They're listed as escargot Provençal, even though they're served in drawn butter and not the cream sauce that snails are generally served in au Provence. But we don't care what this, our favorite late-night dinner spot, calls them, because these slugs are our favorite escargots in town. Baked in a wood oven, these little devils are served in drawn butter spiked with white wine and seasoned with shallots, garlic and parsley. Sometimes we add a caesar salad and, with a fistful of Barmouche's chewy sourdough bread, we make a meal of these tasty garden pests. Where Barmouche chef Brian finds such fresh snails in the desert is anyone's guess, and maybe we don't want to know. Just keep them on the menu, please.
Postino Wine Cafe
We feel almost guilty that we don't spend every waking moment at Postino, a hip, happening wine cafe in a converted post office. Postino has an incredible wine list, rotating selections as the mood hits. We particularly like the Folie a Deux, a California Menage a Trois white. The Smoking Loon Syrah gets points just for its funny name.

As for meals, Postino isn't about dinner; it's about superior snacking. What an incredible offering of noshes, too. An olive bowl, overflowing with sharp fruit. Pesto and bread. Prosciutto with sweet-tart figs. Specialty cheeses, flanked with nuts, fruit and toast. And the best of them all, an antipasto platter laden with assorted meats, cheeses, breads, olives and fruits. But then there's the bruschetta, a massive serving of four flatbreads spread on a wooden cutting board. Toppings are indulgent: roasted artichoke, mozzarella with tomato and basil, crushed tomato basil, white Tuscan bean, goat cheese, ricotta with pistachios, roasted peppers and goat cheese, salami pesto, or prosciutto with figs and mascarpone. Just promise us that if we're not there, you'll have some for us.

Roaring Fork
Courtesy of Roaring Fork
We grew up on mac-n-cheese, homemade with ooey-gooey neon orange Velveeta. It was one of our all-time favorite meals. When we left home for college, we were too lazy to cook it Mom's way. Mac-n-cheese devolved to the boxed variety, powdered sauce mixed with milk and butter. It was still pretty good, and we thought we were mighty fancy when one day we sprinkled black pepper on it. Mild cheese and spicy heat, how great is that?

Then we grew up. One day, we wandered into Roaring Fork, chef Robert McGrath's cowboy cafe, and life was never the same. Because we found mac-n-cheese on his menu, but mac-n-cheese unlike any mac-n-cheese we'd ever had before. Sheer heaven.

McGrath puts an American West spin on his noodles, with a wow base of puréed poblano chile. More than macaroni, he sautés diced red bell pepper, red onion, minced garlic and corn kernels in corn oil until just tender. Then he stirs in the pasta and green chile, plus lots of grated pepper Jack cheese and heavy cream. The finishing touch -- generous sprinkles of kosher salt and cracked black pepper.

Sorry, Mom, we love you, but Velveeta just can't cut it anymore.

Gazpacho may be a summertime soup. Yet in the Valley of the Sun, it's summer almost year-round. So in our minds, gazpacho should be Arizona's state soup -- it symbolizes everything the shimmering hot Southwest needs. Chilled relief. Vibrant flavors that grip us by the lapels and send sparks to break our sweat. Enough substance that, when paired with a piece of good crusty bread, it's a meal.

For that state staple, we nominate Spyros Scocos' recipe. As owner of Iguana Lounge, he has taken a classic and infused it with funky Cuban charm. This soup arrives in a large parfait glass, tumbled in bright broth so sparkly we suspect carbonation. It bobs with sharp fresh tomato, red pepper, avocado, celery, scallion and onion. Even in its oversize portion, it disappears all too quickly.

Chicago Hamburger Co.
Courtesy of Chicago Hamburger Co.
It seems kind of sacrilegious to honor a hamburger shop for its hot dogs, but the two go together like baseball and, well, hot dogs. And when the dogs are as topnotch as the ones served at the Chicago Hamburger Co., it only makes too much sense to us.

The dogs in question are all-beef Viennas imported from Chicago. Our favorite style is the traditional, tucked in a bun and dressed with mustard, relish, onions, pickle, tomatoes and sauerkraut. Just one is a full meal at just $3.15, partnered (for free) with hot, mealy French fries or soupy coleslaw. But sometimes we want to step out a little, and for that, we turn to the Cheddar dog, the chili dog or the ultimate, the chili/cheese dog. The Chicago Co. doesn't disappoint with fans of Polish dogs, fire dogs or bagel dogs, either. Once, when we were feeling really macho, we tried to take on the massive "Dave Jantz Double Dog." It bit us back.

