A hero may be nothing but a sandwich, but at D'Atri's Cinema Paradiso, a sandwich is nothing short of a feast.

With her compact menu of eight hot sandwiches, bubbly owner/TV personality Jan D'Atri has elevated a simple meal to an art form. How else to describe massive monuments of D'Atri's own Italian sausage, roasted chicken breast, marinated steak and more, all of it served in focaccia made from an old family restaurant? Our personal favorite is a two-fisted monster groaning with salami, ham, pastrami, mozzarella and provolone.

And while some pseudo-sandwicheries may try to sneak by, heating with a pan or cooktop, D'Atri dedicates two panini-style griddles to her bundles, grilling breads, meats and fresh veggies before closing the sandwiches into the hot presses.

An added bonus? When the mood strikes, D'Atri's been known to serenade diners with an accordion. Tasty!

Readers' Choice: Subway

Best Place to Tell Mom and Dad You're Having a Love Child

Romano's Macaroni Grill

This category reminds us of an old schoolyard gag:

Q: Are you in favor of matrimony?

A: Only with cheese.

But seriously, ladies, when it comes time to tell the folks you're in the family way without the benefit of wedlock, we can't think of a better place to bite the bullet than this clamorous pasta palace.

With dishes clanking, an opera singer wailing and other customers shouting to be heard above the convivial din, your parents will soon be lulled into a state of idyllic catatonia. And when you do break the news, chances are the only reaction will be, "I'm sorry, dear. What did you say?"

And the food isn't bad, either. Dig in -- you're eating for two.

Miracle Mile Deli
Where's the brisket?

In the Valley, at Miracle Mile Deli.

A Valley tradition since 1949, Miracle Mile understands the importance of slow cooking for optimum flavor -- and of lightning-fast service when the crowds arrive.

By the time the doors open for lunch in this '60s-style deli, the brisket meat has been simmering for hours in its own juices. It's been sliced just thin enough for texture and piled in huge mounds in warming trays at the cafeteria-style counter, waiting for us as it bubbles to tender perfection in additional juices.

A server grabs the best pieces with his tongs, plops it on our plate and sends it down the line. And mere minutes after we arrive, we're smacking our lips over the beautiful brisket, tucked into a fresh, sweet onion roll. We sop up the juices with our French fries, alternating bites of mild beef with the tang of a sharp, crisp pickle.

Brisket, served this good, and this fast? It can only be a Miracle.

Well, okay, we haven't actually tasted the aardvark. It's right there on the menu, though, under "Special Order Pot Pies": "Aardvark (in season)." The man behind the counter of this eccentric little joint in an East Indian School strip mall, who claims the Mary R. of the name as "me sainted mother," will only smile coyly when asked when aardvark season is, so we suspect he's funnin' us.

The more conventional chicken pot pies at Mary Richardson's, however, are sublime -- succulent meat in fine, savory gravy, housed within a wonderfully hearty crust. The side dishes here are essential, as well -- whipped potatoes, a splendid crunchy coleslaw and a first-rate homemade applesauce. Get the #3 meal, which entitles you to a pot pie plus all three of the sides, for $6.15. There are also tasty apple, cherry, peach and blueberry pot pies for dessert, as well as tarts. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, there's a Burgundy mushroom beef pot pie, and with 24 hours' notice, you can get such more-plausible-than-aardvark special order pies as vegetarian, turkey, lamb and even seafood.

There are sandwiches, and then there are sandwiches. And then there's Pasta Brioni's meatball-and-bread concoction, which, while billed as a sandwich, is actually an entire meal that just happens to be tucked into a roll.

The sandwich is huge, of course. But it's a gentle giant, showcasing the old-fashioned Italian cooking that's largely disappeared in the era of cheese-stuffed pizza crusts.

The sauce is mellow, not too spicy, and not so soggy it makes the bread fall apart. The bread is crusty, lightly toasted and just thick enough to support its meatballs without getting in the way. And the meatballs? Orbs of beefy perfection, blending meat and restrained seasoning for a result so simply delicious it's almost extravagant.

Now let's have a big, two-handed salute to the ballsiest sandwich in town.

