75 Best Dishes in the Valley

Written by Niki D'Andrea Category: Food Reviews Issue: January 2016
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The most iconic. The most creative. The best specimen of a beloved breed.
These were our pillars as we embarked on a mission to celebrate the finest in Phoenix-area dish design.
Then we squeezed a few of the chefs for their recipes, so you can mimic their magic at home. Enjoy!

By Keridwen Cornelius, Niki D’Andrea, Jess Harter, Marilyn Hawkes, Wynter Holden, Leah LeMoine, M.V. Moorhead, Craig Outhier & Gwen Ashley Walters

Photos by Art Holeman; GRILLED OCTOPUS at Virtù

A crowd favorite at the now defunct Estate House, Chef Gio Osso’s savory tentacles have achieved even greater renown at his Old Town bistro, beating all comers to take our No. 1 spot. First, they seduce the eyes – the dish is plated like a Picasso masterpiece. Then, they delight the tongue with a remarkable duet of tenderness and flavor – Osso cooks the octopus in a pot using an old-school cork technique popular with Italian grannies, then grills the tentacles. The result is a lusciously soft mouthfeel with a woodsy char that soaks up the buttery richness of the accompanying sauce, made with chickpeas, herbs and Calabrian chile. Try it. You will be transformed into a cephalopodophile. (WH)
3701 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale, 480-946-3477, virtuscottsdale.com

2. BEEF BRISKET at Little Miss BBQ
A hunk of meat, a custom smoker and a man – together, these three modest integers are the sum of the Valley’s most insanely delicious plate of beef. Owner/operator Scott Holmes perfected his mettle by cranking out textbook-perfect Texas-style brisket at barbecue competitions across the Southwest – experience that allowed him to flawlessly scale his low-and-slow technique for the lines of eager customers that snake out of his South Phoenix restaurant on a daily basis. It starts with a balanced seasoning rub on a quality piece of brisket and ends with time and attention. Moist and smoky – but not too smoky – and crowned with a crusty, salty, peppery bark, it’s as good a brisket as you’ll find outside of Austin. Take it from a Texan. (GAW)
4301 E. University Dr., Tempe, 602-437-1177, littlemissbbq.com

Photo by David B. Moore; BEEF BRISKET at Little Miss  BBQ

“The Stetson Chopped Salad changed my life!” “I loved that chopped salad so much that I put it on my screensaver.” “I named my son Stetson Chopped-Salad!” OK, we made that last one up. Suffice to say this salad has groupies. Stripes of smoked salmon, arugula, pearl couscous, pepitas, dried corn, tomatoes and more are tossed tableside with pesto buttermilk dressing, creating an alchemy of tangy, salty, sweet and smoky. The brainchild of former Ciao chef Bernie Kantak – who serves identical versions at his current eateries, Citizen Public House and The Gladly – the Stetson is the Valley’s most visually iconic dish. And maybe its most beloved. (KC)
7133 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, 480-946-3111, cowboyciao.com

4. COCHINITA PIBIL at Barrio Cafe
Of Mayan origin, this ancient, slow-roasted pork is now a modern Valley classic thanks to Barrio matriarch Silvana Salcido Esparza. Cochinita pibil hails from Yucatán, where a whole marinated pig – offal and all – is wrapped in banana leaves and left to smolder for hours in a ground pit. Esparza simplifies the process with a familiar, flavorful cut – pork shoulder – while amplifying the ancestral flavors of achiote, citrus and garlic. (GAW)
2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-636-0240, barriocafe.com

Photo by David B. Moore; THE STETSON CHOPPED SALAD  at Cowboy Ciao

Most folks trek to Chris Bianco’s Town & Country outpost for his famous pies, overlooking the otherworldly pastas. Big mistake. It takes serious technique to produce the wide but thin, ruffle-edged pappardelle from Arizona wheat, and even more skill to cook them al dente. Bathed in a lusty, meaty tomato sauce – made with Arizona grass-fed beef – it’s the Valley’s premiere pasta dish. Little wonder Bianco is opening a dedicated pasta joint next door. (GAW)  
4743 N. 20th St., Phoenix, 602-368-3273, pizzeriabianco.com

The Welcome Diner braintrust delivers a twice-fried bird that’s audibly crunchy, with an ethereal golden skin and plump, flavorful flesh that stands up to the piquant gochujang (fermented red pepper paste) taste of their signature sauce. The tartness of master baker Casey Hopkins-Johnson’s strawberry Limoncello raised doughnut offsets the heat, with just enough natural sweetness to bring out the chicken’s hidden honey notes. It’s like a psychedelic version of a traditional Southern chicken and cornbread meal, and one of the Valley’s new hipster-era classics. (WH)
1535 E. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix, 602-258-1655, welcomechickenanddonuts.com

Photo by Blake Bonillas; TAKO & TOMATO at Nobuo

7. TAKO AND TOMATO at Nobuo at Teeter House
The brilliance of this dish is the combination of seemingly minimalist ingredients that, when banded together, explode on the tongue. Cold-water Japanese octopus, massaged with salt in the traditional manner, gets a quick dance on the grill. Paired with olive oil, a slice of ripe tomato, housemade mozzarella, a paper-thin slice of shallot and a single pink peppercorn, it is a spoonful of splendor. Also garnering a fair amount of best-dish love for chef Nobuo Fakuda: his signature grapefruit and hamachi. (GAW)
622 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-254-0600, nobuofukuda.com

8. “DRAGON” DUMPLING BURGER at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
Is it a burger? A dumpling? A pot sticker? The “Dragon” at B&T is all three, a trinity of terrific textures and tastes. A plump, perfectly seasoned beef and pork patty enlivened with Asian spices sits with Sichuan pickles on a firm and springy English muffin, topped with jalapeño mayo, white cheese and dumpling sauce. The genre-bending ramen burger at B&T gets a lot of love – and deservedly so – but chef Bob Tam managed to outdo himself with this one. Consummate. (ND)
1 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, 602-340-1924, bitterandtwistedaz.com

