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Best New Restaurant

2920 N. Swan Road

READERS' PICK: A welcome addition to Tucson's food scene, Firecracker serves spicy, eclectic Asian-fusion cuisine in a chic and stylish atmosphere. Tree branches sprout from the carpeted floor in the spacious dining room, giving Firecracker a delightfully sylvan aura. But woodland sprites aren't the only ones who'll enjoy the variety of spicy--dare we say explosive?--options that grace the adventurous menu.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: For years, The Rumrunner, 3200 E. Speedway, has maintained a loyal following for its selection of fine wines and cheeses, and the sage advice of its knowledgeable staff. With such an established standard of excellence, expectations ran extremely high last fall for the new bistro that opened at the rear of the store. The Dish, which showcases all you've come to expect from the Rumrunner plus the culinary genius of Doug Levy at work in the kitchen, exceeds all anticipation. Bustling, casual and comfortably chic, with a menu bursting with good things to eat, the Dish has won our hearts as the place to go for special occasions; and our readers gave it a close second.

The food here is so singular it's hard to know where to begin. An appetizer of mussels--tender, hefty mollusks steamed in a heady broth of white wine, garlic and lemon; crusty slices of French bread served with the bistro's unique caramelized-onion and herb-flavored butter; and a simple house salad of exotic mixed greens with a subtle vinaigrette made absolutely spectacular by a handful of toasted, chile-encrusted pumpkin seeds are just the beginning. The standard menu of entrees includes a delicate anise-crusted pork loin and a rich, sun-dried tomato scampi; but never overlook the specials of the day. The service is excellent, the wine list bountiful (we'd expect no less) and the dining superb. The only thing wrong with The Dish is that with its intimate dining space, sometimes it's unavoidably one of those good things that comes to those who wait. (So call ahead for reservations.)

Case History

1998 Winner: Nonie Restaurant
1996 Winner: Cottonwood Café
1995 Winner: City Grill

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