The atmosphere inside Lola Tapas is so effortlessly urban that after a few glasses of wine, you might momentarily forget you're in the desert and think you're in a bustling boite on some Barcelona back street. It's dark, cozy, and convivial, with communal seating that fills up fast, gracious servers who keep the sangria flowing (bring it on!), and a menu full of scrumptious Spanish tapas lovingly prepared by chef-owner Felicia Ruiz, who's always at the stove in the small open kitchen. Her daily specials are worth checking out, but there are plenty of old standbys on the menu that we find ourselves craving — lip-smacking tortilla de patatas (a savory potato torte), gambas al pil pil (garlicky sautéed shrimp with chili flakes, cumin, and sherry), and garbanzos con espinacas a la Andaluza (spicy chickpeas with spinach), to name a few. Desserts change frequently, but if you see flan de coco on the chalkboard, don't resist. At Lola Tapas, you'll be living the sweet life.

Mamma Mia Original Pizza & Subs

Seems there are plenty of restaurants where you can sit down and leisurely have a pizza all to yourself, but where to go when you need a pizza fix now? When all you really want are a couple of killer slices to fuel you through your day, without any fuss? At times like those, we head straight to Mamma Mia, a friendly, no-frills joint just like you'd find back east (no surprise, the owners are from New Jersey), with a huge brick oven right behind the counter. This place serves one heck of a satisfying slice, with a distinctively crisp, thin, New York-style crust, zingy tomato sauce, and a blanket of melted mozzarella. Variations like the meat-laden supreme or the garlicky white pizza are great, but we'll never get tired of the basic cheese pizza here. It's a thing of beauty.

Pizzeria Bianco
Jacob Tyler Dunn

The legend continues. Just when we thought that Chris Bianco's pizza-guru aura couldn't shine any more brightly, along comes Martha Stewart and Gourmet and Food + Wine to shed a little more light on Phoenix's celebrated pizzaiolo. This past spring, Bianco got props from all three, starting with a six-page spread in Martha's mag. The whole media blitz only reinforced Pizzeria Bianco's status as a pilgrimage-worthy destination for foodies across the country. As if the wait to get in wasn't long enough, right? Well, we'll just have to deal with it. Because we're truly addicted to Bianco's perfect pies, where the chewy crust is blistered just so, and the combinations of toppings — like the Wiseguy, with fennel sausage, smoked mozzarella, and roasted onions, or the sassy Sonny Boy, topped with marinara, mozzarella, salami and olives — are out of this world. Just what you'd expect from a superstar.

Lo Lo's Chicken & Waffles

Catch Larry "Lo-Lo" White at a rare moment when his restaurant isn't packed and maybe he'll regale you with stories of all the sports stars who insist on a detour to Lo-Lo's when they're in town for a game. Or just look at all the framed, autographed photos on the walls to get an idea of who's been here — Muhammad Ali, Charles Barkley, Amar'e Stoudemire, and many more. But, hey, we don't need any celebrity endorsements to get us through the door. The promise of sinking our teeth into Lo-Lo's amazing fried chicken is all it takes. It's always juicy and fried to crispy perfection, served with a hot stack of fresh-off-the-griddle waffles. We're also huge fans of the fried catfish, chicken gizzards smothered in gravy, lip-smacking collard greens, cheese grits, and the best red velvet cake we've ever had (if you're too stuffed, get a slice to go and thank us later). If you're looking for soul-satisfying food that lives up to its reputation, Lo-Lo's is the place to go.

Stacy's Smoke Dem Bones Pit Stop
Sarah Whitmire

Even before we lay our eyes on a plateful of Stacy's badass barbecue, we know just what we're in for. We can smell it as soon as we pull into the parking lot — that mouthwatering aroma of sizzling meat and savory almond and hickory wood fueling the outdoor smoker. It's a smell that haunts us in our dreams and lures us back to this humble eatery time and time again. Whether we're in the mood to gnaw on tender, caramelized beef ribs, sink our teeth into a tender pulled-pork sandwich, or gobble up some good brisket, we never leave disappointed. With a side of cornbread and a big cup of sweet tea, barbecue at Stacy's is one of our flat-out favorite meals in Phoenix.

