Haus Murphy's
Jennifer Goldberg
Schnitzel! We love that word. But more than saying it, we love eating the tasty meat cutlets, dipped in batter and fried. At Haus Murphy's, we fill up on fine varieties including Wiener schnitzel, jäger schnitzel, Balkan schnitzel, paprika schnitzel, Holstein schnitzel, prager schnitzel, schweizer schnitzel and chicken schnitzel. Sausages! We adore sausages, and no one presents the wide variety found at Haus Murphy's, like nurnberger bratwurst, knackwurst, krakauer wurst, thuringer bratwurst, weisswurst and spicy bratwurst. Sauerbraten! Szegediner gulash, kassler kotelett, hackbraten! We love all that, too. No, we're not going to detail all those specialty dishes for you. Just trust us. Go. Order something. Anything. Get one of eight German drafts, and enjoy the strolling accordionist. We promise that, though you may not be able to pronounce what you're eating, you will love it.

Sometimes Cajuns and Creoles like to fight over food. Cajuns tend to think Creoles are stuck-up, what with their French-inspired cuisine and fancier ingredients. Creoles tend to believe that Cajuns are at best bourgeoisie, given to snacking on such lower-level swamp critters as alligator, crawfish and, yes, even squirrel. Voodoo Daddy's doesn't have squirrel, and it doesn't have luxe dishes like deep-dish rabbit and foie gras pie. But it does have an impressive enough selection of New Orleans-style dishes to keep even the most orthodox Cajuns and Creoles happy. We appreciate the casual but excellent fried green tomatoes, the gator bites (marinated chunks of alligator dusted in corn meal and fried in peanut oil), and the fragrant frog legs piquant (sautéed in peppery tomato-based sauce, simmered with andouille sausage and green olives over long grain white rice). When we're feeling a touch fancier, we go for the Oysters Bienville (a dozen fresh shucked Louisiana gulf oysters topped with cheese, breadcrumbs and herbs, broiled until golden on top), or duck confit salad (sautéed duck mixed with salad greens, onions and a warm balsamic vinaigrette topped with duck cracklings). We always finish up with a fine dessert: French bread pudding with raisins, pecans and whiskey sauce. Let the two camps duke it out; all we can say is, ooh wee, these vittles are all good.

Readers' Choice: Voodoo Daddy's

Cowboy Ciao Wine Bar & Grill
Heather Hoch
What, exactly, is New American food? Nobody really knows. But ultimately, it seems to come down to presenting diners with dishes they think they might know, but then, surprise! There's some crazy twist to keep you scratching your head. Often, it's delicious in an exciting kind of way; at Cowboy Ciao, the surprise is always spectacular. Executive chef Bernie Kantak has come up with dishes like chile gratin (elk, beef loin, white beans, smoked Cheddar and Gouda); rare tuna with ground hops and chamomile over curried chow-chow and mango soy; or peppercorn ostrich tenderloin with blackberry compote and cocoa-nib mashed Yukon golds. You may think you know what you're in for with grilled duck breasts, but then Kantak sideswipes you with apple-chipotle marinade, ancho-pecan chutney and smoked Gouda grits. You may not always recognize the dinners at Cowboy Ciao, but you're going to love them.

Giuseppe's on 28th
Jamie Peachey
This no-frills joint stuck in a strip mall between stores that sell cheap water and cigarettes has a devoutly loyal following, and with good reason. It's the place to go for happily inexpensive southern Italian fare, lunch or dinner. The owner, a Jewish Italophile who is the principal cellist for the Phoenix Symphony, is apt to greet you at the door and recommend his special of the day before you order at the front counter. The venerable staff (some of them have worked there for years) will fix your meal any way you like it. These days, with everyone and his mother on some kind of diet, that can mean an awful lot: If you ask, the guys will whip you up an antipasto that the late Dr. Atkins would appreciate from low-carb, high-protein heaven. A meal at Giuseppe's isn't complete without the sampler plate of bruschetta. It starts with a toasted piece of Italian bread topped with tomato, garlic and herbs, and goes from there (cheeses, meats and grilled vegetables). Three pieces for five bucks is an eminently fair price.

