Chow Bella

AZ Capitol Times Announces "Best of Capitol" Winners

Arizona Capitol Times just announced the winners of its annual "Best of Capitol" survey a few days ago, and it's interesting to see the restaurant picks of our local political movers and shakers.

Not surprisingly, Cheuvront's gets props (owner Ken Cheuvront is a state senator), while Durant's seems to be the go-to spot for just about any occasion.

Get a look at the winners:  

Cheuvront Restaurant and Wine Bar
(repeat winner)
1326 N. Central Ave.
(602) 307-0022

Cheuvront Restaurant and Wine Bar beckons patrons to explore its selection of more than 165 wines and 50 cheeses.

Twice a month, the restaurant offers wine tastings featuring a sommelier - a professional wine steward - encouraging customers to experience the finer points of certain wine regions or varietals. Tastings cost from $15 to $20 per person and include a cheese plate. Reservations are recommended.

General Manager David Jensen notes Cheuvront aims to keep all of its offerings - from wine to steaks - reasonably priced.

"Our six-ounce filet mignon is the best value in beef in Phoenix," he says.

A restaurant guest complimented other Cheuvront offerings. "The duck medallion entree is as good it gets. And the salmon pate is tops."

2nd Place: Roosevelt Tavern

3rd Place: Postino Winecafe

Place For Lunch
The Original Wineburger
6027 N. 19th Ave.
(602) 249-9929

Bill Cariveau, owner of the Original Wineburger and self-proclaimed "International Man of Mystery" calls his restaurant "an awarding-winning place for lunch, hamburgers, lunch-time diversion, all while being well-hidden."

Open for lunch every day of the week, the Original Wineburger serves up its namesake Sangria-marinated beef patty on a sourdough bun.

"Thank you for making us a destination spot in Phoenix since 1965," Cariveau says.

If the casual atmosphere, sumptuous burger-grilling smells and friendly staff weren't enough to convince readers to visit the Original Wineburger, then the delicious onion "scoops" surely will.

2nd Place: Tom's Tavern

3rd Place: Switch

Palatte (repeat winner)
606 N. 4th Ave.
(602) 462-9400

Owner Ed McHale's wife Christine, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, is the inspiration behind Palette's menu - traditional American items with a French flair.

Wrapped in and around what was once a cattle farmer's ranch home built in 1914, patrons of Palatte can dine just about anywhere on the restaurant's fenced grounds. Opting to sit inside the parlor makes guests feel like they are waiting for a home-cooked meal to be served from the kitchen. The patio is popular for warmer days, but when the direct sunlight might be too much. More adventurous diners can sit in the various tables and chairs scattered around the old farmhouse.

Ed says one of the restaurant's most popular items is the sweet potato pancakes. He also notes cranberry walnut bread served with blackberry jam as a perfect accent to a breakfast of scrambled eggs with Palette's signature sausage.

Palette is open Wednesday through Sunday for brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

2nd Place: Matt's Big Breakfast

3rd Place: That's a Wrap

Durant's (repeat winner)
2611 N. Central Ave.
(602) 264-2967

The classic steakhouse remains firmly seated atop of readers' hearts and stomachs as Durant's once again pulls down the Best of the Capitol "Best Dinner" award.

From the mesquite-broiled steaks and chops (one of which weighs in at 48 oz.) to the Fresh Dungeness Crab Cakes, Durant's has found a successful formula combining indulgent entrees, a swanky atmosphere, a sizeable wine list and classy service.

In founder Jack Durant's own words: "Good friends, great steaks and the best booze are the necessities of life."

It would seem Durant's, the most-awarded entity ever in Best of the Capitol, is a necessity of life for Capitol Times readers as well.

2nd Place: The Capital Grille

3rd Place: Fate

Durant's (repeat winner)
2611 N. Central Ave.
(602) 264-2967

Durant's is one of those fine-dining establishments that one would expect to offer a wide range of appetizers. And the steak house definitely delivers in that area, providing a menu of tasty starters to get your meal off to a great beginning.

Appetizers range from oysters Rockefeller to sautéed chicken livers. You'll find Dungeness crab cakes, steamed clams and something called Durant's Debris.

Whether you fancy the Trey of Crème Brule or fruit cobbler a la mode, the downtown Phoenix restaurant has a dessert for everyone.

The goal of the Durant's chefs, apparently, is to give patrons multiple options to spoil their dinner. And this is not the first time they've won the award for Best Appetizers at the Capitol.

