BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT 2004 | Sophie's Bistro | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti
Was it the pan-seared foie gras that won our hearts? The pâtè du chef infused with Madeira, cognac and essence of white truffle? Or those divine lamb chops with the pistachio-sage crust? Sure, Sophie's has ambiance aplenty, set as it is in a cozy little cottage, with hardwood floors, roughhewn wooden beams holding up the ceiling, and tasteful abstract prints hung on the cream-colored walls. And, of course, the service is nonpareil. But it's owner Serge Boukatch's classic French bistro cuisine that makes us swoon: duck breast sauted with Kirschwasser, salmon roasted in Cointreau and topped with grapefruit, escargot prepared traditionally in a bath of garlic butter, and so on. Jazz piano provides the soundtrack to our love affair with Boukatch's menu. And afterward, despite the thousands of calories inhaled, we'll sing, like Edith Piaf did in her day, Non, je ne regrette rien . . . Readers' Choice: Vincent on Camelback

Slow foodies go gaga over this Martha Stewart-esque eatery with its reliance on mostly organic produce and meat, its soft, fruity bread baked every day on the premises, and a menu that changes with the seasons. They swoon over the fried, panko-breaded olives stuffed with feta, or the warm peach and prosciutto salad tossed with baby arugula. And they're practically willing to give up their wallets for a bowl of house-made pasta or a pork chop from a pig lovingly raised in organic mud and spoon-fed heirloom veggies until it croaks from overindulgence. Okay, we admit, that part about the porker is a bit of an exaggeration, but Ruby Beet is the real deal when it comes to new American cuisine and slow food, which is why it wins kudos from us. All praise is due chef proprietor Karen Dawson, who's turned the elegant, picturesque Silva House in Heritage Square into ground zero for some innovative culinary fireworks. Now if we could only convince Ruby Beet to take in boarders, our retirement plans would be set.

Don't forget your bankroll when you waltz into Drinkwater's City Hall. This plush, ritzy chophouse/nightclub caters to Scottsdale's nouveau riche and those just passing through, like professional athletes and celebs for whom dropping $39 on a steak is nothing. Thing is, like the man said, you get what you pay for, and consequently the rich really do eat better than the rest of us. At Drinkwater's, the beef is thicker and tastier, the shrimp in the shrimp cocktail could choke a stallion, ditto on the size of the desserts, and the service will make you feel like the Shah of Iran in his heyday. All this in a red, black and gray dining room with stylish sheets of swirled glass paneling hanging from the ceiling, and a sound system so crystal-clear you'll swear the music's live, even when it's not. It's almost enough to make us consider voting Republican, as long as we get to dine like the fat cats at City Hall on a regular basis. Readers' Choice: Ruth's Chris Steak House

Color scheme is not the Gourmet House of Hong Kong's strong suit: The exterior is the color of aqua-blue taffy; the interior, a sickly Pepto-Bismol pink with a dismal, though clean, gray tile flooring. The furnishings? Round tables and plain, armless chairs, with the occasional generic Chinese-style painting of a pool of fish. The ceiling is best left unremarked upon, save to say that looking at it will do nothing for your appetite. And yet, if you are familiar with Chinatowns in NYC and elsewhere, you'll know that the best Cantonese food in the world comes from just such eateries with hundreds of items on their menus -- pagodas of gastronomic greatness that operate in Cantonese and English, with the day's specials inevitably posted on the walls. Gourmet House of Hong Kong is one of these, albeit near 16th Street and McDowell here in P-town, rather than near Gotham's Mott and Canal. You can get everything from shark-fin soup and Peking duck with pancakes to five-flavor frogs' legs and soup with chunks of thousand-year-old egg. The bill of fare's nearly as lengthy as the Great Wall! PHX may lack a true Chinatown, but as long as chef/proprietor Michael Leung's GHHK is open for business, we've got the next best thing. Readers' Choice: P.F. Chang's China Bistro

Jamie Peachey
This may be terrible to say, but now that Dr. Atkins is fertilizer, we can finally eat like human beings again, and that means the regular consumption of starch, especially as prepared by Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe. Of course, Cherryblossom does serve some items the late diet maven might have allowed, such as whole baby calamari in anchovy tomato sauce, crunchy Cajun shrimp with the heads intact, and sushi or sashimi as appetizers. But ol' Atkins' version of hell is heaven for the rest of us: spicy curry beef linguini; fresh squid and spicy cod roe atop spaghetti; Korean sirloin slices stir-fried with egg-white noodles with enough chile paste to fuel a Hummer for a month; and various types of yaki udon (thick fried noodles) and yakisoba (thinner, fried noodles). When you wipe your lips, wish Atkins well in the afterlife, 'cause it's a sure bet he'll be jealous as heck of your visit to Cherryblossom. Readers' Choice: RA Sushi Bar Restaurant

