BEST CHILI 2004 | Roaring Fork | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Courtesy of Roaring Fork
Okay, we'll come clean. We'd kiss Robert McGrath's stinkiest pair of cowboy boots for one of those little cast-iron pots of green chile pork stew that he serves at his Southwestern-styled Roaring Fork restaurant. And dagnabbit, you may feel the same after a visit to one of the best restaurants in the Valley for a bowl of this desert ambrosia with a side of flour tortillas. Actually, screw the tortillas, all we want is the stew, hoss, with its generous chunks of pork, and its New Mexico chiles, hominy, poblano, and loads of butter. Old-school foodies may balk at us referring to anything with pork as "chili," but the concept is the same, and one spoonful of this stuff will make you forget all about semantics. McGrath is an example of one Valley chef for whom all of his plaudits are deserved, so we bow down to him, Wayne's World-style, and cry, "We are not worthy!" And of course we will, as promised, kiss his freakin' boots. But please, not while we're eating. Readers' Choice: Wendy's

Chef Georges Venezia of Scottsdale's Mes Amis Bistro and Bar whips up a mess of Provenal-style frogs' legs that would turn Kermit into a cannibal. According to Venezia, the frogs' legs were added only after a regular customer began to ask for them. So Venezia, who hails from Nice, began to prepare them as they do in southern France, in a sauce of white wine, butter, garlic, tomatoes and Pernod. Very quickly, Venezia's frogs' legs began to sell out every night he offered them as a special, so he did the wise thing and added them as a permanent part of the menu. Do they taste like chicken? Yes and no. They taste more like a cross between chicken and something aquatic, with a sweetness to the meat no doubt enhanced by the Pernod.
Courtesy of Roaring Fork
Roaring Fork chef Robert McGrath has achieved something we didn't think possible, something long sought after by cooks high and low, the Holy Grail of American grilling, if you will. That is, he's built a better burger. That's a 12-ounce Big Ass Burger, to be exact, one that you can only enjoy during dinner hours in the saloon area of his popular Scottsdale restaurant. We know what you're thinking: All hamburgers are pretty much alike. And so we thought until we saddled up to the bar at McGrath's Southwestern-themed establishment, and bit into that ground hunk of primo cow flesh, topped with roasted green chiles, longhorn cheese, grilled onion and bacon. Eaten medium rare, with a glass of Pinot Noir as accompaniment, there's no better way to massage the pleasure centers of your brain, unless of course you happen to have a bikini-less Lindsay Lohan waiting for you in a Jacuzzi somewhere (or a Speedo-less Jake Gyllenhaal, depending on your preference). In which case, we strongly suggest that you eat McGrath's piéce de rèsistance as quickly as possible. Readers' Choice: Fuddrucker's

Timur Guseynov
Back in our college days, we hung with the vegan crowd for so long that those damn hippies finally persuaded us to disavow our flesh-eating ways. Eventually, we came to our senses and sold out around the time that one bumper sticker ("If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?") started making sense -- or maybe it was because Jack in the Box introduced the Ultimate Cheeseburger. Regardless, we're no longer welcomed in PETA, but the peeps at Pita Jungle will still take us in, and we can't wait for our next veggie burger.

Served between two slices of seven-grain bread, the patty is a delectable hodgepodge of soy, sesame bits, and vegetable products that beats Boca Burgers any day of the week. The patty's buried under mounds of chopped romaine lettuce, red onions, sliced roma tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts and a large slice of fire-roasted sweet red bell pepper. A side of tahini is included, thus reducing the potential for a mushy sandwich meltdown.

Whether you like PETA or pita -- or both -- you'll love Pita Jungle's veggie burger.

Fries are one of those sides we all tend to take for granted, and maybe that's why they're usually so forgettable. After all, when's the last time you had memorable pommes frites, people? Well, we don't know about you, but the last time we had an unforgettable frittered tuber was at Blac-a-Zoli Grill, a swankish little Eye-tie joint over on Seventh Street, right across from Hamburger Mary's. At BZ, we're talking about steak fries, thick and hearty, made in house, not from frozen, and, most important, not overfried so you can't even taste the potato like so many other establishments seem prone to doing. Rather, BZ's steak fries are lightly fried, and the perfect accompaniment to the steak of choice, an eight-ounce filet mignon in a citrus red wine reduction that tastes like Merlot syrup, if there were such a thing. Swirl those steak fries around in that sauce, bub, and you'll find out what paradise is (or should be) all about. Kill it with a frosty mug of Stella Artois on tap, and call it a day, week, and year. Unless, of course, you're like us, and make steak-fry noshin' at BZ's a regular gustatory event.

