CityBakery

You can grab a bite to eat and get a taste of local culture, thanks to CityBakery tucked inside the Arizona Science Center. You're sure to fuel your way through a busy afternoon thanks to huge, fresh salads (curry chicken and Mediterranean tuna are a couple of our faves), mouthwatering sandwiches (pressed chicken with applewood-smoked bacon, Brie, and caramelized onions is a good choice), and an assortment of sweet splurges like double chocolate brownies and oatmeal cran-raisin cookies. The vibe is hip enough to take a friend, but still down to earth, for days when you're flying solo. (Just admit it, you'd rather keep that brownie for yourself, right?)

The Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix
Courtesy of Bistro 24

From the fragrant Summer Provence tea blend to the delicate chocolate cups holding the lemon curd and fresh whipped cream, it's all about attention to detail when it comes to afternoon tea at the Phoenix Ritz.

And all that attention is bestowed by none other than Jeffrey Hattrick, the Ritz's resident tea sommelier. There's more than a bit of showmanship to his presentation (read all about it in our Sideshow profile, page 210) but suffice it to say, this man takes his tea very seriously — he trained for years to create his own brews, and he lords over the tea lobby with his own special style. The Ritz knows it's got a good thing — there's a teatime Teddy Bear named for Jeffrey, and each July, when he leaves on vacation, they simply don't serve at all. This is tea worth lifting your little pinky for.

Postino Wine Cafe

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the most flattered place in town is Postino Wine Café, an action-packed neighborhood wine bar that's all about effortless cool. There's no attitude here, just a stylish vibe and craveable wine-friendly nibbles. The bruschetta, in particular, is outstanding, something many local wine bars have attempted to re-create (right down to the nearly identical toppings) but none has succeeded in matching. Ten delectable combinations, plus an ever-changing seasonal option, make it really hard to choose, but luckily each order comes with a choice of four. From simple smoked salmon or roasted artichoke hearts to more complex toppings like prosciutto with figs and mascarpone, and white Tuscan bean with pancetta, each one is memorable, served atop slices of fresh crusty bread. Folks can't get enough of this bruschetta, and now Postino's ready to meet the demand. Early in 2009, expect a second location in the renovated building that once housed Katz's Deli.

Pane Bianco
Heather Hoch

Chris Bianco and Susan Pool's downtown pizzeria gets all the glory, but it also gets all the crowds. Meanwhile, their midtown sandwich shop is still all about the locals, a casual spot where the lines are never too long for a quick lunchtime pit stop. It's counter service only, with everything wrapped to-go, although you're welcome to chill at picnic-style seating out front. The menu's minimalist (just a handful of sammies and salads), but every item is craveable, from housemade mozzarella, basil, and tomato to a distinctive take on tuna salad. The ever-changing market sandwich — perhaps with jamón serrano, or maybe roasted lamb and arugula — is worth a try as well. As you'd expect from Bianco, the James Beard Award-winning pizza guru, the bread is a highlight, served fresh from the wood-fired oven. Grab a loaf to take home, while you're at it.

It's really sad how often we go a little hungry when we're just not in the mood for a sandwich or a meat-and-potatoes entrée. Who says salads can't have substance? Thankfully, there's a restaurant where we can actually fill up when we're craving a good salad: Lisa G. This place is the bomb, whether for an uplifting workday lunch, a mellow dinner, or a late-evening glass of wine with friends. Indeed, we love everything here, from the killer homemade meatballs (that's "balls" on the menu) to scrumptious sandwiches on soft MJ Bread. But lately we find ourselves coming back again and again for the salads, as there's one for every mood. At lunch, we love the tuna salad, a luscious niçoise-inspired concoction with fresh greens, albacore tuna, white beans, roasted red peppers, capers, red onion, and Kalamata olives, tossed in the best Dijon vinaigrette we've ever had. Off the dinner menu, we love the frutti di mare, chock-full of seafood, and the surprisingly hearty vegetarian, laden with balsamic-tinged roasted vegetables and goat cheese. And then there's the steak salad, a filling spinach salad topped with blue cheese and juicy slices of strip steak. We're happy to make a meal out of that anytime.

