Haiku, the poetry, tries to capture life's emotion in a few simple lines. Haiku, the restaurant, is -- as its menu gushes -- a blend of "poetic food and art." And it succeeds in capturing the best of local Japanese dining experiences in a tiny, 10-table spot with a brief, uncomplicated menu and always-fresh ingredients. Like its namesake, Haiku embraces simplicity with only the finest elements represented. Tonkatsu comes as only authentic tonkatsu should: with shredded cabbage. New Zealand mussels are stuffed with real crab and a creamy mushroom sauce, then slid under a broiler. Salad is spectacular, with cucumber, seaweed strips, daikon sprouts and smelt roe tossed in ponzu. The signature Haiku steak is topped with grilled asparagus and shiitake mushrooms under a drizzle of enoki mushroom sauce. Memorizing poetry in high school was no fun. Today, we can't get enough of it, served as it is at Haiku.
El Chorro
El Chorro Lodge is a Valley landmark, lauded for its historic roots, graceful foothills setting and famous sticky buns -- massive cinnamon rolls that come with every meal. But just as worthy of fame are the most delectable eggs Benedict anywhere in Maricopa County. El Chorro doesn't underestimate the power of these beauties, featuring them at Sunday brunch, but also daily at lunch and dinner.

The classic needs no improvement: two eggs, lovingly poached to a hot liquid center, stacked with grilled Canadian bacon atop crisp English muffins, then smothered in heavenly rich hollandaise. El Chorro even offers an alternative: How about a turkey Benedict, the breast arriving juicy and bacon-wrapped? Or filet mignon instead of Canadian bacon? Even vegetarians are considered, with a sunny-flavored mix of grilled tomato, asparagus, eggs and hollandaise. Eggscellent!

Sushi on Shea
Sushi is sushi, right? Really, it's just rice, mixed with vinegar, and topped with stuff. Raw tuna. Yellowtail. Maybe some nori (seaweed), or, for a splurge, a quail egg. It's not even cooked. So what makes a sushi chef a chef? A few minutes watching the professionals at Sushi on Shea is all the answer you need. It's art in motion, watching these guys craft a simple California roll. Ask them to surprise you, then watch them let loose on their own artistic creations, as they flash knives, slice fish and vegetables into impossible shapes, and arrange a colorful plate worthy of hanging in a museum. But what makes the true difference, of course, is taste. And nobody is more consistently superb than Sushi on Shea. Only the freshest seafood -- ruby-red tuna, sparkling smooth hamachi, and silky salmon -- is used. Any of the daily specials, posted on the chalkboard above the sushi counter, are spectacular. Oh Shea, can you sea? You bet.
You don't have to travel to France to enjoy crepes. Instead, stop in at our favorite bistro right here in town for a spectacular selection of entree and dessert crepes.

Crepes salees are very thin, lightly salted buckwheat packets, folded around some of the most seductive stuffings imaginable. We ascend the French Alps, packing in fresh spinach, Swiss, béchamel sauce and nutmeg. We know the way to St. Tropez, stocked with tomato, zucchini, bell pepper, onion, garlic and herbs du Provence. And the Forest crepe marries fresh mushrooms in a white wine sauce with plenty of cream, garlic and herbs. The Normandie crepe is a sweet invasion of warm apple slices, caramelized with cinnamon, while the French Riviera crepe is an orgy of homemade light custard crème and fruits.

There are plenty of places to get cheap sushi; fast-food Japanese shacks abound in our town. But you get what you pay for: flabby, skimpy fish rolls that have been sitting in their plastic trays for hours before you order. And there's usually little choice in these bargain joints; maybe a California roll, sometimes a tuna roll or cucumber roll, perhaps some salmon. Then there's Origami's. While this place serves its food fast, you'd never know it to sample the sushi. All selections are hand-rolled to order, right before our eyes. The variety is magnificent, competing with our better full-service sushi shops. And the portions are unparalleled: An order of spicy tuna rolls, at just $3.99, brings a platter of eight jumbo pieces -- more the size of California rolls than the traditional teeny tekka maki rolls -- and stuffed with fish the thickness of our thumbs. At Origami's, we say sushi, good buy.
Brisket can be a thing of beauty. Basically, it's beef, but beef that's been seared, seasoned and roasted with vegetables and red wine for hours on end until it's tender and oh-so-sumptuously infused with flavor.

