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Best Formal Dining

Café Poca Cosa
88 E. Broadway Blvd.

READERS' PICK: You'd be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable, stylish archetype of Southwestern charm than the big Café Poca Cosa, nestled in the shadow of the Santa Rita Hotel in the heart of downtown. Inside, the saltillo floors have been sealed and polished, and each table setting recalls some feast day on an old Mexican hacienda. Food is served homestyle, with warm corn tortillas and two ample bowls of rice and pintos to pass around the table (enough to accompany each heaping, handcrafted individual entrée at your table). The service is congenial, the food above reproach, and both indoor and patio dining usually command a wait if you don't have a reservation. It's definitely worth it, though.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: La Parrilla Suiza, 2720 N. Oracle Road; 5602 E. Speedway Blvd.

CLUE IN: Tucson is so casual that tucking your shirt in when going out to dinner can constitute formal attire. Last year when the Mosaic Café, 2455 N. Silverbell Road, moved from its tiny strip mall location to its bright green hilltop location just up the road (ironically neighboring McDonald's), it also got classier. It still has its hugely loyal local following, built on the quality of food served there, and its far westside location bridging the gap between barrio and suburbia. Now meals there are an occasion, with more golf shirts and fewer T-shirts--even among the regulars who've been dining here since they first opened in 1981. Breakfasts are an unparalleled event: Come Sunday morning, a strolling guitar player serenades the ladies in Spanish, melodically lamenting some lost love. While we're on the subject, try the Oaxacan-style Huevos Divorceados, two eggs served separately--one in red chili sauce, one in green tomatillo--with a side of black beans. And don't forget the traditional breakfast menudo, satisfying in both the red and white versions.

CLUE IN: La Placita Café is tucked away in the far east corner of charming Plaza Palomino, at the intersection of Swan and Fort Lowell roads. With its variety of artisan specialty-shops, galleries, weekly outdoor market, and small businesses upstairs, this quiet, Mediterranean-style plaza exudes Old World charm. While other restaurants have come and gone in the plaza, La Placita has remained a solid presence; and there in the folds of her elegant, linen-clothed tables and airy, soft-lighted dining room, there's no mystery as to why. This little place has captured the heart of Mexico City. La Placita ranks among the least talked about but most highly regarded of upscale Mexican restaurants. Best of all, though, is that the prices here have remained moderate even as the restaurant's reputation soars. An intimate patio affords a glimpse of the nearby mountains if you prefer to dine al fresco.

Case History

1997 Winner: Café Poca Cosa

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