RadioMILANO

From fine-dining spots all the way down to budget sandwich joints, the caesar salad is one menu item that spans cooking styles and price points. Obviously, the caesar has a devoted following. But why, then, do so many restaurants treat it like a token dish? Seriously, the caesar could be so simple and delicious, but the way most restaurants serve it, it's just plain boring. Not at radioMILANO, though. We could tell these folks appreciate a good caesar just by the way they've given it a creative spin. Here, it's not just a pile of romaine lettuce with some generic creamy dressing. It's ultra-fresh romaine tossed with crisp, thin slices of celery, Parmesan croutons, and a delectable dressing perked up with lemon juice. On top, there's plenty of shaved Parmesan, too. This is a caesar salad to crave — and ever since we've discovered it, we crave it all the time.

Cork

A lot of dishes are award-worthy at Cork, the south Chandler eatery opened by co-owners Robert Morris (sommelier), his wife Danielle Morris (pastry chef), and Brian Peterson (executive chef) earlier this year. But we think the banana cream pie says it all. What you might visualize when you order it is nothing like what you actually get. Instead of a simple slice of traditional pie, you get an edible work of art, with the chocolate-painted plate as a canvas. Brûléed banana slices and a roasted baby plantain accompany the "pie," whose tasty round Oreo crust supports a pale cylinder of delicate banana cream. On top, there's an ethereal cloud of brûléed homemade marshmallow. All together, this is one of the most memorable desserts we've had in a long time, and definitely a fitting way to wrap up a dinner that might include creative dishes such as seared foie gras with banana bread, or ostrich crudo with limoncello, heirloom tomato, and tortellini.

China King

It's a pretty easy rule of thumb: Eat ethnic food at places frequented by people of that ethnicity. That's usually a good sign, no matter what kind of restaurant you're checking out. On weekends, Chandler's China King transforms into a culinary mecca for homesick Chinese, who show up in groups with three generations in tow. Squint hard enough, and you may almost convince yourself that this is Chinatown in San Francisco or New York. And besides, if this dim sum gets the approval of Chinese grannies, we think it deserves a try. Truly, the offerings here (more than 50 in all) are delicious. Flag down one of the waitresses pushing metal steam carts from table to table, and you never know what you'll find. It could be something for the hardcore dim sum fan — say, sweet steamed chicken feet — or something more accessible, like sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, or barbecued pork buns. There's no pressure, of course. Feel free to wait it out for the next cart, or to help yourself to as many plates as you can handle. You'll go from dim sum dabbler to devotee in no time.

A little sangria, a few plates of goodies to share with friends, and a dark, cozy nook to enjoy it all — ah, those Spanish really know how to live, don't they? We stressed-out Americans could definitely learn a thing or two from our laid-back European friends. Who knows, maybe a little more wine and a little more olive oil would help us live longer. At least, we'd probably live better. Thankfully, there's a place in Phoenix where we can let our cares melt away and settle in at one of the most intimate dinner spots in town: Lola Tapas. When we say intimate, we mean it — two long, dark-wood communal tables line the compact, saffron-hued dining room, meaning you'll dine with your dearest and your nearest, whether they're strangers or not. It's a very friendly place and, fittingly, they serve dishes that are perfect for sharing, including marinated olives, jamón serrano, and Mahón cheese; garlicky sautéed shrimp; and mouthwatering grilled pork skewers. And, yes, the fruit-filled sangria is awesome, both the red and the white versions. It might be only a tiny taste of Spain, but it goes a long way when we're ready to relax.

Order off the à la carte menu if you like, but if you really want to understand why chef Nobuo Fukuda earned his James Beard Award, give in to Sea Saw's seasonal omakase. That's the premium tasting menu at this jewel box of a restaurant, a series of exquisite creations that Fukuda and his team of chefs assemble right before your eyes (that is, if you reserve one of the counter seats that encircle Sea Saw's open kitchen). Although the cuisine here is decidedly Japanese, it's imaginative and cutting-edge, with some unique European flourishes. Every bite is an exhilarating flavor combination, from tuna tataki drizzled with pinot noir reduction and roasted beet purée to seared, miso-marinated foie gras so sweet and rich that it's almost more decadent than dessert itself. Expert sake and wine pairings are yet another reason to look forward to each course. If there's one place in town where it's worth letting go of your Type A tendencies, it's Sea Saw. You'll be in good hands.

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