BEST SLICE OF PIZZA 2005 | Slices | Food & Drink | Phoenix
You were at Barcelona earlier, but the scandalous Scottsdale ho you were with started making out with this gross bald dude after you left her for five secs to go hit the head. Well, eff that beeahtch! And to think you wore your new Sean John for the outing, too. So you hop in the whip, and decide to call it a night, but Five-O gets on your tail and stays on it all the way to Old Town. You'd had a few monster-size mojitos back at Barcelona, and it's like the pigs can smell it on your breath a mile away. Somehow, you ditch 'em and you need some grub, maybe a slice of pepperoni pizza or sausage with black olives, just to help soak up the Bacardi, so you head over to the Slices on East Fifth Avenue, around the corner from Next. There's a serious scene there, with loads of fly squalies to eyeball as you munch your pizza and get sober. You hook up with your boy Tiny who just got out of ACME and smells like well liquor. Then Trina, who you left at Barcelona, texts you, wondering where you're at. But you don't even pay her no mind, and take another bite of your pizza and smile at one of the chickalinas next to you.

Ha! Damn, this pizza rocks!

You'd think spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna and all that classic Eye-tie stuff that's as common in Brooklyn as drive-through liquor stores are here would be a no-brainer. Apparently not in the PHX, where there are too many crappy Italian joints to count, with pasta like rubber and marinara fresh from the can. Chef Anthony Redendo puts them all to shame with the aid of his gorgeous wife Carolyn by serving bowls of the best pasta and meatballs in town, Brooklyn-quality Bolognese, and calzones that'll have you crooning standards à la Frank Sinatra. He's got garlic knots like you get in Bensonhurst and pizza like in Brooklyn Heights. His establishment is small, but he's decorated it with memorabilia of New York in the '40s, and added brick walls to make the Gotham expats feel at home. We like your style, Anthony. Not only have you got a lot of talent as chef, you've got a lot of heart as a restaurateur.
Molly Smith
You will not nosh better pasta in town than at Marcellino Ristorante. Period. End of story. Yes, there are plenty of other high-class Italian joints in the Valley; maybe too many, if you catch our drift. And, yes, you can get your fill of semolina sticks elsewhere and feel satisfied with yourself for not spending too many ducats, but if you experience the handmade pastas at Marcellino's, what you eat elsewhere will seem like Chef Boyardee by comparison. That's because Chef Marcellino Verzino is a true maestro who began cooking at age 11 on his father's farm in Italy, and has since performed culinary magic in acclaimed restaurants in Rome and New York. He and his enchanting bride Sima decided to start over in Phoenix in 2003, and our lives have been the richer for it. Verzino's gnocchi, linguini, strozzaprete and capellini are unforgettable. And if you're not in the mood for such heavenly starchiness, Verzino's non-pasta entrees are equally gustable, like gamberi affogati, jumbo shrimp sautéed with white wine, or fegato all'uva, calves' liver sautéed with grapes, then flambéed with cognac. And if it's pricier than an evening at a mom-and-pop pasta shop, remember: You get what you pay for, bucko.
Donovan's dark, mahogany-lined, Remington-appointed interior, its free valet, its flawless three-person service, and its high-end chops are not there for the hoi polloi to appreciate. Better be a high roller or a retiree with stock dividends up the wazoo if you want to enjoy a pocketbook-painless evening at this steak house. Still, if you've got it, there are worse ways to blow it. When it comes to the steak alone, it's worth the price tag, though don't look for any fancy prep, because here it's about the meat, son. Prime rib is topnotch, as is every other cut you can imagine. Stellar appetizers include bacon-wrapped scallops, Maryland crab cake, and lamb chops. Desserts? Can't go wrong with standards such as the triple-chocolate brownie, crème brûlée, and strawberry-topped cheesecake. Make sure there's room in your belly before you go, because there won't be any when you leave.
Someone cue Meat Loaf wailing, "Whatever happened to Saturday night? When you dressed up sharp and you felt all right?" That's what we hear, along with the rumble of Meat Loaf's motorcycle from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, whenever we stop by Fast Eddie's Diner for a Cosmic Burger with crinkly fries and a cherry phosphate. The booths are gold-flecked, and there's a long, checkerboard counter where you can sit on one of the oversize red stools and watch them make your strawberry malt.

All the place needs are some chicks in poodle skirts snapping their gum to complete the picture. Even the kids' menu chimes in with The Cunningham (pancakes), the Ralph Malph (French toast), and the Pinky Tuscadero (eggs, hash browns and bacon), although the Happy Days references are likely lost on today's adolescents.

But for the rest of us, when we pull into Fast Eddie's parking lot, we'll join in with Meat Loaf, and cry with all the nostalgia we can muster, "Hot patootie, bless my soul, I really love that rock 'n' roll!"

They say you can tell a good Chinese restaurant by how many Chinese people are dining there, and we feel the same way about a good deli, if you know what we mean, which is why we were so happy to see a nice Jewish guy like David Leibowitz on a recent trip to Katz Deli. Leibowitz works up the street at KTAR radio, and assured us he's a regular. So are we, after tasting the chopped liver, which, to us, is the most important item on the menu at any deli.

We dragged a friend from New York along on our deli mission. At first, she suggested we simply recommend that anyone looking for good deli food in Phoenix have it FedExed in from Carnegie Deli in Manhattan. Very funny, we said. She changed her mind after lunch at Katz Deli, where she pronounced the whitefish as good as the chopped liver (although she found it odd that the whitefish salad was orange) and gave the corned beef the New Yorker's seal of approval.

She also nodded her approval at the decor, which could have been plucked out of any one of a number of boroughs (think wood paneling and cartoons from the 1970s, along with faux-leather booths dating back at least that far). The friendly help? Now that wasn't so New York. But that was just fine with everyone.

With "cattle" being one of the Zona's four C's, along with copper, cotton and citrus, and considering the fact that the PHX once was home to one of the largest feedlots in the nation, you'd think that there'd be killer barbecue on every corner of this burg. But for whatever reason, great barbecue is harder to find than a fur-wearin' Phoenician in August. That's why we're friggin' thankful someone bent our ear about Big City BBQ, which has slammin' barbecue, whether you're talking about pulled pork or chicken, beef brisket or pork spareribs. The sauce is thick and tongue-tingling, but the meat itself is soft and juicy, so that superior sauce isn't hiding second-rate meat. Sides are off the hook as well: candied yams, savory mixed greens, peppery black-eyed peas, brown sugar baked beans, and so on.

For dessert, there are sugar biscuits and peach cobbler, but the barbecue is the real reason to pay a visit. Believe us, you won't be mad at us for recommending Big City to you.

We don't know what we'd do without Stacy Phipps, proprietor of Stacy's, Phoenix's finest soul food restaurant. Phipps consistently prepares the best fish, fried chicken, greens, rice with gravy, and black-eyed peas that we've had outside of Dixie. Moreover, he includes items on his menu sure to warm the heart of any erstwhile son of the South, like fried chicken livers and chicken gizzards, that mass of muscle in the fowl meant to grind up any stones the unlucky clucker has swallowed. Fortunate indeed was the little girl or boy down South who got to eat the gizzard or the liver when their mama cooked a whole chicken for dinner, and we feel just as fortunate when we down a whole hopper of gizzards and/or livers at Stacy's. But that's not all. There's barbecue, sweet tea, corn bread, peach cobbler, and so on. Why, with Stacy's nearby, we never have to go home for all that good eatin', which is exactly the way we want it.
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.

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'.

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