Kyle Lamb
Wally's promotes a blue plate special nightly that evokes home cooking (provided one of your parents could actually cook). From spaghetti and meatballs to pot roast, each dish is the real McCoy. As you tuck it away, you can't help wondering: Whatever happened to make this kind of food vanish from local menus? Unlike at home, there is a good wine selection by the glass. The atmosphere is so casual that you almost don't notice that Wally himself is always present pressing his relentless vigilance of the details. That's one reason his neighborhood joint hangs with the big dogs.

Heather Hoch
Culinary bad boy Chris Bianco is best known for his pizzas, but it's Bianco's other stab at digestive glory that garners our garlands: Pane Bianco, Bianco's sandwich shop next to the cooler-than-thou Lux Coffeebar. Bianco's panini don't taste overly sooty, a nice trick since they are house-made in a wood-fueled oven. The finished product makes for the perfect lunch when you have to go back to work and don't want to feel too heavy. The offerings are limited to three or four sandwiches and a couple of salads, all using superior ingredients such as roasted peppers, aged provolone and fresh mozzarella. The menu changes with the seasons, but the hours usually remain the same: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. We'd love to find the place open more often, and it's tough luck when you visit on a rainy day, as Bianco only offers outdoor seating, but in the case of Pane Bianco, excellence deserves some leeway, and we're more than happy to grant it.

"Best Gourmet Pizza" is a spurious epithet as applied to Patsy Grimaldi's in Scottsdale, as the phrase "gourmet pizza" connotes pizza eaten with pinkie raised, the consumer smug in the knowledge that he or she has chosen the snootiest slice to be had. But there's nothing effete about Grimaldi's coal-fired pies, crafted with house-made mozzarella, sweet tomato sauce, and any of a number of traditional toppings, such as pepperoni, ham, black olives and mushrooms. No, there's no barbecued chicken, fennel sausage, or Arizona pistachios -- none of that frou-frou stuff that the Sex and the City crowd adores. Rather, what you get at Grimaldi's is the sort of pizza Ol' Blue Eyes was proud to push into his pie-hole when he was a regular customer of the Gotham branch. The crust is thin and slightly crisp, singed by the colossal coal ovens, and nothing short of magnìfico. Moreover, the atmosphere is old-school, N.Y. Italian, with red-and-white-checked tablecloths and Dean Martin croonin' on the box. "Best Gourmet Pizza"? Let's just say Grimaldi's has the "Best Frickin' Pizza," and leave it at that. Readers' Choice: Oregano's Pizza Bistro

Shut up and eat. That's the motto of Valley pie shop Slices, which has two locations, one in Scottsdale and one in Tempe, and we'll be damned if we couldn't say it any better ourselves. Atmosphere, shmatmosphere. This place is all about the pizza-by-the-slice, hence the name, Matlock. So expect nothing more ambiance-wise than stools, paper plates, and a TV set tuned to ESPN. Further, there's no wood-fired, coal-fired, or any other kind of fired oven. It's a regular gas deck oven that produces the best slices in the Valley, such as the baked eggplant with roasted red pepper, or the four-cheese "white" with garlic and sliced tomatoes. And that's gotta make you wonder -- maybe all that crap about what kind of oven you use is BS. After all, Slices' slices melt on your tonsils like they were some doughy form of Breyer's, so even if they were cookin' up those savory triangles in an Easy-Bake Oven, what's the big deal? Isn't it all about how the pizza tastes? Here, the ends most certainly justify the means, and all for $2 to $2.50 a slice. Readers' Choice: Slices

Jacob Tyler Dunn
Greens are to soul food what tomatoes are to Italian cuisine: a culinary sine qua non. Indeed, every soul food place in existence has its take on this Southern-born side dish, sometimes just using collards and sometimes mixing them with other leafy greens, such as kale, turnip, and/or mustard greens. Our complaint regarding those served at many soul food joints in the Valley is the over-use of salt, which overpowers the savory taste of this boiled vegetation, and kills any delight to be had from the "pot likker," the juice resulting from stewing the greens with a bit of ham added for flavor. Mrs. White's doesn't make this mistake. Its mixture of collards and mustard greens is absent excess sodium, and thus is the perfect accompaniment to its golden yellow cornbread, which crumbles so effortlessly over the pot likker remnants. It's difficult to overestimate the importance of a good mess of greens. For soul food aficionados, it's the one item sure to draw you back to an eatery, over and over again. And it's one of the many reasons we love Mrs. White's. Other soul food purveyors should pay heed! Spare our high blood pressure and ease up on yon salt shaker. Try Mrs. White's, then go and do likewise, ladies and gents. Readers' Choice: Souper Salad

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