Best Sandwiches 2002 | Miracle Mile Deli | Food & Drink | Phoenix
No one makes everyday meats and cheeses as exciting as Miracle Mile. The Mile doesn't mess around, carving up towering portions of roasted turkey breast, honey cured ham, rare roast beef, pastrami, corned beef, brisket, barbecued chicken, even liverwurst and kosher salami. These are honest deli delicacies -- homemade albacore tuna, seafood, chicken or egg salad. It's impossible to leave hungry; the monster plates are paired with a mountain of French fries, potato salad or coleslaw, and a fat dill pickle.

We've experimented with our own fair share of sandwich recipes (hint: chocolate frosting on toast doesn't work). Yet leave it to the master at Miracle Mile to send out real winners. Specialties include the Straw (hot pastrami, melted Swiss, hot sauerkraut), the New Yorker (hot pastrami, coleslaw, Miracle Mile dressing) and the Triple Decker (two layers of hot pastrami on rye, imported Swiss, lettuce and Miracle Mile dressing).

Sandwiches this good truly are a miracle.

A tuna salad sandwich is a peculiar thing. It can be pretty basic -- fish, mayo, bread. But for some people, including us, it approaches an art form where we're mighty particular indeed. No dark meat tuna. No Miracle Whip. No fancy throw-ins like capers or balsamic. No soggy bread. Yet then, it's hard to please all the people all the time.

We'd be surprised if the Desert Grind had too many complaints about the tuna it crafts. Rather than one sandwich, this casual place offers four, each just different enough to satisfy individual cravings. The first is, of course, the classic, whole white albacore mixed with celery, jicama, dill and mayo with tomato, red onion, lettuce and more mayo on wheat. Then there's the Amy's Favorite, with salad, red onion, bean sprouts and honey Dijon on wheat bread. Not enough? Maybe the Mom's version will get you -- salad, dill pickle relish, tomatoes, lettuce and mayo on wheat. Yet there's still one more, the tuna melt, topped with provolone, marinated tomatoes, red onion and Dijon on toasted wheat.

If there's a Greater Tuna, we haven't found it yet.

It's without doubt the crowning achievement of the art of sandwichery: the club. It takes slabs of turkey -- one of the most healthful meats around -- and slathers it with layers of mayo and a ration of bacon. Lettuce and tomato are added not as mere garnish but as actual food, and a third slice of bread is oftentimes wedged in just to show off. And it's piled on so high that the very creation requires -- no, demands! -- toothpicks to keep it together. No self-respecting sandwich shop doesn't have a club on its menu. So why is a good one so hard to find? Well, we looked, and for our money, the best so far is at Buckets. The turkey is breast meat sliced thin and stacked high, and the bacon is crunchy like the whole sandwich depends on it, which it does. And the wheat bread is toasted just enough to support the whole concoction. There are some places out there that may do it better, but most of them are in Manhattan. So dig in. Just remember to remove the toothpicks first.
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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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