Anyone can serve a huge Sunday brunch. It takes alarmingly little skill to toss together pedestrian scrambled eggs, table after table of mayo-based salads, endless wheels of cheeses, chicken done in by chafing dishes, and roast beast carved by sleepy resort staff.

Most skilled chefs can easily fashion a high-quality, dainty Sunday brunch, too. A talented chef can impress with sumptuous à la carte entrees, perhaps fancied up with a trip to fussy salad and dessert tables. But that's little more than an excellent lunch, isn't it? And let's admit it: Brunch isn't a true treat unless it's all-you-can-eat.

Marquesa has captured the best of both. The Mobil Four Star/AAA Five Diamond restaurant unites inspired Catalan cuisine with Italian and French influences for a drop-dead gorgeous unlimited tasting experience.

We don't eat for weeks in anticipation of a mid-morning tour of Marquesa's market-style nirvana. And not just to allow for greater gluttony, but to better savor the delicacies put forth by chef Reed Groban. The menu changes per availability of ingredients, but we can always count on the radiant treasures of the Mediterranean.

It's almost an embarrassment of riches, but we struggle bravely through, feasting on duck with cauliflower puree, lentil and sausage; fire-roasted couscous; paella; braised quail; veal empanada; turkey with hazelnut polenta; and caviar.

Does Marquesa's brunch cost a little more? At $49 per person, yes. But it's so satisfying that it's the only meal we'll want to eat that day. And since the open-air brunch isn't offered during the heat of summer, we've got some time to save up the cash, and the calories.

The area around the Arizona Capitol has always been pretty grim, and not just because it's populated half the year with the humorless mouth breathers we elect to represent us in the Legislature. The area is dense with government offices and run-down buildings, and there's never been so much as a decent cuppa joe within walking distance -- until now. The Capitol Coffee Co. pours espresso and Italian sodas, and offers a full menu of pastries, wraps, salads and sandwiches made on foccacia bread from the Willo Bakery. The place is airy, with funky art and mismatched furniture -- maybe a little too hip for Governor Jane, but certainly not for us.
Booths shaped like couches, throw pillows provided for the lumbar-conscious and portions so large they'd stymie late stoner Chris Farley -- Richardson's is the place to be after an early-evening bong session with your buddies, wife, dog or whomever. Who needs the harsh light of reality when you can't even remember your PIN number?

Richardson's dimly lighted adobe/ranch thing is comforting, even soothing to the dimly lighted head. Of course, you'll have to suffer the obnoxiously mainstream thirtysomethings who crowd the place, much like their SUVs in the parking lot, bumper to grinding bumper, but it's worth it. Besides, it's so dark inside, you'll forget about them once your draft lager (Richardson's has tons of them) and forearm-size burrito arrive. There are sports on the TV monitors, a moderately priced menu (forget the specials -- they ain't worth the coin), a smoker-friendly policy, and a waitstaff that seems to be glad they're serving your stoned countenances rather than another table of yuppie wankers.

One minus. Richardson's is always crowded, and without a reservation, a party of four can easily wait more than an hour. Toke it or leave it.

From the raspberry iced tea to the fresh-baked cookies, lunch at Coronado Cafe is the highlight of any workday.

Nestled in an old house in a historic corner of downtown Phoenix, the restaurant features a breezy patio and cozy rooms decorated with the work of local artists. Diners are seated in old school chairs, but don't expect cafeteria fare. The menu -- eclectic without being intimidating -- features daily soups and entree specials, along with staples like the chicken corn chowder, a meal in itself but great with a mixed greens salad or a Southwestern caesar. Another favorite is the roasted turkey sandwich, spiced up with cranberry-serrano chile chutney.

The staffers are friendly and they'll keep filling your iced tea long after you know you should have returned to the salt mine.

Readers' Choice: Durant's

Long to escape the ugly, overheated concrete of downtown Phoenix during your noon repast? Located just 10 minutes from downtown, this pecan grove-cum-country oasis is the perfect lunch-hour antidote to civilization.

From September through June, The Farm Kitchen serves hearty sandwiches and delicious salads -- complete with bread and veggies made/grown on the premises -- in sturdy baskets, picnic-style. Lounge at outdoor tables or toss a Mexican blanket on the ground, listen to classical music or the sounds of nature while you enjoy grilled eggplant on sourdough or a Waldorf salad.

