Best Giant Wiener 2001 | Alice Cooper'stown | Food & Drink | Phoenix
We suppose it's better to call Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson "The Big Unit" than "The Big Johnson." Still, it's more information than we want to know, thanks. Who came up with this nickname, anyway?

The only such thing we're interested in exploring is The Big Unit Hot Dog served at Alice Cooper'stown -- a two-foot-long frank, all beef. And it's a big meal, served with choice of two sides: fries, Coop's coleslaw, potato chips, or calico beans. For half a buck more, we can dress our dog with cheese, chili or beer-soaked sauerkraut. Now that's a unit we can understand.

Tedd Roundy
"Over 473,899 chicken-fried steaks served," boasts TexAZ Grill's marquee -- and we believe it. We're personally responsible for about 208,414 of those orders. That's how much we crave these jaw-droppingly good slabs of hand-cubed beefsteak, double-dipped in a sinfully milky batter and fried. This is down-home Texan tuck-in, too, served with roll-your-eyes wonderful mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, a buttermilk biscuit and a do-ya-right salad topped with green olives. We tip our 10-gallon hat to TexAZ Grill.
Royal Palms Resort and Spa
The drop-dead gorgeous historic Royal Palms property makes a delightful place to eat our veggies. Garden-fresh beauties are selected, whenever possible, from local, organic farmers. Boasting select seasonal dishes from Barcelona, Spain, and the Tuscan region of Italy, the menu tempts with such dishes as a salad of organic greens, tomato fresca and pine-nut dressing; chopped vegetable salad with feta and Kalamata olive vinaigrette; or watercress salad with baby beets and baked goat cheese. Sandwiches scintillate, such as a goat cheese and red pepper pita with hummus and sprouts. And soups soothe our very soul, like a dreamy carrot broth with chervil emulsion.

Though they're not always on the menu, vegetarian dishes are a highlight here. We ask for the chef's seasonal selection, roasted in the hunter's lodge-style fireplace in the dining room. A superb sampling includes grilled eggplant, roasted pepper, asparagus, and goat cheese cannelloni.

Courtesy of Don & Charlie's
The menu at Don and Charlie's warns that its prime rib is served daily until it runs out. So we get there early. We've never been denied, no matter the time -- that's how well this kitchen knows its clientele -- but why risk missing the juiciest, most flavorful cut of rib in town?

The best cuts of meat are aged on premises, then slow-roasted to our order -- rare to medium-rare to showcase the quality of the beef. We've got our choice of sizes and savories, too. Usually the "small" 12-ounce is fine; other times we want the hungry man's large 16-ouncer. For beefier eats, get the prime rib bones, regular or barbecue style. Either way, tender meat melts in your mouth, dipped in rich jus and slathered with honest, zesty horseradish. And entrees come with complimentary chopped liver, an enormous breadbasket, a huge salad, and potato: au gratin, baked, double-baked or French fries.

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.

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