Welcome Diner
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Whether you're a nostalgia buff or just a burger lover, head to Welcome Diner for some old-fashioned flavor. Situated on a quiet corner in the historic Garfield District, just a few blocks east of all the art galleries on Roosevelt Row, this adorable Depression-era diner, done up in bright white paint with cheerful red trim, is a true vintage treasure. Inside, there are only nine seats at the compact counter, where it's easy to get acquainted with your fellow diners, and there's always a good view of owner Pete Hearn manning the minuscule kitchen. (And there's more seating outdoors, for the milder months of the year.) The menu is as simple as diner food should be, with an emphasis on premium ingredients, from juicy, organic burgers to freshly made, hand-cut french fries. Living in this fast-food nation — where we couldn't be less connected to where our hot dogs are made or who's cooking our lunch — a trip to Welcome Diner is a refreshing blast from a more personable past.
Scott's Generations
You've got to consider a lot of things, when looking for just the right Jewish deli. How are the knishes? Is the meat fresh? The bagels? What sort of horror will cross the waitress's face when you try to order ham and cheese with mayo on white bread? (Just kidding; we know we're in Phoenix, meaning deli staff has seen it all.) For us, the most important measure is the chopped liver. Is it creamy but substantial, flavored with onions, just like grandma used to make? Why, yes, at Scott's, it is. No generation gap here! Even better than we remember. And served with a heap of bagel chips, cucumber and sliced onions. Heaven on a plate. Or a heart attack, depending on your perspective — and cholesterol level — which is why we're glad this whole taste-test "best of" thing only comes around once a year.
Andreoli Italian Grocer
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
If you think Italian delis are defined by meatball subs and tortellini salad, boy, are you in for culture shock. A far cry from the old-school neighborhood deli standard, Andreoli's is way more Old Country, making it a rare find. Nowadays, how many delis are hangouts for honest-to-goodness Italians? Here, they're all around you, feasting on authentic dishes like grilled, marinated calamari, roasted peppers with garlic and anchovy sauce, bresaola with arugula and shaved Parmigiano, or perfect panini filled with prosciutto or homemade sausage. If you want a taste of la dolce vita, just follow their lead. Grab a San Pellegrino Limonada — or a glass of Chianti — and settle in for a leisurely lunch with friends. Then, instead of rushing home or back to work, finish off with a fresh pastry and a cappuccino. Take your time, and don't bother looking at your watch. When the food's this good, is there anywhere else you'd rather be?
Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen
Who cares if Mardi Gras is months away? As long as we can get a mighty fine taste of Louisiana, we're always ready to let the good times roll — and Baby Kay's is the place to bring the party. Tucked into the Town & Country Shopping Center, this Big Easy-going eatery is the perfect place to share good conversation and a few drinks with friends who appreciate the finer things in life — like seafood gumbo, fried catfish, hush puppies and crab cakes. The jambalaya, studded with chunks of chicken and andouille sausage, is one of our favorite dishes here. But sometimes, we stop by just for an oyster po' boy with remoulade. And daily specials are worth planning ahead for, especially the Wednesday-night crawfish boils, when the critters are in season. Every time we eat here, we can't help thinking, "Baby, you're the greatest."
Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe
Jacob Tyler Dunn
When you're looking for a little Southern comfort, Mrs. White's Golden Rule Café will definitely do the trick. This modest downtown eatery, where the menu's written on the walls and customers use the honor system to pay the cashier, has been keeping locals fat and happy for 40-odd years, thanks to delicious fried catfish, golden hunks of fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, and thick, juicy pork chops. Swab up that luscious gravy with a crumbly piece of cornbread, and don't forget to load up on satisfying side dishes, from mouth-watering candied yams to black-eyed peas and perfect greens. You might do a double-take at the generous portions here, but you also may surprise yourself at the end of the meal, when you're slurping down the last of your lemonade, wondering how you packed it all away. Well, believe it. These eats are just what your soul food-lovin' soul is seeking.
Joe's Real BBQ
Courtesy of Joe's Real BBQ
You never know when a good idea may strike. For Joe Johnston, inspiration struck on his frequent business trips to Texas, where he sampled the goods at every barbecue joint he stumbled upon. By the time he found the perfect spot to open a barbecue restaurant in his hometown — a 1929 brick building in downtown Gilbert — he'd already perfected his business plan. And now Joe's Real BBQ stands as a testament to all the good grub he had in the Lone Star State, hawking the best barbecue in the Valley. From smoky, slow-cooked brisket, served sliced or chopped, to chicken, hot links, and ham, the menu of pecan-smoked meats is a carnivore's dream.

