Autumn Court Chinese Restaurant
Jackie Mercandetti
From Central Avenue, Autumn Court looks like some funky gingerbread house, but stepping inside is like walking into the fog-draped Chinatown of San Francisco in the 1940s. The main dining area is designed like a faux autumn arbor, with a tree's amber-tinged limbs overhead and a waterfall that gurgles over fake masonry. Dining areas are walled in by dark, wooden paneling and glassed-in shelves with all manner of wax and plastic fruits, veggies and dry goods. Paper lanterns hang overhead, and the tables are set with kitschy ceramic glasses filled with chopsticks.

And the food? A grab-bag of reliable, old-school faves, like pot stickers, crispy aromatic duck, sizzling rice soup for two, moo shu pork, moo goo gai pan, spicy Szechwan chicken, and many others. Not as exotic as some other places in the Valley, but 100 times better than what you'll get at the mundane, prefab chain joints.

Golden Buddha Restaurant
Why is the Buddha's belly so fat and his smile so wide? Too many Twinkies and six-packs of Old Milwaukee? Wrong again, pork bun breath! Actually, the "golden Buddha" statue in the lobby of the Chinese Cultural Center's Golden Buddha restaurant is Bu-Dai (Hotei in Japanese), the corpulent, smiling mendicant revered for his good humor and generosity. Chances are the Phoenix version has been packing on the pounds by eating dim sum to his heart's delight at his namesake, the new eatery at CCC, which serves dim sum daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. See, dim sum actually means "heart's delight" in Cantonese, so that's a little pun on our part. But we don't kid when it comes to Golden Buddha's dim sum, an endless parade of small plates that include sweet shrimp-stuffed noodles, shark-fin dumplings, barbecued jellyfish, custard-filled pastries, coconut cake, and red-bean-stuffed sesame balls, to name a few. In fact, a few too many trips to Golden Buddha, and you may resemble, well, a golden Bu-Dai. But hey, at least you'll be smilin'.
Stingray Sushi
The first time we visited Stingray Sushi, not long after it opened, we were more impressed by the eatery's decor than its maki or nigiri. Brought to us by the same team that gave us the hip Scottsdale tiki bar known as Drift, Stingray was an instant hit with the Gen Y party set, with its orange walls, zebrawood tables, and general James Bond-ishness. It's taken a little time for Stingray to prove itself as more than just a pretty face, but our last few outings of bellying up to its sushi bar have shown us that it is. Sure, the crowds are still attractive, and the interior is still fit for a Bond nemesis, but now the sushi is produced as professionally as you'll find anywhere else in our oceanless metropolis. And in many cases, it rises to the level of greatness, as it does with the lollipop -- tuna, salmon, whitefish and crabmeat wrapped in cucumber, then sliced and skewered. Or the pink blossom, with unagi, tamago, shrimp and avocado in a roll bound by pink rice paper. Standards like tuna, yellowtail, and toro (fatty tuna) nigiri and maki are just as fresh and delicious. And that's why, over time, Stingray has become the first place we think of when we want to get our sake and sushi fix. Good work, gents.
Sea Saw is the province of Chef Nobuo Fukuda, renowned for his "tapanese" cuisine, a marriage of the Spanish concept of little noshes called tapas with high-end Japanese eats. It's all about the rare combinations of delicate flavors Fukuda brings to the table: kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) purée topped with a bit of curry and a little pile of caviar; chilled, pan-seared duck breast in a soy-zinfandel reduction; white fish "carpaccio" with thinly sliced ginger in a bath of yuzu juice with sesame seeds. It ain't cheap. The portions are nouvelle-size at best (read: small, people). Everything is prepared slowly in front of you by Fukuda and his staff, and by the time your bank account is depleted, you may have to use your remaining five bucks to buy a couple of hamburgers to fill the gaping hole in your tummy. Somehow, it's all worth it, because Sea Saw's taste sensations are so varied, refined and creative that you'll willingly max out your credit card for them. Come to think of it, identity theft would come in handy here. Why, with some rich dood's Amex in your pocket, you could load up at Sea Saw until you're actually stuffed! Anyone out there got a copy of Jerry Colangelo's Gold Card?
Eddie V's Edgewater Grill
There's something about living in the desert that makes you crave seafood as if you were a pregnant walrus. And if we were a hungry, knocked-up walrus in the desert, we'd want a condo nearby Eddie V's Edgewater Grille. It's way up in Scottsdale's DC Ranch, but it's worth the drive, because Eddie V's leaves the competition in the proverbial dust by doing two things: preparing incredibly fresh fish, and doing more than just grilling it and plopping it on a plate, like they do at some other fish eateries in town. If you order oysters, you can bet those suckers are straight from the sea, and the lump crab would snip you with its claws if it still had 'em. But Eddie V's excels when it comes to such piscatorial pleasures as Pacific escolar, Chilean sea bass, or lemon sole -- all served in gorgeous, upscale surroundings. Don't forget to check out the long, swanky lounge bar -- and good luck getting a seat there on a Friday night, especially if you're a pregnant walrus.
GreekTown Restaurant
Lauren Cusimano
"Hey, can I buy you a shot of ouzo?" If you don't hear that and "Opa!" about a half-dozen times during the evening, then you're probably not at Greektown, where chef-owner George Vassiliou will do everything to make your stay a joyous one short of feeding you moussaka by hand. Come to think of it, he'd probably do that, too, if he figured it'd make you happy. Vassiliou's sure to do his Zorba dance for you, even if you're the only one in the room, downing a plate of souvlaki by your lonesome. The food's all good, whether it's gyro pilaf, dolmades, avgolemono soup, spanakopita, roast lamb, or baklava. And Vassiliou's got a nice selection of Greek beers and, of course, ouzo. The place used to be a Pizza Hut, but you'd never know that from the blue-and-white interior, with its murals and decorative stained-glass windows depicting Grecian cityscapes and seascapes. A lot cheaper than plane fare to Athens, that's for sure.
Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen
It must be the lack of zydeco music that keeps the Cajuns and Creoles from starting restaurants in the PHX. Maybe they're afraid they'll spontaneously combust in the dry heat. Or could it be the fact that the alligator isn't our state bird, like it is in Louisiana? Whatever the cause for their P-town phobia, there's a distinct lack of Cajun/Creole eatin' here in the Big Not-So-Easy. Someone get Paul Prudhomme on the horn, pronto! Actually, there is one Louisiana grub-ateria in town worth the visit: Baby Kay's, over at Town & Country. We don't know what Chef Prudhomme would think of Baby Kay's, but at least it's making an effort to represent the bayou. Baby Kay's menu boasts red beans and rice, shrimp rémoulade, crab cakes, boudin with apricot-pepper jelly, and jambalaya with andouille sausage. And like Justin Wilson used to, we gar-on-tee that Baby Kay's serves catfish, po'boys, gumbo, and some of the best garlic bread this side of the Mississippi River.
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.

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