Best Prime Rib 2002 | Harris' Restaurant | Food & Drink | Phoenix
We love steak. But perfectly prepared prime rib is like a drug to us, exhilarating down to its every last silky horseradish-slathered, salty jus-dunked, juicy-firm bite. It's got to be the real thing, the highest USDA grade available.

At Harris', they're so proud of their meat that they display it in aging coolers off the restaurant's entry. It's Certified Angus Beef exclusively, and dry-aged on the premises for 21 days. While virtually no fat arrives on the finished product, we suspect some is there during the cooking process -- a creamy ribbon of fat is critical to the beef, soaking its velvety richness into the meat as it slowly roasts.

Our sumptuous slab is pricey, $28 to $32 depending on the cut, but well worth the investment for its quality. That it includes sides of perfect potato and premium vegetable like crisp snap peas (freebies unheard of in top steak houses these days) makes it all the more delicious. At the end of dinner, we stuff our cheeks with complimentary peanut brittle from a tray in the lobby.

When it comes to prime numbers, the only one we need is Harris' on our speed dial -- reservations are strongly recommended.

Tedd Roundy
Since 1985, Texaz Grill has been making good, old-fashioned Texan-style grub "one meal at a time." Well, as the restaurant celebrated this year its 500,000th chicken-fried steak sold, that's an awful lot of meat pounding, hand-battering, fried to crispy golden work.

There's simply no better substantial lunch than the chicken-fried steak, cubed beef double dipped and served with fluffy mashed potatoes, oceans of rich gravy, corn and a biscuit for just $5.50. The only thing that beats it is the supper, where for just $9.95 we get a double portion of steak, paired with a garden salad (love those pimientos), potatoes, even more gravy and a biscuit.

The meat is cut on site from USDA choice aged beef. The potatoes are homemade, but then so are the biscuits, the gravy, the salad dressing, the batter, well, everything.

Hey, if our childhood home had cooking like this, we never would have left it.

We like the Barbecue Company because, while its silky, smooth barbecue sauce is topnotch, it doesn't rely on it to hide lesser-quality meat. There's a lot of work that goes into cooking here, like its rib tip plate, one full pound of rib tips that have been dry rubbed, slow smoked and grilled with just a touch of Q-Sauce (more on the side for dipping).

All the classics show up in style: St. Louis-style pork ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork, smoked brisket, or Q-turkey. A sampler brings a bit of everything, served with two ribs and choice of two side dishes plus bread. And we love the specials -- grilled ancho barbecue meat loaf, the Smokin' Bleu (pulled pork topped with bleu cheese coleslaw), or the Dynamite (hot peppers, chiles, onions and jalapeos, sautéed with Red Diamond marinated brisket on a jalapeo roll with melted pepperjack). The only complaint we have for this Southwestern-style 'cue company is that it's open only for lunch and only on weekdays. But still, this 'cue is a coup.

The shepherd's pie at Rula Bula Irish Pub and Restaurant comforts us as much as the soft sheepskin blankie we had when we were wee ones. This version rules, the loose pot pie stocked with ground sirloin, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and peas in a rich broth of red wine and a garden full of fresh herbs. The blend bubbles under a cap of champ -- essentially firm mashed potatoes spiked with scallion and no shortage of butter, baked to a crispy finish. It's an old world dish that's entirely welcome in the modern world.

Another upscale, contemporary American restaurant might be puzzled, or even insulted, that we decided the best thing about it was its vegetables. True, the entrees are wonderful at Rancho Pinot. But what really gets us going is the garnish. Nobody has a better eye for selecting, and a better hand at preparing, nature's finest bounty of garden goods than does chef-owner Chrysa Kaufman.

Who needs anything else, when we can get our fill on brilliant veggie creations like roasted beets tossed with spicy greens, toasted almonds and sheep's milk feta, or a savory tart of green garlic, leeks and spring onion with ricotta and manchego? And while other places may make do with steamed broccoli, carrots and potatoes, Kaufman conquers new ground with sides like Tuscan kale, rapini, artichoke-bacon-potato hash, flageolet beans with caramelized garlic, squash blossoms, and garlic spinach that's so good we want to curl up in bed with it.

When we're at Rancho Pinot, you can't make us not eat our veggies.

A potato is no simple spud. There are hundreds of varieties grown around the world, each with a distinct shape, skin, color, texture and taste. There's a different potato that's best for different uses, such as mashed, French fries, chips, salad, boiled.

But we're not concerned with what type of potatoes the kitchen uses at Peruanitos, an outrageously delicious Peruvian restaurant where absolutely everything on the long menu sparkles. Picking potatoes is the chef's job. Still, we are smitten with the spuds that arrive at our table, one glorious creation after another.

