Mid City Kitchen
Evie Carpenter
Chef-owner Michael DeMaria's latest culinary concept isn't the kind of upscale fare you'll find at his North Scottsdale spot Heirloom, but it's nevertheless a welcome addition to the dining mix along the light rail. Situated on Central Avenue at Thomas Road — at the heart of the midtown business district — this is a convenient place to grab a morning pastry and a latte, a sandwich or some pizza for lunch, or maybe a succulent rotisserie chicken to take home for dinner. There's a salad bar, too, and surprisingly good pasta (something we rarely find in a cafeteria). For hungry folks on the go, Mid City Kitchen makes a great pit stop.
T. Cook's
Royal Palms Resort and Spa
In the game of love, you never want to look like you're trying too hard. So T. Cook's is always the ace up our sleeve, because dinner here makes romance seem effortless. The dining room alone feels elegant and special, and when there's a guitar player on hand, the live musical serenades put plenty of hearts and stars in our eyes. Thanks to a very gracious staff, the pace of a meal is just right, and executive chef Lee Hillson's Mediterranean-influenced cuisine will make you fall even further in love — seafood-stuffed paella, "poulet rouge" chicken stuffed with Boursin cheese and spinach, and roasted pork tenderloin with orange gremolata are among the temptations. Even if Valentine's Day is still months away, a visit to T. Cook's will help you bring sexy back.
Petite Maison
There are certainly places that serve food much later than Petite Maison, but how many of them do more than tacos or burgers? This comfy Old Town nook does rustic French cuisine, which sounds pretty darn good to us — why go for pub grub when you can dig into steak frites, mussels in white wine broth, or an ever-changing "Staff Meal" offering such food as Buffalo frogs legs, ceviche, barbecue sliders, or something cooked up by one of the guest chefs who pop in for a night? If you're out and you're hungry between 10 and midnight on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, Petite Maison should be at the top of your list.
Kai
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
What makes Kai such a standout? Let us count the ways. First, there's the beautiful resort setting, with dining-room views overlooking both the pool and a vast stretch of desert. Servers address you by name, bring you chilled or warmed flatware depending on the course, deliver dishes in unison, and are well-schooled on the finer points of sophisticated cuisine. It's a good thing they're so knowledgeable and attentive, because even the most obsessive gourmet will find something unusual here to talk about, whether it's the provenance of the extra virgin olive oil (Kai's signature blend from Queen Creek), or the use of exquisite desert delicacies such as cholla buds, scarlet runner beans, and saguaro seeds. Executive chef Michael O'Dowd creates unique, regionally inspired dishes that are unlike anything else in the state; poached arctic char with fennel pesto, and grilled tenderloin of buffalo with smoked corn puree are two specialties that should put Kai on everyone's epicurean map.
El Chorro
We used to love El Chorro Lodge for the kitsch factor — old-fashioned furniture, complimentary crudites, and a genteel, gray-haired crowd that showed up for classic continental fare. But the place has gotten a serious, big-bucks makeover from its new owners, and now is an outright destination, the kind of spot that makes us want to sip a bloody Mary on the patio under beautiful skies. Contemporary furnishings, new art, cozy fireplaces, a more airy dining room, and a big bar that opens to the outdoors make El Chorro feel new, but it hasn't ditched the details that made us like El Chorro to begin with — including the legendary free basket of warm sticky buns. This historic building has been around since the '30s, and thanks to its lovely facelift, we can see it lasting for many more decades.
Cafe Bink
Timur Guseynov
While renowned chef Kevin Binkley's fine-dining spot, Binkley's, would be considered an über-special-occasion spot for most of us, its sassy younger sibling, Cafe Bink, is so accessible that we'd be eating there every week — if only we lived in Carefree. The common thread between both restaurants is Binkley's classic French cooking techniques; here, the emphasis is contemporary American cuisine that draws upon the homey aspects of Gallic tradition (think country pâté, luscious French onion soup, and steak frites) and Mediterranean influences as well (pulled-to-order mozzarella with red onion marmalade, pesto, and confit campari tomatoes). Cafe Bink doesn't try to be the culinary destination that Binkley's is, but we still consider it well worth the drive north.
The Vig Uptown
It's hard to top an original, so we'd like to give special props to the folks who made The Vig Uptown a fitting follow-up to its popular home in Arcadia. This new location of the stylish watering hole manages to offer the same appealing menu — excellent nachos with succulent pork, a potato pancake topped with carne asada, the VigAzz burger topped with peppered bacon and smoked Gouda, and finger-lickin'-good "vings" (grilled chicken wings) — as well as a similarly bumpin' atmosphere with DJs and pretty people. If there's any better use for a revamped 1960s Ralph Haver bank building, we'd sure like to know.
Tacos Jalisco
This is the place for brave and adventurous eaters. Sure, you can get a standard, wimpy bean taco at Tacos Jalisco, but you can get that anywhere. Tacos Jalisco isn't a cart on the side of the road, but you should plan on a food truck/street taco experience. When you step into Tacos Jalisco, you have entered an arena where bold, unexpected surprises are offered. This restaurant serves brain tacos, spicy goat meat tacos, pickled jalapeo, and platters of oysters. If you are planning a visit, take your heartburn meds first and know you'll be leaving with a smile on your face and a runny nose from the heat.
Dino's Greek and Italian Grill
Lauren Cusimano
Initially, we visited Dino's because we'd heard that the lasagna is superb, but we ended up eating half of our dining companion's gyro, because it — like the lasagna at this off-the-beaten-path diner — was so tasty. Order the Gyro Plate, which comes with sides of fingerling potatoes, rice pilaf, and fresh vegetables to accompany a mountain of gyro meat stacked on a huge pita with plenty of tzatziki sauce, made in Dino's kitchen. If the measure of a truly good gyro is its meat, then Dino wins by a mile with a mix of thin-shaved beef and lamb that can be matched with any number of grilled sides and spices. Opa!
Maizie's Cafe and Bistro
For days (okay, it was really hours) a debate raged in the halls of the New Times building over whether or not Popeye is actually a superhero. "No way. He's a cartoon character!" one colleague pronounced."Are you kidding? He's the original superhero!" another cried, just as adamant. In any case, we think it wise for all of us looking to be super-heroic to eat our super-foods, so we'll share our favorite spot to get a dose of spinach. We prefer it fresh, not canned, thank you very much, served in a big woven bowl at Maizie's Café, a sweet little spot just off the light rail on Central Avenue. Piles of fresh spinach are tossed with sherry vinaigrette, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, toasted almonds, and goat cheese. Enjoy it with a glass of vino; Maizie's has a fine selection of that, too. Popeye might not approve, but we hear red wine's a super-food, too.

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