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A whiskey drink and some stellar bar bites? Where do we sign up? Celebrity chef Jose Garces' upscale saloon inside The Saguaro hotel in Old Town Scottsdale is a perfect pairing of hard pours and satisfying tavern fare. Diners can lounge cozy-like in a dim, wood-covered interior on caramel-colored leather couches and under glass jar lights while perusing a small but tight menu of upscale munchies like pillowy cheese puffs, Tater Tots in a dreamy dipping sauce of onion aioli, tiny mason jars containing pickled delights of seasonal vegetables, and blocky eight-ounce burgers. What to pair the eats with? Why, whiskey, of course. With more than 100 varieties to choose from, finding a favorite's just part of the fun.

Zulu Caffe

As pleasant a surprise as any new restaurant in the Valley this year, this casual bistro situated in the quiet Scottsdale Airport hits all the right notes: affordability, comfortable atmosphere, friendly, low-key service, and, most important, really good grub. Chef Brian Ford, who worked for years at South Phoenix's fine-dining establishment Quiessence before running his own place, the ill-fated Madelyn's in Anthem, for a couple of years, has returned to the Valley after a three-year stint in Colorado. His small but uniformly excellent breakfast and lunch menu is tasteful and tasty, using seasonal, hand-selected ingredients. Nothing is too flashy (omelets, sandwiches, salads), but all of it is well executed in manageable portion sizes and prices (most items are under $10). We love the crispy, housemade potato chips with blue cheese and scallions, an outstanding frittata with a tangy garlic tomato sauce, a shockingly good BLT with guacamole, and top-flight French toast with bananas. Most of us likely will never have reason to fly in and out of Scottsdale's tiny municipal airport, but that doesn't mean you won't find us there, watching the corporate jets and single-props take off and land as we dine on simple but truly satisfying American classics.

Baratin

One snack, salad, pâté, veggie, sandwich, and dessert are all you'll find on the daily-changing menu at this small contemporary restaurant in Scottsdale. But before you freeze up with a case of restricted-offering-itis, know that these eats come from noteworthy Valley chef Charleen Badman, who co-owns the place (and FnB) with Pavle Milic. Part of a three-concept endeavor under one roof that includes Bodega Market and AZ Wine Merchants, this comfy casual eatery boasts a small selection of eats that go big on flavor thanks to Badman's stellar locally focused and seasonal fare. No matter if it's a wonderfully rustic salad, delectable Jidori chicken sandwich, or a jar of Badman's dreamy and rich butterscotch pudding – the best thing about this restaurant's limited menu is that you can eat everything on it and not find a clunker in the bunch.

Crudo
Crudo

From making its home on the patio and in-house café at a hair salon in Scottsdale to opening up in a remodeled space this April in Central Phoenix, chef Cullen Campbell's restaurant has stepped it up proper in the real estate department. Now, Campbell's menu of inventive raw seafood dishes, handmade pasta dishes, signature mozzarellas, and wood-grilled items can be enjoyed in a warm and intimate setting with flickering candles and bay-window nooks. And (bonus) diners in the new space can enjoy their food along with a cocktail or glass of wine from Crudo bar owner, cocktail artist, and sommelier Micah Olson, formerly of Merc Bar. The new hidden-away location, in the back of the Gaslight Square Plaza, feels like a delicious secret — but not really, because we keep telling everyone about it.

Ranch House Grille
Jackie Mercandetti

After a fire closed down this popular, small-town-feel chow house in East Phoenix in 2010, we had to wait nearly a year and a half before the rebuilt restaurant opened its doors again in April. Thankfully, our favorite all-day breakfast grub is just as tasty as ever. Like heapin' helpin's of Southwestern country fried steak smothered in a dreamy spicy pork chili verde, huevos rancheros, and giant biscuits with sausage gravy. Plus, along with the restaurant's more spacious interior, the menu now includes chicken and waffles — which makes its transformation all the more sugary-sweet.

China Magic Noodle House
Lauren Saria

If you're looking for dinner and a show — both fit for the tiniest king — look no further than China Magic Noodle House. From the name (magic!) to the menu (a pile of plain noodles for Junior, something hot and spicy for you) to the price (very affordable) to the ambiance (not much — it's noisy and the furnishings are spare), this is the perfect place for your pint-size foodie. The dishes are delicious; and where else in town can you watch your noodles being made on the spot? The kids will crowd around a tiny window to watch an expert turn a pile of dough into the tastiest noodles they've ever slurped. And no one will mind if you do a little slurping (and gawking) yourself. Like we said, magic.

Quiessence Restaurant
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Sure, it was named one of OpenTable.com's Most Romantic Restaurants in the United States this year, and in 2011, it got a nod for the same thing by Travel + Leisure magazine, but that recent scuttle isn't news to us — for years, we've known this farmhouse turned eatery, nestled in the historic Farm at South Mountain, is a love fest both in setting and cuisine. In a charming backdrop of pecan trees, organic gardens, and rural tranquility, chef Greg LaPrad embraces the idea of local, seasonal food with a constantly evolving menu — and many of the ingredients are harvested at Maya's Farm next door. Whether you're whispering sweet nothings to a new lover between sips of a Peach Old Fashioned or glass of Arizona wine under the stars, or holding hands with your soulmate over a dish of dreamy homemade pasta in front of a crackling fire, this restaurant and wine bar's got amore written all over it.

Different Pointe of View
Patricia Escarcega

Drive up the winding road to the top of Tapatio Cliffs Resort and prepare to be wowed by the 180-degree views from the window-wrapped restaurant and expansive Cliffside patio. Cruise up just before dusk to catch an amazing sunset view or go for a nightcap and get lost staring at the city lights below. The food and service are top-notch — they wouldn't have been given the AAA Four Star Diamond Award for the past 21 consecutive years if they weren't serving up some of the best food with the best views in Phoenix. Make sure you try the lobster bisque — it's one of the best soups in town.

Lon's at the Hermosa
Jackie Mercandetti

One eyeful of the surroundings of this fine-dining establishment at The Hermosa Inn, the luxury boutique hotel in Paradise Valley known for its rich history and 1930s-era architecture, and it's a no-brainer as to what may once have inspired the restaurant's namesake, legendary artist Lon Megargee. Lon's enchanting, lushly planted patio sits under blue skies by day and flickers with the flames of its adobe fireplace come starry nightfall. And where better than this outdoor desert hideaway to enjoy chef Jeremy Pacheco's artful American cuisine, a glass of wine, or better yet, a cutting-edge cocktail or two created by famed mixologist Travis Nass. Another Smoked Tea Shandy? Why, of course.

Hillstone
Jackie Mercandetti

Not news: Al fresco dining in the Valley October through May is sublime; al fresco dining in the Valley June through September is hell. Until now, thanks to this Camelback Corridor restaurant (formerly Houston's in the Esplanade complex until it moved down the street and changed its name in 2011). Grab a cushy seat on the spacious patio (no misters, thank goodness), a cold libation, and let the cooling begin with air-conditioners built into the tables. Give it a couple of minutes, but you'll be chilling soon enough. The system uses no CFC refrigerants, adds no moisture to air, and uses 90 percent less energy than standard air conditioners. So how does it work? Beats us, but it certainly makes patio dining a viable option during a season when most of us can't stand to be outdoors for any more time than is absolutely necessary.

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