No matter where you are in the Valley, late-night dining options are pretty slim pickings. The choices are even fewer downtown, where so many places are lunch-only (for the commuter crowd) or else they end their "dinner" service before some of us are even off work. It's a little bit of poetic justice, though, that Fate, our favorite place to get a meal in the wee hours, goes the extra mile to redeem downtown's nighttime dining scene. For goodness' sake, they're open 'til 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights — hardly any restaurant in the Valley can boast hours like that. Of course, we're happy to eat here no matter what time it is. From Thai spring rolls and Hong Kong flat rice to a variety of tasty stir-fry dishes (we're addicted to the Cantonese Black Dragon, with the best black bean sauce around), chef-owner Johnny Chu does Asian fusion with flair, much of it with a healthful or vegetarian spin. Fried tofu is one caloric exception, but it's too crispy and delightful to ignore. We could eat that at any hour of the day or night.

Over Easy
Katie Johnson

There's certainly something to be said for the hair of the dog, but the morning after a chug-a-thon, our favorite fix is a hearty breakfast. We're convinced that's the real reason breakfast is called the most important meal of the day — because if it weren't for the redeeming qualities of butter, starch, and strong coffee, we probably wouldn't make it through to the afternoon. That's why we're such fans of Over Easy, the hip little diner that chef Aaron May (Sol y Sombra) opened in a renovated Taco Bell at the beginning of the year.

Just walking in the door, seeing the lemon-yellow color scheme and watching the guys behind the counter sling corned beef hash makes us feel more peppy. On balmy mornings, the outside patio is relaxing, too. Once we snag a table (the wait is the only catch about this place), we're eager to sink our teeth into decadent French toast with caramelized bananas and pecans, a toasted brioche with a fried egg, spinach, and bacon sauce, or a mighty fine plate of chicken fried steak spooned with creamy country gravy. Whenever we need to soak up the booze and put our heads on straight, a meal at Over Easy does us right.

Whether it's light rail, the new ASU developments, or just business as usual, there's a lot going on in downtown Phoenix. We're glad to see so much happening, but sometimes we just need a break from it — a few moments of peace and quiet to recharge. Palatte is perfect for that, an oasis of leisure in the midst of our bustling city. Located in the Cavness House, a historic home with a cute front porch and a sprawling yard that functions as one big patio, the restaurant has a laid-back setting we can really appreciate, especially on a hectic day. We love the food here, too. Homemade pastries, a frittata of the day, roasted sweet potato pancakes with spiced mascarpone, and a variety of "mish-mashes" (egg scrambles) are just a few of the reasons we stop by Palatte when we're famished. The caramelized onion tart is another favorite. When we're ready to sip a cup of coffee, refuel on light, creative dishes, and reflect on a gorgeous Arizona day, Palatte is the place to be.

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.

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