More Late-Night Dining Options: In 2011, top-notch Valley restaurants like Petite Maison, FnB, Posh, Noca, Sens Asian Tapas, and Citizen Public House offered select menus of late-night gourmet eats to hungry diners not yet ready to call it a night. A good start, to be sure, but in 2012, I'd like to see more options at all dining levels — offering eats from exotic late-night bites to evening sweet treats to hearty hangover breakfasts at 3 a.m. And speaking of hangovers, if more food trucks were to be found alongside bars and music venues throughout the Valley, that'd be nice, too.

Upscale Brewpubs: There's no denying Arizona has a solid selection of locally brewed beers. But when it comes to brewpubs — restaurants that sell beer brewed on the premises — the eats don't always match up to the stellar suds. Perhaps O.H.S.O., the new eatery and nanobrewery in Arcadia, will be one of the first when it obtains its brewery license in 2012. Until then, there's room — lots of room — for an upscale brewpub to make the scene and offer great-tasting, locally made beer along with upscale eats worth raising a glass to.

More Specialty Food Stores: With just a handful of spots in existence (think Luci's Healthy Marketplace and the Downtown Phoenix Public Market), the senses of Valley residents would benefit from more specialty shops selling artisanal wares — places where strolling the aisles and sampling an array of delicacies can inspire the creation of a new meal or the makings of an amazing dinner party. How about more cheese shops, an artisanal Jewish deli, or gourmet food stores, like Zabar's or Citarella in New York City? There's lots of room for growth in this area. Let's hope it happens soon.

Expect more food trucks to roll into the Valley in 2012.
Expect more food trucks to roll into the Valley in 2012.

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Get the links to everything from how to make a great vegetable soup to how to prepare sardines at www.phxfood.com.

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Bonus Wish — Bring back Maui Dog: Since the oasis of island-inspired fare in Phoenix closed its doors in December, I've been hoping for news of a comeback. Sadly, still waiting. — Laura Hahnefeld

Five Ways to Eat Better

We could tell you many different ways to eat more healthfully, but they all boil down to eating more vegetables.

The truth is that it's often difficult to get turned on by thinking about turnips or cabbage, but these are some of the foods that eventually will save your life, and if you choose pesticide-free and locally grown, you're contributing to the Earth's health, too. It's a win-win proposition.

Juicing/Smoothies: The beloved Alton Brown (among many other food/health authorities) lost weight in recent years due (in part) to his switch to a morning fruit smoothie for breakfast. It's sort of like front-loading your day with plants, just in case your schedule doesn't permit much of the fresh stuff later on.

Join a CSA: Joining your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is a little like joining a gym, but in the very best way. You're forced to learn how to prepare foods you don't usually put into your shopping cart because, by design, the farmer chooses what's best in the fields that week. There absolutely is a learning curve, but if you can make it to the end of a season, you'll have learned how to cook/store vegetables like your great grandparents did. You'll also learn that you actually love Swiss chard and rutabagas. Putting your hard-earned money into farms and workers who are out in the fields long hours and in some crazy weather just to have this nourishing food available for you is a very good thing.

Two Words — Vegetable Soup: This is a fantastic tip. Learn to make an amazing basic vegetable soup by taking onions and/or garlic along with whatever vegetables are in your fridge and adding them to a flavorful broth once a week. You'll have a frugal and flavorful lunch all week long. Zap a portion in the microwave and you've got something excellent for lunch or a last-minute dinner that's so good for you. Top with a spoonful of a pistou (or pesto) that you keep frozen, along with some fresh (or toasted straight from the freezer) bread and a bit of fabulous cheese, and you will be treating yourself to something special that you made with minimal effort.

Switch to Plant-Based Meal Planning: If you're already meal-planning in general, that's great. When planning/choosing your meals, think vegetable first and meat next. You know that you're supposed to fill your plate half-full of vegetables; this will ensure that you're reserving their spot on the plate and giving them the focus they deserve. You can start switching up your words with "we're having spinach for dinner" (that happens to have chicken), versus "we're having chicken for dinner." Similarly, focus on fruit-based desserts will help fit those other fresh gems into your diet.

Cook at Home: This is the most important tip. If you don't know how to cook, it's time to get on it. If you know how but don't do it enough, give your cooking space a little redo to lure you back. Get yourself a good knife and cutting board, toss the cheap and more-work-than-they're-worth kitchen tools, bring in fresh flowers and/or herbs, a little music to soothe (you savage beast you) and make cooking a helluva lot more romantic, and try using the good tabletop stuff for everyday.

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