Best Italian Market 2002 | Guido's Chicago Meats & Deli | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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.

We recently needed a water dish for our goats. It had to be plastic, so it wouldn't heat in hot weather. It had to be big, so the goats couldn't tip it over. It had to be cheap, because it's for, well, goats. We found the perfect thing at Lee Lee, in the form of a $4 wading pool, bright blue and merrily decorated with pictures of shrines and cherry blossoms.

Really, if there's something we want, and we can't find it at Lee Lee, we can't possibly actually need it. There are acres of fresh produce, including vast varieties of just cabbages. There are oodles of noodles, like fresh udon, ramen and lo mein. Staples startle with their selection, in a rainbow of hot sauces, soy sauces, chile pastes, dozens of rice varieties, canned goods with exotic names, liquor, frozen foods, jewelry, tapioca, cakes and . . . whew.

If it's fresh we're after, Lee Lee delivers an astounding assortment of exotic and familiar meats, poultry and seafood, including a massive area full of tanks to support live crab, mussels, clams, tilapia, carp and so much more.

The only thing we haven't found at Lee Lee is fresh goat meat. But that's okay. We know exactly where we can get that.

Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux
Husband-and-wife team Daniel Wayne and Felicia Ruiz-Wayne have got a great gimmick. Don't spend any money on decor, just focus on premium coffees, sweet snacks and way cool reading material (funky magazines, art books, trendy tabloids). And don't hesitate to charge the big bucks for the experience.

Is it vintage? Is it modern? We can't tell, but we get a kick out of LUX's who-cares approach to stark white walls, mismatched furniture, concrete charisma and bare, gallery-style lighting. The only eye candy is rotating works from local artists, primarily photographers who can preview their displays on one of the light tables scattered around the small space.

The owners know their coffee, returning to Phoenix after operating a caffeine store in Seattle. The stuff is strong and flavorful, including old-fashioned drip brew. The patrons here are part of the scene, too, with wild hair, untamed expressions and deep, quiet countenances. That they're nibbling on snickerdoodle cookies is fun; just as tasty are the fruit Danish, muffins and cinnamon rolls.

Some attitude with your coffee? That's priceless.

We interviewed a dozen different caterers, in search of one who would handle every last detail of a casual Sunday night cocktail-and-hors d'oeuvres party for 90 people. Then we remembered the chic buffet dinner we'd enjoyed at a friend's wedding, catered by Dad's. The chefs had fused Italian cuisine with a Mexican fiesta menu and made it work. We worried that Dad's fancy service and tasty vittles would come with fancy prices attached, but we needn't have. After much comparison shopping, we discovered that Dad's -- which has been in business since 1975 -- offers the most for less. They said "yes" to every one of our requests -- glass wine goblets, black tablecloths, white wood chairs, and a separate china service for the birthday cake we planned to serve -- and "no" when we asked if we'd get charged extra for last-minute changes or a fudged head count. Dad's offers breakfast and brunch menus, and upscale-but-still-affordable cold buffets. It'll put together a casual dinner for 10 or a fancy feast for a hundred, and can customize any menu with a little notice. A complete bar service is available, and Dad's efficient, attractive waitstaff will even stay after to clean up.
Courtesy of La Grande Orange
Typically, our farmers' markets are a collection of locally grown produce, maybe some kettle corn, perhaps some bottled salsas and honey lined up on tables under a tent in the park. We've usually got to plan our weekend around them, since they're open intermittent Saturdays, depending on the weather.

Now we've got La Grande Orange, a charming oasis that's open every day, rain or shine (owned by Craig DeMarco, also owner of Postino Winecafé next door). It's an actual store, see, a little commune of the Valley's top food sources, like Tammie Coe Cakes (a former chef of Michael's at the Citadel), Victory Farms produce, wood-fired pizza from ex-Bianco guy Carl Bonacci, artisan breads, designer wines and beers (from neighboring Nonni's Kitchen), and Java Garden, an adjacent coffee stand in a tiny tranquil garden setting.

