pork chops and walleyed pike. For dessert, try the naughty Jack Daniel’s root beer float. 5009 E. Washington St., Phoenix, 602-273-7378, stockyardssteakhouse.com. Dinner 5-9 p.m. M-Sa, 4:30-9 p.m. Sunday. $$$-$$$$

Tuck Shop 
Set in a converted historic home that sports a “reading room” and other charming touches, Tuck Shop is one of those personable eateries that should be standard issue in every neighborhood. The small plates-focused menu gibes with the current culinary trend – slightly sophisticated riffs on comfort classics – yet always surprises even the savviest of foodies. Who would have thought to make fries out of pasta and pair them with strawberry and jalapeño dip, or to construct a “Caesar salad” out of celery seed-speckled celery and celery root? Even fried chicken and waffles gets a twist: a citrus brine and smattering of white cheddar. Don’t miss the gin and house-made tonic; it’s slightly bark-colored-and-flavored, but in a good way. 2245 N. 12th St., Phoenix, 602-354-2980, tuckinphx.com. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Tu- Sa. $$

Vogue Bistro 
“Stylish” is the word most often used to describe Vogue, and it’s easy to see why. A TV runs footage of fashion shows, drinks are named after designers, and chef/owner Aurore de Beauduy certainly has flair. The interior is sophisticated and comfortable, and so is the food, such as pitch-perfect onion soup, butter-drenched escargot, a terrific hangar steak with spunky peppercorn sauce, duck confit and even rabbit. Chef de Beauduy is known for her specials, and fans eagerly anticipate her lamb dishes. Pineapple tarte tatin is a nice twist on the usual apple. 15411 W. Waddell Rd., Surprise, 623-544-9109, voguebistro.com. Dinner 4-10 p.m. M-Sa. $$-$$$

Yasu Sushi Bistro 
From the outside, it looks like a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall, but inside, it’s attractively designed and comfortable. Chef/owner Yasu Hashino and his friendly staff never fail to cheerfully greet and bid customers farewell. Stunningly fresh sushi and sashimi are the big draw, as are more offbeat Japanese specialties. Sumibiyaki grilling results in lightly seared, juicy fish and meats (lamb is a favorite). Other must-orders include shrimp-stuffed eggplant, garlic and miso clams, tempura-style soft shell crab and green tea cheesecake fondue. 4316 E. Cactus Rd., Phoenix, 602-787-9181. Dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Su-Th, 5:30-9:30 p.m. F-Sa. $$-$$$
 

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Zinc Bistro
With its jewel-box-sized garden patio, streetside seating, and zinc-sheathed bar, Zinc is as close to a Parisian bistro as you’re going to get without a ticket on Air France. Begin with a glass of Bordeaux at the bar and drink in the luxe ambiance leavened by books and moodily dripping candles. Under the direction of chef/owner Matt Carter, the kitchen turns out pitch-perfect renditions of Gallic favorites like frisée salad, crêpes, onion soup gratinée, moules-frites, roast chicken and a voluptuous chocolate soufflé. 15034 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-603-0922, zincbistroaz.com. Dinner 5-10 p.m. daily. Lunch daily. $$

                 

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