Pity the poor dieter who believes that eating well has to taste bad. These pitiful creatures have never embraced the power of fresh ingredients, fats served only in restrained portions, and everything snapped up with exotic spices. At Green Leaf Cafe, healthful dining goes global, influenced by the cuisines of Persia, the Mediterranean, Italy, America and Mexico, even Cajun and the Orient. Vegetables take center stage, partnered with tofu, and accented, if we choose, by modest servings of chicken, turkey, fish and eggs -- but never any red meat. Even the simplest vegan plate soars with the magic of fresh herbs and spices -- oregano, basil, mint, dill, fennel, cumin, garlic, capers, parsley, ginger, fenugreek, cilantro and more. For a sweet but not sinful finish, we pick pumpkin pie, all natural and vegan, of course. Green Leaf is a healthful new leaf we're happy to turn over.

Best Place To See Cooks Who Love Their Jobs

Guedo's Taco Shop

Guedo's Taco Shop
In some restaurants, getting an up-close view of the kitchen and the folks who are slaving away over the proverbial hot stove might just spoil your appetite. But at Guedo's, watching the cooks work adds to the sheer joy of eating their signature tacos. We love waiting in line to order here, because while Spanish music blares from the speakers, these guys sing, dance, laugh and bang their pots around. They belt out romantic ballads at the top of their lungs, hooting and hollering to the salsa songs. Arriba!
Razz's Restaurant & Bar
Talk about cooking lessons. We've always loved Chef Razz Kamnitzer's creative Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Now, with his newly relocated restaurant, we can sit at the bar directly overlooking the master in action in the tiny, galley-style kitchen. We study Kamnitzer performing his ballet, his neatly tied signature ponytail spinning as he makes it look easy to work on a half-dozen orders at a time. The only problem? Seeing these dishes prepared makes us want to order them all. Duck and vegetable spring rolls, escargots, crespelles, cashew-crusted salmon with hibiscus broth, bouillabaisse -- we've got a severe case of entree envy.
Classic Italian Pizza
Kyle Lamb
Why would we let something as superficial as a fork get in the way of genius? Nothing comes between us and the incredible pizzas crafted by chef Halim Nefic. His pies aspire to art, spun in whisper-thin circles, topped with the freshest, most vibrant ingredients, and baked in a wood-burning oven to crisp, perfect contentment.

Dough is made fresh daily and hand-spun. Tomatoes are hand-crushed and blended with special spices, and cheese is mozzarella, also lovingly made by hand. So that's how we eat these lovelies: by hand. The 12-inch pies are said to feed two, but that's only if we're sharing our adored Four Seasons blend: tomato sauce, mozzarella, imported Italian prosciutto, wood-roasted mushrooms, fresh sliced tomato, Parmesan, black olives and artichoke hearts.

Two thumbs up!

French food has always been considered special treat fare, and with opulent names like poisson ou fruit de mer à la discretion du chef, croque monsieur and les frittes à la Parisienne, it's no wonder. Sophie's, though, brings flights of fancy down to earth, with fantastic food that, once we know what it is, feels like an old friend. That poisson thing? It's the catch of the day, and if we're lucky, it's seared tuna in a marvelous peppery crust. Croque is no crock -- it's a broiled shaved ham and Gruyère sandwich that puts a new spin on upscale deli dining. And frittes? How about French fries, and not your everyday spuds but glorious crispy shoestrings served in a bowl so huge that McDonald's supersizing looks like fluff.

Sophie's serves the classics, of course: les escargots traditionnels (Burgundy-style snails in herbed garlic butter), soupe à l'oignon des halles (onion soup), salade niçoise, quiche and crepes. But there's none of the stiffness associated with French dining here, just a cozy little cottage with hardwood floors and lace curtains and, on weekends, live baby grand piano music.

