BEST UPSCALE STEAKHOUSE 2007 | Donovan's Steak and Chop House | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Who ever thought that steak could be trendy? From the looks of all the high-end steakhouses cropping up around town, sizzling slabs of beef are, ahem, hotter than ever. But they've always been in style at Donovan's, where all the steaks — the juicy New York strip, buttery filet mignon, and monster 20-ounce porterhouse, among others — are aged, USDA Prime cuts.

Ever wonder why you can't make a steak at home that tastes like this? Well, there's something about a good, 1,800-degree searing that takes the meat from delicious to divine, and Donovan's really knows how to bring the heat. The classy atmosphere, with tuxedo-clad waiters, dark mahogany walls, and elegant artwork everywhere, makes eating here a special occasion, and the hefty wine list and expertly made cocktails make drinking here enjoyable, too. When we're jonesing for the best — and money's no object — Donovan's is at the top of our list.

Molly Smith
Marcellino Ristorante is a romantic fine-dining spot that transcends its inconspicuous location so well that you'll not only forget you're in a strip mall, you'll wonder whether you've stumbled through a magic portal straight to Italy. The authentic cuisine will suspend your disbelief, too. Sima Verzino will greet you warmly when you arrive, while her husband, chef Marcellino, works his culinary magic in the kitchen. Best known for his exquisite homemade pastas and vibrant sauces — such as light, pillowy gnocchi with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella, and tender fettuccine with asparagus, tomato, scallions, arugula and ricotta — Marcellino also does an excellent job with fresh seafood and meats. Try the luscious scaloppine al gorgonzola, sautéed veal with creamy gorgonzola sauce, or gamberi affogati, plump, garlicky shrimp sautéed in white wine. And don't forget to order a good Italian wine, if only to toast la dolce vita in Phoenix.
Jamie Peachey
There's nothing wrong with a little downsizing. Filomena and Anthony Di Franco, former owners of the popular but defunct Molise, sold their original restaurant and opened this charming nook two years ago. It seats fewer than half the guests that Molise once did, but that only means you'll get more attention from Filomena herself, along with daughter Ania and son Maurizio, who work in the cozy, rustic dining room.

Back in the kitchen, Anthony and daughter Sonia are cooking up a storm, using recipes from all over Italy, including the Di Francos' native region of Abruzzi. Look for simple, flavorful preparations, perfectly cooked pastas, and light sauces. None of the dishes will hit you over the head with richness — the Pernod cream sauce on the escargot ravioli tastes delicate, and even prosciutto and melted mozzarella don't overwhelm the succulent, sage-kissed saltimbocca. Spinach and ricotta-filled crespelle, and lasagna made with thin, homemade noodles, are also memorable.

You may finish your plate and feel perfectly content, but make way for dessert. After one bite of the luscious tiramisu, you'll thank us.

