BEST CHILI 2005 | Susan's Diner | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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.
Shelby Moore
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.

Seems like every other new restaurant in Phoenix is offering grilled Italian panini these days, which is lovely, but may we remind you that the Earl of Sandwich was a subject of the English crown, not some cat from Milan. So recognize a fad when you see one, and head on over to Prickly Pair, where the sammies are more Gotham than Tuscany, though there is an old-school New York Italian thing going on here. In any case, there's nothing pinkie-in-the-air about the babies that PP's deli pumps out. These are big muthas, double stacked with meats and cheeses, slathered with tangy Russian dressing, and given oddball names like Ike and Tina Tuna, Hammy Davis Jr., and the Great Barrier Beef. Atmosphere is, well, nonexistent, but who cares? We just want a "Huge Hefner" to go, baby.
Diana Martinez
Finally, someone who knows and loves our beloved Gadus morhua better than we do! That's cod, dude, the tasty bottom feeder of the deep blue sea, and we enjoy its flaky-white flesh better than that of haddock, salmon or even halibut. And the guy we trust to fry us up a proper mess of fish and chips, just like you'll get in Merry Ol' England, is British expat Mark Briner, who along with wife Ruth and son Jordan runs The Codfather chip shop in sometimes merry Fountain Hills. Paterfamilias Briner trained in England with the National Federation of Fish Fryers before moving to the States, and has spared no expense in shipping over a Hopkins fryer from England, the kind used in nearly all fish-and-chips establishments across the pond. The result is the pinnacle of piscatory pleasure: moist yet firm and flavorful fish topped by a light, golden crust. Forget Pete's. The Codfather restores fish and chips to their rightful gustatory glory.
Courtesy of Joe's Real BBQ
Just in case you forgot, spareribs are not supposed to be health food. And no, that white stuff on 'em that tastes so good is not granola. That's pork fat. Each hunk you suck off that rib bone is equal to a pack of unfiltered Camels and is sure to slice 365 days off your life span. Okay, we're exaggerating, but you get the point. Still, what would ribs be without a little gristle on 'em? They wouldn't be ribs from Joe's Real BBQ in Gilbert, and they wouldn't make you want to lick your dining companion's pile of leftover bones. Maybe that's why the place is called Joe's REAL BBQ. At other places, the ribs are lean -- the porkers work out on the treadmill and do sit-ups. But Joe's hogs are lounging somewhere, drinking margaritas, eating bonbons, and watching reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Well, Larry David is a pig.) The ribs have just enough fat on them to make 'em delish. And the sauce is sticky, tangy, almost sweet. No one makes granola that tastes like this, but then again, maybe they should.
Lotus Asian Cafe and Grill is small in space, but colossal when it comes to taste. Chef Abraham Indradjaja does Chandler proud by offering the best curry in the PHX with his gulai kambing. Gulai kambing is a hot, rich brown curry served in a bowl, almost as a soup, with small bits of lamb ribs and meat and a dozen or more different spices. Unlike any other curry you can imagine, it explodes like Chinese fireworks in your mouth, with a complexity most other curries cannot match. If you need to cool down afterward, try a bowl of es campur, an ice-cream-like mélange of shaved ice, jellied palm fruit, and lychee-esque rambutans. Only in Chandler? Well, until you can afford that round-trip ticket to Jakarta, or until Lotus opens up a sister cafe in downtown Phoenix, the answer is "Yes."
Lauren Saria
In the States, eating escargots usually means chewy, tasteless gastropods so overwhelmed by garlic and butter that you might as well be gnawing on someone's shoelace. Why are these terrestrial mollusks so gross here and so exquisite overseas? Well, for one reason, the snails you get in Europe tend to be fresher, and we suspect that some of the black, rubbery escargots restaurateurs are palming off to us here in the ol' U.S. of A. are so tasteless that loads of garlic and butter are the easiest way to hide this fact. After all, if their snails were fresh and delish, why would you choose the one way of preparing them sure to obscure their earthy magnificence? There are other ways of preparing escargots, and one place unafraid of breaking with the cliché is Tempe's Caffe Boa. Its "lumache Boa" consists of escargots sautéed in a tomato sauce with mushrooms, black olives, red peppers, white wine and two slices of grilled polenta. Not only is the sauce palatable without being overpowering, but you can actually taste the snails. And that's a good thing. For those who've only had escargots in garlic and butter, Caffe Boa's lumache Boa should be a revelation. Then you'll realize just what a fraud the whole garlic-butter-snail combo usually is.
Diana Martinez
Bulgarians give the best tongue. That is, if we're to judge by the tongue action at the Bulgarian-European Mirage Grill and Bar. Mirage is a beautiful watering hole/eatery on the west side, known for preparing a number of exotic Eastern European treats, such as poached eggs over yogurt, sautéed tripe, and Balkan sausages. But the beef tongue is our fave. Quite unlike the sliced, sandwich-thin tongue you'll get in Jewish delis, Mirage's tongue is thick, soft, pan-fried and très savory. (Kinda like Eva Longoria's, or so we hear.) If you haven't had it before, you're in for a treat: an entree that can actually taste you back! And this in romantic environs of travertine floors, marble fixtures, an S-shaped black granite bar top with gold flakes, wrought-iron chairs, and beige tablecloths. What with that decor and a little tongue, you never know, you may just get lucky.

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