Thanks to local entrepreneur David Roth and his pal Rick Bacher, your inner child need never go hungry again. The duo last year launched Cereality, a Tempe-based cereal bar that allows the fourth grader in you to mix Sugar Smacks with Fruity Pebbles and call it dinner; to feast (in public!) on Frankenberry sopped with chocolate milk. Cereality turned a profit just two months after opening its flagship in ASU's Memorial Union, then launched plans for a nationwide chain (they've opened stores in Chicago and Philadelphia thus far) devoted to pushing Post Toasties topped with all manner of sugary crap -- candy, yogurt-covered nuts, even other cereals -- served up all day long by pajama-clad counter help called "cereologists." We like that there's a place we can go to order Grape Nuts topped with Gummi worms, and are especially proud to tell people that such a place originated here in the Valley. Then again, where else?
Matt's Big Breakfast
Matt's Big Breakfast serves a big-tasting breakfast in a sweet, sunny little diner, and if you don't time it right, you'll have to wait for a table. But it's worth it for the thick (yet still crispy) bacon alone; you might also want to sample the fresh orange juice, omelets and whole-wheat toast while you're there. The coffee's strong, and so is the chance you'll run into someone you know -- this has become downtown Phoenix's hipster hangout for the morning meal. If you can't stand that, stay away from Matt's kitchen. If that doesn't bother you, stick around -- Matt serves breakfast 'til 2 p.m., and at lunchtime, you can get a great Cobb salad.
We know, we know -- we're supposed to boycott chain restaurants. But when we're looking for lunch downtown, pardon us if we cheat a little, and head straight to il Palazzetto at the America West Arena. To all the members of Arizona's Chain Reaction: Save the hot air for your next balloon ride. See, this bright, elegant Italian grill, with its flawless service and satisfying eats, is part of Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, with 25 eateries nationwide. Levy restaurants are known for their quality, and il Palazzetto is no exception. We dig their traditional pizzas, panini and insalatas, as well as lip-smackin' entrees like spaghetti and meatballs, braciole alla pizzaiola (beef sirloin slices with both Alfredo and pomodoro sauces) and orecchiette con salsiccia (ear-shaped pasta with sausage and mushrooms in pomodoro). Here at last is one place in downtown proper where you won't be ashamed to take an out-of-town client. That is, without driving all the way down Central Avenue to Durant's. And if ACR can't hack it, let 'em eat cake -- or, in this case, tiramisu.
Jackie Mercandetti
For us, the best Sunday brunch is enjoyed at the table, with the food coming to us. Buffets are so much work. We'd rather relax in a beautiful setting with strong coffee and fresh juice. That's why our favorite place to brunch is Lon's, where we feel like we've been invited to dine with good friends -- who happen to be good cooks with impeccable taste. Lon's is in one of the most beautiful settings in town (you'll feel far out of town, in fact, when you enter the grounds), and the food is equally lovely. Dishes like eggs Megargee (poached eggs on wood-grilled natural beef steak and English muffin with grilled tomatoes, asparagus and smoked chile hollandaise) are served family-style at the table, so you can graze without getting up. Or try the warm cornmeal griddle cake with hazelnuts and sun-dried cranberries with huckleberry sauce. Not as hungry? You can order a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Your food will still come with a lovely setting on the side.
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou patio, House of Tricks. That's all we ask. Well, you might want to throw in a field green salad with beets and a Dijon sherry vinaigrette alongside the basket of bread and bottle of wine (from a fine selection). And the coriander-crusted rack of lamb with serrano-mint syrup and pear salsa's not bad. We know we're making this place sound super-fancy, but you can show up in shorts and no one will blink. Instead, you'll be treated to the best seat in the house -- on the pretty brick patio (you can sit inside in shorts, too, but trust us), beneath a maze of grapevines, outside the 1920s bungalow that House of Tricks has called home since the late 1980s. We also like to call the outdoor bar home -- a lovely tile-covered affair with high, comfortable stools and wonderful cocktails.

This is one of the few spots in town where you'll find us outdoors in summer, under the twinkly lights, drinking a cold glass of Chardonnay.

Patricia Escarcega
It goes without saying that the view, like real estate, depends upon location, location, location. It also goes without saying that most businesses that invest in the view don't have enough money left to invest in the food.

Such is not the case with Different Pointe of View, located on top of an 1,800-foot mountain just north of Thunderbird Road. You can enjoy this spectacular outlook while sampling from a wine cellar stocked with a mere 86,000 bottles; more than 800 different wines are carried on the menu. Chef Ivan Flowers runs a kitchen that keeps pace nicely with the staggering alcoholic assemblage.

