Best Edamame 2001 | Zen 32 | Food & Drink | Phoenix
So they're green beans. Soy what? That's just it. Edamame are Japanese soy beans, and they're really good for you, packed with stuff that, among other things, is supposed to help prevent cancer. There's not much to edamame -- the pods are simply steamed and flecked with rock salt, then served hot. But this quiet presentation means no hiding faults, either. Pods must be pristinely fresh, and cooked just so, or else the skin slips slimy. Too much salt? Gak. Too little? Why bother? The wrong kind? That's just outrage: Real edamame are right only with rock salt. That's why we choose Zen 32, which gets its pods perfect every time. In a world of has-beans, these are our edamame dearest.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

We never thought we'd pay $19 for a plate of old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs and be happy about it. But that's before we discovered the soul-satisfying dish at Tarbell's. This is a full-flavored feast, starring a vibrant marinara made with organic tomatoes (yes, you can taste the difference) and hefty, beefy orbs. Plus, Tarbell's hip, beautiful-people atmosphere comes with the meal at no extra charge. When we've had a rough day, we like to snuggle up at the always happening bar and drown our sorrows in spaghetti. Works every time.

Courtesy of Via DeLosantos
Albóndigas is fun to say. When prepared properly, it's even better to eat. The base is simple, really, just a long-simmered blend of beef stock, red pepper, tomatoes, chiles, and herbs like cilantro, basil and oregano. But at Via DeLosantos, this orange-colored soup is terrific -- light, clean and kicky with spice. It's crowded with all the right partners, too: chunks of sweet carrot, celery and onion, a smattering of rice, and, of course, meatballs. These meatballs aren't meager, either. Forget the stingy one, two, maybe three little balls served elsewhere. Here, they take center stage, the large herby orbs dotted with rice and soaking up broth like tasty sponges.

At Via DeLosantos, it's pronounced albóndigaaaahs.

Sometimes we imagine owning a pig, the kind that sniffs out fancy truffles, so we could train it to seek out fabulous fungi of the mushroom variety that we love so much. But after one day in Scottsdale, the pig would simply hand us our car keys, give us a map to Rustico, and spend the rest of its life in cool luxury watching TV on our couch.

At the charming brick and mural-adorned Rustico, we find joy as we bite into a mild-toned domestic mushroom, the fat cap exploding with juices and earthy nuance. What delight as we discover a secret chamber, bursting with fresh herbs and shrimp. And what pleasure as we scoop it all up with ladles of impossibly rich creamy garlic sauce. Bread! We need more bread right away -- to sop every last drip of this gilding.

Ah, Rustico. The only pig required for this marvelous mushroom dish is us.

Ave Maria. Or, more appropriately, what have you, Maria? Every day is a new bounty, ours for the finding as we step inside Maria's Italian eatery, with its huge antipasto misto table just inside the door. It's a cunning display; after we've seen the gorgeous presentation, we simply have to order it. Selections vary, but you can usually count on delicacies like fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, grilled eggplant, marinated carrots and mushrooms, tomatoes, herbed green beans and grilled onions. Fancier treats include ocean-fresh mussels, prosciutto-wrapped melon, mortadella, caponata, and imported cheeses. It's an ample prelude to a sumptuous dinner, but somehow, we always manage to find stomach space. As Maria would say, Mange! Mange!

It's high time to recognize that Chompie's offers way more than its beautiful bagels -- as in more than 60 types of sandwiches. Chompie's does all of its baking on the premises, with choices including kaiser roll, onion roll, challah knot roll, club roll, rye, whole wheat, sourdough, pumpernickel, marble rye, egg bread, bialys and, of course, 25 varieties of bagels. Then there are the cheeses -- nine types. Fair warning: These sandwiches aren't cheap ($7.50 to $12). But these double-fisters -- stacked a minimum of three inches high with top-quality meat, or five inches for a triple-decker -- can make a meal for two, especially since they're paired with fine steak fries, potato salad, coleslaw or pasta salad. And what wonderful combinations: the Penn Plaza, with pastrami, chopped liver, coleslaw and Thousand Island; the Mark's Monte Cristo, gorging deep fried challah with ham, turkey, bacon and Swiss; the meat lover's Brooklyner, uniting pastrami, corned beef and brisket. Chompie's: Come hungry, or don't come at all.

Capitol Coffee Co. may call our favorite sandwich the "MeanGirl," but we don't take it personally. Surely the chef is always in a good mood when she makes ours.

That's because this sandwich is always delicious, enjoyed in the cozy little refurbished home set with rummage-sale furniture, or taken to go, wrapped in foil to keep the meal hot. It helps that it's huge, layering thick slabs (really, not wimpy slices) of peppered turkey pastrami and provolone with romaine, tomato, German kraut and stone-ground mustard-horseradish sauce on springy focaccia. This meal subdues the meanest of appetites, presented with a choice of homemade soup, Poore Brothers' chips or fresh fruit.

For cranky comfort food, Capitol Coffee Co. is our choice. And we mean that.

We've met our meat maker. He's Jim Deligiannis, owner of Crazy Jim's, and he's the man behind the remarkable pressed, vertically broiled lamb and beef that is the backbone of our favorite gyro sandwich.

The gyro meat has a great supporting cast, too. Every fluffy, golden-toned round of Jim's pita bread is baked on-site, his tomatoes are fresh and ruby red, and his purple onion curls lend crunch under a cap of crumbly imported feta that literally melts on our tongues. We slather it all in homemade jajiki, a smooth, tangy cucumber yogurt sauce.

And when we're craving variety, Jim's got other gyro-style feasts, include the picado pita (gyro with grilled onion, green peppers and jalapeo), steak (extra lean NY with grilled onions, pepper and cheese), and chicken (charbroiled breast with Greek seasonings and served three ways).

Crazy Jim's has our vote. We'd be insane to go anywhere else.

Cave Creek Coffee Company has a simple mission statement: to roast the best damn beans available. We've got a mission of our own: to eat the best damn cheesecake available. Luckily for us, C.C.C.C. comes through on both counts.

We don't kid around with cheesecake. Our perfect piece has got to be huge, thick and creamy. It's got to be good enough to go naked, not hiding under heaps of syrupy cherries or chocolate. That's why we love the rich New York model served here. Sure, they've got some fancier cakes, like the mocha seduction, with fluffy mocha cheesecake plopped on a mouth-watering brownie bed, then topped with whipped cream and chocolate drizzles. Or the chocolate eruption, blending chocolate cake with cheesecake chunks and nuts. They've got cute, too, with little cheesecakes on a stick they call Teddy Bars. But in their hearts, they stay true to honest, cheesecake quality.

Cave Creek Coffee and cheesecake -- mission accomplished.

Like fine jewels, RoxSand's desserts are kept under glass, in a "dessert walk" display case. Unlike precious stones, the desserts are small touches of luxury that even we can afford.

The array, which changes daily, is dizzying. We can pretty much count on our most cherished creation, though: the B-52 torte, spanning three layers of rich truffle cream, one layer with Baileys Irish Cream, one with Grand Marnier, and one with Kahlúa, topped with crushed pistachios. The Adult Kit-Kat gives us sweet dreams with its crunchy hazelnut chocolate bottom and a lighter chocolate top dusted with dark French cocoa. And we swear by the Viennese walnut torte, splicing two layers of walnut frangipani with a layer of cheesecake in the middle, masked in a currant glaze and topped with fresh strawberries.

Partnered with glasses of fine dessert and port wines, RoxSand's desserts are the sweetest sensation we know.

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