What makes a great French meal? Start off with coquilles St. Jacques as an appetizer, along with escargots in a puff pastry à la Normande. Follow with onion soup. A main course of calves' liver with potatoes, coq au vin, or a plate of fat frogs' legs smothered in a garlic butter-Pernod sauce. Wash it back with a bottle of Bordeaux. And end it all with a chocolate soufflé or a plate of cream-filled profiteroles covered in chocolate sauce.

Oh, and very important: Make sure you have all of the above at George Venezia's Mes Amis Bistro and Bar. Owner Venezia hails from the old country. And though he has lived in the Valley for several years and run many a bistro here, he still retains that Gallic bonhomie that is the true hallmark of his countrymen. Venezia's presence, his boisterous singing, and hobnobbing with guests are emblematic of how un-stuffy an evening at a French restaurant can be. And his Provençal-style menu is as accessible as the man himself, whom you'll often find near the bar, in jeans, entertaining everyone with a song. Go, but save some frogs' legs for us.

Haus Murphy's
Jennifer Goldberg
Ja, dummkopf, we know there are other German joints in the Valley. After all, German fare isn't quite as popular in the metro area as, say, Mexican or Chinese -- or even Thai or Korean, for that matter. So, yes, we've tried the handful of places out there, and perennial winner Haus Murphy's still takes the brass ring. Haus Murphy's has that unbeatable combination of atmosphere and good grub that its competitors can't seem to outdo. Think of it as the Lance Armstrong of Black Forest fare, with Armstrong looking more like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan's Heroes than his old skinny self. Inside, Haus Murphy's is always lit up like a fir tree at Christmastime, with cute barmaids in dirndls, two huge biergartens out back, and sausages and rouladens out the yin-yang. In addition, there's oompah music and the dark dunkel on tap, and everyone's always in a good mood, like the whole place is about to erupt into a German drinking song. If you think Haus Murphy's can be beat, go ahead and try it. But pardon us if we don't hold our schnitzel-smellin' breath.
Fattoush Restaurant
Jackie Mercandetti
We admit it -- our ass is the size of a baby sea lion, and chances are it's here to stay, because we're not gonna be taking any Pilates or spinning classes any time soon -- or, to be honest, ever. Diets? Strictly for suckas and simpletons. That B.S. might be okay for some airhead like Lindsay Lohan, but we've got to eat, Bonedaddy.

Still, just 'cause you got a fat tushy doesn't mean you have to feed it junk food. Instead, roll on over to Fattoush Mediterranean Restaurant, where just about everything on the menu is healthful, whether it's baba ghanouj with pickles and tomatoes, grape leaves, tabbouleh, or lamb couscous. Chances are your butt won't grow any smaller while you're eating it, but at least your corpulent keister will be hale and hearty compared to those that've been on a dietary regimen of Ho-Hos and Mountain Dew. Even the name of the place is for a Mediterranean salad that's served there, not for the kind of fat-toush you already own. For real, this spot serves the freshest and best Mediterranean edibles in the Valley, and we'll keep eating there no matter how much our caboose expands. Belee-dat.

