READERS' PICK: She may have a sister eatery in Scottsdale now, but we had Donna Nordin's Café Terra Cotta first. Located in St. Philip's Plaza (see page 41), adjacent a grassy plaza accented by a tranquil fountain and religious statuary, and flanked on either side by the Windmill Inn and Native American gallery owner Tom Bahti, this upscale café is a place for prime midday pampering. A leading force of contemporary Southwestern cuisine back before that was a household term in Hoboken (a dozen years ago, to be exact), Terra Cotta offers varied, tasty dishes at reasonable prices in a pleasant setting. Try a spinach salad with grilled jicama, with an ahi tuna tostada; or consider pizza with Guaymas shrimp, roasted garlic and chilies; or move up to the "signature" plates featuring stuffed prawns with herbed goat cheese; and a delicacy called Pork Tenderloin Adobado. Dessert favorites include chocolate mousse pie and an unparalleled crème brûlée.
Terra Cotta has a full bar, California wines available by the glass or bottle, and such specialties as the prickly pear margarita (the best lunch being the one after which you don't have to return to work, of course). Inside is a tastefully bright space in which painted wooden chairs dot the dining room against bright white walls; outside, giant market umbrellas offer a view of the plaza. Either lend themselves well to extended conversations about books, the Santa Fe season, and the hairstyles of local newscasters.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP -- TIE: Café Poca Cosa, 88 E. Broadway Blvd. We asked our friend Elvia Granillo, who works at the Downtown branch of the National Bank (and eats lunch all over the darn place) to give us her pick, and without hesitation, she sided with our readers on Café Poca Cosa (and also around the corner on Scott Avenue in a place too small to have an address, appropriately called "Little Café Poca Cosa"). Great daily specials, good Mexican food, and killer salsa. Plus, most of the stuff is just barely over a fiver, anyway.
Presidio Grill, 3352 E. Speedway Blvd., also does an enviable lunch trade, featuring an array of contemporary pastas, burgers and salads popular with the stylish cell-phone set. Their roasted garlic plate is nearly legendary.