David Holden
Zinc Bistro is as seductive as any restaurant you'd find in the City of Lights. Bright and airy by day, with abundant windows, high tin ceilings, crisp white tablecloths, and ample patio seating fit for an afternoon of people-watching, this stylish boîte transforms into an intimate, candlelit dinner destination come sundown. Grab a stool at the restaurant's namesake, a sleek, 25-foot zinc bar, for raw oysters on the half shell, Gruyre fondue, or a cheese platter, or shimmy onto a lipstick-red banquette and get a look at the full menu. Chef Matt Carter's creations successfully walk the fine line between traditional bistro fare and innovative French-inspired dishes — everything from classic moules frites and steak au poivre to spinach-goat cheese ravioli with oxtail and black truffles. When you're ready for your second wind, go for some French press coffee and chocolate soufflé, made with premium Callebaut chocolate. You'll leave feeling giddily satisfied, but sooner or later, don't be surprised to find yourself wanting more. At Zinc Bistro, infatuation is a given.
Lauren Cusimano
Okay, so it's perched on North Seventh Street instead of a rocky cliff by the Mediterranean, but this white-washed taverna is still a great place to find homestyle dishes just like gia gia used to make. We're not sure if there really is a staff of busy Greek grandmothers in the kitchen at GreekTown, although the food sure tastes like it was made from time-honored recipes. Traditional favorites like saganaki (flaming cheese), stuffed grape leaves, and marinated octopus make up the appetizer menu, while entrees run the gamut from Old Country staples like souvlaki and moussaka to more contemporary Greek-style dishes like veal sautéed with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and white wine sauce. Add that to a friendly, festive atmosphere where wine flows at a Dionysian pace, and you'll be shouting "Opa!" before dessert rolls around. Just don't try throwing any plates.
New ownership and a fresh makeover have re-energized the former German Corner restaurant, which reopened as Black Forest Mill earlier this year. With a spacious bar area (where there's a sports bar vibe), cozy dining rooms with curtain-draped booths and dark wood paneling, and even a small dance floor (there's live accordion music on Friday and Saturday nights), it's a refreshingly unpretentious — and welcome — addition to the increasingly upscale Arcadia neighborhood. From wiener schnitzel (veal cutlets) to Rheinischer sauerbrauten (Rhineland-style wine-and-vinegar-marinated sirloin with raisin sauce), the menu is chock full of old-fashioned German favorites. Entrees are available at lunchtime, too, but there's plenty of lighter midday fare, including goulash soup and bratwurst sandwiches. Of course, happy hour's the best time to go, when the beer is flowing and the workday's behind you. Relax, order up a frothy German brew, and give a nod to the cute, costume-clad fräulein across the room. Who needs Oktoberfest? The simple things in life are worth celebrating at Black Forest Mill.
Looks generally aren't everything when it comes to Vietnamese restaurants, which can range from bare bones to dive-y. And that's fine by us, as long as we get our pho fix. But when there's a good-looking newcomer, we notice. Dragonfly has a charming, relaxed cafe atmosphere that sets it apart from a lot of its competitors, but it's more than just a pretty face. The food here is phenomenal — fresh, beautifully presented, and bursting with memorable flavors. Goi cuon, filled with moist, smoked halibut, are a welcome variation on traditional spring rolls, and the summery shredded papaya salad is the perfect balance of tangy, sweet, and spicy. As for the pho — steaming bowls of rice noodle soup that are a Vietnamese staple — Dragonfly's herb-filled broth tastes just right.
Somehow the stylish folks at Swaddee have managed to dress up a run-of-the-mill strip mall space and make it feel like a treasure, with Thai artwork in gleaming jeweltones, and pretty patterned slipcovers to disguise the chairs and booths. The food is all about splendor, too, with fragrant flavors like basil, coconut, garlic, lemongrass, and ginger. We're so crazy about the roasted duck curry — a rich stew of moist duck meat, pineapple chunks, and tomatoes swimming in savory red curry — that we'd slurp it straight from the dish if we weren't afraid of being caught behaving badly. There's a lot in the way of seafood (try pla lard prik, crispy catfish zinged up with red curry and basil), as well as noodles, half a dozen kinds of soup filled with fresh herbs, sautéed dishes packed with vegetables, and tangy salads like larb, a spicy mix of ground beef, chili, red onions, mint leaves, and lime juice. And no matter how much we stuff ourselves with spicy goodness, it's always nice to finish with something sweet. When it's in season, mango with sweet sticky rice is our favorite. Oh, if only every neighborhood ethnic place were half this tasty, or half this cute.
Who cares if Phoenix doesn't have a real Chinatown? Even though we might have to drive a little further to find it, we still have killer Hong Kong-style food at Super Dragon, an institution whose reputation goes well beyond its north Phoenix address.

Unlike the typical Chinatown dive, the atmosphere here is soothing and immaculately clean, but the flavors are just as authentic (minus the MSG) — heaps of pan-fried chow fun noodles with a vaguely smoky fragrance, rich Cantonese roasted duck, and sizzling rice crust soup. And Super Dragon's specialty dish, House's Chicken, is to die for: a platter of crisp, golden fried chicken slathered in chile and scallion-flecked garlic sauce. Sure, they have safe bets like moo goo gai pan, too, but go for the unusual offerings, like cold jellyfish. After all, you probably won't find this stuff at your neighborhood Chinese place.

Dominic Armato
Looking for a hot ticket to spicy Korean cuisine? Try Hodori. Tucked into one of the East Valley's best strip malls for Asian cuisine (also home to Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, as well as a small Korean grocery store), this no-frills eatery feeds a savvy crowd that's hungry for authentic Seoul food at reasonable prices. Hodori doesn't skimp on the panchan, those delightful small plates that prep the palate with a variety of flavors and textures, from peppery kimchi to soothing chilled bean sprouts. You could practically make a meal out of those, but hold out for generously sized main dishes like still-sizzling bulgogi (marinated barbecued beef), bibimbap (beef, vegetables and egg on top of rice), or one of Hodori's nuclear-strength tofu soups, served in super-heated bowls that keep 'em sputtering and nearly boiling over as you dip into their chili-red broth. Hodori really knows how to bring the heat.

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