BEST CAESAR SALAD 2003 | Élev� | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Chef-owner Michael Mishkin isn't yet 30, which may be partly the reason he's not hung up on the old-fashioned, tried-and-true of cooking. This creative guy has taken a new approach to the classic caesar, and bravo. His traditional toss of crispy romaine comes currant with spunky green chiles, crunchy frizzled tortillas, and cotija cheese, a salty white Mexican variety with a dry, crumbly texture. Add roasted chicken or grilled shrimp to make it a full, magnificent meal.
Kyle Lamb
At Classic Italian, we never have to wonder whether any pie we order will be less than perfect -- we can watch it baking right in front of us in a wood-burning brick oven. The personal-size pies are made with from-scratch dough daily, fresh yeast and no preservatives. Whole tomatoes are hand-crushed and blended with spices, then draped with homemade mozzarella. The crust is cracker thin; the toppings are primo, just like in Italy. There's a plentiful list of pies, and custom creations are welcome. But we're delighted with two standards, thank you very much. The Capricciosa combines tomato sauce, mozzarella, lean ham, Toscano salami, wood-roasted mushrooms, sliced fresh tomato sprinkled with Parmesan, black olives, artichoke hearts, red bell peppers, pepperoncini and oregano. Bliss! The Italian sausage is another jewel, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, homemade thin-sliced pork sausage, wood-roasted mushrooms, onions, green bell peppers and oregano. It's amore!

Readers' Choice for Best Gourmet Pizza: Pizzeria Bianco

Readers' Choice for Best Classic Pizza: Nello's

We've got a little secret. We like mayonnaise on our cheesesteaks. It may seem like overkill, seeing as Uncle Sam's sandwiches are already the best on the planet, enormous torpedoes brimming with so much thinly sliced imported meat that we can't finish even half of one. These juicy beauties are draped in lots of gooey cheese, and our choice of extras: pizza sauce, mushrooms, peppers, onions, lettuce, tomato and hot or sweet peppers. Everything is plopped on a squishy Italian roll (white or wheat), and we always ask for a fork so we can spear every last bit when the overambitious package falls apart. There's a reason this place has been packing people in for more than 20 years. The only thing that could make these steaks better is, you guessed it, mayo. Try it. See if you agree.
Molly Smith
This is a true story: Once we were in Guido's waiting in line behind an ancient, impossibly tiny lady. She might have weighed 80 pounds, and could barely see over the top of the counter. She ordered a capocollo and provolone sandwich. When the deli server slid the plate to her, she gasped. This monster sandwich was so huge, so bulging with meat and cheese, she literally couldn't lift it. The server had to come out from behind the counter and carry the plate to her table.

Yet there's more than size to impress. Guido's uses only the most premium ingredients for its sandwiches -- Boar's Head, and the finest imported Italian brands. Meatballs, sausage and tomato sauce and all the salads are homemade. A hot roast beef is heaven, layered with soft grilled onions and green peppers with lots of Italian herbs, thinly shaved meat and ladles of juices so rich and savory, we actually slurp as we bite. It's hard to choose: Sometimes it's the chicken focaccia, with spinach, roasted peppers, grilled onions and provolone, baked until the cheese melts to bubbly goo. Other times, we go for the Italian sub, a massive masterpiece of salami, mortadella, pepperoni and provolone with lots of fresh lettuce, tomato, onion and Italian dressing.

Guido's sandwiches span nine inches long, and we've measured them four inches tall. But still need convincing that these are the best around? Well, as we stole one final glance at the miniature old lady, she was wiping her chin with a napkin, and there wasn't a speck of food left on her plate.

Readers' Choice for Best Sandwiches and Best Sandwich Shop: Subway

Jackie Mercandetti
Sophie's calls this plate Les Frites – la Parisienne. It sounds completely intimidating until you realize that, hey, this is just a fancy name for French fries. But mon Dieu, these are not just any fries. For less than five bucks, you get a soup bowl full of exquisitely fresh-cut shoestring potatoes, perfectly deep fat fried to be crisp-skinned with a succulent hot interior. They're dusted with fresh herbs, ever so gently salted, and served with roasted tomato aioli (think sweet, chunky purée, much more interesting than ketchup). It's not uncommon to simply order a plate of these fantastic fries and some fresh-brewed iced tea. For lunch, nothing more is needed.

(and 19900 North Remington, Surprise, 623-584-8494) Who says real barbecue has to be served in a dive, usually on paper plates, with plastic forks and nothing but reams of flimsy napkins to sop up the mess? The folks at Dillon's have figured out that, while we demand the best in our meat, we also don't mind some civilized surroundings while we gnaw.