As with any business presentation, preparation is key. So study up on Gregory's menu before bringing that Fortune 500 bigwig client to the restaurant. You'll want to impress him or her with your world-class knowledge of fine cuisine and wines. And if any Valley restaurant tests your skills, it's Gregory's. Starters stun with ethereal combinations like salmon ceviche with white-bean hummus, parsley-scallion oil and salmon roe; and pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras with sweet-potato tart, strawberry-rhubarb compote and 20-year-old balsamic vinegar. Entrees entice, starring delicacies like lion's paw scallop in sweet vermouth lobster broth with micro arugula and foie butter; or grilled Wagyu Kobe beef with nori-wrapped wasabi risotto and Kobe beef won ton. Service is impeccable, the setting warm and ultra-luxe. In short, Gregory's will make you look so special your clients won't even blink when, over dessert, you tell them you're doubling your fees.

Best Cheap Dinner In An Odd Atmosphere

Don Jose's

Thriving for several decades in a former IHOP A-frame, "The Don," as regulars affectionately refer to it, can never be accused of lacking atmosphere. Go in -- hungry, of course -- and munch thin, hot chips and admire the year-round, Mylar Christmas decorations that spin and twinkle lazily in the manufactured breeze. Vintage bullfighter portraits compete with velvet paintings and more contemporary (but equally bizarre) prints, while oldies ooze out of a radio whose dial hasn't budged in years. Check out your dining companions: lone curmudgeons, young moderns, and big families with the occasional screaming child. Order the heavenly cheese crisp, heaped with guacamole; chat with chipper waitress Tami; and ask for the green ketchup for a real visual treat. More good news: All this atmosphere comes cheap at the only sit-down restaurant where two can enjoy dinner for under $10 -- and where it's always Christmas, to boot.

Divorce? Death in the family? Nothing that a little meat loaf and mashed potatoes can't fix. Because we turn to comfort food during difficult times, it had better be nice food. No hard edges, nothing challenging, no effort involved. Nonni's Sunday Chicken, which is always on the menu at Rancho Pinot Grill, is a hearty, soul-satisfying bowl of love. To describe it as wine-braised chicken and vegetables served over crunchy polenta cakes doesn't capture the most comforting aspect of this dish: its texture. This chicken asks nothing of you -- it just helpfully falls off the bone, as though it knows you've had a hard day. Or perhaps it senses that you shouldn't be trusted with a knife.
Pastry chef Richard Ruskell could impress us with just his star-quality résumé: award after pastry award in eight years at our Valley's world-class Mary Elaine's. He could win us over with the clever hiring of Scott Fausz from Scottsdale's stellar Pierre's Pastries. Ruskell certainly gets our warm thoughts for naming his shop after his beloved Dalmatian, whose photos are proudly displayed on the wall.

But it's Ruskell's breakfast pastries, desserts and chocolates that bring us to our knees in genuflection. Flaky croissants -- plain, cinnamon, chocolate -- burst with butter. Soft brioche are gorgeously fat with custard, almond cream and orange, cinnamon and almonds, cream cheese and fresh blackberries, or lemon cheese.

And what can we say about his hand-sculpted pastries, except, "Wow!" Our favorite is the light-as-air Tuzigoot, with vanilla Bavarian, fresh fruit and mango gelée.

Ruskell also designs custom chocolates in the winter months, adding such sensations as tangerine/caramel mousse to chocolates from Michel Cluizel, a family-owned chocolatier in Normandy. Oh, Maxine, we're not worthy. But we'll come anyway.

Charles Taylor -- "Sir" to his friends -- has changed his location since he started barbecuing in the Valley in 1969, but not his food -- out-of-this-world pecan-smoked meats, tangy sauce and a dazzling display of belly-filling side dishes. Sir Charles' edge-charred pork ribs fall off the bone at our softest tooth-tug. Beef ribs and brisket are beauties, juicy pulled pork is perfection, and smoked turkey remains moist under its deep, woody flavoring. Texas-style sauce, mild or hot, is good enough to be sipped straight, with a hint of tomatoes and no thick, sugary glop we too often find elsewhere. Sir Charles' sides are meal makers: greens, soupy Texas beans, black-eyed peas, garlic mashers, sweet potatoes and, best of all, green beans and cabbage, with lots of salt, butter and pork. Need more to stick to your ribs? Sweet-potato pie or peach and apple cobblers will leave you feeling like royalty.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of