House of Tricks
Timur Guseynov
One of the first things we do as soon as fall arrives is call House of Tricks for a lunch reservation. We love to sip a raspberry iced tea (the trick is real raspberries) on the patio in front of this decidedly non-chain restaurant right off Mill Avenue.

There's still enough hustle and bustle to keep our eyes busy as we watch the downtown Tempe and Arizona State University traffic, and the best part is that we feel like we're guests at someone's home, dining under a vine-covered trellis. Evenings are equally delightful at the outdoor bar, and the food is consistently some of the best we've had in town. Readers' Choice: Mickey's Hangover

My Florist Café & Bar
You think you know "The Girl From Ipanema" until you've heard it played by Nicole Pesce, the resident pianist at My Florist Cafe. Ditto "Flight of the Bumblebee," which she's been known to pair with Elton John's "Rocket Man" or any of several Jelly Roll Morton numbers. Is it any wonder, then, that folks come from far and wide to listen to this amazingly talented lass play everything from Rachmaninoff to Billy Joel, in a signature style that's part Tchaikovsky, part Eurolounge, and always very groovy? During a standard six-hour set, Pesce (who's played with Buddy Greco and once toured the country with the Jerry Lewis Orchestra) is likely to shift from Franz Liszt to Frank Sinatra and on into her infamous ABBA medley, nodding and smiling all the while as if to say, "Hey, music is music, pal." Somehow, though, music is a little bit more musical when Pesce plays it. But don't take our word for it. Hang back after supping on one of My Florist's signature salads, and listen while Pesce arpeggios her way through Van Morrison, Queen, and an arrangement of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" that must be heard to be believed.

There are enough police officers eating at this relaxed pub at all hours of the day to inspire confidence no matter what color the folks at Homeland Security announce. What are the cops eating? It sounds un-American, but everyone is here for gourmet burgers. An outfit called Snake River Farms imported to the States a herd of cattle from Japan and fed them barley, wheat and alfalfa in a natural, unconfined setting. Whatever. The resulting Kobe beef burgers, created without growth hormones, are a wonder. Wash down the protein with a half-dozen local brews or Sonora's own handmade root beer.

The Emerald Lounge is the CBGB of Phoenix. All the proper elements are there: a garage-like punk-rock stage where you can peep such acts as Hell on Heels, Smut Muffin, and Spaz Kitty; a cool bar with an even cooler bartender -- Don "Mr. Spock" Baber; ice-cold beers on tap; and the sort of inky darkness that takes your eyes about 10 minutes to adjust to. Even then, you'll never be certain that "the dime" in the low-cut blouse beside you isn't "a deuce" -- or vice versa -- until the sunlight hits her bedsheets the next morning. But then, the darkness hides a multitude of sins both ways, bubba. The real reason we like the club's crepuscular ambiance so much is that we can hide out and be as sociable or as unsociable as we want to be.

And if it allows us the occasional anonymous, surreptitious grope of the opposite sex, that's not so wrong, is it?

Zen 32
When it comes to late-night decadence, it's hard to bite Zen 32's steelo. Not only can you order a plate of yellowtail sashimi or tuna rolls, and a pint of Kirin beer or a bottle of hot sake, but there's plenty of eye candy to gaze upon while you consume mass quantities. The waitresses are booful (and yes, that spelling's correct, Jack) wearing those long, Japanese-style skirts with the slits up the side, and there are plenty of hot babes of both sexes in the Zen Bar in the back.

Whether you're a chickie on the prowl or a hunk on the hunt, after 10 p.m., the Zen Bar turns into a pickup spot legendary for the hookup luck it bestows upon sushi noshers of all stripes. Alicia Silverstone-like lovelies feed each other Tootsie rolls (with eel, shrimp and snow crab), while Brad Pitt-like studlies chew their edamame (i.e., soy nuts, bee-ahtch) and hope that girl on her fifth sake bomb needs a ride home.

Seoul Jung Restaurant is not only one of the best Korean barbecue houses in the Valley, it also boasts one of the bigger Korean menus in town, with everything from kimchee pancakes and yook hwe (Korean steak tartare) to broiled mackerel and abalone porridge. In addition, it's got an impressive list of authentic Korean barbecue dishes, which includes the standard bulgogi (marinated beef), beef tongue, tripe, pork, prawns, and so on.

You can grill these on the gas ranges set into your table, or have the kitchen do it for you. In either case, you get a huge array of panchan, the pickled and marinated veggies, seafood items, etc., that are like the Korean equivalent to Spanish tapas.

It doesn't take much to over-order. But when you inevitably do so, you're the beneficiary of a veritable Korean cornucopia of eats, remedied only by prolonged gorging and the help of more than one take-home box.

Thus, a visit to Seoul Jung makes gluttony fun.

Harlow's Cafe
Patricia Escarcega
When you step out of the blinding morning (or early afternoon) sunlight into the dimmed breakfast oasis that is Harlow's, you'll be greeted with a glass of ice water almost before your butt's hit the comfortable leather booth. Then, depending on the delicate nature of your stomach, you can go simple or all out.

If you're looking for absorbency to sponge that last quart of Budweiser, Harlow's fluffy homemade biscuits are a must. If sugar's needed to ease your pounding head, hit the Belgian waffles with strawberries and a scoop of ice cream.

When more drastic fat and grease infusions are called for, head straight for the signature Eggs Maximillian with chorizo -- a tortilla covered with a layer of crispy hash browns, eggs cooked the way you like 'em, slathered with Harlow's awesome chorizo and a scoop of sour cream. After you eat, head straight home and mix up a Bloody Mary before taking your well-deserved nap -- hair of the dog is the only thing lacking from Harlow's menu. Readers' Choice: Denny's

You can't help but feel a tinge of Arizona pride when you watch the sun setting behind Pinnacle Peak from the patio at Acacia, with deep shades of rose and violet reflecting off the bubbles in your champagne glass. Or maybe that's just the champagne talking. Either way, this stunning spot equals pure romance (even if it's just a love of our wondrous desert surroundings), and offers a real sense of escape though it's not far off the 101 and Pima Road. Of course, you'll have to spend a few dollars once you set foot on the manicured grounds of the Four Seasons, but it's worth it -- you can keep the memories, free of charge. Readers' Choice: Sanctuary Resort on Camelback Mountain

It's always a treat for us to do lunch at Calabria Italian Grocery and Deli. There are larger, busier places to go for lunch in downtown, but then that's the point of visiting Calabria, which only has a couple of tables, and mostly deals in takeout orders. Our favorite thing to do is take a late lunch and hide at the table wedged between a window and a tall steel shelf of Italian dry goods. Perhaps we'll order an array of Italian olives and pickled mushrooms as a starter, and one of Calabria's superb subs, like the Sicilian, made with mortadella, sopressata and prosciutto, for the main course. There are also calzones, and arancini -- rice balls with ground beef centers -- and, for dessert, a variety of Italian ice creams to choose from. Sure, Calabria is great for ordering to-go, but just give us that Sicilian sub, a lime San Pellegrino, and a good book, and we may even forget we have a job to go back to. Readers' Choice: Zoë's Kitchen

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant
Most people like to hide after dark, but if you've never tried hiding at lunch, you really should. We recommend McCormick & Schmick's. Along with regular tables and booths, the seafood restaurant has half a dozen "snugs," described as "private dining booths with luxurious velvet drapes for the ultimate in dining privacy." Now, we wouldn't recommend that you get too intimate in a snug -- you're still in the middle of a restaurant, for heaven's sake -- but you can certainly hide out. And what you do in hiding is really your own business -- unless, of course, your waiter catches you.

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