This is the Southwest. How could we not honor the region's unofficial steak-house side dish? Particularly when they're as seductive as the barbecue pit beauties served at Joe's?

Forget those canned baked beans of backyard weenie roasts of yore. This is a killer combination uniting kidney, lima and navy legumes thickened with shards of cooked-on-site sausage, chicken and beef. They're served blissfully hot, are inexplicably cheap, and are so very satisfying.

Bean there, done that? Not until you've tried Joe's.

You haven't eaten chicken-fried steak until you've had it here at this 15-year-old bastion of beef 'n' batter. Smothered in thick, white gravy, this pair of pounded beef patties crackles with crunchy, deep-fried cholesterol nirvana. The chicken-fried chicken is also incredible, as are several other enormously tasty breaded-and-fried items. First-time visitors won't want to miss the wall of chili (hundreds of vintage cans of the stuff from all over the country) or the colorful tribute to Texas cuties The Kilgore College Rangerettes. Ask for Helena, whose cheerful chatter and super-attentive service will make your stay that much more down-home.

Good soup is more than a meal; it's comfort. When the Soup Doctor prepares it, it cures whatever ails you, too. The Soup Doctor is Gilles Desrochers, a wild-haired, rumpled chef who makes some of the most magical soups (72 homemade varieties) we've had the pleasure of slurping.

That's him behind the counter, chopping garden loads of fresh vegetables that grace so many of his broths, and yelling at customers, "Eat more soup! Now!" This guy's not shy, smiling and shouting at guests who take too long to order.

With up to a dozen varieties offered daily, choosing can be a challenge. All the soups are made from scratch with recipes handed down from the Doctor's mother and grandmother. Vegetable beef barley swims with whole mushrooms and tender steak in a rich tomato broth. Chicken noodle is stuffed with shell pasta, cooked to perfectly slimy softness. And pasta fagioli is smitten with soft bean, orzo and celery in a salty base.

Take it from the Soup Doctor: You need more soup. Now!

(The soup -- but not the Doctor -- is also available at Arizona Bread Company, 23587 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 480-515-9440.)

Fry bread is a part of Arizona's heritage, a symbol of Indian intertribal unity. Unfortunately, however, this obscenely caloric totem is usually found only at state and county fairs.

Or at least that used to be the case before this fry bread fortress pitched tent inside the west Valley's SwapMart.

Angelina's makes pouf-perfect fry bread from a recipe handed down through generations of Native Americans, rolling the dough, working it into ovals, puncturing its middle and dropping it into fryers. The bread emerges glistening, puffy and impossibly light. Topping options include vigorously seasoned red or green chile, ground or shredded beef and shredded white meat chicken, as well as simple shakes of powdered sugar and sticky squeezings of honey.

Alas, the swap mart is only open on weekends, but we're willing to wait: It lends new meaning to TGIF -- Thank God It's Fryday.

Hearty Hen Cafe boasts that it serves home-cooked meals. Perhaps, if your home includes a huge brick oven, speared by gleaming steel rotisserie wands stacked with a dozen twirling chickens over a roaring, gas-fed fire.

The birds are lightly rubbed with paprika and spices, then roasted in their glass-fronted coffin for up to three and a half hours. The fat drips through the skin, touching the chicken with its rich flavors, then drips harmlessly into a metal pan below.

The result? A tender, juicy fowl so near-greaseless (and Heart Smart Restaurant endorsed) that we may never eat chicken out of a bucket again.

Being an Israeli restaurant, this exceedingly cool little place features, logically enough, a variety of European dishes rethought in Middle Eastern terms. It's very likely the only place in town where you can find schnitzel and falafel on the same menu. You can also find our favorite riff on the picnic lunch staple: Russian-style, fresh and zingy, loaded with carrots, green peas, eggs, mayonnaise and pickles. As good as are Sabuddy's other sides, which include baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, labne and a Greek-ish eggplant purée, the spud salad is the best.

Like all other salads, it can be ordered in small or large portions ($2.45 and $3.45, respectively), or by the pound ($5.95) as carry-out.

Tuber or not tuber? At Sabuddy, that is not the question.

One of our favorite Lost in Space episodes of all time is when Dr. Smith is turned into a stalk of celery by an unfriendly planet dweller. When his space shipmates come to his rescue, he demurs, waxing on how lovely it is to be a vegetable -- "so cool, so green."

After tasting the produce of Quiessence chef-farmer Hallie Harron, we're right there in the dirt with him.

These are veggies of uncompromising virtue, grown under Harron's own hand in pretty little beds scattered across a 12-acre farm. The focus of her family-style meals, they're selected based on what the garden offers each day.

The only thing better than being a stalk of celery would be to exist as Harron's fennel, braised al dente and glossed with a thin red pepper marmalade. Or as her albino beets, roasted shallots, gloriously sweet and sour roasted onions, rich flavored grape tomatoes, or a curl of earthy daikon radish.

Finish our vegetables? Just try to stop us.

Let others worry about cholesterol and such: We want rich, satisfying foods. We want to line our gullets with the good stuff. The higher the fat, the better.

That makes Don & Charlie's pâté a winner in our world. The fact that it's served free as a prelude to a gut-busting steak dinner including salad, potatoes and all the bread we can handle doesn't hurt, either.

The appetizer is pure beef liver, smooth but studded here and there with little liver chunks for interesting texture. It's served in the classic way, crumbled with hard-boiled egg, cozied up with lots of chopped white onion, and plopped in a big scoop on romaine. Sides of roasted red pepper and hot pepper tomatoes cut the richness when we need it. The pâté's almost a meal in itself, spread on crisp lahvosh, rye bread and toast crisps.

At Don & Charlie's, we liver for the moment.

We almost broke down in tears when, at a recent food show, we saw vendors hawking the "newest trend in spaghetti for upscale restaurants seeking convenience" -- premade, precooked gourmet pasta that's vacuum-packed and ready to serve after two minutes in the microwave.

It's reassuring to know that any salesman trying to push these pseudo-pasta products on the folks at Il Pescatore would likely find a horse's head in his bed. That's because this charming, almost Victorian-looking restaurant is dedicated to excellence in the kitchen. All pastas are made fresh, from traditional family recipes.

Knowing that variety is the spice of life, Il Pescatore offers plenty of choices, too. Our favorite (fresh, of course) sauces, vegetables, meats and seafood can be paired with our heart's desire of cappellini, farfalle, fettuccini, gnocchi, linguini, penne, ravioli, rigatoni or tortellini.

We don't want pasta fasta. We want Il Pescatore, where they take the time to care.

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 Of Phoenix®

Best Of