BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR MEXICAN GAME ON

Dulceria Pico Rico

Dulceria Pico Rico
In the interest of our gaming-themed "Best of," we wanted, dear reader, to find you the best cockfight in town. But The Man cried fowl. You can't find a legal cockfight in AZ anymore, although we hear there's still some action on the west side of Phoenix. Anyhow, we don't want to recommend anything that would hurt a chicken, short of a trip to KFC. But as far as "good" games go, we found Dulceria Pico Rico, a Mexican game store on 16th Street. DPR carries several versions of Loteria (Mexican bingo), as well as the Mexican version of Chutes 'n' Ladders, called Serpientes y Escaleras, and Pin the Tail on the Donkey, er, Burro. Even if you're bummed about not catching a cockfight, there's something very satisfying about winning the pot in Loteria. Victory tastes like chicken.
Retro Redux
When we stepped into this chic Seventh Avenue secondhand shop, it was as if a time machine had transported us back to an era when the Chairman of the Board ruled the world and cocktail culture was king. In our disorientation, we decided it was time to ditch our trendy obsession with '80s fashion and get a style that's more Rat Pack than Brat Pack.

Goodwill and vintage clothiers can be hit-or-miss, but our newfound friends at Retro Redux aren't; they clearly know which estate sales to hit, as there are ample samples of swanky suits and other attire from the Camelot era. Bingo, baby, we just found a smoking jacket worthy of Hef himself, as well as a two-piece sharkskin number with just the right amount of shine. To go along with our Chez Nous style, we acquired a pair of two-tone wingtips, a cigarette case, cufflinks, and enough martini shakers, quadraphonic stereo equipment, and copies of Look magazine to remake our apartment into one shagadelic bachelor pad.

Groovy.

BEST PLACE TO PLAY POKER WITHOUT LOSING YOUR SHIRT

Horse & Hound

Horse & Hound Sports Grill
The only thing that keeps us away from a poker table is our serious and committed relationship with money. (Well, that and a large man with a concealed weapons permit who really hates losing.) Lucky for us, we found the Horse & Hound on a Saturday night, where two free poker tournaments -- run by the Nationwide Poker Tour (www.pokerplayersinc.com) -- start at 7 and 10 p.m. with at least a half-dozen tables of Texas Hold 'Em open to anyone who signs up.

What's the point of playing poker without money involved? Actually, there is none. While it doesn't cost a thing to play at the Horse & Hound (unless you take in the happy hour specials that offer a dozen wings for $3 and $2.25 well drinks), it does pay to win. Folks who make it to the final table earn points toward a paid seat in monthly cash tournaments at Las Vegas' Bellagio and, ultimately, a $10,000 spot in the annual World Series of Poker. Just be careful with those pocket jacks in your hand at the H&H: Because it ain't real money, your fellow wanna-be World Series champs have been known to call your "all-in" with an off-suit 7-2 (statistically, the worst starting hand in Hold 'Em), and score a full boat on the river. Sure, you're out, but at least you're not down.

RESTAURANTS
Best Casino-Style Buffet
: Casino Arizona
Best New Restaurant: Market Bistro
Best Mexican Restaurant: Macayo's Mexican Kitchen
Best Upscale Italian: Tomaso's
Best Neighborhood Italian: Oregano's Pizza Bistro
Best Thai Restaurant: Malee's
Best Indian Restaurant: Indian Delhi Palace
Best Japanese Restaurant: Ra Sushi Bar Restaurant
Best Chinese Restaurant: P.F. Chang's China Bistro
Best Vietnamese Restaurant: Cyclo
Best German Restaurant: German Corner
Best French Restaurant: Sophie's A French Bistro
Best Mediterranean Restaurant: Haji-Baba Middle Eastern Food
Best Brewery: Four Peaks Brewing Co.
Best English Pub: George & Dragon English Restaurant and Pub
Best Irish Pub: Rla Bla
Best Fish and Chips: Pete's Fish & Chips
Best Pizza: Pizzeria Bianco
Best Bakery: Paradise Bakery
Best Ice Cream: Cold Stone Creamery
Best Coffee House: Starbucks Coffee
Best Seafood: Salt Cellar Restaurant
Best Deli: Chompie's Delicatessen
Best Cheap Steak House: Monti's La Casa Vieja
Best Wings: Long Wong's
Best Caesar Salad: Market Bistro
Best Barbecue: Honey Bear's Bar-B-Q
Best Hamburger: Fuddruckers
Best Chili: Wendy's
Best Sunday Brunch: Mickey's Hangover
Best Downtown Lunch: Kincaid's Steak Chop & Fish House
Best Place for a First Date: Six
Best Place for a Twilight Drink: elements
Best Margarita: Macayo's Mexican Kitchen
Best Martini: Six
Best Hangover Breakfast: Mickey's Hangover
Best View: Compass Room
Best Patio Dining: El Chorro Lodge
Best Restaurant for Kids: Peter Piper Pizza
Best Vegetarian Restaurant: Pita Jungle
Best Restaurant for South Beach Diets: Fogo e Brasa

