For such a ubiquitous salad, the mighty Caesar is sadly botched more often than not. Whether it's from the wrong kind of lettuce (only romaine will do), overpowering, gunky dressing, or too many shakes of straight-from-the-can grated Parmesan, too many restaurants take a heavy hand with this seemingly straightforward classic. Radda's "La Stella" Caesar is a shining star of simplicity. Although it's not prepared tableside, according to tradition (we're hard-pressed to find anyone doing that these days), this plate of large, crisp, artfully arranged heart of romaine leaves, lightly dressed in subtle seasonings and rich olive oil, still satisfies. The croutons, made from grilled focaccia, are deliciously chewy, and fresh shavings of high-caliber Italian Parmesan are generously feathered on top of the masterpiece. It's easily a meal unto itself. Order it with grilled chicken served thinly sliced and warm and you've got all four food groups.
We are well aware that salad is supposed to be diet food, but we're just as aware at how much wink-wink, nod-nodding goes on around many menus in town. Nowhere is this more evident or, we believe, better justified than at Country Glazed Ham, where we recently made pigs of ourselves over the club salad. No grilled chicken here the chicken atop this salad was deep-fried and delicious, accompanied by bacon, cheese, avocado and enough sweet dressing to satisfy our craving for dessert. The salad comes with a side of enough bread to make sandwiches for a week but if you're like us, you'll down that right then and there, too.
Wildfish Seafood Grille
We figured the seafood would be killer at this new Scottsdale hot spot after all, it's Eddie V's sexy younger sib. Sure enough, Wildfish has quickly become our favorite place to chow down on seafood so fresh it tastes like it leaped right out of the ocean into the frying pan. From the looks of the crowds in this bumpin' joint, we're not the only ones who're hooked. And while we'll gladly come back for another plateful of salmon or buttery sea scallops, the one thing we'll insist on ordering is Wildfish's signature crab cake. Here, it's all sweet, moist lump crabmeat with a sassy touch of fresh horseradish. Served up lightly browned, with a helping of creamy chive rmoulade sauce, it's one of the best versions we've ever eaten.
Postino Wine Cafe
At most places, bruschetta might get just a listing on the appetizer menu, but at Postino, it's more than a mere starter. Served up with a small bowl of olives on a wooden cutting board, it's four large slices of chewy, lightly crisped bread adorned with the most satisfying toppings (there are 10 options in all, and you can pick four no easy task). We like the chopped roasted red peppers piled on a layer of goat cheese; smoked salmon on pesto, sprinkled with capers and minced red onion; and (our favorite) creamy mascarpone and sweet figs, draped in thin-sliced prosciutto. Depending on how many people are sharing the bruschetta, the kitchen will slice up the pieces accordingly. But seriously, this bruschetta's so good you'll want it all for yourself. Even if you can't finish it, you'll still have fun trying.
There are things about the old Mill Avenue Long Wong's we still miss (seeing great local bands, drinking cold beer on the patio), and there are things we definitely won't (um, how to describe that awful smell that only got worse when smoking was banned?). But there's no need to be nostalgic at the new Long Wong's, a colorful little place just up the street from the lot where its predecessor once stood. Okay, so there's no patio, no booze, and no room for shows, but so what? The bird is the word, and these wings are just as good as we remember. Served up original style or extra crispy with carrots and ranch dip, of course you can get 'em slathered in a choice of nine different finger-lickin' sauces (we're partial to the flaming-lips sensation of Long Wong's suicide sauce). And at a nickel under five bucks for a dozen, there's no better way to stuff your face on the cheap.
Dammit, we know our gol-darn greens! We've spent many years in the Deep South. We've dined repeatedly at the (sadly) now-closed Stacy's soul food restaurant, as well as Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe and Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles, in Phoenix. We've even brunched at Roscoe's over in La-La Land. All of them do, or did (in Stacy's case), a mean plate of collards. But the recently remodeled joint on Indian School Road, just west of the 51, called Memphx has the best greens we've ever tasted anywhere. The owners, who hail from (you guessed it) Memphis, Tennessee, and right here in Phoenix (MEM-PHX), are on their way to turning their place into the best soul food restaurant in the area. Now, we weren't too fond of their concept of putting fried chicken and catfish into taco shells (guys, you're taking the Memphx thing too far!), but we'd go back again and again just for the greens with ample smoked turkey mixed in. There's obviously a secret ingredient, but the cook admits that she uses not just collard greens, but turnip and mustard greens as well. She substitutes the ham hocks that would be used in the Deep South with the smoked turkey (it's an obvious sop to health nuts, but you can't tell the difference really). She admits that she seasons the concoction with garlic and jalapeos, but will reveal nothing else. If you go there, ask for a double order of the greens (one order's just $1.75), and an order of Memphx's hushpuppies. For the uninitiated, a hushpuppy's a ball of fried cornbread so named because at fish fries in the South, bits of the cornmeal batter from the catfish would be scooped out of the deep fryer, cooled and thrown to the begging yard dogs, with the admonition: "Hush, puppy!" As for us, we can't stop talking about these greens.
