Christo's Ristorante
Lauren Cusimano
Say what you want about Republicans, them GOPers ain't stupid. That's why you'll always see a gray-haired herd of elephants in Christo's during the lunch and dinner hours at the old-school Eye-tie joint. At Christo's, the waiters do everything but kiss your tootsies, the grub is good, the drinks are stiff, and they've always got Sinatra on the box. No wonder moneybag conservative types flock here. But what keeps us coming back despite our lack of Grand Old Party affiliation is the linguini escargots: fat black gastropods in a light marinara sauce with garlic and mushrooms over pasta. The taste is so simple, earthy and satisfying that you wonder why more places don't make an effort to depart from the usual butter-and-garlic snail shtick. Moreover, it's a steal on Christo's lunch menu, at $7.50 a plate, a real value for well-heeled Republicans and down-at-the-heels Democrats alike.
Cowboy Ciao Wine Bar & Grill
Heather Hoch
This category should actually be named "Best Use of Several Mushrooms," since the chefs at Cowboy Ciao mix a combo of cremini, oyster and button 'shrooms topped with grilled portabellini to create the best mushroom fry we've ever tried. The dish served as an appetizer or hefted up for an entree is accompanied by double-cooked polenta and dressed with cotija cheese, avocado and tomatoes. Heaven in a pan.
Ticoz Resto-Bar
At first, we must admit, it tasted faintly of lip gloss, a blast back to the eighth grade. But as we munched the lightly dressed shredded cabbage that accompanies many dishes at Ticoz a new restaurant just north of Camelback Road the slightly sweet and sour flavor of passion fruit grew on us. Passion fruit is just one of the unusual flavors (cinnamon's another not so unusual on its own, but the chefs implement it creatively) you'll find in your food at Ticoz. Now we find ourselves craving it so much that well, you'll have to excuse us. It's lunchtime. See ya.
Siamese Kitchen
The very talented chef Vanna Vorachitti of Glendale's funky, spunky Siamese Kitchen is responsible for our fave duck right after Donald her spicy gang-pedyang, or roast duck in red curry with coconut milk, tomato chunks, pineapple, bell pepper and basil. Not that everything else on Vorachitti's menu isn't worth eating. For sure, we love her laab, papaya salad, Thai toast, mee krob, tom yum gai soup, and all of her curries. But it's gang-pedyang for which we're most willing to make a special trip to her odd little space in a strip mall that she shares with a tattoo shop and a honky-tonk. That same honky-tonk's music thumps away at the '70s-style wood paneling of her diner-like eatery every evening, so it's probably a good thing that she's closed by 9 most weeknights. Otherwise, you wouldn't feel right eating there unless you were wearing a cowboy hat and a big shiny belt buckle. Are there any Thai cowpokes out there? If so, we've got the perfect strip mall for them.
Juba Restaurant
"You say sanbusa. I say samosa. Let's call the whole thing off!" Wait a sec, Lady Day. Let's call the callin'-off off, instead, and make haste to that little corner of Somalia on McDowell Road known as Juba Restaurant. There we can partake of fragrant, spice-laden cuisine hailing from the Horn of Africa, including scrumptious Somali-style sanbusas, the Somali take on the sometimes meat-, sometimes veg-filled Indian pastries known as samosas. Juba's sanbusas are of minced, spiced beef, stuffed into crispy, fried, triangular crusts. The result is thick, flat, and larger than the samosas you'll find at most Indian establishments. Just try one of these Somali meat pies, and we promise you'll be hooked like a largemouth bass no matter whether you call them sanbusas or samosas.
Lee's Sandwiches
Nicole Hoffman
The sammies this San Jose-based chain trades in are banh mi, the culinary intersection of Vietnamese and French influences. The Frogs contributed the thin, très crusty French bread, along with mayo and butter. And the Vietnamese added cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots. They split the difference, however, on the meats used, with Gallic-styled ham and pork liver pt getting equal billing with Chinese barbecued pig and crushed Vietnamese pork meatballs, in addition to headcheese and sliced pork roll. Lee's is a huge, gleaming place, with big flat-screen TVs, a bakery, a computer area for customers, and a station where little cream-filled cakes called Delimanjoo are pumped out nonstop. You can wash these down with exotic smoothies, such as durian, jack fruit, red bean, lychee, taro root, etc., or iced teas with pearl tapioca at the bottom. If Lee's sounds like the most magical place on Earth, well, it is to us. You take Disneyland. Leonard Cohen will take Manhattan. And we'll take Lee's any day of the week.
Rosie McCaffrey's Irish Pub
Lauren Cusimano
Yeah, yeah Guinness is still a meal in a glass. We're not about to argue with time-honored barfly wisdom. But our dark Irish stout really hits the spot when we down it with a tasty batch of fish and chips at Rosie McCaffrey's, where Emerald Isle memorabilia and photos of famous Irishmen add to the feisty, authentic pub feel. Here, the traditional dish is a standout: firm, silky cod fillets coated in Harp batter and fried to a crunch, partnered with coleslaw and a pile of crisp, skin-on spuds, thick-cut to maintain their potatoey heft. We could drink all night after a hearty meal like that, so no wonder this golden treasure's our favorite Irish grub in town. Hey, is there a rainbow around here?
Delux Grill + Sushi
Lauren Cusimano
Gourmet burgers abound in the PHX, and we've done our best Wimpy impersonation gobbling through them all. But the one we always come back to, the one we start to crave after a couple of weeks away, is the Delux burger, namesake of this stylish, L.A.-like eatery, where they offer 40 international brew-ha-has on tap and a limited menu right up until the 2 a.m. closing. You read that right, nighthawks, 2 a.m. So there really is somewhere to nosh something decent after 10 p.m. in this fair city. We like pretty much everything on Delux's menu, including the sweet-potato fries, and even the fish sammy when we're feeling like lighter fare while quaffing our Stella Artois. But the Delux burger is our all-time fave: freshly ground Harris Ranch beef, served medium-rare, and topped with a mix of Gruyère and Maytag Blue cheeses, as well as a combo of caramelized onions and applewood smoked bacon. Pure atavistic delight.
They're twice-fried 'til golden, delicately salted, and still light and fluffy on the inside, but don't call these bad boys French fries. At the fashionable Trente-Cinq 35, they're known as frites, and they're eaten with creamy mayo instead of ketchup, along with a big, steaming bowl of moules (mussels) simmered in a broth of white wine and tender leeks. This simple, satisfying combo is at the heart of Trente-Cinq 35's Belgian comfort food menu, which includes crisp, creamy-centered shrimp crevettes, fall-apart-tender lamb shank la marocaine, and bouche a la reine, a flaky puff pastry filled with mushrooms and roasted chicken. And needless to say, it all tastes even better with a cold glass (or two) of Belgian beer, like a full-bodied Stella Artois or a citrusy, summery Hoegaarden. This place takes brewski and fries to a whole new level.
Corbin's Bar & Grill
Fans of this stylish Sunnyslope bar/grill rave about its new-and-improved ceiling, which has done wonders for reducing the place's once-raucous noise level. But perhaps even better news is what hasn't changed at Corbin's the grilled cheese sandwich is still the best thing on sliced bread. Made with Cheddar, Swiss and quesa fresca, this sandwich is always perfectly toasted on the outside and creamy on the inside, with fat slices of tomato and crisp bacon for that extra oomph. The vegetarian version, with asparagus and red bell peppers standing in for the bacon, is pretty good, too!

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