Best Place To Eat If You're Starting A Diet Tomorrow

Honey Bear's BBQ

Honey Bear's Bar-B-Q
Lauren Cusimano
From the first seductive aroma of smoking meat and simmering sauces, this artery-busting, fat-packing food demands we EAT UP.

Honey Bear's slogan: "You don't need no teeth to eat our meat." That's true. Tender pieces of pork, beef and poultry fall off the bone before we open our mouths. Sure, we could eat light, maybe subsisting on a piece of chicken and a garden salad. But no, we want to pack it in with a massive combo sandwich (a two-fister marrying our favorite meat choices), moist hot links, and gargantuan slabs of pork ribs.

Sides aren't low-cal, either, but they're luscious -- tubs of sweet-tinged "cowbro" beans and mayo-bound potato salad. We finish our feast with enormous servings of hot-from-the-oven peach cobbler and sweet potato pie.

Honey, that's our idea of a healthy diet.

Mention anything involving even the ghost of chocolate, and most people come running. Mention mole, though, and most folks stumble, not quite sure what we're talking about. There are millions of recipes for mole, each as diverse as the genetic code for babies. But generally, mole is a rich, velvety sauce containing a dozen types of dried chiles, nuts, seeds, vegetables, spices, plantains and chocolate. For us, the universal standard for excellence is celebrated at El Tepeyac. Poor souls who've never experienced the kiss of mole poblano should start with El Tepeyac's model. A chicken thigh and drumstick lounge under a pool of silky auburn sauce, dusky with rich chocolate tones and chiles. It's more distinctly chocolate than other versions we've tasted, and that's worth sprinting for.

Flor de Michoacan
Drive around downtown Phoenix on a summer day, and you'll spot several pushcart vendors selling paletas, those distinctly Mexican frozen-fruit bars. But Flor de Michoacán is one of the Valley's few true paleterias, the kind of shop found within a five-block radius of practically any Mexican town. Flor de Michoacán was opened by Nathan and Adam Hatch, two brothers who picked fruit as children in the orchards of Chihuahua, Mexico. During their work breaks, they hung out at their favorite paleteria, and studied the mixing magic of the masters. They've brought this authenticity to a variety of paleta fruit flavors, agua fresca drinks and frescas con crema (sliced strawberries mixed in cream). This shop is as close to Michoacán as you'll ever get in Mesa.

Behold the unassuming fish taco: little more than seafood and tortilla. But in the right hands, a fish taco can be a feast. We worship the masterful mitts of the chefs at Acapulco Bay Company, where the tacos de pescado bring mountains of grilled white fish that's been spiced with slow-burning heat. No goopy sauce to get in the way of the fish, just warm dicings of juicy tomato, bell pepper and onion. Add a splash of potent hot sauce, roll it all up in double corn tortillas, and bite in.
Los Sombreros
Courtesy of Los Sombreros
Somebody's having fun with the chips at Los Sombreros. While we enjoy the kitchen's traditional crispy chips, fresh and gently salted, we're also presented with clever little nibbles that look like wagon wheels. They're noodles, we're told, the dough thin and fried to a feathery lightness.

Either munchie makes a delightful tool for shoveling medium-hot homemade pico de gallo, or a tomatillo salsa that hints of lemon, apple and herbs. If we're feeling fiery, we request the arbol salsa, plenty infernal and sharp-edged. And after a few margaritas, we're brave enough to call out the habanero purée. Our server doesn't want us to hurt ourselves, so she starts us with little more than a thimbleful, but even a few drops of this stuff bring a jolt that's pure liquid fire. At Los Sombreros, let the chips fall where they may -- as long as at least a few land on our table.

An event just isn't a success unless the food is fabulous, and Continental Catering is the life of our party. In business since 1966, Continental is our choice for both VIP dinners and family milestone celebrations. For those fancy evenings, go with an elaborate spread of herbed mesquite grilled rack of lamb with smoky tomato jalapeo sauce, tournedos of beef with pté and Madeira sauce, and hazelnut crusted fillet of Atlantic salmon with red pepper coulis. You can even count on Continental for a mouth-watering picnic. This caterer's core talents are with Southwestern, classic and regional American menus, but they've been known to cut loose with themes like Old New English Christmas fetes or Native American celebrations. If you don't even feel like cleaning the house, Continental can set you up in unique locations such as the Heard Museum, the Arizona Science Center or even Corona Ranch and Rodeo. Continental, you're our toast of the town.

