Mary Elaine's rates tops in our foodie books partly because of the fact that its dishes are all printed with capital letters. Not just lobster, but Butter-Braised Maine Lobster With Grilled Apple and Heirloom Tomato Fondue, with a suggested wine pairing of Messmer Muskateller Kabinett Halbtrocken, Pfalz, Germany, 1996. Prices are spelled out, none of those tacky numerals (A Service of Caspian Beluga Caviar in the Traditional Fashion, 2 oz., One Hundred Seventy-five). No simple iceberg salad, but a toss of Romaine and Aged Parmesan Custard, White Anchovies, Violette-Mustard Vinaigrette (Nineteen).

The thing is, the food warrants the pretension, because it's all outstanding. Jackets are required for men, almost unheard of in this casual town, but the requirement is fitting for such European elegance in decor, table settings, ambiance and service. Who wouldn't dress in the company of a $3 million wine collection offering more than 44,000 bottles and 1,800 labels?

Our handyman knows how to fix anything. He also knows how to eat: hearty, heaping portions of he-man grub like chicken-fried chicken, meat loaf, chili, burgers, and breakfasts big enough to fuel him through a hardworking day. His favorite place to fill up when on the run for more building materials, and now ours, is the Peppersauce.

It's pretty much a truck stop, parked among industrial yards, massive warehouses and salvage dumps. But it's pretty, like a country farmhouse inside, and flowing with serve-yourself coffee, fountain drinks and good cheer. The food is the real deal, too, homemade and hearty (the charbroiled chili-size burger is tops, flooded with spicy chili, Cheddar cheese and onions; the meat loaf is like Mom's, served with mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and a dinner roll). Any of the breakfasts start the day with a smile, like the $4.25 specials (ham and green chile scramble, hash browns and toast on Tuesdays). Thanks to our handyman, we've got a fix on the best working fella's lunch in town.

When we were in college, we saw lots of things spinning through the air. But now that we have a firmer hold on reality, we realize that, yes, a pizza actually can come from some far-away planet. If it's crafted by the creative cooks at Cosmic Pizza.

The place is tiny (order through a cutout in the wall), yet the menu is massive, almost galactic. More than 50 toppings. More than three dozen pizza combinations. More than two dozen subs, plus calzones, salads and appetizers. All with an otherworldly theme. Check out the names of the dishes: pulsar, axiom, quark, Apollo 13, full moon, alien, Sputnik. It's almost as much fun ordering as it is eating. No surprise, Cosmic caters to the ASU crowd, staying open until midnight on weekends with $1 delivery.

The moon isn't made out of green cheese. Here, it's a pie topped with breadcrumbs, prosciutto, garlic, Romano and basil.

We love to party. Who doesn't? Yet we have still to figure out why, the more we abuse our bodies, the more our bodies cry out for even more rough treatment.

Places like Jack in the Box or Denny's are quick fixes, but we can never respect ourselves in the morning. We rub our blurry eyes the next day, see that crumpled sourdough Jack wrapper by the side of the bed, and dread sets in -- what have we done?

So now, we head over to Mickey's Hangover, a fun dive bar that serves its full menu until 2 a.m. on weeknights, 3 a.m. on weekends. It's trailer-trash food, but well-prepared trash, like Santa Fe rolls of four fat taquitos stuffed with chicken and chiles in a thin, potent jalapeño sauce. Or "Jesus on the Mountain," mounding hefty shavings of ham with crisp bacon, melted Cheddar, two fried eggs and potato chunks on a bun. Or Mickey's Monster, an enormous pizza piled with every topping offered in this universe. And miniature hot dogs are cute, tucked in little-bitty buns, topped with Cheddar and chile, with a tiny bottle of Tabasco served alongside.

Hey, it's not high cuisine. But at least we won't be ashamed when we awake.

Best Place For An It's-So-Late-It's-Early Breakfast

Western Pizza

It's a fairly frequent occurrence that we're working, puttering, reading, retiling the roof, solving quantum physics, when suddenly we realize that, oops, it's the middle of the night and we haven't eaten for more than 24 hours. The only thing in our fridge is something we might recognize if it weren't covered in green fur, and we're not about to run to the grocery store for some ramen.