Dillon's is a cute, converted old house that looks like grandma's parlor. It's got fancier staples than many places, like prime rib, turkey, and Northern Atlantic salmon. But this 'cue is as honest as any rough-and-tumble, smoke-spewing joint. Large portions and reasonable prices shout of authenticity. We can't go wrong with traditional slow-smoked St. Louis-style seasoned pork spare ribs, or tender baby back pork ribs. A half chicken is slow smoked, too, sealing in its juices, while turkey practically melts in our mouths. Juicy choice cut beef brisket, pulled pork in spicy vinegar sauce, smoked sausage, or burnt ends marinated in Cajun or sweet-mild barbecue sauce have us salivating just thinking about them. Sometimes we go for a kick: the Southwestern smoked stew, a comforting dish of smoked beef, pork, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, peppers and corn in a robust sauce. Sometimes we go for the kill: The Brontosaurus beef rib platter could fell a WWE champion, with its huge, full rack of meat. Take a 'cue from us: Dillon's is the best all the way to the bone.

Readers' Choice: Honey Bear's Bar-B-Q

We expect a lot from our "best" Mexican restaurant. First, there's the food, of course. And La Casa delivers in delicious style, with home-style breakfasts of chilaquiles con queso; or lunches and dinners of shrimp-octopus cocktail, ceviche tostada, and mixed skillets of fabulously seasoned chicken, beef and carnitas or seafood. It's all fresh and fun, with our favorite dish being tilapia fish with tons of real garlic swimming in butter, alongside stellar rice, beans and a warm flour tortilla. Second, we want atmosphere, and this place has it, from splendid colorful murals on walls, to loud, piped-in music, and mariachi tunes on weekends. Third, we want something to wash down with our festivities, and La Casa doesn't disappoint. We crave the aguas frescas, homemade with horchata, pineapple or tamarind. In the spirit of a real party, we slam from an impressive array of brandy, cognac, rum, tequila, whiskey and vodka. For a true Mexican fiesta, La Casa is the best.

Readers' Choice: Macayo's

We would love to take a tour of Acapulco Bay's kitchen. We think it must be enormous, to stock such an incredible selection of fresh seafood: red snapper, cabrilla, tilapia, shrimp, octopus, lobster tail, calamari, oysters, green mussels, scallops and crab. We'd love to dig through the chefs' recipe books -- the depth and creativity are astounding, with seafood prepared in garlic butter, spicy peppers and butter, salsa butter, Veracruz-style with olives and pickled jalapeos, breaded in cracker flour, grilled with peppers and onions, or with fresh mushrooms and cheese. Meat eaters aren't left out, either, with chicken dressed in Baja spices, marinated pork steak, carne asada and carnitas, glammed up with crispy vegetables, fresh chunked guacamole and spicy pico de gallo. We're pretty sure we could eat here every day for a year, and never have the same meal twice.

Jordan's has been a Phoenix landmark since 1946, and the place looks its age, with its dark interior, shiny, gold-flecked wallpaper and ragged red carpeting. Thank goodness for tradition, though -- the owners have seemingly never learned that so many restaurants these days are happy to shame us with food from bags, boxes and freezers. All food here is prepared fresh from scratch daily, including, wonder of wonders, the crispy, salty warm corn chips slapped in baskets for free on our tables. The chefs make their own salsas, including a thin, wet, truly infernal tomato purée; and a gentler mix that kind of reminds us of tomato soup. Our waitress, in fact, actually rolls her eyes when we ask if these beauties are made on-site, by hand. She sighs, and says, "Of course, there's no other way." Long live the legend.

Readers' Choice for Best Salsa: Garduo's

Some of them look like dinner rolls dusted in psychedelic sugar. Some look like buns that have had a violent run-in with fruit. But they're called bunuelos, and they're actually little bundles of joy. The Mexican pastries are flaky, light, and usually just slightly sweet (most of the sugar comes from the colorful topping, in pink, yellow, blue and/or green). They taste best when freshly made, and at Azteca, the bakers are busy every day except Sunday, stocking the cases of the small takeout shop with multiple all-natural, preservative-free varieties. Selections vary, but usual offerings include pan dulces (sweet rolls and breads), empanadas (turnovers), galletas (cookies), orejas (puff pastry) and pan de muerto, a Day of the Dead specialty. If that weren't enough, this shop also cranks out homemade tortillas. Sweet!

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