Photo by David B. Moore; LAVENDER-BASIL-CORN TRIO at Sweet Republic

First, Helen Yung and Jan Wichayanuparp wowed us with basil-lime sorbet, so bracingly refreshing it brings instant enlightenment. Then they courted us with sensuous, cologne-scented lavender honey ice cream (our favorite). Then they seduced with sweet corn ice cream, studded with local kernels. Scoop them side by side and you have sunny, optimistic summer in a cup. (KC)
Locations in Scottsdale and Phoenix, sweetrepublic.com

10. PORCHETTA SANDWICH at Phoenix Public Market
If you’re a pork-ophile, earthly happiness is no further away than a gob stuffed with chef-owner Aaron Chamberlin’s spicy, juicy, fabulously fatty porchetta. Chamberlin only offers the dish on Fridays and Saturdays, and for good reason: It’s a labor-intensive dish that traditionally calls for the deboning of a whole pig, which is then layered with garlic and herbs and the like, rolled into a loaf and finally spit-roasted until you have something like a pork pinwheel, suitable for slicing. Chamberlin puts a Southwest spin on his version, layering red chiles into the meat, which he serves on fresh MJ ciabatta with local arugula and a rich, dripping lemon aioli. If you’re not salivating by now, frankly, you’re not human. (CO)
14 E. Pierce St., Phoenix, 602-253-2700, phxpublicmarket.com

Photo by Art Holeman; PORCHETTA SANDWICH at Phoenix Public Market

11. BRUSCHETTA at Postino
An evening of bruschetta and agreeably-priced wine at Postino is so quintessentially “Phoenix.” But don’t choose from the 12 bruschetta toppings on a whim; like a safe stuffed with the riches of Croesus, only a specific four-topping combination will do the trick. Get the warm artichoke spread; the sweet and savory fig and prosciutto with mascarpone; the silky ricotta with dates and crunchy pistachios; and hearty white bean and chopped tomato. This quartet is a classic unto itself. (MH)
Three Valley locations, postinowinecafe.com

12. NONNI’S SUNDAY CHICKEN at Rancho Pinot Grill
Eating Nonni’s Sunday Chicken is akin to dining at your grandmother’s house for Sunday supper and then sinking into a plush quilt-covered couch for an afternoon of football. The succulent braised chicken thighs kissed with white wine and fragrant herbs, earthy mushrooms and mild onions fall off the bone with no persuasion. Paired with crispy polenta cakes, the hearty chicken thighs are pure soul-sustaining comfort on a plate. (MH)
6208 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-367-8030, ranchopinot.com

13. PORK BELLY PASTRAMI at Citizen Public House
It’s a good thing Bernie Kantak’s other signature dish (see No. 3) is an appetizer, not an entrée. Warm pork belly, pickled and smoked, sits atop rye-scented spaetzle, surrounded by a sweet-and-sour slaw of shaved Brussels sprouts. The whole shebang is tied together with a luscious, whole grain mustard cream sauce. Fortunately it’s only a few blissful bites; otherwise, cardiac arrest might ensue – but what a way to go. This was one of the first pork belly dishes to grace the local dining scene, and it’s still the best. (GAW)
7111 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale, 480-398-4208, citizenpublichouse.com

14. SMOKED PORK GUMBO at Gertrude’s
Matt Taylor’s brawny bowl of gumbo pays homage to the little-known German influence on Creole cuisine. Taylor ditches city-style white rice in favor of a rustic scoop of chunky, mustardy potato salad, adding a tangy counterpoint to the smoky, sultry broth. Swimming with andouille and bits of ham from smoked hocks, and spiced with smoked paprika and red chili powder, this country-style gumbo tickles the throat and fills the belly. (GAW)
201 N. Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, 480-719-8600, gertrudesrestaurant.net

Photo by Mirelle inglefield; Smoked Pork Gumbo


15. ELEPHANT CURRY BOWL at Pomegranate Café
No elephants were harmed in the making of this carne-free carnival of flavors. In fact, $1 of the proceeds from each bowl goes to Wildlife SOS, a rescue and conservation charity. The name is a nod to the Indian influences – coconut and curry – in this world-tour toss of vegetables and vegan protein whistlestopping in Argentina and Mexico for chimichurri and pico de gallo. (KC)
4025 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix, 480-706-7472, pomegranatecafe.com



Photo by David B. Moore; ELEPHANT CURRY BOWL at Pomegranate Café




16. GUAVA AND CHEESE EMPANADA at República Empanada
Any of República’s pan-Latin pastry pockets could have made this list, from the savory Boricua with arroz con gandules to the gooey Nutella and banana. The one that continues to tickle our taste buds and incite our cravings is the guava and cheese, a mesmerizing mix of sweet and tangy guava preserves balanced by mild and gooey mozzarella, enrobed in flaky homemade pastry. (LL)
204 E. First Ave., Mesa,
480-969-1343, republicaempanada.com

Owner/impresario Pavle Milic pronounces it “mon-TUH.” We tend to pronounce it “oh my gawwwd.” The current star of chef Charleen Badman’s always-bewitching menu, these scrumptious Turkish dumplings are stuffed with spicy braised lamb and dressed with cilantro and mint in a cooling pool of yogurt and urfa butter. The net sensual effect is something akin to a Vietnamese cha gio eggroll plate, with savory pastry playing nice with cool, aromatic greens. Then Badman adds the yogurt and it’s, like, mercy. (CO)
7125 E. 5th Ave., Ste. 31, 480-284-4777, fnbrestaurant.com