2nd Place: Blue Martini Lounge

3rd Place: Fez

Cup Of Coffee
Starbucks (repeat winner)
100 N. First St.
(602) 340-0455

This year, the second floor of the Senate building and Hava Java put up a good fight, but Starbucks on First Street again was able to gain the most votes for best cup of coffee. A trend has developed: Starbucks has won for three consecutive years.

Even though the King of Lattes has also succumbed to financial difficulty and will close 600 stores this year nationwide, there seems to be no lack of customers at the downtown Phoenix location. It's a favorite for people who plug-in, log on and conduct business remotely or via cell phones while enjoying their favorite coffee concoction.

We all know Starbucks coffee is fabulous. And Hava Java is a really cool name. But there's a larger question looming over this category: What the heck are they putting in the coffee on the second floor of the Senate building?

2nd Place: Senate Building - second floor

3rd Place: Hava Java

Cheesecake Factory
2402 E. Camelback
(602) 778-6501

Anyone who has ever set foot, or for that matter - eyes, nose or mouth - inside a Cheesecake Factory knows exactly why the eatery is taking home top honors in the dessert category. The desserts!

The first cheesecakes rolled out of founder Evelyn Overton's Detroit kitchen the 1950s for her husband's employer. The first Cheesecake Factory restaurant opened out of a previous bank site in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 1978. From this beginning, the restaurant established the future chain's pattern of offering an eclectic menu, big portions and signature cheesecakes.

A quick glance reveals what keeps customers' mouths watering - no less than 30 cheesecake choices. From Snickers Bar Chunks Cheesecake and Chocolate Coconut Cream Cheesecake to Lemon Raspberry Cream Cheesecake and Fresh Banana Cream Cheesecake, the dizzying dessert options will no doubt lead to an inevitable stomach protest as one tries to fit "just one more bite."

2nd Place: My Florist

3rd Place: Sweet Pea Bakery

Original Hamburger Works (repeat winner)
2801 N. 15th Ave.
(602) 263-8693

The undisputed champion of hamburgers (heavyweight or welterweight, depending on if you eat the 1/2-pound burger or the 1/3-pound burger) is none other than Original Hamburger Works on Thomas and 15th Avenue.

For three years in a row, Capitol Times readers have chosen Hamburger Works as the best place to get a hamburger. Several other burger joints have challenged in recent years, but none have been able to knock off the champ.

The burgers are flame-grilled and made to order, with a salad bar full of toppings. The restaurant's décor is retro 50s (there's even a jukebox), the atmosphere is casual and it's close enough to the Capitol so that you can eat a leisurely lunch without worrying about freeway traffic.

2nd Place: The Original Wineburger

3rd Place: Fuddruckers

Happy Hour
Durant's (repeat winner)
2611 N. Central Ave.
(602) 264-5967

If you haven't been to a Durant's happy hour, then you can be sure that you are not a Capitol insider. Matter of fact, you might not even work down here.

Even if you don't drink alcohol, chances are you've had an after-hours meeting or two at the famous downtown restaurant. It's true, nobody who is anybody hasn't been to Durant's (Note from the editors: We know there is a double-negative in that sentence, but that's how we write after a Durant's happy hour).

Low-lit and as formal as it gets, Durant's has seen countless generations of lawmakers, lobbyists and journalists pass through its doors - sometimes the one that leads through the kitchen. Who knows just how many deals were made, coalitions were built, laws were crafted and secrets were told over a round of Grey Goose martinis in this icon of restaurants?

2nd Place: Blue Martini Lounge

Mexican Restaurant
Oaxaca Restaurante y Cantina
(repeat winner)
1516 W. Van Buren
(602) 258-0804

At the Capitol, it's the place where everybody knows su nombre.

"We're like the Mexican version of 'Cheers,'" says Mindy Verdugo, an owner of Oaxaca Restaurante y Cantina. "Our hard work, quality and consistency helped us earn this."

After a remodel in July 2008, business has been great, she says. On any day of the week, Oaxaca is full at lunch time - offering patrons a new patio with big-screen TVs to catch games.

Oaxaca is a Sonoran-style Mexican restaurant, but also offers "Gringo-style" menu options in a family-friendly atmosphere. From chimichangas to hamburgers to margaritas, everyone finds something to enjoy.

"Wouldn't you like to get away..."

