• La Fonda del Sol, 1126 N. Scottsdale Rd., Tempe, AZ 85281; Tel. (480) 966-8001. La Fonda is a great restaurant if you're looking for Mexican food. The problem with posting this restaurant in the budget section is that many will instantly assume that the food is mediocre. The food is excellent, and the atmosphere is friendly; good pricing is an added benefit, not a factor.
• Guedo's Taco Shop, 71 E. Chandler Blvd., Chandler, AZ 85225; Tel. (480) 899-7841. Located in one of the eastern suburbs, Guedo's boasts a fanatical following... and for good reason. It's a simple formula -- superb soft tacos and Mexican beer, served in a hole-in-the-wall place with plenty of character. A salsa bar offers a choice of scratch-made and bottled sauces, ranging from mild to torrid. The cooks may sing Mexican ballads or pop songs while going about their work; your name will be called out when your order is ready. Some locals maintain that they have no interest in going to heaven if it doesn't include Guedo's.
• Pete's Fish and Chips, 22 S. Mesa Dr., Mesa, AZ 85210; Tel. (480) 964-7242. Eight other locations in the Phoenix Valley. Forget the tartar sauce -- "Pete's special sauce" is to die for. Family owned and operated since 1947. Only cash is accepted.
• Also look out for many 24-hour Mexican food places -- Filiberto's started here, with Raliberto's and other restaurants offering a burrito the size of your forearm for less than $4.00.
• Los Dos Molinos, 8646 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85042; Tel. (602) 243-9113. Sonoran-style dominates Phoenix-area Mexican cookery, but Los Dos celebrates the cuisine of the Rio Grande Valley -- which means lots of very hot chilies. This long-established and highly regarded restaurant is a must for all true chile-heads. Reservations not accepted.
• Matta's, 932 E. Main St., Mesa, AZ 85203; Tel. (480) 964-7881. The Mexican restaurant on the east side of town since 1953, hosted by the Matta family. Nice atmosphere with strolling mariachis in the evening.
• Phoenicia Cafe, 616 S. Forest Ave., Tempe, AZ 85281; Tel. (480) 967-8009. (From central Phoenix, take AZ 202 -- the Red Mountain Freeway -- east to the Scottsdale Road exit, make a right on Scottsdale Road, which becomes Rural Road once you cross the bridge. Make a right on University Ave., then a right on Forest Ave. The cafe will be on the left just past Sixth Street.) Hours vary by season: I recommend you call ahead and inquire. A delicious and inexpensive place to find Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. You can eat here for under 15 dollars per person, including beverages (non-alcoholic -- I don't think they have a liquor license, and the cafe is a locus of the Muslim community in Tempe), appetizers, dessert and tip. Relatively small, it is within walking distance of the Arizona State University main campus, so expect seating to be hard to find during the lunch rush while school is in session. I recommend the baba ghannouge (eggplant dip) appetizer and the baklava (which one of the owners makes from scratch) for dessert. It is hard to go wrong ordering here. There is also an attached small Middle Eastern grocery that has great prices, especially on spices, Middle Eastern/Mediterranean deli items, and bulk olive oil. Very good service and friendly atmosphere is to be found at both the restaurant and the grocery store. Like many places near large schools, they will operate with restricted hours in the summer months (June to September).
• Mastro's Steak House, 8852 E. Pinnacle Peak Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85255; Tel. (480) 585-9500, is actually located in north Scottsdale, but if you're willing to spend the money, you're probably willing to drive as well. Mastro's also has a restaurant in Beverly Hills, with a plethora of well-known visitors that frequent it. Call ahead, as you'll most likely need a reservation.
• Eddie V's Edgewater Grill, 20875 N. Pima Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85255; Tel. (480) 538-8468. Eddie V's is very close to Mastro's (about 10 minutes), meaning it's also in Scottsdale. The food is great, and Eddie's has something for everyone, in comparison to the meat-centricism of common steakhouses. (I recommend the Parmesan encrusted sol... mmmmm.) Call ahead for a reservation.