Indian Delhi Palace Cuisine of India
When we're desperate to get our tikka on, and want a sure-fire Indian fix, not some fly-by-night curry joint that may or may not cure what ails us, we head over to Indian Delhi Palace's complex on East McDowell, next to Jugheads. Not only does this venerable establishment have a huge L-shaped main dining area, with crafts and images from East India, but upstairs is a banquet hall, and on the other side of the building is a little shop selling Indian spices and sweets. Still, the grub is the main draw here: chicken tikka masala, lamb korma, and palak paneer (spinach cooked with homemade cream and cheese), to name a few. The place serves some of the best naan this side of New Delhi, and desserts such as basmati rice pudding (kheer) or a syrupy confection called gulab jamun. The all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is one of the better deals in the city at $7.99 per person. Believe us, if you really eat "all you can eat" here, you might risk exploding in the parking lot as you waddle back to your car. And even then, it might be worth it.
Restaurant Takamatsu
Takamatsu means "tall pines" in Japanese, which may be the reason this west-side eatery boasts a façade of blond plank wood. The use of Japanese for its moniker is a hint that the place has a killer sushi bar, and that'd be reason enough to dine there. But Takamatsu also offers the most reliable Korean barbecue in the Valley, with plenty of grills set into the tables, and steel chimneys overhead. It's a clean, pleasant place to eat, with speedy, efficient service, which may be the reason Korean celebs like golf wunderkind Michelle Wie reportedly stop by while they're in the PHX. On the walls are sports memorabilia, including a jersey from Chan Ho Park, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers and now of the San Diego Padres. You'll usually see plenty of Koreans and Korean Americans supping there -- always a good sign. And aside from the barbecue, the bibim bap served in a hot stone bowl, and panchan, a.k.a. "Korean tapas," are first-rate chow. When it comes to Korean grub, Takamatsu is a winner's bet.
Cyclo Vietnamese Cuisine Restaurant
Jackie Mercandetti
Vietnamese cuisine in the Valley is nowhere more accessible and toothsome than at Justina Duong's stylish Vietnamese cafe Cyclo. Duong's eatery is no dive, but instead a modern, artsy chow palace with her own spray-painted murals of the home country as well as handmade tin models of the bicycle cabs for which the establishment is named. The food is fresh and authentic: pork short ribs topped with basil; green papaya salad; spring rolls; Vietnamese crepes; and bowls brimming with different types of pho, the hearty and hot Vietnamese noodle soup, made spicy with generous squeezes from a nearby plastic bottle of bright red Sriracha. Duong is usually on hand, joshing with diners, congratulating them for their choices, or warning them about how salty-sour the plum soda will taste. It's a small space, one that often fills to bursting during prime time, and once you eat there, you'll understand why.
Siamese Kitchen
Before we lay some knowledge on you regarding the best Thai food to be had in the Valley, be advised: If we hear about you traipsing out to the funky little restaurant we've chosen, where the owner is the chef and they have only one server, and demanding to be waited on hand and foot like you're at Mary Elaine's in the Phoenician, we will hunt your honky ass down and feed it to you for lunch! In other words, don't ruin it for us. That said, despite being located in between a tattoo parlor and a country-western bar that makes the walls throb at night, this small establishment produces the best panang, Thai toast, duck curry, mee grob, laab, papaya salad, and pad Thai in greater Phoenix. It's all because of the lady in the kitchen, Vana Vorachitti, who can easily outcook her fellow Thai chefs, especially those who've gone upscale in Scottsdale and along the Camelback Corridor (you know who you are). You might be able to find better-furnished locales, though we dig the Siamese Kitchen's '60s-style wood-lined, pancake-house-like interior. But you'll not find better flavor when it comes to Thai vittles in this town, no matter what the furnishings.
Visiting Tina Tamrat Hildebrand's cozy Chandler eatery is so intimate an experience that it may seem you're in someone's home, being served by a friend who happens to be Ethiopian. Hildebrand herself is often doing double duty as server and cook, and in the back is an area with couch and coffee table that looks just like a living room. Chances are Hildebrand's hubby Dan will be in, tending to their two kids, David and Daisy. The overall aura of domesticity is comforting, and you can choose to eat your watt, or Ethiopian stew, on a traditional straw table, called a messob, while watching an Ethiopian soap opera or perusing the various travel posters featuring beautiful Ethiopian women. Hildebrand gives you lots of fresh enjera with which to scoop up your chicken, beef or veggie watt. Don't forget to try the house salad, and some of those Ethiopian-style samosas as well. We love all the Ethiopian eateries in the Valley, but right now Tina's is the one where we'd most like to spend an evening.
Restaurant Samarkand
Who'da thunk it? The best tea in the Valley is not in some hoity-toity, pinkie-in-the-air tea room, but at an Uzbek restaurant in the Avenues called Samarkand, where Iron Mike Tyson has reportedly stopped by for the grub. Otherwise known for killer kebabs, fat, stick-to-your-ribs dumplings called manti, and hearty salads of carrot and mushroom, Samarkand also serves tea that will knock your Nikes right off your tootsies: a blend of black and green teas, prepared with the loose leaves placed in the bottom of the teapot, citrusy and full of flavor. No tea bags here, bubba. Plus you get a big-ass pot of the stuff to drink with Samarkand's homemade sweets -- a sugar-coated football of dough filled with crushed walnuts, or a cake of crushed walnuts sprinkled with powdered pistachios. Hey, Iron Mike, next time you need a break from the gym, the tea's on us, pal! Just give us a buzz!
Half Moon Sports Grill
Try as we might, we've yet to consume better wings in town than we have at Half Moon Sports Grill. These are not traditional Buffalo wings like the kind you'll get at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, the spot where the snack was invented back in 1964 by proprietress Teressa Bellissimo. Still, they're pretty dang scarfalicious, fat and juicy, but with an almost gourmet sauce. The "medium" tastes like barbecue sauce. Not bad, but we suggest the "hot," which is at the threat level of the "mediums" of other spots. It's just slightly sweet, and its spiciness lingers on the tongue for a while after there's nothing left but bone on your plate. As far as dressing goes, you can choose either ranch or the traditional blue cheese, and the celery is nice-sized and fresh. The wings are a little pricier than elsewhere, but that's because Half Moon is slightly upscale for a sports bar. What's in a name? The "half moon" refers to the plumber's crack revealed whenever someone bends over. Unappetizing, we know, but trust us -- the wings at Half Moon Sports Grill kick a full "moon" and then some.

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