Best 24-Hour Restaurant 2002 | Hap's Real Pit BBQ | Food & Drink | Phoenix
We've been fans of Hap's slow-smoked 'cue for more than a decade, since the place started as a cart in front of a family car dealership in south Phoenix (the smoker was the frame from an old GMC truck). This has been a long love affair for us, drawn in by meat that's meltingly tender. This comes from long slow cooking, over low heat, following a loving massage of a special blend of spices and herbs. Sauce is spectacular, but it only gilds the lily.

The new Hap's location is open 24 hours, Monday through Saturday. Oh joy! Full breakfasts (pork ribs or hot links in picante sauce with egg). Drop-dead ribs, chicken, pulled pork and beef brisket, all served in Hap's trademark brown paper sack. One bite and you're in Hap's heaven.

Not the language, but the cuisine. Sure, we could be cynical and say that the classes are basically infomercials to promote Bosch kitchen appliances. But who cares? The seminars are free (periodically there's a small fee, like $5), and the information is valuable.

Their lesson plans span the globe. There might be an evening in Vienna, with Wiener schnitzel, spaetzle with pepper and crisp shallots, braised cabbage with bacon, and apricot crepes. It might be a menu of 10-minute meals featuring (surprise) name-brand pressure cookers. It might be American, Southwestern, Mexican or vegetarian. There's a lot of bread baking, with (who'd have guessed) Bosch bread-making machines. But it's free! Consider it a Tupperware party with a 'tude.

Who wants to eat hamburger every day? There's a big, exciting world of exotic animals out there, just begging to become part of our dinner. Antelope, rattlesnake, alligator, zebra and lion we've heard of people eating before, but since when did species like giraffe, beaver and kangaroo become popular? Leave it to game cravers to get creative -- owners Daniel and Jennifer Roosevelt can get their hands on more than 50 types of mysterious meat given a week's notice. They'll also process game from private hunters, and the Arizona BBQ Association (home of the eight-foot-tall inflatable pig) hosts get-togethers at Daniel's to spread the passion.

Most customers come in for the more traditional meats -- prime Iowa corn-fed beef and pork, sushi-grade fish, live lobster, handcrafted sausage and Young's farm poultry. Beef is made better by at least two weeks of aging, and extras are extra special (homemade twice-baked potatoes, artisan breads, produce).

We're envisioning a theme dinner party -- the Valley's own version of the Matthew Broderick/Marlon Brando movie The Freshman.

We wish Circle K could catch up with the times. Sure, once we convenience shoppers were a crowd craving beef jerky, soda and slushies, maybe a six-pack of Schlitz. But these days, we'd rather spend some extra time going into a real store for real quality deli noshes, fine wines and service from someone older than minimum age. Still, it's a pain to fight the crowds at the big shops.

Kudos to La Crème. Hungry? Grab a great, prepared-to-order sandwich made with Block & Barrel meat -- perhaps turkey breast, pepperjack cheese, lettuce and tomato on rye, or roast beef, pastrami and Swiss on sourdough -- for only $3 to $5. Thirsty? Alongside the Budweiser, there's Blue Moon beer, a Belgian wheat white ale; Napoleon Courvoisier cognac; and Patron Tequila Aejo. Other treats include cigars, Nanci's frozen yogurt, fresh fritters, sticky buns and cinnamon rolls, and those stop-and-go staples, Corn Pops and Lucky Charms cereal. And no Circle K we've found has spicy eggplant salad.

La Crème is the top of the crop for us.

Best Gourmet Groceries On A Tight Budget

Trader Joe's

Imagine being in a grocery store check-out line with a cart chock-full of fancy-schmancy foods: a chunk of French cheese, a bag of exotic baby greens, some imported olive oil, a fresh slab of herb focaccia, Belgian chocolates and an assortment of attractively packaged, luxurious and completely unessential items, like sea salt body scrub and almond-scented soap. Now imagine the clerk ringing up everything and telling you the total. Is it a ridiculous amount of money? Do you choke and reach for the plastic? Well, maybe if you envisioned yourself in a typically pricey gourmet store. But if you were thinking of shopping at Trader Joe's, the tally is surely more manageable . . . maybe even cheap enough to imagine throwing in a bottle of Merlot and a bouquet of calla lilies, too!
Long considered by Asia to be a boon from the gods, tea is now supposedly being recognized by modern science to contain a treasure trove of health-giving and health-maintaining properties. So says Akbar's promotional literature. What do we know, except that it's what we love to drink crystal cold on ice during the summer, and vapor cloud hot during the winter.