And if you've still got time before you return to work, snag a piece of pecan pie. It'll put a smile on your face that will last until you're back to the daily grind, downloading Internet porn from your station at work.

Location, location, location?

Don't tell it to the owners of this culinary find, a swell little soup 'n' sandwich joint hidden away in the bowels of a Mesa industrial parkway.

Despite its less-than-high-visibility locale, however, Crackers and Co. sees a lot more business than many of its high-profile competitors. Arrive early for lunch to avoid the crunch of regulars who congregate here daily for more than a dozen fresh soups (the cream of spinach and artichoke is pure heaven) and an equal number of made-from-scratch desserts.

Sandwiches, salads and pasta dishes round out a hearty menu that also includes signature creations like the Drunken Chicken Sandwich (poultry in a wine-garlic sauce) and an unusual apple-spinach salad with charbroiled chicken. But save room for dessert -- the house specialty, a warm blackberry cinnamon bread pudding, is also must-try.

Open for breakfast and lunch only, Crackers and Co. is tucked away behind the Home Depot on South Country Club Drive, just off the Superstition Freeway. This is one industrial secret everyone should know about.

The consummate scene for Scottsdale's partypoids, this Rocky Point-themed taco joint offers several walls of shame with hundreds of patron photos. Many depict that most peculiar of modern mating rituals known as the Body Shot, which is always more about the body than the shot.

The bodies shown here belong to bronzed guys with "set clippers on two" haircuts and girls crammed into skimpy tube tops, the better to show off their sunless-tanning-cream glows. In Kodak moment after Kodak moment, the gals are seen lying on tables, their Victoria's Not-So-Secret pushed aside, while casting come-hither, "I'm soooo drunk" smiles at equally snockered frat boys sucking cheap tequila off their breasts.

Hey, somebody turn up Sugar Ray.

Looking for the best place in town to start the morning after? Then end your evening at Punky's after-hours breakfast bar, Phoenix night owls' noshery of choice. Open from midnight to 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, the all-you-can-eat $6.95 buffet offers a staggering array of tempting breakfast fare: eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, biscuits and gravy and hash browns.

The dimly lighted cafe offers more sophisticated ambiance than Denny's, and is the perfect place to slouch in a booth and chow down after a hard night of partying. Though the restaurant is also open during the week for traditional dining hours, Punky's shines brightest well after last call.

Readers' Choice for Best Late-Night Meal: Denny's

Why go to a bar in the middle of the day when you can't down a few brews because you have to head back to work? At Harvey's, the burgers and a quick game of pool are reason enough.

Harvey's is small -- just a few booths, tables and a bar. Harvey's is dark -- most of the lighting comes from the glow of beer signs and a Twilight Zone pinball machine. Harvey's is run-down -- bare concrete floors, ratty walls and wires hanging from the ceiling. Harvey's is smoky -- neighborhood types crowd the bar, accustomed to popping their first brew at noon.

At Harvey's, there is a pair of pool tables off in a side room, where we can plop down a few bucks for a quick game. And between shots, we gorge ourselves on out-of-this-world wineburgers. The beef is flooded with Burgundy as it cooks on a special, extra-thick grill (to keep the wine from evaporating too fast), drenched four times, topped with cheese and drenched twice again.

So we go back to the office smelling of smoke and alcohol? Playing hooky at Harvey's makes us very, very happy.

The Desert Oasis makes a mockery of the term "starving student." This restaurant showcases the skills of students enrolled in Scottsdale Community College's Culinary Arts Program, and it offers complete five-course meals for a mind-boggling bargain of just $17.50 per diner.

So maybe the students aren't being treated to the multicourse feasts they prepare, but we'd bet there's a whole lot of tasting going on in the school's kitchen.

This is no cafeteria food. Faculty includes three full-time chefs and three part-time chefs. They take their work seriously, leading students through rigorous training on cooking, presentation and white-tablecloth service.

Hey, we're happy to help the kids with their homework. Especially when it means we get to gorge on dishes like mussels with mango citrus salsa, spinach vichyssoise, poached Seckel pears with prosciutto and wild rice, oriental petrale sole en papillote, daube of lamb, coffee cinnamon flan and pistachio citrus cheesecake.

The dog ate the homework? Hardly. It was us.

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