UNTYING THE APRON STRINGSSO WHERE DOES THE OWNER OF VINCENT'S EAT ON HIS NIGHTS OFF?

One of the questions I'm most frequently asked by friends and fellow foodies is where I eat when I dine out. The truth is I seldom have the opportunity to try different restaurants. Not that I don't enjoy dining out--I love it! But with Vincent's open six or seven days a week, I don't have a lot of time for going out.

During the months we're closed on Sunday nights, my wife and I enjoy staying home with our two sons. We usually grill something outside on the barbecue and just enjoy a day of calm. There are some restaurants, however, that we seem to always go to for different reasons. I've listed a few of our favorites.

For those Sundays when we don't feel like cooking at home and it's just too much effort to get the kids in gear to go out, we'll often call Tee Pee Mexican Food (4144 East Indian School), which is just around the corner from our house. We'll order some nachos with beans and extra jalape§o peppers, and a couple of homemade beef or fresh green corn tamales. Then we'll put the kids to bed early, make a blender full of margaritas, put our feet up and enjoy. Those of you from the Valley probably know the Tee Pee has been around for 35 years and you can always depend on it when you crave some Mexican food.

If you love Mexican food, but listen to the people at the American Heart Association and don't want to risk the fat and cholesterol and all that other stuff they say we shouldn't have, go to the Blue Burrito Grille (3118 East Camelback). You'll find some of the best Mexican food around, all prepared with your health in mind. Try the shredded chicken machaca burrito, enchiladas rancheras or chicken fajita rice bowl. I really like the menu and you can dine in or take out.

When my parents come from France to visit, we always make a trip to one of the two Ruth's Chris Steak Houses (2201 East Camelback in Phoenix or 7001 North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale). The beef found in France can't compare to the quality found here, and we always order the biggest, juiciest piece of meat and enjoy every sizzling calorie! All the potato side dishes are great, but be aware that the portions are huge and are usually enough for two. We always forget this, though, and order two or three because they are good.

For those times I crave Southern-style barbecue, I head for Honey Bear's BBQ (5012 East Van Buren). I love the mesquite-smoked ribs and chicken. And the pork is not too bad, either! You can have any of it with or without sauce, but I always take it with--and lots of it! Go early or be prepared to wait. They also do great catering business. If you go, tell owners Mark Smith and Gary Clark that Vincent sent you.

If you want a great pizza, head to Pizzeria Bianco (in the Town & Country Shopping Center at 20th Street and Camelback). The pizzas are cooked in a hot brick oven and remind me of the wonderful pizzas we find in France close to the Mediterranean, where my family lives. The crust is thin and one of the best is the Wiseguy with roasted onions, smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage; for a "white" pizza with no red sauce, try the Biancoverde. The antipasto is an appetizing way to start things off, and ask if the grilled Portobello mushrooms are available. Owner Chris Bianco also has a nice selection of reasonably priced Italian wines.

For a really great hamburger, head out to Greasewood Flats (27000 North Alma School in Scottsdale). Drive slowly or you'll miss it, and wear your jeans--it's dusty. Order a couple of burgers, an iced cold beer and sit back and enjoy the live music and the people-watching.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro (Fashion Square, Scottsdale Road and Camelback in Scottsdale) is a great place anytime. Go for a drink and have a light appetizer at the bar or sit down for dinner to try Paul's catfish and either the moo shu pork or chicken. Also, any of the "Chang's Recommends" dishes is worth a try. It's the perfect place to go before or after taking in a movie (or do both), and you'll enjoy owner Paul Fleming's wonderful interpretation of Chinese cooking.

By the way, if you can't get a seat at P.F. Chang's (it gets busy early), try Z'Tejas Grill a few doors down. Another Paul Fleming restaurant where we enjoy the corn chowder, stuffed beef tenderloins and Ancho Chile Fudge Pie. You can't go wrong with either choice.

If you've been in the Valley for a while, you've no doubt been to or heard about El Chorro Lodge (5550 East Lincoln in Paradise Valley). Nothing fancy here, just basic fare that you can always depend on. Try the eggs Benedict and sticky buns for Sunday brunch. (Order extra sticky buns to take home--you can't stop with one.) The patio is a beautiful and relaxing place just to sit back and enjoy your meal. It's also fun to go there for drinks on a Friday or Saturday night.

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