Yanqui, Come Here: What's pressure for a restaurant critic? It's having to choose a dinner spot for fussy out-of-town friends. One of my group, having gone through Weight Watchers' assertiveness training, is notoriously hard to please. Watching her calories on a trip, she once pulled into McDonald's and ordered a plain hamburger bun. The adolescent behind the counter checked the computerized cash register, but couldn't find a button that said "bun." "Sorry," he told her. The manager wasn't any more cooperative, and the situation turned into a parody of Jack Nicholson's scene in Five Easy Pieces: "I'd like to order a hamburger--but hold the mustard, pickle, onions, ketchup and meat." As with every group, I was faced with a variety of demands. One person doesn't like spicy food, one wants vegetarian platters, one wants something out of the ordinary and another wonders aloud about the expense. My choice? Havana Patio Cafe, which features food from Cuba, Latin America and Spain. It turned out to be a winning move. Papa rellena (meat-stuffed potato croquettes) and frituras de camarnes (shrimp pancakes) got the meal off to a great appetizer start. The vegetarian loved causa azuldana, a Peruvian specialty of blue mashed-potato cakes served on Swiss chard, layered with veggies and garnished with hard-boiled egg, walnuts and anchovies. The guy with offbeat tastes enjoyed pierna de puerco asada, pork leg seasoned with sour orange, served with black beans and rice. The gal worried about spicy fare appreciated the zesty pollo Cubano, boneless chicken breast marinated in lime and orange, with lots of sweet onions.

And the diner with the empty wallet had no trouble living with the $9.95 ropa vieja, a Cuban dish featuring shredded beef in a winey tomato sauce. There aren't too many places in town that have more interesting fare at more reasonable prices, or more reasonable prices for such interesting fare. Havana Patio Cafe is at 6245 East Bell Road in Phoenix. Call 991-1496. Plaza Sweet: Perhaps the next shopping plaza in town to watch is Scottsdale Promenade, on Shea Boulevard, just off Scottsdale Road at 70th Street.

A few years ago, this area was mostly vacant retail space. Today, it houses some topnotch food outlets: Sushi on Shea, Maria's When in Naples, Arizona Bread Company, Pischke's Paradise and Seattle Espresso. And the good eating is about to pick up: Such Is Life is ready to open a second Mexican restaurant here.

The intersection of Scottsdale and Shea is already starting to look like a motorist's nightmare. If Scottsdale Promenade ever becomes a destination point, these may seem like the good old days.

Can We Talk?: Are hot dogs good for me? What's better, margarine or butter? Is there anything to the Mediterranean diet? Should I take vitamin supplements? How low should a low-fat diet be? If you've got nutrition questions, you can get answers by calling the Nutrition Hotline. Run by the American Institute for Cancer Research, a nonprofit group, the hot line's staffers jot down your questions, then pass them on to a registered dietitian, who'll do the research and call you back within 48 hours. The hot line operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern time. Call 1-800-843-8114.--

Suggestions? Write me at New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,


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