BEST CAESAR SALAD 2005 | Durant's | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Tom Carlson
In the good old days, waiters at Durant's prepared our fave Caesar salad tableside, rather than delivering it done from the kitchen as they do today. But no matter where they mix it up, this is still the hands-down tastiest, most authentic Caesar we've ever eaten -- and believe us, Caesar salads are practically a staple in our diet. Which means we've eaten more than our share of limp, wide-cut romaine doused with bottled dressing, sprinkled with grated (rather than shredded -- can you imagine?) Parmesan and topped with boxed croutons.

But never at Durant's, where we've consumed our weight in homemade croutons and made-from-scratch dressing with just the right combination of egg and anchovy paste. In fact, Durant's is one of the few restaurants in town that will actually top our salad with anchovies if we ask.

Lauren Cusimano
One of the best salads ever created is the niçoise, made after the manner of cuisine from the French city of Nice, and containing such ingredients as tomatoes, black olives, garlic, tuna and anchovies. More often than not these days, you'll find this classic cold mixture as the innards of a niçoise sammy, but you can still find places that offer it as a salad, with Carly's Bistro on Roosevelt Street, just east of Central Avenue, being one. As prepared by co-owner Carla "Carly" Wade, there are no anchovies, black olives or hard-boiled egg on this niçoise. But her mix of albacore and capers over mixed greens with haricots verts and sliced tomatoes, bathed in a light, vinegary niçoise dressing, is most refreshing.

And with a bowl of gazpacho, a platter of hummus, and a glass of chilled white wine, doubly so. Because of its location and the links Wade and her partner, MadCaPs musician John Logan, have to the art community, Carly's is packed nearly every First Friday. But listen up to our little secret: Carly's isn't just for First Friday anymore. In fact, we like it best for a midweek lunch, when we can enjoy our niçoise in peace.