Palm Court
The Palm Court has been around for years, quietly catering to a dedicated clientele of conference and convention guests, plus savvy business lunchers who know a good thing when they see it. It's a little worn around the edges, as any grand old dame is wont to be.

But the lady's got more life than most folks may realize. Without abandoning the classic charm that's carried her all these years, the Palm Court surprises and delights with a very nicely done traditional Continental menu.

As the heavily draped windows, elaborate chandeliers and tuxedoed waiters suggest, the Palm Court relies on tradition. We get a kick out of the steak au poivre, flambéed tableside with cognac and tricolor peppercorns. Dover sole is filleted tableside to be topped with roasted almonds and parsley. And roast tenderloin is carved under our watchful eyes, then doused with béarnaise and Merlot sauces.

Plan to spend some time -- meals are prepared the old-fashioned way, to order. There's no need to rush -- our old friend, the Palm Court, isn't going anywhere soon.

Havana Cafe
Jamie Peachey
Fidel Castro-style fatigues, bad hangovers from Bacardi rum, Elián Gonzalez -- these are a few of our favorite Cuban things. But none can hold a candle to good Cuban black bean soup, a Caribbean classic raised to a memorable art form by Havana Cafe. Originally hailing from Havana themselves, cafe owners B.J. and Gilbert Hernandez must be genetically predisposed to knowing how to whip up an unbeatable, down-island version of sopa de frijoles negros, laced with generous amounts of garlic. Theirs is a thick, all-vegetarian black bean purée in which whole beans bob together with bits of red and green pepper and diced onion. A garnish of fresh cilantro is a decidedly non-authentic, Southwestern touch crowning this meal-size marvel, but who's complaining -- especially since a big bowl of it is a real steal for less than three U.S. bucks.
Farmers used to start their days in a big way. Stacks of pancakes as high as a silo. Backhoe loads of bacon. Troughs full of toast, spread thick with jam, butter and cheese. Eggs, ham, waffles.

Of course, nowadays even farmers can't afford to eat like that every day, much less we couch potatoes. But when we're feeling more than peckish in the a.m., we treat ourselves to the fantastic fare found at the Farm House.

The Farm House is part of an old working Arizona farm -- the barn and some working tractors are still out back. Tables are tucked in former bedrooms, plus the original parlor and living room. It's definitely a blast from the past, with jam jars on the tables, hardwood floors and period furniture.

Portions are farm-hand humongous: giant omelets with sausage, bacon and potato, and cinnamon rolls the size of wagon wheels. All our favorites are here -- home-style pancakes, waffles, muffins and more.

It's not fancy, but it's filling. And it tastes mighty fine. It's the good life, down on the farm.

Readers' Choice: The Good Egg

Uncle Sam's
The actual home of this Philly fave is the City of Brotherly Love. But here in the Valley, the local cheese steak fraternity pledges allegiance to Uncle Sam's.

The red-white-and-blue sandwich shop never lets us down, no matter the time of day, no matter how busy. And it gets very, very busy as soon as the doors open, until every seat is gone and it's standing room only at the takeout counter. Fear not: The cooks are speed demons, slapping great mounds of thin-sliced steak on a sizzling grill, and tossing the meat as its juices crackle and spit.

We love the huge portions (the half sandwich size is anybody else's whole). We love the choices (11 different steaks). We've picked our favorite -- loaded with fresh mushrooms, green pepper, onions, gooey white American cheese and hot peppers bursting the seams of a squishy Italian sub roll.

Uncle Sam's? We want you!

Arcadia Farms
Jamie Peachey
Arcadia Farms likes to promote itself as the place for "ladies who lunch." No argument there -- if the ladies in question happen to eat like lumberjacks.

But even an ax-swinger with XY chromosomes is going to have his work cut out for him with the Farms' hefty turkey sandwich. Delectable, thick slabs of real, Thanksgiving-style roasted turkey breast (raised in Dewey, AZ) are piled high on country-style bread just shy of sourdough. A light slick of mayo gilds the gobbler, topped with roma tomato, sliced cucumber, pea shoots and baby lettuce.

(Hint: Sandwiches come with a choice of potato salad or organic greens. Order the potato salad, a plate load of red, skin-on chunks dotted with dill, bits of fresh bacon, parsley and scallion. Why? It's not only delicious, it comes on a bed of greens already.)

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