PHOENIX LIFESTYLE
Best Billiards/Gaming Store: Connelly Billiards
Best Splurge After Hitting the Jackpot: Biltmore Fashion Park
Best Pro Athlete: Steve Nash
Best TV Newscaster: Katie Raml
Best News Station: KTVK Channel 3
Best Public Golf Course: Rolling Hills Golf Course
Best Miniature-Golf Course: Fiddlesticks
Best Politician: John McCain
Best Spa: Camelback Inn Scottsdale
Best Bookstore: Borders Books & Music
Best Casino Slots in AZ: Casino Arizona
Best Texas Hold 'Em: Casino Arizona
Best Hiking Trail: Piestewa Peak
Best Independent Film Theater: Harkins Camelview 5
Best First Friday Hangout: Bikini Lounge

CLUBS ETC.
Best Place to Go Thrifting: Savers
Best Market for Produce: Sprouts Farmers Market
Best Bathroom Jockey: Ocean Club
Best Casino-Style Entertainment: Casino Arizona
Best Casino-Style Bar: Chez Nous
Best Off-Track Betting: McDuffy's
Best Bar Carpet: Durant's
Best Place to Buy Local Music: Zia Record Exchange
Best Club for Salsa: Mythos
Best Club for Blues: Rhythm Room
Best Club for Swing: Venue of Scottsdale
Best Venue for National Acts: Celebrity Theatre
Best Venue for Local Acts: Marquee Theatre
Best After-Hours: Mickey's Hangover
Best Country and Western Bar: Handlebar-J
Best Alternative Rock Radio Station: KEDJ-FM 103.9 (The Edge)
Best Country Radio Station: KNIX-FM 102.5
Best Classical Radio Station: KBAQ-FM 89.5
Best Rock Radio Station: KUPD-FM 97.9
Best Blues/Jazz Radio Station: KYOT-FM 95.5
Best Radio Personality: Dave Pratt
Best Bar for Watching the Game: McDuffy's
Best Sports Bar: Fox Sports Grill
Best Dive Bar: Coach House
Best Gay Bar: Amsterdam
Best Lesbian Bar: E-Lounge
Best Adult Entertainment Club: Babe's Cabaret
Best CD Store: Zia Record Exchange
Best Pool Hall: Mill Cue Club
Best Local Band: Rhythm City Express
Best Bar for Conversation: Six
Best Beer Selection: Delux
Best Place to Be Seen: Six
Best Place to Find a One-Night Stand: Six

Fort McDowell Casino
When the phrase "casino buffet" passes through your cranium, your gray matter is instantly populated with scores of classy folk chain-smoking Parliament Lights 100s and hoping for a big win at bingo. But Fort McDowell Casino, operated by the Yavapai Nation, actually makes an effort to do things a little differently from other gambling spots, and this extends to its international buffet, which eschews the usual not-ready-for-prime-time rib and rubber chicken Parmesan for authentic Indian, French, seafood and Italian selections.

The Indian section -- as in the country, not America's original inhabitants -- is the most surprising and rewarding, with rotating selections like a stew of lamb, fenugreek and green peas that would not be out of place at a buffet in a South Asian eatery. And there's the spicy "okra in yogurt" that's just as tasty. The Italian section might offer veal Milanese or spaghetti and clam sauce. The French? Pork loin in sherry and/or lyonnaise potatoes. There are also crab legs in butter, fried catfish fillets, a near-pristine salad bar, and a dessert section with bread pudding, cinnamon cake and cream puffs. Yeah, thanks to "The Fort," casino buffets aren't just for geezers anymore.

Gila River Casino - Wild Horse Pass
So you just won a small bundle on the Addams Family slot machine, parlayed that into a larger bundle on an Austin Powers slots, moved your way up to the dollar machines, and finally hit it big playing blackjack in Wild Horse's Vegas-style gaming emporium. That's when a pair of high-class call girls escort you to the limo waiting outside for a night of Beluga caviar, Dom Perignon, and the sort of unbridled wickedness that we can't even begin to allude to here.

Then your wife nudges you and awakens you to reality: You're down $20 after playing the same machine for eight hours straight. Hey, it's not a total loss. At least you can dine like a winner at Wild Horse Pass' Wind Dance Restaurant. Just go for the filet mignon or the surf 'n' turf, dood. Spoil yourself. After all, your gold card isn't maxed out yet, and you can always play keno while you chew. Sure, we've never heard of anyone winning the mother lode with keno, but for God's sake, let a man dream, will you!