Okay, you're probably asking how we can recommend anything at a downtown Phoenix Chinese restaurant. That is, how good could some dive behind Chase Field be? After all, we're not talking about a sports bar here. But if that's what you think, you're ignorant, round-eye. Actually, the area surrounding Sing High contained a throng of Chinese businesses back in the day. It was the PHX's oldest Chinese neighborhood. But even though the place has been owned and operated by the same family for 78 years, we aren't recommending the chop suey. It's not bad, but we've had better. What we're saying that you should brave the terrible downtown parking situation these days to sample is Sing High's six-piece Asian rumaki appetizer. Now, we're used to rumaki where the strip of bacon is wrapped around a water chestnut (this was a popular appetizer in old Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies of the '50s), but real Chinese rumaki is much better. At Sing High, the cook wraps bacon around a water chestnut and liver, and then fries it. Of course, there's a secret ingredient that makes it all Sing. Most recipes call for soy sauce, ginger and chili flakes. If your arm doesn't go numb from the impending heart attack after eating a plate or two of this delicious assemblage of ingredients, your cardiovascular system's in much better shape than ours, which is why we shared a plate with another diner. If you're a liver lover and who doesn't crave crispy bacon? you're in for a treat. Just don't overdo it.
Golden Buddha Restaurant
Pain, suffering, and punishment. That's the theology most of the world's major religions sell. Well, later for that cheese! We've decided to worship that corpulent, jolly "buddha" with a small "b" known as Jin Foo, Bu Dai, or Hotei. This smiling, big-eared mendicant with a belly like Homer Simpson's greets visitors to the Chinese Cultural Center's Golden Buddha restaurant, where we like to pay homage by snarfing loads of dim sum, the best in the Valley by far. As you sit, servers race around you with gleaming steel carts, asking if you'd like to sample their wares, everything from steamed pork buns and shrimp dumplings to more exotic eats like beef tripe and barbecued jellyfish. For the fearless, there are fried chicken feet, and for the fearful, huge slices of eggy cake. Now, isn't this more fun than singing hymns in Sunday school? It's the only religion where being fat and happy is the mark of a true believer.
Sushi Eye Bar & Grill
Without naming any names, there are a lot of big shots locally in the sushi game, some with labyrinthine sushi emporiums, outfitted with as much glitter and bling as money can buy, statuesque waitresses to fetch your raw fish for you, and, usually, a line of doods behind the sushi counter who might as well be making cheese-drenched nachos as toro nigiri. Over these places, we'll always take a smaller purveyor, one devoted to quality, who knows his fish like Captain Jack Sparrow knows the Black Pearl. One such purveyor is Tempe's Sushi Eye, helmed by sushi chef Richard Cho, who not only does traditional sushi right, but also whips up some of the best specialty rolls that we've ever had. Cho's got quite a catalogue of them. Our faves include the ASU Roll, with shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and macadamia nuts; the riceless Atkins Roll wrapped in cucumber; and the Climax Roll, with hunks of tuna and wasabi sauce, which is best eaten after a trip to the adult Fascinations superstore next door. Cho's a real maestro of maki, and is always adding new ones to his menu, so repeat visits are obligatory. You'll leave wishing Cho's House of Rolls was catty-cornered to your condo.
Irie Jamaican Restaurant
Welcome to Jamrock, as Damian Marley might say, south Phoenix-style. Sure, when you saw the line "Best Jerk," you thought we were talking about County Attorney Candy Thomas. No, that'd be "Biggest Jerk." Rather, what we're celebrating here is that Jamaican barbecue style that uses a dry-rub blend of spices such as allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon and thyme to transform your average clucker into a fiery bantam fighting cock. The jerk ain't the only way you know owner and kitchen maestro Eulet King has more talent and experience in her itty-bitty finger than most chefs do in their whole bods. There's also the oxtail, the curried goat, and the Jamaican national dish of salted cod and ackee fruit, to name a few. And we can't get enough of King's johnnycakes, dense, golden lumps of fried dough that pair so well with any of the entrees, or by themselves, washed down with a glass of lemonade or a bottle of ginger beer. How can such a tiny place produce such a big flavor, you may ask? Well, how did a small country like Jamaica produce Damian's pop Bob? It's a mystery. Best not ask. Just enjoy.

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