Nobody has the seductive selection that Akbar's does, imported loose teas from all over the world, complete with Chatsford tea pots, tea accessories, gift baskets, tins and bags. Every variety we could want is available: black teas of China or India, green teas, oolong teas, blended teas, flavored teas, herbal teas. Essentially, anything leafy and lovely that can fit in a cup can be found here.

AZ Wine Co. is one of our favorite places to explore wines. With some 20,000 bottles, it's the largest wine shop in Arizona, but the folks here aren't hung up on snobbery. Here, the attitude is relaxed, and the wines remarkably well-priced. We never feel intimidated as we wander concrete floors lined with long, collapsible tables topped with box after box of wines from around the world. The box tops are ripped off to expose slender bottle necks, the prices are scrawled on the cardboard in Magic Marker and, on some boxes, there might be someone's handwritten comment: Great!

The Wine Co. offers free tastings several nights a week, with us relaxed at the cozy bar or kicking back on one of the front-porch-style sofas and chairs clustered in a cradle of boxes. Pretty much any varietal we crave is in stock, but on a night that AZ Wine is out of our preferred Newton Claret, the proprietor suggests Catena, a 2000 Malbec from LunLunta Vineyards of Argentina. It's stunning, with intense aromas of ripe blackberry interlaced with vanilla and tobacco, and just what we wanted. For wines, that's as good AZ it gets.

If the bread for the bread and water diet being served to Sheriff Joe's unruly inmates comes from Willo, we'll be the first ones leading riots in Tent City. The bakery cranks out these miracle loaves seven days a week, and they're outrageous. So good, so golden crusted, they're almost worth doing time for.

There's no sugar used in these starchy marvels, and none needed. Instead, Willo relies on fresh fruits and nuts for its sweeter treats, like sun-dried cranberries in the cranberry-hazelnut roll. All the standard favorites are in attendance, too, but these are better breads than even the finest home kitchen could hope to achieve. The list runs the gamut from familiar to fancy: pumpernickel, sesame, earthy rye cut with chunks of real red onion, strong charactered Kalamata olive loaf, the signature Willo loaf (think French baguette), round ciabatta roll, olive focaccia, sunflower-seed, rosemary-focaccia and much more.

Willo is, hands down, our breadwinner.

Molly Smith
Sometimes we go into Guido's and just stare. Even if we're not hungry (a rare occurrence) or if we have no money (way too frequent an occurrence), we just love to look around, sniff, and imagine the many flavors on our mind's tongue.

The only thing small about this place is the shop. It's filled floor to rafters with everything Italian, imported, homemade, fantastically fresh and hardly shy in flavor. Olive oils. Dressings. Pastas. Wines. Fresh breads, cheeses, meats, sweets and savories. Everything our larder could long for.

Step up to the deli case and prepare to be stunned by salads. What a lovely display it is, long and fat with seafood blend (crab, calamari and shrimp in Italian marinade), tortellini primavera, zesty tomato and garlic (more correct would be garlic, tomato, garlic, garlic, garlic salad), marinated artichokes and mushrooms, antipasto, chicken, tuna and loads more. It's plump with prepared dishes, an ever-changing selection like ricotta-stuffed shells, lasagna (cheese, meat and cheese or spinach and cheese), stuffed peppers and cabbage rolls, pizza, homemade Italian sausage with peppers and onions, and pasta trays to take home and reheat. Desserts? Of course. Try handcrafted cheesecake, cannoli or casata cake, moist with layers of cannoli and seasonal fresh strawberries.

Guido's is simply deli-cious.

Lauren Saria
Middle Eastern eats are so outrageously delicious they transcend any culture. We still remember that first time we popped a dolmade in our mouth, relishing the tart grape leaf against strident beef, lamb, rice and spices. We shudder happily in the memory of when we first ventured in to try kifta, a patty of lean beef and lamb tucked with parsley, onion and spices under yogurt-sour cream. Wow.

For our fix, we go to Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli, a legend that's brought the Mediterranean to Phoenix for more than 20 years. The store may be tiny, but that's the only thing restrained about this wonderful place. Spices alone are amazing, spanning shelf after shelf of exotic temptations. The original blends are so special they're actually marketed under chef Mary Karadsheh's name.

There's so much to this eight-table operation, with good-smelling and even better-tasting dishes like spinach pie, baklava, tandoori chicken salad with pine nuts and currants, hummus and avgolemono, a luscious creamy egg-lemon-chicken soup. Now that, anyone can relate to.

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