Lord almighty, we feel our temperature rising, especially when Mesa resident and diehard Elvis Presley fan Duke Hicks takes to the stage and unleashes his realistic reproduction of the legendary superstar. Having offered up his Elvis imitation act for more than two decades, this delivery man and part-time country musician is arguably one of the longest-lasting King clones in the Valley. He's been seen at a plethora of private parties, countless corporate functions, a regular gig at Philly's (a bar-restaurant in south Scottsdale), as well as at the Frontier Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where Hicks says he nabbed "a rousing standing ovation" following his performance. (He's even set to star in an upcoming documentary on Elvis impersonators titled Heart of the King.) Aping what he calls "classic Elvis" (a.k.a. the skinnier, non-drug-addled version), Hicks dons a sequin-studded white jumpsuit and the King's trademark shades and croons his way through an eerily accurate rendition of Elvis' repertoire, which encompasses more than 50 songs -- from chartbusters like "Burning Love" to more subdued numbers like "You'll Never Walk Alone." Hicks admits he may have to let out his costume in the near future, as -- just like his hero -- he's developing "a little bit of a paunch." Just stay away from the pills, Duke.

Say you broke the bank at Monte Carlo? Played baccarat with James Bond in London, or bluffed rounder Doyle Brunson at Binion's Horseshoe in Vegas? Hit the riverboats in Biloxi before Katrina blew them away, and frequented the tables in Macao for endless nights of pai gow? Impressive. But have you tried your luck at Casino Phoenix, player? We're a megalopolis of gamblers, risk-takers and hustlers. Most of us have come here from somewhere else to spin that big, red-and-black roulette wheel and take our place in the winner's circle, to make our fortunes, build our empires and carve our names in monuments before the game of life is over.

All the action your sweet ass can handle, that's what you'll find in the PHX. After all, we're a class joint, like the Vegas Casino in Martin Scorsese's epic, or the tux-only betting parlors of the French Riviera in Neil Jordan's The Good Thief. Everything you want is here. Every vice and vixen. The flyest clubs with the finest in femmedom. Boutique hotels with all the sins on speed-dial. The most superb eateries, whether large or small. And a buffet of goods and services that takes up some 2,000 square miles. It's the perfect place to spend your winnings, or parlay them into a bankroll fat enough to choke a racehorse. Just ask the players we've profiled -- high rollers like club guru Steven Rogers or Power 92.3 FM's JX3. They'll tell you Phoenix is where real gamblers let it ride.

Listen, we don't care if you're Johnny Chan with a World Series of Poker bracelet for every day of the week, and then some. If you wanna win in Casino Phoenix, you're gonna need a system, a guide to the lay of the place, a map leading you straight to where the loot is stored. Sure, you could roll the bones until you throw a natural 7 or 11, but why don't you let us load the dice for you, pallie? We've done all the hard work, dined at every restaurant, sipped every mojito, partied at every club, and, yes, gone all in at every poker table in town. We know where the margaritas are best -- whether you like 'em frozen, on the rocks, or with a shot of prickly pear -- and we can tell you the best place to double down, find a sugar daddy or pick up a desperate housewife. And at the end of our run, we'll split the pot, 50-50. Deal? Now get your chips, busta, and let's go.

Even if you ain't got big chips, there are places -- especially in Scottsdale -- where it will behoove you to act as if you do, and the J Bar is one of them. This super-slinky waterin' hole packs in the booful people on peak nights Thursdays through Saturdays, and the high-class chicas therein can smell a scrub coming from a mile away. So let us school you on how to act like you're a playa, even if your ride is a Hyundai. First, the swagger. You gotta be cocky, and a little snooty. Turn up your nose at the finest-lookin' ho's in the room; after all, it's their job to get next to you. As far as garb goes, tinted glasses are mandatory, and shabby chic always works. Wear your best shiny shirt right out of the package with a pair of your most raggedy jeans. This tells the ladies that you're rockin' so much dolo that you can afford to be lazy. Don't wash your hair for a day, then mousse it all up into spikes. And stop by the men's counter at a department store to spray on a sample of its most expensive cologne. Finally, if you don't have a gold card to throw out at the bartender, prepare a thick cash roll of mostly ones with two C-notes on top. You'll only break the first one, but the bitches' eyes will pop when they see you break out that wad. Then nurse one, maybe two martinis with your wing man and wait for the honeys to beat a path to your studliness. Yeah, baby, there's nothing like the life of a $30,000-a-year millionaire at the J Bar.
Casino Arizona at Salt River
Okay, so you're no Marilyn Monroe. Neither are we. But that doesn't mean you don't deserve a little wind up your skirt once in a while, honey. Casino Arizona -- and we're not talking about that big tent off Indian Bend Road, we mean the nice building farther south on the 101 -- has six lounges, three restaurants, keno, 50 blackjack tables and almost 1,000 slots (and we hear pai gow poker could be on the way). The thing we like best about Casino Arizona is the air-conditioning system that blows from the ground up, dispersing cigarette smoke and, as a side bonus, sending a breeze your way, if you know what we mean.

Best Of Phoenix®