Best Mom-and-Pop Restaurant 2008 | La Piccola Cucina | Food & Drink | Phoenix

There are so many different reasons that restaurants can find success, but somehow La Piccola Cucina has achieved a trifecta of good food (homestyle Mediterranean dishes), adorable ambiance (it's in a beautifully restored 1924 house), and personal service. How personal, you ask? Well, chances are, you'll meet owners Andy and Debbie Pappas on your first visit, and they'll go out of their way to treat you right and make you feel like this is where you belong. Debbie, a retired flight attendant, will shower you with motherly attention, whether you're trying to pick a panino or just narrow down your gelato choices. And Andy, a restaurant industry veteran who's also a trained actor, will probably burst into song at some point. Seriously, the guy loves to schmooze, and if he's in a good mood, he might even serenade you. Of course, we crave the delicious, affordable menu here, and the location's close enough to downtown that we can swing a visit on our lunch break. But the Pappases really make La Piccola Cucina a place to love.

Courtesy of The Farm

There aren't too many rain days in Phoenix, and the folks who run The Farm at South Mountain take full advantage of that. Except for the hottest stretch of the summer, when they close for three months, Morning Glory Café and The Farm Kitchen are all about dining al fresco and enjoying our abundant sunny days. The former is breakfast-only, with views of Maya's Farm (an on-site organic farm) just beyond the expanse of umbrella tables where customers dig in to French toast, homemade granola, and omelets stuffed with local vegetables. The latter, a shady picnic nook surrounded by lush pecan trees, specializes in gourmet sandwiches, salads, and a tempting display of baked goods, including cookies, cupcakes, and cobblers. Amazingly, this place is convenient to downtown Phoenix and Tempe alike, but it feels as though you're far away from the city. When we need to get away from it all, The Farm is our go-to spot for instant relaxation.

Royal Palms Resort and Spa

Whenever we need a reminder of just how good we have it here in the Valley of the Sun, we have to head to T. Cook's spectacular Sunday brunch to put ourselves in the right frame of mind. Just setting foot on the Royal Palms property is enough to lighten our hearts — certainly one doesn't need to be a guest at the resort to appreciate its lush landscaping, stunning views of Camelback Mountain, and romantic Mediterranean courtyards. And inside T. Cook's, the energy is soothing and sophisticated, with sunlight brightening the elegant dining room as a classical guitar player serenades guests.

The buffet is as gorgeous as it gets, a decadent, all-you-can-eat spread, with artfully arranged platters of smoked salmon, egg dishes, roasted and grilled vegetables, shrimp cocktail in martini glasses, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and several kinds of soft rolls and bread. Just as delightful (or maybe more so, if you have a sweet tooth) are pastry chef Pierino Jermonti's exquisite tarts, cakes, cookies, and bonbons, which take up a few tables of their own. Thanks to T. Cook's, Sunday's our favorite day of the week.

Lauren Saria

At Christopher's, the swanky new restaurant from James Beard award-winning chef Christopher Gross, we get the best of the old and the new. What's new is the streamlined name and chic, contemporary setting, a welcome change from Gross's previous eatery at Biltmore Fashion Park, Christopher's Fermier Brasserie. We liked the last place just fine, but the updated digs are stylish and comfortable, with convertible glass walls creating intimate dining nooks, and a cool open kitchen where you can sit at the counter and see what's sizzling. There's also Crush, a luxurious, inviting lounge run by sommelier Paola Embry. What's tried and true at Christopher's is Gross's top-notch French cooking. The menu's been freshened up with new items, such as pied de cochon garnished with sweetbreads, while old faves remain, from hanger steak with sautéed shallots to steamed mussels and chorizo in a white wine broth. And Embry's extensive wine list, winner of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 10 consecutive years, is as intriguing as ever.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

Just how fresh is that sashimi you're about to gobble up? The quality of the seafood couldn't be more obvious than at Hana Japanese Eatery, where, if you're lucky, you just might witness sushi chef Rick "Koji" Hashimoto hauling in the catch of the day. The day we saw him hoist a giant piece of bluefin tuna onto the counter — tail and fins included — we couldn't believe our eyes. Neither could anyone else at the restaurant. Within seconds, everyone was snapping pictures with their cell phones, completely amazed. But after some expert slicing, the sleek silver creature from the deep was soon carved into elegant pieces of rose-colored sashimi, and all the customers were eager to sample the goods. It's not every day that Hana has a photo op quite as dramatic as that one, but even the huge wooden boat-shaped trays, bearing lavish arrangements of sushi and wasabi and even flaming sugar cubes, make it worthwhile to bring a camera to this fantastic sushi spot.

Admit it: You missed Eddie Matney. It's okay to 'fess up, because you're definitely not alone. And somehow we sense that the celebrated chef knew we were jonesing for his creative, Mediterranean-inspired cooking. After all, it had been awhile since he'd given us a taste of it. After closing his eponymous restaurant at 24th Street and Camelback a few years ago, he didn't interface with the public as much. His short-lived stint at Stoudemire's Downtown didn't turn any heads, and after that, he went to feed the elite at a private golf club. You'd see Matney's name on the roster at gala events, and you'd see his face on TV, but you'd be left with an insatiable craving if you were in the mood for some of his bacon-infused meatloaf. Well, now Matney's back with a place all his own, and the menu's got plenty of the dishes that made him famous in the first place. Even the meatloaf.

Jamie Peachey

It's nerve-wracking enough, trying to figure out what to talk about on a first date — who needs to worry about where to go, too? Pick a chill destination like Coup des Tartes, where the candlelit vibe is cozy, the food is classy, and there's enough subtle romance about the place to help along whatever spontaneous chemistry you might have with your date. As an ice-breaker, start with an interactive appetizer — perhaps the plate of "interesting cheeses," or the gooey Brie brûlée, served with toasts and fresh fruit. Entrees are sure to impress; the house specialty, Moroccan-spiced lamb shank, is particularly mouthwatering, as is the filet mignon. No surprise, the dessert list is a roundup of half a dozen different tarts, from banana brûlée in a chocolate crust to apple pecan walnut tart. And we almost forgot to mention that Coup des Tartes is BYOB — a definite plus whether you're on a date or not.

Kyle Lamb

We've gotta tell you, if we have to go to another American-themed restaurant simply because we've got the kids in tow, we're going to start looking for a flag to burn. Why does parenthood have to mean hot dogs, fries, and limp iceberg lettuce?

It doesn't, not since we've found Kabuki. This perfectly acceptable Japanese restaurant zooms over the top when it comes to the kids. Ours were happily greeted (we even tried a return visit with a large group of parents and tots, to see if the first time was an aberration — it wasn't) and ensconced in a comfy booth with crayons and kid-friendly cups with bendy straws.

The menu at this place is our favorite part: For a more-than-fair price, Junior will get a huge plate of food including a main dish like tempura or teriyaki (or both) and, best of all, a garden salad and fruit salad. The adult selections are wide, whether you choose from the sushi bar or the tamer cooked items.

The kids can't wait to return — and neither can we, a huge feat in family dining. We lift our chopsticks in salute!

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.

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.

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