Bonus points if you can name the star witness in the state's most infamous corruption trial who was involved in a fatal car accident exiting the restaurant.

Courtesy of Bistro 24
We are certain we detect just the hint of an English accent when we speak to Jeffrey Hattrick, the Tea Maître d' (yes, there is such a thing) at the Ritz. But Hattrick cheerfully admits that he hails from Portland, Oregon. No matter, we'd let him read our leaves any day -- he clearly knows his way around the tea pot. In fact, Hattrick tells us, he heads up tea service for the entire Ritz-Carlton chain. Lucky us. We put ourselves in Hattrick's capable hands, and he pours a lovely Earl Grey Supreme (plain old Earl Grey is clearly not good enough for the Ritz!).

We lean back into the comfortable lobby couches at the Ritz, and sip. Then we pig out. Er, we mean nibble. We promise, after Jeffrey's tea we will never make fun of a cucumber sandwich again. Now we understand that whole lemon curd thing. And we will never forget the pastries, nor the chocolate dipped strawberries.

Sated, we sink back into the pillows and sip more tea, our reverie broken when Jeffrey politely clears his throat to announce the presence of a birthday girl in the lobby and then launches into song.

What a tea party!

Under the best possible circumstances, dining out with kids is enough to send you to bed for the night with a very, very bad headache. We have developed a close, personal relationship with Easy Mac, Kraft's foolproof (as long as you nuke the noodles, not the cheese powder -- true story) mac 'n' cheese. But mom and dad cannot live by faux-cheese noodles alone, and baby sitters are expensive. So sometimes we venture out, Tylenol waiting by the bed.

On such evenings, we're grateful to the very kind staff at C-Fu Gourmet. The cavernous hall of a restaurant is a great spot for dim sum, and an even better place to let the kids run (almost) free. From the fish tanks in the front to the generally empty sections in the back, this is a place where kids definitely feel like members of the family.

You won't find mac 'n' cheese or chicken nuggets on this expansive menu, but what kid doesn't like to cover herself in white rice, or slurp egg drop soup? Speaking of slurping, we've had many fun family contests, slurping lo mein noodles at C-Fu, and as long as you pad the tip a little, no one will mind the mess you leave behind.

Nicole Hoffman
One of our toddler's first words was "Mugget" -- short, of course, for Chicken McNugget. Who knows what's in those things (well, thanks to a certain book and a movie, now we know and want to forget), but let's face it: There comes a time when even the most health-conscious parent needs to feed the kid, and fast. We recommend Taco Del Mar. At first we thought this was not a kid-friendly joint, since the restaurant's motto appears to be "Roll a Fat One." (Burritos, you lowlife!) But then we saw a high chair in the corner, and a kid menu on the wall. For just $1.99, we fed Junior a quesadilla and a drink, more than she could eat and enough for us to snack on, too. Taco Del Mar could probably scare up a few veggies on the side, too, along with a jumbo burrito (pork mole or fish sound good?) for you.

The nice kid behind the counter even gave us a coloring book and pack of crayons, promising that if the kid colors the back, we can bring it in for a free child meal next time. We do have to warn you, though: There's an enormous fake swordfish on the wall at the Mill Avenue location. This led to an uncomfortable conversation:

"Mommy, look at the fish!" "Uh-huh."

"Mommy, remember when the orange Dorothy fish died and Daddy flushed her down the toilet?"

"Um, uh-huh."

"Mommy, why did orange Dorothy die?"

"Um, um. Uh. Um, don't you want some more of that delicious quesadilla, sweetie?"

As a parent, you can't prepare for everything, but at least this way you can prepare to avoid McDonald's.

From a culinary perspective, the only thing worse than "cafeteria" is "hospital cafeteria." Which is why we were so surprised when we visited the cafeteria at Phoenix Children's Hospital in central Phoenix. At first, we thought we were just sleep-deprived and distracted, and that maybe that salad wasn't so fresh, those veggies weren't so tasty, that pizza wasn't so good that we'd consider coming back even when we didn't have a sick kid.

But then we learned that PCH's executive chef is Mensur Duzic, a German-trained chef who has worked in Bosnia and, upon his immigration to the Valley, for resorts all over town, including The Buttes in Tempe and the Sunburst Resort in Scottsdale.

On a recent visit to see someone else's sick kid, we tried the food with a clearer head. Sure enough, Duzic's talents were evident in the roast chicken, and you'd never get away with paying $2.75 for a half chicken at the fancy restaurants where he used to work.

Okay, we admit, the surroundings might be a bit of a downer, even with the colorful artwork on the walls. But once a year, Chef Duzic donates a meal for 10 to a hospital fund raiser. (Check the hospital's Web site for future details.) You can eat well and do good. What could taste better?

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