How much do we love these dogs? We still smile when we think of the Valentine's Day note posted once on the daily special board. It read, "Vienna Hot Dog w/fries 2.25. Nothing says I love you' like a steamin' weenie." We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Harvey's Wineburger
Jackie Mercandetti
Why on Earth would anyone bother with a Big Mac when for about a buck more they could have one of the most glorious, juicy burgers known to man? Harvey's isn't about ambiance -- it's dark and grungy, and on any given lunch hour we can bet we'll find more than a few beer-suckers at the bar. But those burgers, man!

Here, the beef is doused with Burgundy as it cooks on a special, extra-thick grill (to keep the wine from evaporating too fast). It's drenched not just once, but four times, then topped with cheese if we like, and drenched two more times. Big Mac, ha. Our basic burger is a whopping one-third pound, with no special sauce needed -- this big, beefy taste doesn't hide. Toppings include fresh, crisp lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. If we want more, we can add beef chili with beans and more onion. When we're super hungry, we pig out with the super wineburger, a full two-third-pounder with cheese.

Sorry, Ronald, but our favorite burger chef goes by the name of Harvey.

Luke's of Chicago
We went to Chicago recently, and while we were there, we made it our personal mission to sample as many Chicago beefs as humanly possible. We never knew our bellies could handle such massive quantities.

Interestingly enough, we had originally fallen in love with the Windy City's signature sandwich right here in Phoenix, when one of our friends, a Chicago transplant, introduced us to Luke's.

So simple a recipe, but so often other places cut corners and it comes out all wrong. At Luke's, the meat is premium, thinly sliced and so tender it's almost lace. The jus is critical -- it's got to be all natural, thick, peppery and so generously applied that the French roll supporting it gets soggy down to its deepest ends. It's got to be a mess, with beef falling off the edges of the bread, reined in only by an optional cloak of melted provolone.

Luke, the Chicago beef force is definitely with you.

We'll never be able to go back to Ore-Ida. Our heart is taken with Roti-Joe's fabulous fries. These deep-fried beauties come in a woodpile serving of hand-cut Belgian-style spuds, enormous steak-fry logs of primo potato spiced to high heat and dipped in Bohemian mayo dip (lots of hot, hot pepper).

Sometimes we get them with rotisserie prime rib or chicken. But often enough, we simply sit at the bar, sipping a glass of Penfolds Shiraz/Cabernet, slowly munching the hot, mealy slabs like cocktail nuts. After a few salty handfuls, we're almost sloppy in our happiness. It's Roti-Joe's, for when we just want to fry, fry away from this hectic world.

Pita Jungle
Timur Guseynov
How could such deceptively simple food -- "smashed" potatoes, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic -- be so utterly addictive? That's the question we attempt to answer every time we frequent Pita Jungle for a garlic dip fix. Cheap, delicious pita sandwiches and salads have always been reason enough to visit this artsy cafe, but once we discovered the strong, tongue-tingling garlickiness of this creamy alternative to hummus, nothing else would satisfy when an extreme garlic craving kicked in. Served with a warm plate of -- what else? -- pita bread, the dip is a delectable appetizer. Funny thing is, we love it so much that we have to force ourselves to save room for dinner.
Uncle Sam's
We've been going to the original Uncle Sam's on Shea as long as we can remember, after it replaced a grimy Pizza Hut at least 15 years ago. After all this time, though, we have yet to find any other shop approaching the magnificence of these extraordinary cheesesteaks.

The secret's in the meat, imported beef thinly sliced/chopped, tossed on the grill and heaped in insanely high portions on a soft Italian roll (wheat is available, but c'mon, white's the only way to go). There are 11 steaks to tempt us, ranging from just meat, to pizza, to our choice, the model loaded with juicy grilled mushrooms, peppers, onions and lots of gooey cheese. Sometimes we get hot or sweet peppers (free add-ons), but lately, since a friend turned us on to the treat, we've been asking for a swab of mayo. It's rich and wicked. Toss in a stack of crispy hot crinkle fries and we're ready for a blissful nap.

The steaks are available in chicken, too, and it's lovely, tender breast to be sure. But is chicken really steak? Who cares?

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