Houston's
One school of thought says children ought not to be taken to a "real" restaurant until they reach, say, the age of 12. Naturally, the members of that out-of-touch school probably don't have kids. The alternative to eating out just isn't practical in this rush-around-like-crazy world, but here's a little secret if you need to escape the artery-clogging hell of fast food: Get to this ever-popular eating and drinking establishment by 5 p.m. (you might get trampled by the Thirsty Ones after that), and you and the kidlings will have a fine time. The service is uniformly exceptional, and the kitchen churns out the grub faster than you'd expect. It's usually loud, so the occasional shrieks and moans that are part of the program won't bother dining neighbors. The booths are roomy, and the cutlery comes rolled into cloth napkins (fear not the blades!). Oh, and the kids' burger, which we have tasted on occasion, goes for a mere $5, and tastes great.
MacAlpine's Soda Fountain and Espresso Bar
Established in 1928, MacAlpine's is the closest Valley residents can get anymore to an old-style soda shop. From the black-and-white-checkered tile and the vintage soda signs to the old jukebox packed full of 45s from artists like Petula Clark and The Platters, everything about the joint harks back to the days when Hula-Hoops and waitresses on roller skates were new fads (but, alas, the servers at MacAlpine's do not wear roller skates). The menu is old-school, too, with sodas available in 30-something flavors, from spearmint to wild cherry (and they'll top any of 'em off with whipped cream, too), and traditional American grub like Coney dogs and BLT sandwiches. The story on the menu mentions a rumor that Wayne Newton got his start at MacAlpine's in the '50s, when Lew King walked in and heard Newton singing along to the jukebox and invited him on his variety show, where Jackie Gleason spotted the youngster and started him on his trajectory to Mr. Las Vegas status. Competitors may try to emulate the '50s, but none of them will ever capture the spirit of those years the way MacAlpine's does.