We could live on this stuff -- papas a la huancaina (in creamy, spicy queso fresco with palillo herb), papa rellena (spicy beef wrapped in a mashed potato shell with red onion salsa), causa rellena de atun (layers of mashed potato stuffed with tuna and Peruvian spices), sopa de leche (potato soup), papa a la diabla (potatoes with a creamy salsa of onion, queso fresco and boiled egg), and carapulcra (mashed and sun-dried potatoes with pork, peanuts and spices).

Peruanitos changes its potato dish selections periodically, but we've found that a woeful stare at our server works wonders with special requests. Any way you slice it, these tubers are tops.

Timur Guseynov
We've dreamed of being trapped in a sushi restaurant. We try to run, but everywhere we turn, there teems more maguro, hamachi, tako, uni, ebi, sake, tobiko. The problem is not in escaping, it's in catching the slippery fish and shoveling it into our mouths before we wake up.

Now we're living the dream at Sushi 101, where there's an all-we-can-eat special for $19.95, no chasing required. There are some restrictions: Leftovers are charged at full price, including rice. This means that diners who bite off more than they can swallow face penalties on their bills. If we can't finish our shrimp tempura roll, or try to sneak in more value by not eating the rice on our nigiri sushi, we'll be charged the full per-piece sushi price on top of that $19.95.

We have no problem with that. We know, down to the grain of rice, exactly how much sushi our stomach holds (years of practice). And Sushi 101 servers warn us up front that this is not a buffet. We can order as much as we want, in as frequent intervals as we want, but we'd really better mean it.

A big part of popping the question is the style of how it's done. None of that "Well, we might as well get married, I guess" kind of stuff.

The thing about El Encanto is that it's centered on a beautiful lake, bobbing with graceful ducks and geese. While we're getting fed truly delicious Sonoran food (viva la margarita!), the waterfowl are hoping we'll spring a quarter into one of the grain-filled gumball machines. Turn the knob, fill a little paper cup with delicious goose chow, and the birds come flapping over.

Now here's our idea: Put the quarter in the machine. Fill the cup with grain. Then, take that expensive rock and stick it down into the bird seed. Hand the cup to your sweetie. Just be sure she doesn't toss the whole kit and caboodle in the pond. Isn't that romantic?

Royal Palms Resort and Spa
With just 166 rooms but Four Diamonds, it's clear that the Royal Palms understands how class cohabits with intimacy. Rather than catering to the masses and impressing with sheer quantity, Royal Palms puts exquisite effort into the tiniest details of every single element of its operation.

While other brunches use the flash factor of acres of food to draw oohs and aahs, T. Cook's offers a refined finish to the weekend, offering a prix fixe menu of à la carte Mediterranean-inspired classics. While we're not leaving as gluttons, what we do eat is guaranteed to be the very best in its league.

If we're feeling dainty, we can go for the $19 cold buffet, an all-we-can-eat extravaganza of fresh seafood, smoked salmon, gourmet salads, grilled vegetables, fruits, cheeses, breads, pastries and more. If we want to supplement -- or substitute -- our feast, we can select from T. Cook's regular breakfast and lunch. This means classy dishes like spinach and oven-dried tomato quiche; white truffle and fontina cheese omelet with chicken leek sausage; asparagus and wild mushroom soup; lobster and avocado with butter lettuce, shaved fennel and garlic jus; or seared pork tenderloin with sweet potato pancake, Savoy cabbage and apples.

All this in a brilliant, Southwestern hacienda setting lush with gardens, and T. Cook's is truly something for a special Sunday.

Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar
When we began investigating Kazimierz's wine list, inspired by next-door cafe's Cowboy Ciao (same owner), we knew we had our work cut out for us. What a masterpiece of obscure, cult, sensual and surprising wines. The list spans page after page, and would be entirely intimidating if not for the fun narrative to help us along. If we had a flashlight, we could sit here in this dark cafe all night just reading the quips:

"NV Gruet blanc de noirs, New Mexico, half bottle. The expatriate Gruet family, tired of the ridiculous French tax laws, moved to the one area of the planet they felt most mirrored the soil and climate of Champagne . . . who would have guessed it was Truth or Consequences, New Mexico? (although rumors of it being tied to an alien experiment at Area 51 are surely false, or at least stretched a bit)."

"NV Mountain Dome brut, Washington. Flavor wise, this is crisp, clean, balanced and refreshing, but the reason we bought it was the little elves on the label."

"'98 Burge Family semillon, Olive Hill, Australia. This starts out smelling of rubber and chloroform (it's not important how I know the smell of chloroform, it's need-to-know basis and you don't need to know), then changes to multiple layers of tropical fruits, finally evolving into the exact aroma of a box of jujubes (and it's not important how I know that, either, I just do)."

And -- on New Zealand Merlots: "New Zealand is about as synonymous with Merlot as I am with kiwi juggling, but this one is a winner (I did once juggle a Lake Geneva Playboy Bunny and a Miss McHenry runner-up, but I was quite youthful and generally anesthetized at the time, consequently more nimble and courageous; nowadays, I'm lucky to find my pants)."

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