2nd Place: La Canasta

3rd Place: Teepee

Pizzeria Bianco (repeat winner)
623 E. Adams St.
(602) 258-8300

Heritage Square pie powerhouse Pizzeria Bianco has once again taken top honors in the pizza category. Apparently, Capitol Times readers can't get enough of the restaurant's brick-oven pizzas, available with toppings such as fennel sausage, pistachios, salami and fresh herbs.

A quick call to the pizzeria reveals what many Capitol-goers already know: this place is busy - always. Their message phone reveals they do, in fact, take reservations for parties of six to 10 people. So call ahead. No, ahead. As of Feb. 26, the next available reservation is after March 21.

It's a good thing that just steps from Pizzeria Bianco is Bar Bianco, where many hungry patrons wait - sometimes for more than an hour - for the opportunity to devour one of Bianco's award-winning pizzas.

Pizzeria Bianco is open for dinner only from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

2nd Place: Oregano's Pizza Bistro

3rd Place: Arizona Pizza Company

Place To Hear A Local Band
Alice Cooper'stown
101 E. Jackson St.
(602) 253-7337

Arizona resident and legendary shock rocker Alice Cooper opened his namesake restaurant in 1998 with the goal of maintaining a rock-and-roll atmosphere while showing exclusively sports on the establishment's 16 big-screen TV's, which spawned the catchphrase: "Where Jocks and Rock Meet."

Cooper'stown had been doing just that - providing a venue for up-and-coming bands to showcase their stuff - until a minor permit issue with the city of Phoenix momentarily ceased the live music last summer.

The issue has been resolved, says bartender and manager Brian Houle, and Cooper'stown has once again been playing host to bands on Friday and Saturday nights. Even Cooper's son's band, Runaway Phoenix, has played the downtown establishment.

"Sometimes a show will have 10 bands," says Houle.

For all the diehard Alice Cooper fans - sorry - Houle says Alice only plays his own venue on special occasions.

2nd Place: Blue Martini Lounge

3rd Place: Rhythm Room

Place To Be Overheard
Durant's (repeat winner)
2611 N. Central Ave.
(602) 264-5967

Just walking into Durant's is enough to make one feel like a "Goodfella." The red-flocked wallpaper, leather banquettes and kitchen entrance hearken back to the days of the Corleones and capos.

Durant's, a repeat winner in several categories including this one, represents a bygone era in Phoenix. But Durant's remains, and the food is as tasty as it ever was.

Perhaps one should keep their voice down or talk with their hand over mouth while occupying one of Durant's cozy booths, but Capitol folks who appreciate a good slab of beef can make a great impression here, especially with a martini in hand.

2nd Place: Lobby of the Arizona House of Representatives

3rd Place: DES Cafeteria

Lunch Time Diversion

DES Cafeteria

An oldie but goodie, this second-time winner is always a winner at the Capitol. Walk across Jefferson to the DES Cafeteria and you'll spot legislators, reporters, lobbyists and a shrinking number of state workers shuffling through the line, fetching food and drinks and munching.

The food is good, it's cheap and the atmosphere is cafeteria eating at its best.

An insider's tip for the first-timer is, while the patio looks like an inviting place to eat lunch, veterans of the DES cafeteria lunch game know the pigeons that nest above don't see your lunch as sacred. They may see it - and you - as a target. But the state has taken some steps in addressing the issue.

Aside from eating, people-watching is a favorite activity here; public policy folks know this is a great place to catch a legislator's ear for at least as long as it takes to consume a burro. Yum!

2nd Place: Durant's

3rd Place: The Original Wineburger

Place To Impress A Client
The Capital Grille (repeat winner)
2502 E. Camelback Road

(602) 952-8900

With its warm, rich wood trim, wine room, personalized service and linen everywhere, The Capital Grille on Camelback will surely impress clients.

And the food isn't bad either - in fact, it's great. This writer was certainly impressed during a recent lunch jaunt with a representative from the Hawaii Convention and Tourism Bureau. It's easy to imagine Capitol types entertaining public policy folks within The Capital Grille's walls. And the restaurant promises top-quality in food and atmosphere.

"From dry-aging steaks on premises to helping select the perfect wine complements from a list of over 350, we'll surround you with the very best," the Web site boasts.

Some might knock for being a chain restaurant, but it's a quality chain, and another repeat Best of the Capitol winner.

2nd Place: Durant's

3rd Place: The Arizona Club

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig