Part pop culture museum, part photo scrapbook, and all in good fun, Captain Bills Subs has been entertaining the eyes of neighborhood locals hungry for a sub and a smile for 30 years — most even grew up with the old-school grinder joint. From Ronald McDonald hanging from a noose to oversize household items on the walls to hundreds of nearly-naughty bumper stickers and photos of customers and employees covering whatever space remains in a jam-packed room with a few tables and booths, patrons can be seen ogling the décor while munching on cheap subs like the Famous Italian and the New York Beef and Cheese. Captain Bills may have been "putting the meat between the buns since 1981," but it's the kitsch that makes us crave it.
Kai
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Frybread is a staple of Native American cuisine, so it makes sense that even Kai, a Native American fusion restaurant that's one of the Valley's top upscale eateries, would make a version. Kai's up-market take on the humble dessert doesn't disappoint. Chef Michael O'Dowd's "Traditional Frybread from the Teachings of the Elders" (long, flowery names are part of the Kai experience) comes with goat's milk ice cream, berries, and candied nuts. It's $12 — that's on top of the $49 you'll spend for the buffalo tenderloin entrée — but it won't disappoint. Like everything else we've had at Kai, it's absolutely perfect. Crisp, golden dough is paradoxically light yet substantial, and the tart ice cream and sweet toppings blend to create the best frybread you'll ever eat. Just don't tell the nice lady at your favorite little roadside frybread stand about this — she'd be justified in jacking up the price on your bourgeois ass.
Tammie Coe Cakes
When it comes to bread, master baker Michael John sure knows what he's doing. Sharing space with his gifted wife, Tammie Coe, MJ cranks out beautiful loaves of sourdough, rye, and wheat. As a testament to his quality, you can find his bread at Phoenix favorites such as the Breadfruit, Postino, and Bertha's Café, to name a few. Or just pay a visit to the little shop on Roosevelt Row and pick up a perfectly crusty baguette for your next dinner party or one of their amazing turkey sandwiches on a tender ciabatta roll.
Back East Bagel Co
There's nothing fancy about Back East Bagels — and that's what we love. Just bagels in wire baskets and kind folks to serve them. Yes, you can get espresso drinks and pastries, but this is the only place in town we've found that knows how to make a bagel just right. The secret's out, because we've found ourselves more than once in a long line on a Sunday morning, craning and wincing, waiting to see if the person in line will order that last everything bagel and relegate our morning to mere poppy seeds or a cinnamon raisin. No worries, more will be out of the oven soon — warm and fresh, just as a bagel should be. And with 21 bagel flavors, chances are you'll find a few you can live with.
George's Famous Gyros
Got a hankerin' for some gyro euphoria? George Salvaridis of George's Famous Gyros understands. A first-generation Greek growing up in Chicago, Salvaridis pimped pitas in his father's eateries from the age of 8, then moved to Greece for a spell before landing his own gyro eatery in Scottsdale. Made with choice ingredients (including a 20-year-old tzatziki recipe) and soft, puffy pita bread, try the original stacked with seriously good seasoned meat, or kick it up a notch with the Gyro Picado. Like a kick to the Greek groin, the Picado serves up flavorful meat with a spicy helping of grilled onions, peppers, and jalapeños. And don't forget the crazy-addictive French fries — they're almost as famous as George's gyros.
Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge
Lauren Saria
James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross, of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge in Central Phoenix, may be best known for his command of French cuisine, but what most folks may not know is that he makes a damn fine hamburger, too. Sit at a table or belly up to the kitchen bar and start with the eight-ounce patty of perfectly prepared Angus chuck, then choose from toppings of Gruyère, Mimolette, cheddar, or blue cheese, mushrooms, shallots, and crispy bacon on a soft, delicate bun for a sumptuous flavor sensation — just don't call it a "cheeseburger."
Maui Dog
The hot dog is a wonder of utilitarian food work. Its simplicity is one of the reasons it has endured for years. But sometimes you get a wild urge, and dousing bun and meat tube with ketchup and mustard just won't cut it. That's when you go to Maui Dog, where culinary daredevil John Stamatakis pays tribute to the island flavors that inspired him, piling coconut, spicy mayo, and pineapple on his signature Maui Dog. It may sound like a strange proposition, but the combination of sweet, savory, and spicy works. Stamatakis' secret is the bun: slightly tangy bread that recalls the best elements of classic Hawaiian rolls. Grub-on-the-go hot dogs are fine, but sometimes a messy wonder like the Maui Dog is worth sitting down for.
Stanley's Home Made Sausage Co.
Sarah Whitmire
In a tiny storefront on McDowell Road, they're making a whole bunch of sausage — and, boy, is it good. In fact, they've been making sausage at Stanley's for damn-near 50 years, and it was the first Polish deli in Phoenix. Today, Polish is just one ethnicity represented. Also hanging behind the two middle-aged Polish women running the joint are links of Hungarian, Yugoslavian, Swedish, and Italian sausage. And then there's ham, hot dogs, capiccola, prosciutto, bologna, bratwurst, salami, and at least a dozen kinds of cheese. Oh, and there's meatloaf, roast beef, and, of course, pierogis. It's a meat lover's dream. You can buy the stuff and run or stick around to nosh on one of Stanley's 21 different sub sandwiches. We've had more than a few of them, and we're here to say that you won't be disappointed if sausage is your thing. And if sausage isn't your thing, well, we're not sure we can be friends anymore. Sorry.
Prado
Jackie Mercandetti
Restaurants often give a nod to charcuterie with a single entry; Mbar's tapas menu is a standout with its range of choice bits. First, we'll explain the tapas. Three categories of small plates are listed on the tapas menu at Mbar: pinchos (snacks), tapas de pescado (seafood), and caza menor, which means "small hunt." The dishes listed here include a variety of nose-to-tail treats: offal, small game, salumi, and charcuterie. Guided by Prado chef de cuisine Peter DeRuvo's commitment to carefully sourced ingredients and delivering delectable flavors, each dish is accented with fresh, local vegetables, house-brined giardiniera, heirloom legumes, or wild greens. The variety of dishes inspires sharing. Try the surprise flavor of "Zoe" salumi decocoa or more traditional "Redondo Inglesia's" Serrano ham, and follow with the Merguez lamb sausage, heirloom legumes, and wild oregano. The beef heart with pickled radish, arugula, and aged balsamic is as tender as the beef tongue and unctuous headcheese on the house charcuterie plate. Tripe lovers will treasure DeRuvo's treatment — "Fiorentina" style served with sofrito, polenta, and duck egg. In the tradition of the house, the menu changes with the seasons. In other words, you'll be back.
Iruna
Aaron May's now-defunct Sol y Sombra barely registers as a blip on our nostalgia radar anymore, in large part to the fact that his equally ambitious Iruña has dandily filled the tapas gap in this town. Iruña offers the same stellar cornerstone tapas that put May on the map, including patatas bravas, tortilla española, and pollo colonial. Iruña has also updated the menu with a variety of fresh seafood, including Pulpo Escabeche (tender, marinated baby octopus) and artichokes with clams, which features a broth we could literally drink by the tankard. Whatever tapas you choose, grab a specialty cocktail or a tall glass of sangria to wash it down.

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