Frankly, though, all that cooking jive is way too much work. So we're thrilled that the folks at Scott's Generations do it for us -- and better than anyone else. No dried-out meat here -- this carved bounty is juicy even without gravy. No fat, either (we hate blubber on our brisket), just lean, carefully trimmed slabs -- and no extra charge for extra lean here, by the way, as if a better cut could be found. We like to build our brisket into a sandwich, stacked a full eight ounces, served on a fresh-baked onion roll alongside coleslaw and pickle spears. It's a brisket worthy of bravo.

Kona Grill
Meagan Simmons
Jean Paul Sartre opined that "Hell is other people." For those who agree, heaven must be a sushi happy hour so tasty and affordable that you don't mind being surrounded by that most annoying variety of Other People: shoppers at Scottsdale Fashion Square. On weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m., and from 9 to 11 p.m., Kona Grill offers select half-price sushi rolls, $4 sake bombers, and half-price appetizers -- including Sweet Maui Onion Rings, among the best onion rings in the Valley. For folks who hate a crowd, this is a Faustian bargain, since Kona Grill's bar is ever-jammed with sunless-tanner-loving androids discussing condo interest rates. After some tuna wasabi and a few rounds of sake, however, the crowd will seem positively existential.
Havana Cafe
Jamie Peachey
Over there, it's pronounced "cuisine de Cooba." Over here, it's pronounced Havana Cafe. However you say it, Havana Cafe is tiny but classy, and the breadth of the menu is breathtaking. We find it hard to choose, so we love the combinacion de favoritas -- a mouth-watering platter of moros (white rice cooked with black beans), tamal Cubano (tamale of fresh ground corn, pork and sofrito seasoning), yucca frita (a fried, potatolike vegetable), platanos maduros fritos (fried ripe plantain), and ensalada de col (cabbage in a lime, garlic and cilantro vinaigrette). Paella is always a showstopper, too: a huge pan brimming with fresh Maine lobster, Manila clams, green-lip mussels, bay scallops, Gulf shrimp, chicken breast, Spanish chorizo, pork, Valencia rice and imported saffron. Stamp our passport! We're going to Havana Cafe.
Some folks think the only thing a bakery can crank out is sweets. We know better. Pastries are wonderful, but don't overlook more-filling foods, like the delectable wechez, deep-fried potato brimming with ham and cheese. Papa relleno takes the edge off your hunger, bringing a crisp croquette stuffed with mashed potatoes and ground beef, while Argentine-style empanadas are ethereal turnovers plump with ground beef.

This doesn't mean you should pass on dessert, of course; finish up with flaky quesitos, buttery puff pastry ribboned with sweetened cream cheese; or tembleque, a cinnamon-coconut pudding. Other showstoppers include pastelito guayaba (guava turnover), dreamy-creamy cheese flan, and fluffy tres leches cake.

For stunning Puerto Rican taste treats, K-Rico is A-OK.

Havana Patio Cafe
We love the concept of tapas: little bites of exciting foods that give us a full spectrum of flavors without filling us up too much. Havana Patio Cafe takes tapas to the top, with a stunning selection of more than two dozen petite plates. Often, the merry place hosts tapas with Spanish wine tastings, too. And there's a daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., with half-price tapas and drink specials.

These bites are bargain-priced already, most around $4. Which is good, because we order a lot: tortilla Espaol (potato pie with tomato sherry sauce), zesty black bean fritters with Calypso avocado dip, a gorgeous tamal Cubano stuffed with corn, pork and sofrito seasoning, and chicken empanaditas with mushrooms, peppers and onions. We're also smitten with shrimp pancakes, escabeche (tuna pickled in savory Spanish olive oil, cider vinegar with sweet peppers and pimento-stuffed olives), and papa rellena, a potato croquette stuffed with picadillo and topped with tangy cilantro sauce.

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