Which is why we have Western Pizza on our speed dial. The kind folks here keep the kitchen open until 1 a.m. on weeknights, and until 3 a.m. on weekends. They even deliver (from 32nd to 68th streets and Thomas to Camelback roads)!

Western Pizza serves up victuals so good, we could eat them 'round the clock. One pie, actually, keeps us full for at least two days. The 18-inch large is almost three inches thick and weighs almost 20 pounds, loaded to the gills with toppings like the Western Round-Up -- mushrooms, pepperoni, salami, ham, peppers and onions under buckets of mozzarella. And there's plenty of other delish dishes from which to choose: souvlaki on a stick (savory pork in Greek herbs), fries and gravy, a half-dozen types of wings, spicy barbecued ribs, a flurry of filling salads and funky desserts (bowl of cookie, puffed wheat cake and such). Now, is it time for breakfast yet?

If you're talking turkey, there's no better name than Young's Farm, a poultry ranch in Dewey, Arizona. Of course, such quality meat is expensive, but Arcadia Farms doesn't worry about these things. This country-cottage cafe buys its turkey from Young's, then piles it mile high on its sandwiches, layering thick slabs of real, Thanksgiving-style roasted breast on homemade bread with mayo, roma tomato, sliced cucumber, pea shoots and baby lettuce. It's served with a side of potato salad, a plateload of red, skin-on chunks dotted with dill, bits of fresh bacon, parsley and scallion on a bed of greens.

We admit it: We're gluttons for Arcadia Farms' gobblers.

"On top of spaghetti/All covered with cheese/I lost my poor meatball/When somebody sneezed." The tragedy of this childhood parody of "On Top of Old Smoky" never quite resonated with us until we discovered the meatballs at Nick's. Now, if somebody sneezes on our supper, they're going to lose a schnozz. Nick's is gangbusters on primo meatballs, rolling them by hand with fresh herbs and fennel seeds. We could eat them plain, but in a sandwich, they're hog heaven. Picture four hefty orbs, swimming in tangy marinara, draped in mozzarella, then slid into a hot oven until they go crisp on the edges and the cheese melts to a rich, chewy blanket. It takes balls to be named the best, and in our book, Nick's has got 'em.

What makes a burger better? Just good, old-fashioned, tender lovin' care. At Chuck Box, your burger doesn't meet the grill of its dreams until you've lined up in front of the steaming charcoal broiler and asked for it by name.

Try the Big Juan, a one-third-pound beauty named after Chuck Box's "beef engineer." On hungrier days, gravitate to the Great Big Juan, at a full one-half pound. You can add cheese (Swiss, American or Jalapeño Jack) and toppings of guacamole or bacon. Start salivating as the meat sizzles merrily away, next to fresh buns lightly toasting over the mesquite wood flames.

When it's done, your burger is placed gently on a tray, to be taken to Chuck Box's fully stocked condiment bar to be gussied up just a little more.

Big Mac? Ha, that wouldn't even begin to put a dent in our appetites. No, when we want the beef, we want the beef.

Segal's stops us in our tracks, with sandwiches that stretch even the biggest stomachs. The quarter-pound and half-pound burgers are simply warm-ups. The battle burger, a half-pound of meat topped with hot pastrami, starts the competition. But the full one-pound burger has us waving our white flag. It's all juicy, cooked to order, topped with whatever we choose and served with French fries and coleslaw.

We've found the beef, and it's at Segal's.

Beguiling beans. That's the only way to describe the luscious legumes at El Conquistador. It's easy to miss this place, which is hidden from the street, but to find it is to be rewarded. Here, the basic bean is elevated to a fine dish, multi-textured with the perfect balance of a creamy base and tiny bits of chunk. There's no lard in the recipe, and we don't need it, content with the most assertively beany flavor we've found in the Valley. A light gilding of Cheddar, some crispy chips and hot sauce on the side, and we're as happy as can bean.

Best Of Phoenix®