They call it a “special” even though the darn thing hasn’t left the chalkboard for 20 years. Maybe the Chavez family doesn’t want to pony up for new menus, or maybe it’s because the dish – radically tender pork shoulder in a bewitching plasma of melted Monterey Jack, garlic and green chile – deserves its cloistered status among Los Dos’ many time-tested menu staples. Sure, the adovada ribs are  spectacular. The relleno is one of the best in the Valley. But you don’t disappear into them like the pork roast. It’s black-out-good comfort food. (CO)
Five Valley locations. losdosmolinosphoenix.com

19. LAMB ADOBO at Los Sombreros
Sadly, chef/owner Azucena Tovar’s expansion into North Scottsdale didn’t stick, but her longtime SoSco location? Still going strong, and still serving this miracle of dark-toned Mexican flavor. Afforded a bloody, leatherish tint by dried ancho chiles, cinnamon, cumin and other brooding goodies from the Sombreros pantry, the adobo is roux-smooth yet bold and manly enough to tame the willful game aromas of a perfectly-cooked lamb leg. It’s a top five in both the “Mexican” and “lamb” categories, for sure. (CO)
2534 N. Scottsdale Rd., 480-994-1799, lossombreros.com

20. DUCK TAMALE at Vincent’s on Camelback
Vincent Guerithault introduced Phoenicians to something revolutionary in 1986. Few of us had ever heard of fusing Southwestern ingredients with French techniques. Almost 30 years later, his cuisine still turns heads. Topping the list of Vincent’s must-trys are the duck tamales. Duck confit, studded with raisins and green chile, is wrapped in masa and steamed. Draped in a cilantro beurre blanc, humble street food metamorphosizes into haute cuisine. (GAW)
3930 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-224-0225, vincentsoncamelback.com


Photos by David B. Moore; CHICKEN SCHNITZEL CORDON BLEU  at Beaver Choice

Restaurateur Hanna Gabrielsson’s choice of restaurant name may be questionable to American diners, but her crisp, thin-pounded cutlets are beyond reproach. Stuffed with triple crème brie and salty Black Forest ham, Beaver Choice’s schnitzel is a more rustic version of traditional French cordon bleu. The accompanying mushroom sauce is so silky and earthy that one could imagine Gabrielsson foraging for ingredients beneath moss-covered oaks. (WH)
745 W. Baseline Rd., Mesa, 480-921-3137, beaverchoice.com

Made by preparing carnaroli rice in a base of white wine, veggie stock, heavy cream and squid ink with hints of onion and garlic, Chef Cullen Campbell’s delicate risotto marries land and sea. Tuna conserva highlights the natural brininess of the ink, giving the dish a fresh, ocean-y flavor that stands in deliciously stark contrast with the rich cream. Housemade pickled Fresno chiles are piled on top for an unexpected vinegary bite. (WH)
3603 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-358-8666, crudoaz.com

23. ROASTED SEA BREAM at T. Cook’s
Perhaps the “newest” dish on our list, this salty little number debuted last September with the rest of Todd Allison’s revamped Modern Mediterranean menu and immediately established itself as the alpha. Trout-like in taste and texture, the bream is roasted skin-and-all to crispy perfection, then laid over a decadent, eye-pleasing orgy of kalamata olives, shaved fennel, pickled garlic and bacon. Yeah, bacon. Because you should die happy. (CO)
5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-808-0766, tcooksphoenix.com

Photos by David B. Moore; ATL-STYLE DRY RUB WINGS at ATL Wings

These two family-run storefront shops offer chicken wings in 18 flavors, but it was the most basic – once known simply as “seasoned” – that earned signature status at ATL, which stands for “All the Love.’’ Owner Mike Kirksey keeps the dry-rub recipe a secret, revealing only that it has “a lot more than 10’’ ingredients. He’s equally mum on the wings’ preparation, teasing, ‘‘It’s unique.’’ Whatever the formula, we’re comfortable declaring them the best wings in the Valley. (JH)
Locations in Phoenix and Chandler, atlwings.com

25. POTATO GNOCCHI WITH CASTELMAGNO at Andreoli Italian Grocer
Giovanni Scorzo’s handmade pastas are ethereal. One such endorphin-inducing dish is from Northern Italy – cloud-light potato gnocchi draped in ivory Castelmagno, a Piedmont formaggio with protected designation of origin (DOP), which develops a mild, tangy blue cheese taste as it ages. Topped with roasted hazelnuts, this plush wintertime wonder transcends mere marinara dishes with its angelic simplicity. (GAW)
8880 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, 480-614-1980, andreoli-grocer.com

26. BISCUITS AND GRAVY at Vovomeena
Everyone goes nuts for Vovomeena’s B.M.O.C. and French toast, and for good reason – both pack a powerful breakfast/brunch punch. With all due respect to those stalwart dishes, we propose a dark horse: biscuits and gravy. Vovomeena’s version does the Southern staple proud, with two fluffy, golden buttermilk biscuits surrounded by a moat of creamy, peppery, perfectly seasoned white gravy with bountiful hunks of sausage. (LL)
1515 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-252-2541, vovomeena.com

Photo by Mirelle inglefield; CRISPY FROG LEGS at Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend

27. CRISPY FROG LEGS at Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend
Commonly dismissed as scrawny gourmet gewgaws, frog legs enjoy a glorious rehabilitation in the hands of restaurateur Sam Fox. For starters, they’re meaty – leg day at the aqua-gym was clearly a big deal for the amphibians who surrendered them. Slathered in a tangy glaze of fish sauce and Thai chili paste and fried until golden-crisp, they’re also deliriously tasty – as snackable as chicken wings and as flavorful as Kung Pao. A sprinkling of cashews adds nuttiness to ground the appetizer’s pungent flavors. (WH)
5632 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-680-4044, foxrc.com

28. ROSA PIZZA at Pizzeria Bianco
Something strange happens when you order this plain-Jane pie. First you’re seduced by the aphrodisiac aroma of Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary and red onions. Then your friends eye you enviously from behind their saucy, sausage-y pizzas and shamelessly steal your slices. Finally, you all succumb to the salty-nutty flavors – Arizona pistachios, aged cheese, blistered crust – swirling in a slick of oil and clipped with a sip of red wine. (KC)
Three Phoenix locations, pizzeriabianco.com

29. TUNA SMORGAS at Noble Eatery
Imported canned tuna from Italy is the one constant of this splendid open-faced sandwich served at PHOENIX magazine’s 2015 Best New Restaurant of the Year. There is a grain – could be farro, kamut or spelt; and there is a bean – could be Anasazi, cannellini or black. Then a splash of vinegar and a healthy pinch of Old World pepper, maybe controne from Salerno, or one of two Turkish breeds:  Aleppo or Urfa. Sometimes there are fingerling potatoes in the mix, sometimes not. Always, there is a slab of fabulous Noble bread underneath. (GAW)
2201 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-688-2424, nobleeatery.com

Photos by David B. Moore; RAVIOLO at EVO

The phrase “better than sex” is bandied about a lot in food writing, but this deconstructed carbonara truly delivers on that sensual boast. Chef Peter DeRuvo’s single pouch of handmade pasta embraces a filling of truffled ricotta, farm egg, bacon and parmesan, all drenched in a silky brown butter sauce that marries beautifully with the egg when the server “pops” your raviolo for you. All that’s missing is a postprandial cigarette. (LL)
4175 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-265-9814, evoscottsdale.com

31. SLOPPY JOE at Bink’s Midtown
Unlike Chef Kevin Binkley’s tidy, coin-size mini Joes, this hot mess wants to leap into your lap with every bite, so unless you’re Gaga for meat dresses, fork it. The onion roll stands up to the thick tomato sauce, spicy pickles and smoky crumbled beef without turning into pink dough, but the bulge of this sandwich still demands your utensils. (ND)
2320 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix, 602-388-4874, binkleysrestaurantgroup.com

Photo by David B. Moore; SLOPPY JOE at Bink’s Midtown

32. KASSLER KOTELETT at Haus Murphy’s
A pair of pork chops get all steamy and smoky on a bed of sauerkraut in this Bavarian specialty dish. The flavor of the oh-so-tender meat is pretty hammy, but sans the super-saltiness of most kassler cuts. A side of German fried potatoes rounds out this hearty party on a plate. It’s the Valley’s best specimen of German cuisine. (ND)
5739 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-939-2480, hausmurphys.com

33. POSOLE at Los Taquitos
Big, tender, winsome chunks of pork shoulder. That’s the thing we love most about the fragrant hominy stew at this North Phoenix taqueria – we go looking for them with our spoon as if reaching for a lover in the fog. The broth is great, too: chile-red and rib-stickingly rich. Brighten it all up with a smidgen of cabbage and cilantro, and you have some of the Valley’s best Mexican comfort food. (MVM)
Locations in North Phoenix and Ahwatukee, ltgrill.com

34. FEGATO ALLA VENEZIANA at Veneto Trattoria
By tradition an unenthusiastically-received childhood dinner or a prescription for anemia, liver and onions needn’t be so unglamorous. This mouthwatering piece of organ meat served in a Venetian-style sauce, with onions beautifully browned into submission and a side of polenta, will feed your stomach, your blood and, like pretty much everything else on Veneto Trattoria’s menu, your soul. (MVM)
6137 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-948-9928. venetotrattoria.com

A favorite of Uptown Phoenix lunchers for two decades, these plump, juicy, tangy-hot shellfish would seem more at home on a Thai menu. Butterflied and deep-fried in a light batter, the cudgel-size prawns are doused in a nuanced chile sauce that hits a lot of unexpected high notes: ample sweetness, carrot, garlic, scallions and a citrusy something that could easily be lemongrass. In other words: It’s hardly the drab, one-note, Americanized sauce you’ve probably suffered on multiple occasions at inferior Chinese restaurants. It might not even be authentically Sichuan. But it’s damn good. (CO)
302 E. Flower St., Phoenix, 602-266-4463, chinachilirestaurant.com

36. MACHACA BURRO at Carolina’s Mexican Food
We feel sorry for the high-falutin’ folks who can’t get past the paper plates and plastic utensils. Delicious Sonoran-style vittles, dirt-cheap and made-from-scratch, have made Carolina’s a Valley institution for nearly 50 years. Everyone seems to have his or her own favorite on the huge menu, but for our money – all $3.95 of it – the machaca burro wrapped in a housemade tortilla tops the list. You will never find shredded beef more tender and moist. It is, by our estimation, fine dining. (JH)
Three Valley locations, carolinasmexicanfood.com

Photo by David B. Moore; MUSHROOM SOUP at Christopher’s Crush

37. MUSHROOM SOUP at Christopher’s Crush
That ring around the slanted bowl isn’t dirt – it’s mushroom powder, which gives Christopher Gross’ signature soup an extra dose of fungi fuel. Silky duck broth infused with sweet port wine reduction is poured into the bowl tableside, over chunks of braised portobello and a seared but rare slab of Hudson Valley foie gras. Served with a crusty baguette and soft butter, it begs for a glass of Burgundy, something in rich supply at this French-inspired bistro. (GAW)
2502 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-522-2344, christophersaz.com

38. DELMONICO at Durant’s
Something magical happens when a charred, bone-in New York Strip is paired with an old-school gin martini in 65-year-old, bordello-esque digs. It’s not the best steak in town – it might not even be a true Delmonico, as some argue the eponymous 1800s New York restaurant that coined the name served a rib-eye, not a strip. No matter. It’s well-seasoned, it’s beefy and chewy, and the ambiance pays on the plate, in this case. It’s an unimpeachable Valley classic. (GAW)
2611 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-264-5967, durantsaz.com

Photo by David B. Moore; DELMONICO at Durant’s

39. ÉTOUFFÉE at Flavors of Louisiana
This Louisiana classic originated in the bayous of Cajun country but has enjoyed crossover success in French Creole restaurants like Galatoire’s in New Orleans. “Étouffée,” en français, means “smothered,” and FOL smothers fresh, sweet crawfish and shrimp in a rich onion and garlic sauce and serves it over steaming white rice. It’s the Pelican State on a plate. (LL)
13025 W. Rancho Santa Fe Blvd., Avondale,
623-935-2357, flavorsoflouisianacajun.com

Carlo Ventura, a 60-something Italian, formed an unlikely business partnership with a 20-something Frenchwoman to open a Chandler deli, but his cooking is strictly old-school. That means pork sausage links he makes twice a week, and soft bread he bakes daily. He tops the sandwich with tri-color peppers, onions and tomatoes sautéed in olive oil. You’ll never eat at Subway again. (JH)
2040 S. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-786-4019, gourmetdelichandler.com

Photo by Mirelle inglefield, SONORAN WHITE WHEAT SALAD  at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company

41. SONORAN WHITE WHEAT SALAD at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company
Whether in the brewhouse or kitchen, locally sourced ingredients are the focus at Arizona Wilderness. And what’s more local than heritage Sonoran wheat that traces its ancestry back to the days of Spanish missionaries? Wheat berries not only taste great (sweet, nutty and chewy); they’re also more nutritious than quinoa, and dressed with seasonal veggies, fresh cracked pepper, avocado and lemon balsamic vinegar, they make for one of the Valley’s premier salads. The wheat also is used in several of the award-winning Gilbert brewery’s ales. (JH)
721 N. Arizona Ave., Gilbert, 480-284-9863, azwbeer.com

42. POTATO PANCAKES at Perk Eatery
These aren’t your bubbe’s latkes. While traditional Jewish potato cakes are small and crisp, Pauline and Carmen Martinez’s potato pancakes are huge, thin and pliant, with crispy bits just around the edges. The secret family recipe comes from Pauline’s folks in Michigan, but we’ve identified at least one ingredient besides tubers: shredded carrot, which gives the cakes an addictive sweetness. Sour cream or apple sauce for an accompaniment? Get both and enjoy the sweet-tangy-savory foxtrot of flavors. (LL)
6501 E. Greenway Pkwy., Scottsdale,
480-998-6026, perkeatery.com

43. SHRIMP CEVICHE at Escobar Mexican Kitchen
Escobar’s version of this Mexican beach-shack standard incorporates avocado and Spanish queen olives alongside salsa veggies and shrimp cooked in lime juice, with the components served in a salty sea of fresh tomato juice. Though simple, it’s a light and fresh starter that evokes memories of seaside vacations. Owner Obdulia Guadalupe Coffey won’t reveal the dish’s secret ingredient, but the mystery only leaves us wanting more. (WH)
1219 E. Glendale Ave., Phoenix, 602-296-4432

We’ve feasted on many superlative French toasts – mascarpone-stuffed, wine-drenched, etc. – but Chef Patrick Karvis’ decadent interpretation reigns supreme for its flawless marriage of breakfast and dessert classics. Two thick slices of challah are crisped, yet remain spongy enough to soak up a vanilla bean custard that Karvis torches to create a crackly, caramelized crust that he crowns with fresh berries and a dusting of cinnamon. (LL)
6137 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale,
480-656-0012, taphousekitchen.com

Photos by David B. Moore; POTATO PANCAKES  at Perk Eatery

45. VEGGIE PATTIES at Eden’s Grill
Brimming with bits of cauliflower, shredded potatoes, chunks of red and green bell pepper, onions, garlic, parsley and Middle Eastern spices, these addictive crusty cakes fried to a golden brown in extra-virgin olive oil have the potential to transform any hardened carnivore into a vegetarian. The crunchy rounds are best eaten with the complementary creamy yogurt and cucumber dip spiked with garlic and a hint of dill. (MH)
13843 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix,
602-996-5149, edensgrill.com

46. CRISPY CHICKPEAS at The Tavern
This tiny side dish sequestered in a corner of Mark Tarbell’s menu will occupy an oversized portion of your gustatory memory. Showered with lemon juice and a snowdrift of parmesan, the skillet-fried chickpeas are so crispy you can hear them rustle against each other as you spoon them up, then feel them crinkle like phyllo in your mouth. (KC)
3209 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-955-9463, tarbellstavern.com

47. WOOD-GRILLED ARTICHOKE at Central Bistro
Artichokes often play hard to get, putting us through maximum effort for minimal reward. Not so with this threesome of tender-hearted halves. Licked with butter, scorched on an oak and pecan wood grill, and suffused with smoke and char, the fleshy leaves are easy to undress and dip in creamy citrus-oregano aioli. You’ll be left messy, but satisfied. (KC)
3160 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 480-646-8560, centralbistroaz.com

48. FRIED GREEN TOMATOES at Southern Rail
It’s a no-frills Southern staple, but one executed with serious gusto. Chef Justin Beckett starts with four meaty tomato medallions entombed in cornmeal batter and then fried. The result: tart, firm, juicy tomato meat on the inside and a golden brown crust on the outside. Beckett’s inspired twist: The succulent orbs rest on a heap of spicy pimento cheese spread custom-made for slathering. (MH)
300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-200-0085, southernrailaz.com


The knock on tenderloin as a butcher’s cut: applaudably tender, but often flavorless. Few would voice that objection about buffalo tenderloin, on the other hand – particularly the one served at the celebrated AAA Five Diamond Kai. In keeping with Kai’s ethos of desert-sourced fare, the breathtaking lobe is served atop a smoked corn purée with cholla buds with a drizzle of squash blossom syrup, but it’s the meat itself that’s the real star. It’s tender as all hell, but with the beefy mineral zing of a hanger or skirt steak. It’s a gift. (CO)
5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler, 602-385-5726, wildhorsepassresort.com  

50. PULLED PORK SANDWICH at Hillside Spot
The smell of pork roasting on a mesquite rotisserie is a daily torment for many Ahwatukee commuters – an olfactory siren song gloriously fulfilled inside this unassuming streetside diner. Toasted La Sonorense telera bread cradles lashings of locally raised pulled pork crowned with a tangy tangle of apple-filled and kale-frilled coleslaw. The Valley boasts some superlative pulled pork – Little Miss BBQ, Joe’s BBQ and Bootleggers, to name a few – but this one takes the blue ribbon. (KC)
4740 E. Warner Rd., Phoenix, 480-705-7768, hillsidespot.com

51. IKANO MARIYAKI SHOGAZOE at Hana Japanese Eatery
Known for their creative sourcing (monkfish liver, anyone?) and superb treatments of familiar classics (the Yakibuta ramen is insaaaaane), Lori Hashimoto and co. run one of the Valley’s most addictive culinary playgrounds. Our favorite ride: the charbroiled squid, or ika. Simply prepared, the squid is sectioned and scorched on a charcoal grill, imparting beautifully basic flavors: smoke and caramel and just a hint of the sea. Pro tip: It pairs spectacularly with a light Pinot Noir. Hana is BYOB, so take heed. (CO)
5524 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-973-1238, hanajapaneseeatery.com

52. CARNE ADOVADA at Richardson’s Cuisine of New Mexico
New Mexico’s most famous export is the Hatch green chile, but its most prized gift to culinarians is carne adovada. Richardson’s version – also available at sister restaurants Rokerij and Dick’s Hideaway – is humble and hearty. Wood-smoked pork roast is simmered for hours in garlicky red chile sauce until it’s bold and spicy. Served with buttery rice, whole pintos and a flour tortilla, it’s one in a field of Richardson’s favorites to which the restaurant’s many fans swear undying loyalty: the green chile stew, the meatloaf, the Chimayo chicken... take your pick. (GAW)
6335 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-265-5886, richardsonsnm.com

Photos by David B. Moore; ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS at The Gladly

A bitter Belgian, a humble Southerner, a snooty Frenchman and a salty Italian walk onto a plate, and somehow get along like a house on fire. That’s essentially what’s happening with this unexpectedly delectable dish. Embrowned Brussels sprouts umami-fied by Pecorino Romano and ooh-la-la-ed with truffle oil get comfy on corn grits so creamy they don’t deserve the word grit.  (KC)
2201 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-759-8132, thegladly.com

How do you sexy-up broccoli? Watch and learn. Chef Charleen Badman – a veritable vegetable wizard, it must be said – blanches and grills the broccoli for a nifty one-two sensual punch of char and tenderness, then dribbles tangerine aoili over the vegetable for a welcome dose of mouth-filling umami. She finishes the dish with an ingenious sprinkling of pisachios, creating one of those attainable culinary bombshells that you immediately want to try making at home. (CO)
7125 E. Fifth Ave., Ste. 31, Scottsdale, 480-284-4777, fnbrestaurant.com

55. LOMO SALTADO at El Chullo
Unofficially regarded as the Peruvian national dish, lomo saltado is the unlikely love child of Asian stir-fry and poutine. El Chullo’s tangy take features succulent beef strips smothered in a soy-based gravy, studded with red onion and served atop hand-cut shoestring fries. The zesty sauce has a distinct vinegar tinge that keeps it from feeling heavy – making it a perfect partner for the accompanying pyramid of plain white rice. (WH)
2605 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-279-8425, elchullorestaurant.com

56. BÁNH XEO at Pho Avina
Technique sets this bánh – a rice crêpe stuffed with seasoned bean sprouts and chunks of pork and shrimp – apart from other Vietnamese shops in town. It takes 20 minutes to prepare, but it’s worth the wait to get that well-browned exterior with a lacy-thin, delicately crisp edge. Here’s how to eat it: Cut a piece and place it in a leaf of lettuce. Top with pickled vegetables, fresh herbs and a spoonful of sweetened fish sauce. (GAW)
4920 W. Thunderbird Rd., Glendale, 602-439-2547, phoavina.com

Photo by Art Holeman; CHARLEEN BADMAN  with  FnB Grilled Broccoli

57. INGO’S CHEESEBURGER at Ingo’s Tasty Food
“What’s the Valley’s best burger?” We presented that question to the nine PM writers who contributed to this list, and their consensus favorite is the distinctly brilliant house burger at Ingo’s. Made with flavor-packed Strauss Family grass-fed beef, it foregoes the usual haute-burger bells and whistles – no lobe of foie gras, for instance, or sprinkling of truffled bonito flakes – in favor of basic but first-rate supporting players. Blanketed with Black Creek cheddar, topped with shredded lettuce, a slab of ripe tomato and dill pickle, and served with mayonnaise on a grilled poppy seed bun, the meat is afforded star status here. You’ll know what the fuss is about when your tongue gets its close-up. Masterful flavor design. (MH)
4502 N. 40th St., Phoenix, 602-795-2884, ingostastyfood.com

58. CHILE CON CARNE at Si Señor
Not to be confused with the tomato-fortified “chili” con carne popular down Texas way, this spicy stunner comes to us via New Mexico, where Hatch Valley chiles are sacrosanct. Founder Martin Castillo takes his Hatches seriously. For 14 years, Castillo has regularly commuted from the Land of Enchantment to deliver the chiles used to vivify the Chandler restaurant’s endorphin-triggering chile dish, served either red or green in the New Mexican tradition, aswim with tender morsels of slow-cooked pork. (JH)
600 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-857-1217, sisenorrestaurants.com

59. COSOMME DE POLLO at La Parilla Suiza
Not many dishes rank higher on the “comfort food” list than chicken soup, and outside of, maybe, your mother’s, you won’t find a better bowl of it in the Valley than the one at La Parilla Suiza. A simple combo of bird with rice, carrots and celery in a peerless broth with a twist of lime, it’s great whether you’re sick or right as rain. (MVM)
3508 W. Peoria Ave., Phoenix, 602-978-8334, laparillasuiza.com

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield; MOLE NEGRO at Otro

60. MOLE NEGRO at Otro
Most Mexican restaurants use prepared mole paste instead of making their own. Not so at Otro, and you can taste the difference. The 22-ingredient sauce is labor-intensive, beginning with the toasting of five different dried chiles, but ultimately yields a rich, ebony elixir so complex it can stop all table conversation. Chef/owner Doug Robson drapes the husky sauce over half a mesquite-grilled, Two Wash Ranch chicken and serves it with fried rice. (GAW)
6035 N. Seventh St., Phoenix,
602-266-0831, otrocafe.com

61. VEAL CHOP at Dominick’s Steakhouse
You’d think an aged steak would steal the show at this flashy beef shrine, but it does not. Instead, a simply prepared – gently seasoned and broiled – thick slab of a bone-in veal chop manages to shove rib-eye steaks and New York strips to the sideline. Tender enough to cut with a butter knife and estimably juicy, it dances in your memory long after the evening is over. (GAW)
15169 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-272-7271, dominickssteakhouse.com

62. PATTY MELT at Nocawich
Leave it to Eliot Wexler to take a greasy spoon staple and turn it into a sandwich masterpiece. The beef is Snake River Farms American Kobe. Instead of cheddar or Swiss, Wexler subs in a nutty French cheese called Comté, which melts beautifully. Caramelized onions are rendered low and slow. Marbled rye bread is slathered in butter and griddled. But the pièce de résistance is a throaty, red wine Bordelaise sauce. Boom! (GAW)
777 S. College Ave., Tempe, 480-758-5322, nocawich.com

63. CHEESE CHILE RELLENO at La Casa de Juana
We like to think of Arizona as the world’s premier non-Mexican destination for Mexican cuisine. For a newish place like Juana’s to offer a cheese-stuffed poblano of such esteem – light and garden-fresh, topped with red or green chile sauce – is a triumph. Listen, we know our rellenos, and this one is the Valley’s best, hands down. Enjoy it as part of a “fiesta platter” with other goodies from the menu for a magnífico meal. (MVM)
1805 E. Elliot Rd, Tempe, 480-820-0837, juanashouse.com

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield, HUMMUS AND ROASTED VEGETABLES  at Eddie’s House

64. BETTY’S BOOB at Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles
It’s just a chicken breast and a waffle, but when it’s from the kitchen at Lo-Lo’s, it’s never “just” anything – except amazing. The perfectly secret-seasoned, crunchy chicken skin plays well with the crispy waffle, and the savory-sweet tango of the juicy chicken breast and cloying maple syrup are steps in the proverbial “happy tummy dance.” (ND)
Multiple locations, loloschickenandwaffles.com

65. BIG JIM at Welcome Diner
Clearly the real “Big Jim” isn’t concerned about cholesterol, because his namesake dish at the Downtown micro-diner features fried chicken piled with artery-clogging bacon, cheddar and thick white gravy on a from-scratch biscuit. It’s a dish any Southern matron would welcome in her recipe box. The meat is moist and subtly brined, with a pepper-spiked buttermilk crust, and the decadent gravy is so homey that calories become a distant afterthought. (WH)
924 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 602-495-1111, welcomediner.net

Dyed-in-the-wool hummus fans agree that Eddie Matney delivers the Valley’s finest iteration of the popular chickpea dish. Loaded with garlic and snippets of mint, Matney’s thick and buttery hummus has the consistency of a rich nut butter. Spread on triangles of pita, slathered on juicy grilled yellow squash and red pepper strips or devoured by the spoonful, this tour de force of pulverized peas is the chef’s love letter to his Lebanese roots. (MH)
7042 E. Indian School Road Rd., Scottsdale, 480-946-1622, eddieshouseaz.com

Photos by David B. Moore; PANANG BEEF  at Nunthaporn’s Thai Cuisine

67. PANANG BEEF at Nunthaporn’s Thai Cuisine
You can find panang curry and its distinct crimson hue in literally every one of the Valley’s umpteen Thai restaurants, but Nunthaporn’s gets our vote for the best, exemplifying Leonardo Da Vinci’s dictum that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Served in a plain white dish, it looks basic – just beef strips and kaffir lime curls in a pool of sauce. Dig in and the panang’s initial saccharinity gives way to fragrant galangal and cumin, ending with a fiery chili burn that sneaks up on the palate. It’s a culinary compulsory routine performed to perfection. (WH)
7 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-649-6140, nunthapornthai.com

68. REGINA MARGHERITA at Pomo Pizzeria
Legend has it, the classic Margherita pizza – tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, representing the Italian tricolor – is named after Princess Margherita of Savoy. All Pomo pies radiate royal lineage, but the simple Margherita is a classic example of why ingredients matter. A blistered, chewy crust, tomato sauce with tang, milky mozzarella and fresh, torn basil, a bit blistered from the heat, prove Pomo is king of the Valley’s thriving Neapolitan pizza scene. (GAW)
8977 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-998-1366,
(and other locations), pomopizzeria.com

69. CRUDITÉ at True Food Kitchen
This vegetable bouquet looks like something you’d present to Misty Copeland after a performance in Swan Lake. She, in turn, would applaud its beauty and farm-freshness: orange and purple cauliflower, mild-mannered magenta watermelon radishes, heirloom carrots, cucumber spears, snappy pea pods and haricots verts. The fun is deciding which veggies pair best with yogurty tzatziki and which prefer black olive dip’s briny bite. (KC)
Locations in Phoenix and Scottsdale, truefoodkitchen.com