Readers' Choice for Best Italian Restaurant: Olive Garden

At some point, the meaning of "gourmet" has been lost. It's come to mean crazy, wild concoctions, with bizarre foods and even weirder combinations. But actually, gourmet means "a connoisseur of fine food and drink." So there's no better restaurant to celebrate fine food and drink than at Rancho Pinot. Co-owner Tom Kaufman is a wine genius, with a hugely clever and creative wine list (love the illustrations!). Co-owner Chrysa Kaufman is a food genius, and leader of the Phoenix chapter of Slow Food, an international group that cherishes farm-fresh foods, natural ingredients, and the joy of relaxing over a meticulously prepared meal.

The Kaufmans can get a bit wacko in their intense drive to prepare the most perfect food (don't ask for substitutions). But it's only from their obsession for the best in every bite of food, every sip of drink. The menu changes constantly, depending on what is the best available from organic farms and local artisans, and by what Chrysa deems acceptable to her creative skills.

Try this place once, and learn the difference between just food, and true art.

A friend of ours suggested we try losing some extra inches on one of those low-carb diets, but we just laughed. He's lucky we didn't belt him for suggesting we give up our romance with Willo Bakery, our favorite place to load up on the best-tasting carbs in town. Our pal doesn't realize that life without Willo's currant walnut rolls is a life not worth living. Once there, it's tough to decide between Willo's mind-bendingly perfect sourdough loaf and its tasty signature Willo Round. Then there's our favorite crusty Sunflower Bread, hard on the outside, dense and springy on the inside. We usually wind up taking all of these home, with a slice of focaccia thrown in for good measure. (And since we're not reducing, a quick cruise of the sweets counter is always part of our visit.) Everything at Willo is baked fresh daily, natch, and its bakers add no sugar, meat, dairy or preservatives to any of their magnificent breads. This attention to pure ingredients is our idea of sensible eating, and so we suggest a daily diet of Willo baked goods, pronto.

Readers' Choice: Karsh's Bakery

At Litchfield Park Organics, owners Shaun and Cathy Kalos stock a beautiful variety of organic produce from local vendors, and from California (the lettuce is so fresh and beautiful we want to roll around in it naked). Primary shoppers for fruits and veggies are co-op members, but for the rest of us, they also stock organic pasta, cereal, canned goods, milk, cheese and butter. Beef comes from natural (what a word!) cows in Goodyear, smoothies are all preservative- and chemical-free, and Cathy even makes 100 percent healthful takeout sandwiches in her spare time. Even when we're not hungry, this place makes us feel better just knowing it's out there.
We had to walk out the front door of this place and take a peek down Central Avenue to be sure we really were still in Phoenix. With mismatched furnishings and concrete floors, Lux evokes the urban grunge vibe of Austin or Denver, but here it is, nestled in a small building that used to house -- well, that's not important. Nothing could be as cool as Lux.

The coffee's rich -- "like butter," one regular insists. The art is better than what hangs on the walls of many Phoenix galleries, and the clientele makes for hours of people-watching. Step into Lux and you'll feel like there's a scene in the Valley -- and you're part of it.

There's a buzz in this place, and it's not just the caffeine.

There are those who still mourn the (d)evolution of Gold Bar Espresso, the funky Tempe coffee house that sprawled in an old bank on Southern Avenue, using the vault for poetry readings and the drive-in to make business boom. Gold Bar moved last year to an old TCBY across the street, a victim of landlord battles, and the regulars swore they'd boycott the replacement. But even some of the most loyal Gold Bar patrons haven't been able to curb their curiosity, and have ventured into the new establishment. Gone are the tchotchkes, the wicker and the posters lining the walls that made Gold Bar more like a lived-in dorm room than a place where you'd want to eat and drink.

In fact, everything funky is gone, and we have to admit we don't mind so much. Xtreme Bean is clean and sleek, with beautiful wood tables and Internet access. The front counter is beautifully appointed and the employees wear headsets. The coffee's even pretty good.

Sometimes, sterile's not such a bad thing.

Readers' Choice for Best Coffee House: Starbucks

We used to think that a worthwhile place to enjoy the British tradition of midday tea was as hard to find as a cool patch of shade in our town -- until we discovered Teeter House. Tucked away in downtown's Heritage Square, this posh spot offers several different tea ceremonies five days a week. We go straight for homemade scones and Devonshire cream, and always order traditional finger sandwiches and a pile of the candied walnuts made fresh here every day. Dessert is fussy, just the way we like it: teacakes, petit fours, and wee éclairs just like Mum used to make (or would have, had she been British). Teeter House also serves a four-course evening high tea on the fourth Thursday of every month; otherwise, it's open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.; reservations are recommended.

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