BEST SOUL FOOD 2004 | Stacy's | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Chef Stacy Phipps is the man when it comes to soul food in this town. Sure, there are a number of purveyors of Southern home cookin' in the PHX, but Phipps is the King of Collards, the Grand Pooh-Bah of Gizzards, the Prince of Pulled Pork, and the Supreme Sultan of Smothered Fried Chicken. Now, you could spend hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on a culinary tour of the former Confederacy, but why waste the time and ducats when Stacy's on East Jefferson serves up a mess of vittles that'd put Andy Griffith's Aunt Bea to shame? Erstwhile Southerners can attest to the fact that Stacy's fried okra, frogs' legs, chicken fried steak and cornbread are the bomb, as is Stacy's sweet tea, which is so sweet it might double for Mrs. Butterworth's syrup on your pancakes. When it comes to deep-fried poultry, even Colonel Sanders would have to kowtow were he alive to sample Stacy's bird. And how can we forget Stacy's barbecue, catfish and peach cobbler? Why, if those folks at the Food Network had any brains, Stacy'd have his own TV show. But maybe that's not such a good idea. Then who'd fry us up a basket of chicken gizzards when we're hungry? Readers' Choice: Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe

Meagan Simmons
If that ultimate stoner character Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High ever springs to life from your television set while you're peeping the DVD for the umpteenth time and asks you for directions to "some awesome sushi, mon," draw that young man a map to the Valley's Best New Restaurant, Blue Wasabi Sushi and Martini Bar, way up at DC Ranch. Not only does Blue Wasabi have blue wasabi (the miracle of food coloring, folks), and splendid signature martinis, like the lip-puckering, blueberry-flavored Berry White, or the Chocolate Twist, which tastes like a vodka-cr'me de cacao milk shake, there's also the sushi -- better than anything you'll get outside of Japan. Among Blue Wasabi's rolls of renown: the Surf and Turf, lobster and cucumber topped with seared beef tenderloin; the Killer Bee, a California roll topped with eel and mango; and our fave, the Spicoli, spicy octopus and barbecue Fritos topped with avocado. That Spicoli's so tasty, why, even Mr. Hand would enjoy noshing it. And what will Spicoli say? Probably, "bitchin' sushi, dude." Readers' Choice: Zoë's Kitchen

Dinner at Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen makes us wanna bitch-slap Emeril Lagasse, it's so good. Of course, we never were crazy about that lame-ass honky and his brainwashed studio audience, which cheers every time the New Orleans-based chef yells "Bam!" and adds salt to a pot roast. Why, the guy's actually from MASSACHUSETTS, people! And he must shave between his eyebrows to keep them from growing together. Anyway, when we want real Cajun cuisine, we don't watch the frickin' Food Network; we mosey on down to Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen, where we can eat the real deal: shrimp rmoulade, Louisiana crab cakes, red beans and rice, jambalaya with andouille sausage, and our fave, the spicy-as-all-get-out boudin, a fried Cajun sausage stuffed with pork and rice that's served with Baby Kay's apricot-pepper jelly. Baby Kay's got po'boys, too, as well as bowls of gumbo, catfish with crawfish sauce, and some of the best garlic bread we've ever tasted. But that boudin is what we dream about at night. Well, that and Emeril choking on his own touffe.

You can hardly throw a rock without hitting an Eye-tie eatery in the Valley. But very few have what it takes to earn our loyalty. This is especially true of upscale Italian places where you might have to part with your Roth IRA to pay for some watered-down minestrone, a bowl of calamari, and a plate of pasta with a meat sauce that Ragú could beat. That's not the case at one of the few upscale Italian restaurants that enjoys our regular patronage, Daniel's. Of course, you might have to hock your Rolex to eat here, even if you get to keep your IRA. But believe us, Daniel's is worth every penny. The menu is exquisite, with such saliva-inducing offerings as wild mushroom ravioli in a butter-herb sauce with fresh blueberries, and oven-braised Long Island duck, served with a rice/black-truffle croquette that'll curl your toes with ecstasy. Why, if we had enough dolo, we'd eat here every night. Maybe we'll cash out that IRA after all, eh? Readers' Choice: Tomaso's

Do not fear the tomato. The tomato is your friend. That's what we'd like to tell most Italian joints in Greater P-town. See, for their chefs, spaghetti and meatballs has become one of those quaint dishes of yesteryear, like baked Alaska and beef Wellington, that they've completely forgotten how to make. Judge them by what they serve up, when they bother to serve it up: chewy pasta, a meager amount of marinara, and meatballs like rocks. In fact, this situation is so bad in town that we have to hightail it to Fountain Hills for the best neighborhood Italian food in Maricopa County. At least Redendo's Pizzeria and Pasta makes it worth the drive. This spot serves Brooklyn-quality pizza and pasta in an environment that makes you feel like you dropped through the proverbial rabbit hole into 1940s America, with reproductions of anti-Hitler propaganda, World Series posters, and black-and-white photos of WWII fighter planes. But the best thing about Redendo's is the spaghetti and meatballs, with plenty of great-tasting marinara and pasta, and fat, tender meatballs that are unmatched in the Valley. For those whose neighborhood includes Redendo's, lucky you. Readers' Choice: Oregano's Pizza Bistro

Jennifer Goldberg
Yes, there are other German pubs in the Valley, but none matches the cuckoo-clock-like quaintness of Haus Murphy's interior, with its German banners, portraits of King Ludwig II, embroidered tablecloths, lederhosen hung from the rafters, and that bewitching, mirror-backed bar from the set of the 1985 James Garner-Sally Field film Murphy's Romance. Barmaids in dirndls bring you 32-ounce schooners of dark, German dunkel, and some old dude who looks like an extra from The Sound of Music plays oompah classics on his accordion. The cuisine is equal to the environs, with every sort of schnitzel under the sun, including Wiener schnitzel, jager schnitzel, Balkan schnitzel, and so on. And the sausages? Wunderbar, liebling. Knackwurst, bratwurst and krakauer wurst, to name a few. In the back are two huge biergartens, and yes, there are a number of German brews on tap. Altogether, it's a tall order for any other German eatery to beat, but until one does, or until HM falls off its game, it owns this spot, pops. Readers' Choice: German Corner

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

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