Pulled pork is served relatively unadorned, a heap of moist, savory shreds that you can dress up with Joe's original recipe barbecue sauce, or the tangy, hot habanero version. And the pork ribs are as mouthwatering as candy — tender inside, with a thick, brown crust coated in sweet, sticky sauce. BBQ pit beans, old-fashioned cole slaw, and gooey mac 'n' cheese topped with buttery baked crumbs are just a few of the fabulous side dishes, and homemade root beer is a tasty way to wash it all down. When you make your way through Joe's cafeteria-style line, be sure to grab a few toothpicks and wet naps. Trust us, you'll put 'em to good use.

There's plenty of 'cue in the PHX, but only one place serves up anything close to the vinegary pulled-pork ambrosia known as North Carolina-style BBQ. Actually, NC BBQ is divided into opposing camps, a sweet tomatoey version, and a tangy vinegary recipe that's the most beloved amongst Tar Heels. Thing is, not many folks outside of Carolina appreciate the vinegar-drenched variety, so if you head into Glendale's Restaurant 28 and don't know to ask for the vinegar-based "Eastern North Carolina" 'cue, you might receive the tomato-based "Western North Carolina" style stuff. And though that's tasty, any true son of the Old North State will tell you it's not the crme de la porker. So request the real deal when you stop by, and don't forget to enjoy it with all the fixins: collard greens, golden brown hush puppies, fried okra, red beans and rice, yams, fried chicken gizzards, chitterlings (pig intestines) if you're very brave, and for dessert, peach cobbler, nutty buddy pie, or sweet potato pie. Then be prepared to waddle back to your car, whistlin' N.C.'s James Taylor all the way.
Butterfield's Pancake House & Restaurant
Unlike many restaurants, where breakfast offerings are off-limits by 10:30 or 11 a.m., Butterfield's starts dishing it up at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. and doesn't stop until midafternoon. That's a good thing. It doesn't matter if it's a plateful of scrambled eggs with prosciutto, a fluffy stack of buttermilk pancakes, or a spinach crepe slathered in creamy Hollandaise sauce, hearty breakfast food always tastes good to us.

We even like to just sit and read Butterfield's lengthy menu, which has too many waffles and skillets and frittatas to count — at least until we get a few cups of strong Boyd's coffee in us. The OJ is great here, too, served fresh-outta-the-orange. (If you're not seated in plain view of the restaurant's industrial-strength juicer, that sweet, fruity smell may still waft over to your table.) On days when we're too spent to wake up before noon, and only a good omelet will do, you know where to find us.

Harlow's Cafe
Patricia Escarcega
There's nothing like breakfast at a great greasy spoon to kick-start our day after a long, booze-soaked night of partying at Casey Moore's. Tucked into a humble freestanding building on a rare stretch of University that hasn't been razed for high-rise condos, Harlow's Café seems as if it sprouted up for the very purpose of soothing our aching heads and growling bellies. Hair of the dog isn't an option here, but strong coffee and friendly, good-looking waitstaff definitely help us with a speedy recovery. As for the stick-to-your-ribs menu, it's straightforward and classic, with everything from fluffy pancakes and hefty homemade biscuits with gravy to hearty omelets and huevos rancheros. The portions are jaw-dropping, to boot. Witness the glorious Eggs Maximillian, a house specialty with heaps of hash browns, addictingly good chorizo, green chiles, eggs, salsa, and sour cream, all piled on top of a tortilla as big as the plate it's served on. It's easy to forget about our hangover when we're distracted by food this tasty.
El Chorro
When we can't stand the thought of Denny's, and only a classy brunch will do, El Chorro Lodge is our choice for a leisurely Sunday-morning feast. The menu has an old-school vibe — chipped beef, anyone? — not for any intentionally retro-chic reason, but because El Chorro's a Valley institution (just look around at the properly dressed clientele, which looks as if it's been coming here for decades). Eggs Benedict is the house specialty, from traditional and vegetarian versions to the delectable salmon lox Benedict and mouthwatering filet mignon Benedict. There are also expertly cooked omelets, some of the best French toast around (made with homemade cinnamon bread and golden raisins), and a selection of brunch-worthy sandwiches and salads. Superb coffee and fresh-squeezed juice are a couple more pluses. Truth be told, we could easily fill up on El Chorro's legendary sticky buns (complimentary with every meal), but if we saw somebody eating a plate of El Chorro's fine corned beef hash, we'd probably be insanely jealous.

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