Best Italian Deli 2012 | Niccoli's Italian Grocery | Food & Drink | Phoenix

Headed up by Joe and Peppy Niccoli since 1970 (the deli's been in the family since the 1950s), this small but stellar neighborhood delicatessen in Phoenix offers homemade pizzas, sausages (the Niccolis make about 25 pounds a day), breads, and sweet treats like cannoli, sfogiatelle, and pizelles daily to generations of customers looking to get their Italian on, old-school style. The sub sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, especially the Italian with the family's signature dressing and the spicy sausage with a marinara sauce that would have Tony Soprano swooning, have a cult following — as do Peppy and Joe. No wonder Frank Sinatra himself put his arm around Peppy at the Niccoli's first location and said, "This is just like back home in New Jersey."

The true delicatessen is an endangered species. We're talking about the old-school deli, where bagel-making is a science, smoked meat is an art, and there's not a whiff of "chain mentality" on the menu or in the establishment. Phoenix is lucky to have a couple of places where you still can get a decent pastrami on rye, but if you want to really get your deli on, shlep to Scottsdale's Goldman's Deli, a family-owned restaurant that bills itself as a "Chicago Style Traditional Jewish Cuisine Delicatessen and Restaurant." You want chopped liver? They have it, velvety rich with a sweet note of sautéed onions. You want matzoh ball soup? They have that, too, and it tastes like it was homemade by somebody whose grandmother taught them how to do it right. From smoked-fish platters to hamentaschen (the A to Z of Jewish cooking), Goldman's will satisfy even a wandering New Yorker's deli urge.

God save the queen — and God save our livers after a night of tying one on English-style at this downtown Phoenix hangout. The historic house turned English pub serves up a nice selection of draft brews including Strongbow Cider, Fullers London Pride, and Boddingtons with generous portions of traditional fish and chips, bangers and mash, and shepherd's pie. Grab a seat inside the renovated house, challenge one of the neighborhood gents to a game of pool, or take in the hustle and bustle of Seventh Street from the rustic patio or spacious front lawn. There isn't a bad seat in the house, especially when you have a cool pint of Boddingtons in your hand.

A wall of whiskey, Harp-soaked wings, beer-battered fish, a river of Guinness, and Irish music spilling out of the speakers — yep, you're at Rosie's. Since the day owner Seamus opened this fine establishment on Camelback Road more than decade ago, Phoenix folks have been packing the dark booths and well-worn bar to get their fill of properly poured Guinness, smooth shots of whiskey, and expertly made boxty, filled with stout-soaked beef and boiled potatoes. The lively bar almost always has an Irish band or two for your entertainment, and the servers are whiskey experts who can help you choose the perfect nightcap if you feel like straying from your tried-and-true Jameson.

Evie Carpenter

What's the connection between Tom's fish and chips and eating them in the building that was originally the city morgue? We're not entirely sure (sleeping with the fishes?), but this 80-plus-year-old downtown landmark popular with business types and government movers and shakers (purchased in early 2011 by the Bidwill family, owners of the Arizona Cardinals) serves up a seriously good batch of them. With meaty chunks of cod fried in a light batter until golden brown, these chunky swimmers have a lovely, light crunchy taste, as do their accompanying crisp shoestring fries. Served in a portion size that won't leave you treading water, bring a friend along, grab the malt vinegar, and wash' em down with a frosty brew.

Courtesy of Orange Sky

We wouldn't have thought the path to great seafood was lined with slot machines, but this 19-seat seafood bar serving New Orleans-style cuisine inside Talking Stick, the resort and casino in Scottsdale, has us feeling lucky. Kicking up the seafood scene with offerings such as seafood Creole, Louisiana gumbo, and Cajun-style boils, this sleek ocean oasis offers an as-you-like-it spiciness level between one and 10, as well as a front-row seat to its open cooking station. Belly up to the bar and order a giant iced seafood platter filled with delectable shrimp, crab, oysters, mussels, and clams or a steaming, hot bowl of crawfish in a rich lobster-citrus broth topped with a scoop of dirty rice. Get there for a Fat Tuesday event, and you can wash your ocean fare down with a $4 Hurricane, the signature drink of New Orleans.

Plenty of Valley restaurants are BYOB, but we can't think of too many that are BYOS (bring your own seafood). That's right. At this Mesa eatery, you can bring in your own seafood, and the restaurant does all the heavy lifting for you. There seemingly is no limit to what can be done with your very own catch of the day. For a mere $5, the cooks will take no more than two pounds of fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, even sea cucumber, then clean and prep it, and cook it via stir-fry, deep-fry, steaming, or boiling with your choice of more than two dozen different sauces, from curry to satay to black bean. And for an extra $2, they'll add veggies, other meat, rice, lo mein, or egg fried rice. The best part? Your kitchen won't smell like fish and, of course, they'll do the dishes, too.

Jamie Peachey

No flash and trendiness-free, this cozy, easy-to-love mom-and-pop restaurant in North Scottsdale with a loyal following of regulars specializes in sushi. Order up top-notch selections like mild striped bass, aji nigiri (Spanish mackerel) drizzled with ponzu, uni (sea urchin), or specialty rolls such as the Negi Toro made with fatty tuna and scallions. Better yet, try anything on the get-it-while-you-can specials board behind the sushi bar. There, you might find exotic delights such as geso (squid tentacles), jellyfish, and wasabi octopus, or even the playful Sammy Roll (named for Takashi Saito of the Arizona Diamondbacks) featuring sliced avocado over a lobster and mango roll and topped with a special homemade eel sauce. Don't forget to break up the sushi bites with sips of sake — there's no hurry here.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

At some sushi restaurants, you wouldn't dare utter the words "I don't eat fish." But at Lori Hashimoto's Hana, you can feel free to let your non-fish flag fly — you'll even be rewarded. On a recent trip, we happily sampled Hana's veggie rolls while our dining companion scarfed down everything from halibut to octopus, munched on a salad called tori kara age (mixed greens with crispy chicken, topped with Hana's tangy house dressing), and already were feeling stuffed when an off-menu item hit the table. The gyuniku tempura roll was so good we had to ask Hashimoto just what the heck was in it.

Her reply: "It is a thinly sliced rib eye marinated with sake, soy sauce and ginger. It is tempura-battered and deep-fried, then rolled with daikon, red cabbage, carrots, and shiso inside, then topped with sautéed garlic, green onions and tataki sauce."Now this, folks, is Japanese eating at its finest. Our biggest problem: The guy across the table suddenly lost interest in his fishy pursuits, stuck his chopsticks across the table and dug right into our steak roll.
Katie Johnson

Chef Aaron May is known around town for over-the-top dishes, like the fried quail and PB&J Foie Gras at his new restaurant Praying Monk, but our very favorite May creation is still the Bananas Foster French Toast served at Over Easy. As seen on the Food Network, this decadent French toast takes soft MJ brioche, bathes it in eggs, cream, and cinnamon, grills it to a golden brown, and then smothers the decadent slices of bread in housemade salted caramel, ripe bananas, and toasted pecans. There's always a weekend wait, but it's worth it for a bite of this famous dish.

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