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Summertime--And The Dining Is Easy.

THE TEMPERATURE RISES, graduates don caps and gowns, and the rest of us indulge fantasies of high-altitude escape. In other words, the steamy breath of another sultry summer is panting down our tails and it's time to consider an oasis or two.

Although mass exodus is common enough this time of year, there are definite benefits for those of us who persevere through endless days of clear skies, 110-degree mercury readings and cataclysmic monsoon storms. Sure, the easing of the gridlock typically found on our city streets these days is a tremendous relief, but equally gratifying is the chance to schlep affordably into some of the best restaurants in town and dine like a lord.

Not every restaurant has finalized its plans for the summer, but what follows is at least a partial listing of some of the golden opportunities that will be available for your gastronomic and economic pleasure.

Janos and the J Bar (3770 E. Sunrise Road, 615-6100) kicked off a series of summer specials on May 15, with both venues offering mouthwatering deals. At high-end Janos, diners may dine Monday through Thursday on a featured three-course summer menu for $35 per person (a price that does not include tax, gratuity or drinks). Tasting menus will, of course, vary, but will always include an appetizer, main course and dessert.

Janos is also offering "10 Terrific Tastes," which includes 10 small dishes served in five separate courses. The goal is to make each dish a revelatory taste sensation and feature the talents of Chef Janos Wilder and his creative culinary staff. This extravaganza will set you back $45 per person.

Things will also be heating up at the adjacent J Bar, where the tables in demand will be the ones on the outdoor patio that showcase the approaching summer storms. Summer sampler menus will be featured here Monday through Thursday, which will include salad and your choice of three rotating main courses for only $12.95.

Anthony's in the Catalinas (6440 N. Campbell Ave., 299-1771) will also provide a bird's-eye view of summer monsoon activity amidst some of the plushest surroundings in town. A special prix fixe summer menu featuring three courses will be offered for $59.95 per couple. This price also does not include tax, tip or beverages.

For the past several years, Kingfisher Bar & Grill (2564 E. Grant Road, 323-7739) has taken desert-bound residents on a virtual road trip that features the regional specialties found throughout these United States. Kingfisher will be here in the Southwest from May 26 through June 7; meals from the Midwest are on the menu June 8 through June 28; the Pacific Northwest is featured June 29 through July 19; Down South is the theme July 20 through August 2; California and Hawaii are sampled August 3 through August 16; and it's Back East August 17 through September 3. The week following these tasty travels will be devoted to developing a "best of" menu comprised of the most requested dishes from each of the regional areas. Prices vary according to the ingredients used.

Café Terra Cotta (4310 N. Campbell Ave., 577-8100) will entice diners into St. Philip's Plaza to sample their Summer Sensations menu, which will feature an appetizer and main course entrée for around $15.95 a person. The theme of the seasonal sensation will be the innovative take on regional Southwest cuisine this restaurant is known for. The menu will include deep-fried green chile ravioli, smoked turkey quesadillas, rolled chicken tacos, pork tenderloin and mahi-mahi.

Also in St. Philip's Plaza, you'll find Daniel's Restaurant (4340 N. Campbell Ave., 742-3200), which once again offers us the opportunity to expand our culinary horizons with a tour of the Mediterranean, featuring stops in Greece, Italy and Spain. For those rooted in routine, the regular menu will also be offered.

Elle, A Wine Country Restaurant (3048 E. Broadway Blvd., 327-0500) will revive the popular Date Night on Tuesdays this summer, beginning in early June. For those unfamiliar with this marvelously economical way to pair up with your favorite dining companion, Date Night features a salad of mixed greens, a choice of entrees and a bottle of red, white or pink wine for the unbelievably low price of $29.95 a couple. What a deal.

Beginning May 30, The Dish (3200 E. Speedway Blvd., 326-1714) will switch to a new summer menu, featuring such mouthwatering delights as a vegetable torta layered lasagna-style with plenty of cheese and seasonal vegetables. If you believe in eating light during the summer months, you'll also want to take advantage of the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night bar special, which features a big steaming bowl of mussels, French bread with four-onion butter and a glass of selected beer or wine for $8.50. Even if you throw in a dessert, this still works out to an affordable extravagance.

The Tohono Chul Tea Room (7366 N. Paseo Del Norte, 797-1222) does not typically stay open once the sun goes down, but on at least a few occasions this summer, diners will have the chance to enjoy the grace of this lovely desert setting. On May 25, the cozy restaurant with the knockout patio will serve dinner to coincide with a "Park After Dark" presentation, and on June 8 a Tony Redhouse concert in the park will once again coax the owners into after-hours meals.

Lume Trattoria & Wine Bar (222. S. Church Ave., 884-9420) plans on making Saturday night the night to party with a few well-chosen festivities centered on entertainment as well as food. In June they'll be featuring a Hawaiian luau, complete with ukulele music, pineapple and plenty of poi. In July, the emphasis switches to salsa, and in August flame-throwers and sword-swallowers will suggest new and exciting culinary possibilities.

Many other restaurants are still fine-tuning summer plans, so if you don't see your favorite eatery here, give them a call to see if they're scheming to beat the heat by tantalizing your taste buds as well as your wallet. This is the perfect time to acquaint yourself with Tucson's diverse fine dining scene.

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