Tucson: Best eats and drinks + 2 in Southern Calif.

Picture of fries made from sweet potatoes.
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Practically everyone has a “best of” list for 2010 year end. Well, so does Circle of Food. However, my list is Tucson-laden with a nod to two So. Cal. favorites.

Best caterer – Zivaz
I only catered once this year but was very impressed with Zivaz’ service, chilaquiles , and kabobs and so were my guests.

Best setting to impress out of town guests –Ritz Carlton at Dove Mountain
Go at sunset to watch the mixologist masterfully infuse herbs with spirits. The scenery is truly spectacular as you look out toward the mountains dotted with sparkling lights. This might not be how the West was won but it certainly will impress your friends from the Midwest.

Best Korean BBQ – Seoul BBQ Kitchen
I like this tiny joint on Grant Road just east of Swan with its earnest good service, low prices, and ample portions (enough for lunch the next day). I recommend the C-1 combo – Korean chicken & pork BBQ with all the kimchee trimmings.

Best salad – bread salad at 47 Scott
47 Scott takes quality tomatoes, cheese, dressing and mixes in really good bread. It’s  simple but deliciously rustic.  Top with a fried egg for a taste sensation.

Best dish – mussels with chorizo broth & frites from JaxKitchen
I love a bowl of slurpy mussels but sometimes mussels are swimming in garlic. At JaxKitchen they float in a spicy chorizo broth with just enough for dipping the goblet of frites and crusty bread.

Best place to chill out and buy reasonably priced wine – CataVinos Wine Shoppe
Forget about the big box wine stores. I went in there and the guy didn’t know a petite syrah from a pinot noir. Think intimate, think local, think value. Go for the wine by the bottle and stay for the tasting and cameraderie.

Best sweet potato fries – Monkey Burger / Williams Center
First the frites and now the fries. Oy! I’m a spud queen.This time non-greasy sweet potatoes fries arrive in a small pail. My friend and I thought, “We can’t possibly eat all those.” We did.

Best Mexican-Korean fare – Alibi Room / Los Angeles (Kogi )
It used to be when in LA, one must eat at Chasens or Spago. Now one must eat from a gourmet food truck on wheels. Honk! There’s many to chose from but the original Kogi started the craze. If you don’t want to stand in line at midnight with a bunch of club-hopping hipsters, go to the  Alibi Room and squeeze into the bar with a bunch of neighborhood hipsters. It’s all wildly wonderful Mexican-Korean fare at rock bottom prices.

leftover Kogi for breakfast

Best Cooking School – South Bay School of Cooking /L.A./Redondo Beach
The SBSOC just moved into newer digs in Redondo Beach and parking is no longer problematic. Rock around the kitchen with Chef Annette and get your paella fix on. Learn, laugh, and make a merry chiffonade.

Best farm fresh produce – Tucson CSA
The CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. You pay it forward and every week go pick up your share of Arizona-grown produce at the University Y. The food is picked at its peak. For us adventurous cooks, the element of surprise and experimentation with indigenous green onions, mountains of mustard greens, and purple top turnips — priceless.

Best drink – ginger mojito
I made this using Canton ginger liqueur, no simple syrup required. Here’s the recipe:  2 parts Canton to 1/2 part rum. Fill glass with ice and muddled mint. Squeeze lemon, add to glass. Add sparkling water to taste. The gift of ginger liqueur inspired a gingery lunch.

Best sandwich – Susie’s Cafe
First they take big slices of fresh rye bread (or the bread of your choice), adding  turkey, cheese, avocado, red onion and sprouts (hold the sprouts) and grill the whole thing to perfection. The sandwich which is suitable for sharing is served with a bag of chips + brownie. Susie’s Café is located next to Nadine’s Bakery at 4553 E. Broadway Blvd.

Most unusual food – gelato sandwich
You read that right. What’s not to like? Two of my favorite foods together in one mouthful at Viro’s Italian Bakery. Bread is the staff of life and so is gelato, at least in Italy. Much better than a knuckle sandwich. Capiche?

What are your favorite places?

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