The charm of the Mex, as longtime patrons call it, is that it comes without noisy gimmicks and distractions. There's a stash of wind-up toys for children to take to the tables, and a lineup of hand-crank gumball and candy machines to keep their minds on finishing the meal. Waitresses are relaxed and swift enough to get the simple Mexican fare to you faster than it takes most kids to really turn on the squirm. Yet the real delight is the way the little beasts sink into the sedative of the cushy vinyl booths and begin chowing like contented little lambs.

Readers' Choice: McDonald's

Now you can learn all the exciting ins and outs of this fabulous, high-paced career! If you want to be a model, or just gawk at one, get yourself to this copper-topped office complex, sit at an outdoor table and monitor the action!

Most afternoons, you'll see a photographer, usually with a British accent, shouting at his subject, "Great! Great! You're giving me great stuff!" You can sympathize with his numerous lackeys, buzzing around in the blazing-hot sun with huge silver screens at half-mast, forever fussing with light meters. Hopefully, you'll be in the company of some deliciously catty women who'll quickly size up the competition and snipe, "She ain't all THAT!"

Although this location no longer offers an unobstructed view of Camelback Mountain as it had in seasons past, who's gonna notice on an earring spread? They keep coming back anyway. All the better for you to hang around at a distance -- like a model busybody!

Bridges have been rising out of the ground and spanning new freeways with blurring speed in the past five years. But this one slows the eye to a memorable crawl across the landscape. Its inviting grayish profile of mountain peaks shows us what's new in galvanized chain-link fencing. And the craftsmanship that made mountains appear in this 260-foot span of woven metal is the finest we've ever seen. J&L Highway Construction, which actually formed the bridge's distinctive chain-link cage, was responsible for that. A design team of engineer Seetha Ramahia and Tempe artist Laurie Lundquist came up with the idea for the bridge. And the Phoenix Arts Commission's Percent for Art program and ADOT paid for it. The result is truly one of a kind.
Organ Stop Pizza
At first glance, there's something vaguely creepy about seeing hundreds of people eating pizza while staring at a guy bathed in colored stage lights as he plays an antique organ the size of a basketball court. It's sort of Chuck E. Cheese's meets The Phantom of the Opera by way of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

But give it a few minutes and the genius of the place catches up with its weirdness. This organ and its players are awesome, so awesome that the show is entertaining to everyone from the 3-year-old smearing pizza on his face to the 90-year-old smearing pizza on his face. Indeed, the Organ Stop and its 1927 Wurlitzer is one of the few places where the term "fun for all ages" actually applies.

That toddler will be jazzed by the funky lights, kid-friendly pizza and the enormous sound; meanwhile, your great-grandfather will just be jazzed by hearing genuine musicianship on one of the Valley's grandest instruments.

In today's fiercely pigeonholed society, it's heartening to see a pizza parlor that successfully caters to so many, ahem, slices of life.

Park 'N Swap
Going to the dog track needn't cost you a bundle. Just grab your dead presidents and head to Phoenix Greyhound Park for one of the pup palace's legendary weekend swap meets.

Each weekend, hundreds of vendors gather to sell all the crap they couldn't unload at their garage sales -- old tools, rusty golf clubs, eight-track hi-fi's, and ancient, tube-powered Zeniths. Hundreds more vendors sell newer things like packaged socks, luggage, clothes, art and furniture -- the list is endless.

And if you don't happen to be in the market for someone else's castoffs or a 99-cent liquidation sale? Well, haggling over the price of old eight-tracks is just part of the fun.

For pure people-watching, the dog track is the flea market equivalent of Rodeo Drive. A seat near the snack bar provides a primo view of the crowd, and a live band sometimes plays background music for an hour or two. A pan flute and guitar duo recently hypnotized passers-by with soft, mellow rhythms as worn-out shoppers guzzled beer and scarfed nachos.

As the time passes, so does a passing parade of diverse humanity, the likes of which you're unlikely to assemble en masse anywhere else in town -- or at least until the state fair rolls around again. And where else in town can you gawk at the myriad forms of your fellow man while getting your ears pierced on a lawn chair?

There may be worse names for a store selling used children's clothing, but right now, none to springs to mind. Except, perhaps, Kiddie Worn -- but that would be in really poor taste, wouldn't it?
This shop is the epitome of what's so beautiful about the sport and its enthusiasts. It's independently owned by three skaters in their mid-20s who have put their emphasis squarely on the tools, not the fashion, of skateboarding -- more gear than clothes.

And you won't find snowboarding or, ugh, inline skating paraphernalia. The shop has one focus, skateboarding (well, perhaps two: The motto on its tee shirts reads, "Tonight we drink, Tomorrow we ride").

Freshly reworked so it's not cluttered by racks, Sub Society has found a new aesthetic sensibility inside the front door. It's organized, with one wall of skate decks, one wall of clothing, and a corner dedicated strictly to shoes, plus the requisite couch and TV where skateboarding videos play all day.

The neatness and friendliness of the staff make it parent-friendly, as well. Most representative perhaps is the fact that there's a chess board set up next to the assembly area; these kids are thinking.

Tom's Tavern & 1929 Grill
Evie Carpenter
Granted, watching local politicians scarf down a BLT or digging into a caesar salad is not everyone's idea of a great time. If you, however, find yourself in this camp, hie yourself to Tom's Tavern, the pol-spangled trough that is to the Phoenix governmental set what the Brown Derby used to be to Hollywood stars.

We recently took a Valley newcomer to Tom's Tavern for lunch, promising a good chef's salad and the chance to see more big-name ballot-box celebs than you could shake a recall petition at. We were not disappointed.

Governor Jane Dee Hull lunched with state Representative John Wettaw. Hull sent the rest of her dessert tray over to state Senator Scott Bundgaard, who stopped to chat with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan. State liquor czar Howard Adams dined on the patio, two tables over from us.

And the chef's salad? If it ever runs for election, it'll get our vote, too.

Are you sick of watching your kids blasting away at video games for hours on that $5,000 computer that was supposed to be an educational device -- but is actually nothing more than an expensive joy stick? Then unplug the PC and take 'em on down to Game Depot, where an assortment of challenging games and precision models will jar your youngster out of cyberland and into tangible fantasyland.

Once you get over everyone's original cliché reaction ("This place has got to be for loser geeks with nothing to do!"), you'll find an array of challenging activities of the real sort. The store welcomes children and encourages play on custom game tables -- particularly for Warhammer 40,000 and Magic: The Gathering. The rulebooks for these elaborate games are an inch thick and would confuse the heck out of most adults. But kids who can't find time for homework can nurture their reasoning skills while plotting attacks with their Warhammer 40K postapocalypse armies that they have spent hours painting in minute detail.

The Depot's extensive game selection and supplies have become legendary in the ever-evolving fantasy-game market -- sans computer.

It's been months since the GOP presidential primaries, but those who know him best -- his constituents -- are still slack-jawed at the way Arizona's senior senator was able to capture the hearts, minds and money of America's moderates during the race for the Republican nod.

McCain fell short on primary wins, but his Straight Talk campaign won't soon be forgotten; history professors will teach it as the best example of modern American grassroots politicking. Consider: The man with the reputation in Arizona for terrorizing anyone in his path sweet-talked national reporters into writing glowing accounts of his every move. The guy who didn't lift a finger to get campaign finance reform passed in his own state made himself the champion of such reforms on a national level -- all the while collecting millions from special interests with business before McCain's Senate Commerce Committee. A senator who all but ignores his home state is able to win reelection time and again.

You may not like him, but you gotta hand it to him: John McCain is one masterful politician.

Readers' Choice: John McCain

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