Don & Charlie's
Courtesy of Don & Charlie's

We're in carnivore heaven every time we do dinner at Don & Charlie's, an old-school steakhouse where the smell of sizzling meat makes us feel like we're floating on a cloud from the front door all the way to the table. What also makes us smile are Don & Charlie's tasty chopped liver plate (always compliments of the house, with warm bread!) and a museum's worth of cool baseball memorabilia decorating every inch of wall space. Steaks are the house specialty, but the ribs are just as famous — in particular, the meaty, juicy baby back ribs, smothered in tangy original barbecue sauce or the kicky Southwest barbecue sauce. Put a slab of those in front of us, and we'll be happily, busily gnawing on 'em until all that's left is a clean pile of bones. Needless to say, if we're going to pig out, Don & Charlie's is the classiest place in the Valley to do it.

Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli
Lauren Saria

Bet you've never tasted anything remotely like Middle Eastern Deli & Bakery's homemade lemonade, which this place sells gallons of every day. Middle Eastern's owner was kind enough to share the secret to its exotic, citrus-based concoction. First, lemon juice, water, and honey are boiled together. The brew is then spiked with rosewater, a flower-infused flavoring that's been used extensively in the Middle East and Asia in everything edible, from meat to candy (recipes using rose water date back to the 8th century). The finished product is like juicy candied lemons, with an addictive undertaste you just can't put your finger on. No wonder we have an overwhelming urge to dowse ourselves with this golden ambrosia.

T. Cook's
Royal Palms Resort and Spa

We're not sure what Heaven is like, but we imagine it to be something like T. Cook's lavish, all-you-can-eat "Mediterranean market buffet" brunch. Like the romantic Royal Palms Resort itself, brunch here is beautiful beyond belief, as mouthwatering as the glossy pages of food porn in Gourmet magazine. Everything is exquisitely displayed, from delicate pink slices of prosciutto and moist smoked salmon to abundant platters of roasted red peppers and portobello mushrooms, grilled asparagus, egg dishes, and fresh mozzarella with ripe tomato and basil. There are baskets of fresh rolls and bread, glasses brimming with shrimp cocktail, and all kinds of fruit. And freshly baked cookies, cakes, tarts, and other confections take up an entire table of their own. Under ordinary circumstances, all this temptation would lead us into a feeding frenzy, but the gentle strains of live classical guitar and the genteel atmosphere in the dining room make our gluttony somehow seem elegant. This is paradise found.

Quiessence Restaurant
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

There are actually two ways to experience the seasons at Quiessence. The first is simply to appreciate the setting itself — situated at the far end of the Farm at South Mountain, the restaurant is surrounded by lush trees and vegetation that provide so much of the relaxing ambiance here, no matter what time of year it is. And if you can snag a table outside on a glorious Arizona evening, even better. But "seasonal" is also at the heart of executive chef Greg LaPrad's daily menu, an ever-changing lineup that reflects what's fresh from local farms and purveyors (including Maya's Farm, right outside). That means you can count on ramps and fava beans in the springtime, locally grown squash in the fall. Besides the of-the-moment entrees, you can also expect excellent housemade salumi, an impressive list of artisanal cheeses, and mouthwatering desserts that are just as seasonally inspired as the savory stuff. Dinner at Quiessence is worthy of special occasions. We're pretty much always in the mood, no matter the season.

Zinc Bistro
David Holden

Depending on the time of day, Zinc Bistro takes on different guises — it's a bright, bustling place to see and be seen at lunchtime, and a romantic, candlelit hotspot at night. We'll take any excuse to stop by for chef Matt Carter's tasty French cooking (like ratatouille, braised lamb shank, or prime flat iron steak), but for some reason we especially love this place in the afternoon, when we can rendezvous with friends on the front patio, order a nice bottle of wine, and shamelessly slurp up icy-cold oysters on the half-shell as if there were no tomorrow. We're convinced this is how Parisians perfect their joie de vivre. On a sunny afternoon (let's face it: There are plenty of those in these parts), we'd much rather be hanging here than just about anywhere else — just don't tell our boss!

Best Of Phoenix®

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