It's strange. When we were kids, our moms practically had to cake sugar onto vegetables to get us to eat them. But as our palates have progressed, there's nothing we like more than well-prepared veggies of all kinds. Hence our fondness for James Porter's Tapino Kitchen & Wine Bar, which sits in the same cul-de-sac as Sushi on Shea and Radda. Porter's menu is expansive, with numerous items usually ignored by the competition. In the veggie realm, these include such delights as hearts of palm, sunchokes in aged sherry, Carolina okra, braised rosemary salsify (pronounced "salsifee"), and the braised fennel with tarragon. Of course, Tapino is more than just veggies. Not only is there an excellent wine list, Porter also satisfies us with an array of bruschetta and tapas-like plates such as Kobe beef tips in chimichurri sauce, and Moroccan lamb skewers with mint cucumber raita. Still, it's his veggies we salivate over while remembering our last visit to Tapino.
Jamie Peachey
Bandera is perhaps best known as a chicken and rib joint, but the thing that keeps us coming back to this chain-that-doesn't-act-like-a-chain restaurant is the side dishes. We dream about the peanut coleslaw, the jalapeño corn bread, the garlic mashed potatoes. We know a woman who, for years, tried to replicate the house salad dressing -- to no avail. Now she just goes to Bandera and orders several sides of dressing, to douse her lettuce. We can commiserate. In our dream, we walk into Bandera and order a slab of peanut coleslaw, with a dish of ribs on the side. How about a vat of mashed potatoes to go?
You don't have to be a gourmand to appreciate State Senator Ken Cheuvront's spiffy downtown wine bar. Sure, it's got enough panache to satisfy the snootiest connoisseur -- a long wine list and one of those ever-changing, overlong cheese selections that manages to include two dozen options without a single supermarket Brie. But the thing that endears us to the place is its accessibility. Every cheese comes with a useful description: You'll learn if it's salty or sweet, hard or soft, and where it's made. Best of all, each cheese also comes with a beer or wine recommendation, so you can try something you've never heard of and still not feel lost. Still confused? Sit at the bar, and we guarantee you'll get a wise recommendation, some political gossip, and probably a sample, too.
"Hey, you've got your meat in my Emmenthaler!" "Yes, but you've got your chocolate on my beef!" Okay, so that's how we imagine it going down at the stylish new Chandler eatery Shabu Fondue, which offers diners a chance to sample both Swiss fondue and Japanese shabu-shabu in one night. Of course, you may be singing "The Sukiyaki Song" in German before it's all over, but the reality is that most folks have these very different hot-pot experiences in tandem, not together. In the case of shabu-shabu, you heat up a bowl of water and oil, swish around thin slices of beef and veggies, and voilà, you've got shabu-shabu. Fondue, of course, is the Swiss version of same, using mostly bread and fruit with melted cheese and chocolate. All of this is done on the stove built into your table, which does make you wonder how that meat would taste cooked in chocolate. . . . Hmmm. Just remember, you heard it here first.
The Food Channel has really effed up America's eating habits. Now everyone and his brother wants to make hot dogs with goat cheese, pizza with portabella mushrooms, and hamburgers with sun-dried tomatoes. What the hell is wrong with this country? There's no reason to go and mess up perfectly fine, Americana-type food with unnecessary culinary experimentation. That's why it's so hard to find a good bowl of chili. But after wading through a swimming pool full of high-class beef stew masquerading as chili, we finally found some chili con carne worthy of the epithet at a west-side greasy spoon named Susan's Diner. Set the way-back machine for circa 1960-something, and you'll end up at this little white house with a peaked roof. Take a seat at the weathered benches beneath all the pictures of Elvis, and vintage signs advertising stuff like "Babe Ruth underwear." Order a bowl of chili with cheese, and you get a brown mélange thick with beans, ground beef, and just enough spice to tingle your tongue. Fresh Cheddar shavings are piled on top. Mix them in until the cheese melts, and alternate each third spoonful with a sip of a Mr. Pibb-vanilla ice cream float. Later for that Food Channel gourmet-gobbledygook. When we want chili, we're headin' over to Susan's Diner.
Mike Madriaga
Once upon a time, Cornwall, England, was best known for its tin mines. Thousands of them. Indeed, the patron saint of Cornwall, St. Piran, was beloved by the common folk for teaching them how to smelt the tin ore contained in local rocks, thus giving the region an industry. St. Piran's good works may be the stuff of legend, but it's no legend that Cornwall's miners preferred pasties (pronounced pass-tees) during their meal breaks. A pasty is a pastry filled with meat, potato, rutabaga and/or any number of other savory innards. Shaped like a deflated football, a pasty's crust is thick, thus allowing miners to hold onto the crimped ends and nosh away without fear of poisoning themselves from the arsenic of the mines that ended up on their fingertips. As far as we know, the Cornish Pasty Co. is the only pasty shop in the Valley, though some pubs do serve them. You don't have to be a miner to enjoy these Cornish treats, but be prepared. After a pile o' pasties, you may not be hungry again 'til the next day. And even then, you may just want another.
Natalie Miranda
Ted's Hot Dogs started as a hot dog cart run by a Greek immigrant named Theodore "Ted" Spiro Liaros in western New York. Today, there are nine Ted's hot dog shops -- eight in western New York and one in Tempe, run by the current president of Ted's, Spiro Liaros, Theodore's son.

Lucky us. Ted's is a diner without the frills but with plenty of trimmings for your crisp, juicy hot dog and crunchy, sweet corn dog, both cooked before your eyes. The price is right, too: We ate well for under $5, including skinny fries and a drink.

We prefer Tempe to Buffalo, too, Spiro. Glad to have you here.

Lauren Cusimano
The thing that makes a city a city is late-night life. Being able to hit the town in the evening, and not having to fret about snaggin' a meal after normal din-din hours. We ain't talkin' about the drive-through window at Jack in the Crack, bro. Restaurateur Lenny Rosenberg is doin' his part. Rosenberg had the first 5 & Diner in town, a place we still hit when desperate for an after-drink repast, and his Zen 32's guarantee of sushi-'til-midnight was nothing less than revolutionary.

Now with his stylish new venture Delux, Rosenberg not only delivers the best burger and fries in town, but he makes sure they're served until 2 a.m. Both the Delux and the Standard burger are blue-ribbon-worthy, and a bargain at $9 each. The fact that you can cop one after midnight? Priceless.

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