BEST PLACE TO SATISFY AN OUTDOORSMAN'S APPETITE

Cabela's

Cabela's
Even if you know nothing about hunting, fishing, or camping, Cabela's is a wonder to behold: 160,000 square feet of gear for the great outdoors, from tents, backpacks, and clothing to ammo, fishing poles, and archery targets. You can even buy a boat here. The sheer quantity of merchandise is staggering certainly more than enough fodder for daydreams of outdoor adventures, not to mention pure consumer lust but what really sparks the imagination are the animals. Stand face to face with trout and catfish in Cabela's walk-through aquarium, and admire enormous taxidermied beasts displayed in museum-style exhibits, right in the middle of the store. Before you even have a chance to think about the food chain, your stomach will start rumbling, and that's where Cactus Flat Cafe comes in. At this in-house eatery, skip the pizza and burgers and indulge your inner hunter with venison bratwurst, or perhaps a sandwich piled high with elk, bison, or ostrich. Who knew you could heed the call of the wild at a deli?
Az 88
Natalie Miranda
Many lament the lack of fine dining or even a snack in the vicinity of any sort of performing arts complex in this city. Downtown Scottsdale is the notable exception, and has been forever. We remember dining at China Lil's or Jed Nolan's, '70s-era restaurants that circled the still-grassy Scottsdale Mall. Today Lil and Jed are long gone, but in their place we're happy to find AZ 88, just a bit younger than the old folks, and still going strong after years in business. After a performance at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, or an art opening at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, we love to sit on the patio at AZ 88 (or inside, with the beautiful people) and nosh on galettes flatbread trimmed with bacon, caramelized onion, black olive and Parmesan cheese. Really hungry? Try a burger or a chicken sandwich (the China Lil's namesake is our favorite). Skip dessert and sub in an espresso martini our favorite drink in town.
Roaring Fork
Courtesy of Roaring Fork
We love good food, but we hate getting gussied up. We know, we know, it's Phoenix. People go to the theater in cutoffs, hang in the lobby of the Arizona Biltmore in swimsuits. But we're more refined if we're dining out, we figure we owe it to the world to at least run a comb through our hair or wear a tee shirt without holes. On evenings when we just can't be bothered, but we want a good meal, we head to the bar at Roaring Fork, where the saloon menu is every bit as good as what you'll find in the formal dining room even better in some cases, particularly if you love roasted chicken as much as we do. There's nothing better than a half rotisserie chicken, perfectly done, alongside a good beer. Doesn't even matter if you spill it down your tee.
Pizzeria Bianco
Jacob Tyler Dunn
When your Big Apple buddies finally venture away from the Center of the Universe for an overdue visit to the boondocks of Phoenix, they're bound to experience culture shock. For one thing, they'll be expecting tumbleweeds, not a sprawling city. They might scorn the necessity of cars, but they'll quickly adjust to sunny days and towering palm trees set against a big blue sky. And when it comes to food, they won't be expecting much. After all, they're used to the world-class glamour of Manhattan's culinary scene, where top chefs duke it out for prestigious honors like the James Beard Award. So when you have to break the news that, yes, this bustling downtown restaurant leaves New York pizzerias in the dust (chef-owner Chris Bianco has the Beard Award and countless other accolades to prove it), here's some advice: Go easy on them. Put your name on the waiting list at Pizzeria Bianco, wander next door to cozy, candlelit Bar Bianco, and console your friends with a cheese plate. Seduce them with a bottle of Sangiovese. And maybe concede that Bianco was born and raised in the Bronx. When your table's finally ready, your job is done, because the quality of the food speaks for itself. And what's the most tactful way to handle that last, fleeting bit of New York attitude? Order up the pizza covered in onions, fennel sausage, and homemade smoked mozzarella. It's called the Wiseguy, and its name couldn't be more appropriate.
Avanti Restaurant of Distinction
For 32 years, this shiny black-and-white supper club has been stuck in the '70s but in a good way. We go there for the delicious rolled roasts, the risotto, and the tiramisu, but also because we love the "gone-back-in-time" feeling we get whenever we step into this mainstay's faux-fancy foyer. Owners Benito Mellino and Angiolo Livi have occasionally updated Avanti's interior, but to our eye, it's always 1975 here. We dig the black-and-white-tiled lounge with its back-lighted glass brick bar, where singer Danny Long tinkles the ivories to the tune of all your favorite Nixon-era hits. And we love the main dining room, decked out as it is with zebra-striped banquettes, linen tablecloths, and a shiny chrome ceiling. A couple of martinis and a little squinting, and we're convinced it's 30 years ago. Time travel never tasted so good.
Vincent Market Bistro
Leave it to a French chef to make us proud to call Arizona home. Over the past 20 years, Vincent Guerithault has built an enviable reputation with his namesake restaurant, where refined French cuisine goes hand in hand with a touch of Southwestern spice. At the cornerstone of his mini-empire near 40th Street and Camelback Road, classics like duck tamales with Anaheim chile and raisins, and grilled rack of lamb with thyme, rosemary, garlic, and spicy pepper jelly, appear with Guerithault's newer creations, such as pork osso buco with Anasazi beans. This place oozes special-occasion luxury, but next door, at the rustic, French-farmhouse-inspired Vincent's Market Bistro, diners can feast on quiche and coq au vin without getting gussied up. (Or better yet, they can get their gourmet goodies and fresh pastries to go.) We're also fans of Vincent's Camelback Market, a bustling Saturday morning farmers' market held out in the parking lot from October through May. Here, you can savor a homemade crepe or some warm chocolate souffl; pick up a bottle of wine and some olives; or just ogle the picture-perfect produce. Trust us: On a crisp, sunny morning when the rest of the country is blanketed with snow, a visit to Vincent's will make you beam with pride.
Lo Lo's Chicken & Waffles
So which came first, the chicken or the waffle? Don't matter much, really, 'cause Larry "Lo-Lo" White is cookin' 'em both up back in the kitchen. White's the grandson of Mrs. Elizabeth White, of Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe, and he's a grandson done good. Lo-Lo's take on L.A.'s famous Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles has become a Phoenix fave, but there's more to this soul-food palace than just the signature, nap-inducing dish. White also serves up some of the best scrambled eggs and grits, catfish, mac 'n' cheese, cornbread, greens, and red beans and rice that you'll find anywhere in the PHX. Celebs such as Oak-town rapper Too Short have been known to slide through and get their soul-food fix, and one trip to Lo-Lo's will learn you why. And if you can keep from nodding off after ingesting a plate of carbs here, well, you're a better fresser than we'll ever be.

Best Of Phoenix®

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