We come in through the kitchen in back, stopping to watch as staff crafts its pastries, carves its meats, and hustles so we can fill our baskets with fresh asparagus, Genovese basil plucked from tin buckets, sour cream blueberry muffins, a bottle of imported pesto, ciabatta, and a truffle of banana pudding, chocolate mousse and espresso angel food cake. We're low on Cheer detergent and Bounty paper towels, so we grab those, too.

While we've been shopping, the kitchen has been preparing our breakfast order: smoked salmon on an English muffin slicked with cream cheese, capers and onion, with fresh blackberries, raspberries, peach and lemon on the side. We eat it off plastic plates at one of the handful of tables in the front of the store. And by the time we leave, we're feeling grateful to La Grande Orange for not being just another farmers' market.

2611 North Central

several Valley locations

several Valley locations

California Pizza Kitchen
several Valley locations

Cheesecake Factory
several Valley locations

several Valley locations

Courtesy of J.P. Pancakes
It takes a lot to get us out of bed before noon. Cold cereal won't do it. An everyday scrambled eggs 'n' bacon breakfast from Denny's most certainly won't. But J.P. will.

All the expected items are available, but they're unexpectedly good. A biscuit combo mounds a duo of fat dough rounds with two eggs, cubed grilled potatoes and ladles of creamy, sausage-studded gravy. French toast is just fabulous, splayed six slices across and fashioned from thick challah dipped in lots of egg and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Dress it up with cinnamon, fresh strawberries or gingered peach compote. Specialty pancakes are indeed special, crowned with fresh blueberries, blended with chopped mixed nuts, or crafted from natural whole grains. A wonderful oven-baked apple pancake comes glistening with fresh sliced apples and sugar-cinnamon glaze. Fancier and fantastic: five kinds of Belgian waffles, or a plate of three eggs scrambled with silky lox and chopped onion, partnered with three pancakes, buttery home fries or toast. And the pigs in a blanket are terrific. Plus, breakfast is served all day. That's well worth waking up for.

Cafe Ted is one of the most beautiful restaurants we've ever seen. That has a lot to do with its tranquil setting, off a private garden in an office complex in the high Sonoran Desert. Rather than following signs, we hunt the place down by following the slinky aromas of freshly baked muffins, Italian coffees and homemade cinnamon coffee cake. And what a beautiful way to start the day. The menu here is a creative offering of upscale American favorites, Italian coffees and an endless number of flavored espressos.

Breakfast is big. The office crowds flood in for starters like two poached eggs perched atop fresh-baked cornbread biscuits so rich, cheesy and kernel-clustered that they deserve their own billing. A "fiesta" hollandaise sauce is thin but rich, studded with tomatoes, and we make our own Benedict by adding slabs of Belgian bacon, four nicely salty pieces served with seasoned cherry tomatoes. Another wonderful reason for braving the dizzying daylight is the pancakes, three large orbs infused with lots of earthy nutmeg. We get ours topped with fresh, tart raspberries, alternating bites with strong hot coffee. Ted's at the head of the breakfast class.

We know we're getting older when it's a Saturday morning and our brain isn't pounding. We also know we're getting older when, if we do go out and drink, we're in a horrible world of hurt the next day. The kind that even hair of the dog won't heal.

But we're not ready to give up the grapes. So now, we just factor in a good, greasy breakfast to follow a night marinating ourselves in alcohol. The fat somehow absorbs the pain and calms the stomach. Or perhaps it just bloats us enough that we can crawl back into bed and conk out until our bodies have banished the toxins. Either way, we find ample excuse to work in a meal at New York Bagels 'n' Bialys.

The service here is as crabby as we feel. It's a little dark and dingy, so we don't even have to shower first. And the menu -- plus portions -- is massive. Cheap doesn't hurt, either (what's with the $10 cocktails at nightclubs these days?). For less than $7, we can fill up and out with three eggs any style, plus a choice of huge amounts of bacon, sausage, ham, pastrami, corned beef or salami. The plate includes (homemade) bagel or bialy, home fries and juicy tomatoes or cottage cheese.

Now if we could just get our breakfast companion to stop chewing so loudly.

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