Best Place To Eat Cheap, Fast And Healthfully

World Noodles

Chefs Eddie Matney and Dave Andrea own two important Valley restaurants, but they've branched out into convenience food, setting up a casual, quick-dining and take-away concept.

World Noodles serves -- what else? -- noodles, cooked to order in a wok and heaped in a big bowl for just $3.95 to $6.50 (most are about $5). For this, we get a healthy soba stir fry, tumbled with broccoli, snow peas, carrots and chicken, beef or tofu in teriyaki sauce. We also favor the drunken veggies, thick udon noodles tossed with enoki mushrooms, broccoli, red peppers, corn, green onions and tofu in a sprightly sake and sesame oil sauce. Among the slightly more sinful selections: beef stroganoff with mushrooms, cabernet cream sauce and horseradish sour cream, or good old mac 'n' cheese, blended with three cheeses, cream and garlic crouton crumbles. So, for good and quick, use your noodle and stop by.

Cowboy Ciao Wine Bar & Grill
Heather Hoch
Folks who've never been to Phoenix are convinced that we dine solely on hunks of steak, barbecue beans, baked potatoes and paint-peeling coffee made with eggshells. Leave it to Cowboy Ciao, with its ultra-stylish, spaghetti Western ambiance, to show them creative American cuisine, spiked with influences from Italy, Mexico, and, of course, the Southwest.

The Stetson chopped salad is legendary, and we crave the calamari, tossed with chasoba noodles, sesame vinaigrette, chile oil and daikon radish sprouts. Entrees aren't for the timid, plated with starch and vegetables, and centered by such delights as espresso charred filet mignon (with pan-grilled vegetables, mashed tortilla potatoes, chipotle hollandaise). We endorse the signature dish, too, a fine fry of cremini, button and oyster mushrooms in ancho cream over double-cooked polenta with grilled portabellini, avocado, tomato and cotija cheese. Pure heaven.

Add a dessert of chocolate lottery torte, or Mexican chocolate pot de crème with chipotle cream, plus an inspired, globally encompassing wine list, and we're proud to call this new Phoenix chow our own.

House of Tricks
Timur Guseynov
It's easy to miss House of Tricks as you drive by on the two-lane street next to ASU -- and that's part of the reason we love it so. Set, amazingly enough, just steps from a row of Tempe's rowdiest bars and restaurants, this Victorian-inspired 1920s chateau lolls in quiet splendor behind a thick flush of trees, trellises and a picket fence. Sure, other places tout spectacular desert views, but at night -- or when you want to forget you're in tumbleweed country -- this is the place to go to let your cares melt away under the gentle gurgle of a fountain, sheltered by a vine-covered, light-bedecked canopy. Any time of day is right for Tricks' thrilling American contemporary cuisine. For lunch, try smoked ham and Brie on a pumpernickel bagel or grilled trout with chayote slaw. For dinner, kick up the class, with ahi tuna crusted in lavender and herbs and red curry sauce, or molasses-brushed rack of lamb with lemon rosemary mashed potatoes. Best patio dining? That's no Trick question.
Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
Kazimierz shows how terrific the upscale sip-and-nibble concept can be, with a fashionably funky interior, eclectic music, creative wines and superb "small plates" of creative, refreshing snacks. After finding the door (it's hidden in the back, with no sign), snag a cozy, cushy, overstuffed armchair or sofa. Sprawl back amid candles and shrouded lamps, enjoying a magical display of lights behind an elaborate paper-and-gel "stained glass" window along the bar's northern wall.

The best way to eat here is to share sumptuous appetizers: nutty-toned truffle and duck pté, salmon tartare, and Egyptian flatbreads (pizzas) with toppings like earthy morels and roasted shallots on Brie with truffle oil; or roast lamb, chèvre, figs and balsamic. The best way to drink here is with one of two dozen themed flight selections, each flight a trio of three-ounce pours of different wines. The best way to be merry here? Hey, if we have to tell you that, you're in the wrong place.

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