Best Photo Op 2008 | Hana Japanese Eatery | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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.

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.

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?)

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.

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.

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