With Pho Bang being a perennial winner in this category, you might get the impression that there are no other Vietnamese joints in the Valley. Wrong again, beef-ball breath! There are actually Viet eats aplenty to be found throughout greater PHX, but Pho Bang overwhelms the competition with a massive menu and the most consistent and authentic Southeast Asian foodstuffs on offer. Let's be honest, though. Folks ain't going there for the interior decoration, which could easily double for a Vietnamese bingo hall: plain tables and chairs, beer ad posters, and the occasional, extra-crusty Best Of award from years past. It's the cheap, kick-ass bowls of pho, the jumbo shrimp spring rolls, and the crisp, crunchy egg rolls that draw diners like paparazzi to a Michael Jackson court appearance. And as far as celeb endorsements go, there's William Hung, who, unbeknownst to the judges on American Idol, was actually singing "She Pho Bang" during his tryout. Great product placement, guys! Readers' Choice: Cyclo

Lauren Cusimano
Okay, so maybe it's not the most healthful food on the face of the planet, we think as we espy the opened can of Crisco sitting in the Fry Bread House's kitchen, but then it's not exactly as if Popeye's or Taco Bell serves diet food. Anyway, we'll put FBH's palate-pleasing puffs of flour, salt and shortening up against any fast food, anywhere, any time. Not only is FBH's fry bread outstanding when topped with honey and powdered sugar, but it can make for a hearty, rib-sticking meal when paired with beef stew or when used as a taco with chorizo, beans and lettuce. So why aren't there scores of Fry Bread Houses across the Southwest, and perhaps, even, the nation or beyond? If there are any aspiring Donald Trumps out there with the means to make it happen, what are you waiting for? Get on the stick so that by this time next year, Tokyo will be opening its own FBH and the Japanese can at last enjoy the culinary delights of fried dough. Then after Japan, it's on to China, India, and finally, world domination . . .

For Thai purists, there's no better place for Siamese cuisine than Thai Rama, which has resisted the mainstreaming of Thai food that some places have championed. Nothing wrong with experimentation, of course, but we like our Thai restaurants to be an echo of old Bangkok, with Thai embroidery on the walls and classic dishes that taste the way Thai Rama makes them, such as pad Thai, chicken satay, and red, green or yellow curry. The Thai iced tea with cream is exquisite, and while you sip it, you can peruse an extensive menu of entrees and appetizers unrivaled in the Valley. The angel wings -- chicken wings stuffed with pork and slathered with chili sauce -- are as good as anything you'll be served in L.A., the cashew duck will have you quacking with delight, and the kaeng kung, or shrimp curry with coconut milk and bamboo shoots, will have you singing "I'm the King of Siam," ˆ la Yul Brynner. As for Thai Rama's coconut ice cream, it's thicker and sweeter than Hollywood cutie Lindsay Lohan in a tank top, albeit with slightly smaller scoops. Readers' Choice: Malee's on Main

Psst. Hey, buddy, smell our hands. No, it's nothing gross, we promise. Just take a whiff. Know what that tantalizing fragrance is? That's the smell of Korean barbecue, and if there was a way to bottle it, we'd rub ourselves down in it from head to toe, but Chanel is still working out the kinks in its Eau de Beef cologne. So until they get that down pat, we'll just stick to our favorite Korean barbecue restaurant, Tempe's Seoul Garden. Seoul Garden was formerly known as Korean Garden, an establishment that had been in business for more than a decade. Then owner Sarah Kang came along and, with the help of her sis Missy, revitalized the food and the service to such a degree that it's now our favorite place to partake of Korean barbecue. That's where you grill a big platter of marinated meat, whether it be bulgogi beef, chicken, pork, or something slightly more exotic, like pork tongue. Once the animal flesh of your choice is properly grilled, you wrap it in a lettuce leaf, add some rice, kimchee, or any of eight or nine pickled sides, pop it in your kisser and wash it down with generous amounts of Korean OB beer. There are lots of other items on the menu: savory Korean seafood pancakes; dumplings, steamed or fried; or bi-bim-bap, veggies, rice, beef and eggs in a bowl. But only with the barbecue do you get your hands to smell like freshly seared beef. That's our idea of heaven. Readers' Choice: Seoul Garden Korean BBQ Restaurant

Longtime fixtures on the Phoenix culinary scene, Tom and Chrysa Kaufman have created a low-key restaurant that winks at Western kitsch. From the Mexican kitchen altar to the Lon Megargee prints on the wall, the art is nearly as sly as the gourmet dishes posing as comfort food.

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