Photos by Art Holeman; REGINA MARGHERITA  at Pomo Pizzeria

70. BAKED ZITI PIZZA at Sal’s Gilbert Pizza
Thirty years ago in New York City, inspiration struck Sal Cuffaro: “I like pizza. I also like pasta. So...” The result is baked ziti pizza, a bestseller at his Gilbert pizzeria for the past decade. Cuffaro starts with a partially baked pizza, then adds a thick layer of ziti in creamy marinara before topping with mozzarella. Plan to skip your next meal or two. (JH)
1150 S. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-633-2226, gilbertpizzaaz.com

71. CLASSIC TURKEY DINNER at My Mother’s Place
Restaurants don’t come much more mom and pop – well, mom, anyway – than this weathered, homey institution on 19th Avenue. Where else can you get – not just during the holidays, but anytime the mood strikes – a traditional heap of superb, sleep-inducing turkey over stuffing, with cranberry sauce and two sides? Try the Irish potatoes. There’s pumpkin pie for dessert. (MVM)
4130 N. 19th Ave., 602-279-7225, mymothers.com

72. GAUCHO TACOS at Angels Trumpet Ale House
Auténtico? No. South American gauchos wouldn’t marinate their backyard-smoked brisket in A&W root beer and Southwestern spices that steep the meat in a cinnamony sweetness. Or add huge chunks of spicy mango, red cabbage slaw and avocado cream. Or eat tacos, for that matter. Then again, gauchos drink boiled holly leaves from a gourd. So we think they’d deem these babies “magnífico.” (KC)
810 N. Second St., Phoenix, 602-252-2630, angelstrumpetalehouse.com

73. BAKED CRAB XO at Nee House
Watch a cook fetch a live crab from a pristine aquarium and 15 minutes later, a server places a steaming, fragrant plate of cracked crab smothered in a spicy, luxuriously umami-rich sauce called XO. The sauce isn’t an ancient Chinese secret – it was created in Hong Kong in the 1980s, and the spice level is high enough to make you think it has Sichuan roots, not mild-mannered Cantonese lineage. (GAW)
13843 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix, 602-992-3338

74. SPICY BUFFALO “WINGS” at Green New American Vegetarian
Any chef who can trick picky, meat-and-potatoes husbands into eating soy and fungi is a culinary genius in our book. Tossed in spicy buffalo sauce and served with a creamy cucumber ranch, veg-head Damon Brasch’s faux chicken wings taste arguably better than the real thing. They’re made from soy protein and dried mushrooms, which give the mock meat a spongy texture with a subtle underlying sweetness. (WH)
2240 N. Scottsdale Rd., Ste. 8, Tempe, 480-941-9003, greenvegetarian.com

Photo by Mirelle Inglefield; ESQUITES at Barrio Café/Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza

75. ESQUITES at Barrio Café
In Mexico, street vendors sell corn two ways: elote, a corncob you eat like you’re playing the harmonica, and esquites, a bowlful of buttery kernels. Elote is enjoying its 15 minutes – Doug Robson makes a great one at Otro – but esquites is equally important, says Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza. In her ravishingly creamy rendition, the grilled, buttered kernels are folded with mayonnaise, cotija, hot sauce, lime and cilantro. Pair it with chips, margaritas and spicy conversation. (KC)
2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-636-0240, barriocafe.com




14. SMOKED PORK GUMBO at Gertrude’s

Smoked Pork Gumbo
Serves: 8

5 cups chicken broth
1 pound smoked ham hocks
1 pound bacon, diced
2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pound yellow onions, diced small
1/2 pound red bell pepper, diced small
1/2 pound celery, diced small
4 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 1/2 teaspoons red chili powder
1 pound smoked andouille sausage, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons filé powder

Cover the smoked ham hocks with chicken broth in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 3 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone. Remove the hocks and cool slightly, reserving the cooking liquid for later. Pick the meat off the bones and set aside. Discard the bones.

Place the bacon and vegetable oil in another large pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook until the bacon is crisp. Sprinkle in the flour while whisking vigorously, until all the flour is incorporated. Turn the heat to medium-low and slowly cook, stirring often, until the mixture is a dark, mahogany brown, but not burnt. This is the roux.

Stir the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic into the roux. Cook for a few minutes, until the vegetables just start to soften. Stir in all the remaining ingredients except for the Andouille and filé powder (smoked paprika through red chili powder), stirring often, being careful not to burn the roux. Stir in the reserved ham hock meat and andouille. Stir in the reserved ham hock cooking liquid and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the filé powder.

Remove from heat and serve in individual bowls over a scoop of cooked white rice or mustard potato salad.


27. CRISPY FROG LEGS at Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend

Crispy Frog Legs
Serves: 10

Step 1: Fish Sauce Caramel
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed and strained
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 tablespoons Sriracha
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1¼ teaspoon chili flakes
4 tablespoons soy sauce

Combine sugar and lime juice in a pot. Cook over medium heat until sugar is a dark amber color. Add garlic, ginger, Sriracha, fish sauce and chili flakes while whisking. Bring mixture just to a boil. Add soy sauce, stir, and remove from heat. Fill sink with ice and water. Cool mixture by setting the pot gently in the ice bath (be careful to not let water into mixture). Caramel can be stored up to five days in fridge.

Step 2: Frog Leg Brine
1 cup Fish Sauce Caramel
3 cups water

Combine Fish Sauce Caramel and water. (Reserve ½cup of total Fish Sauce Caramel from prep recipe for later use.) Pour over frog legs. Cover with plastic wrap. Make sure wrap is at the surface of the liquid and all legs are submerged. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Step 3: Frog Legs
20 8 oz. brined frog legs
½1 cup corn starch
1/3 cup Fish Sauce Caramel
2 tablespoons cashews, lightly chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced and toasted in a sauté pan on low heat

Toss frog legs in corn starch until coated. Dust off excess corn starch. Fry at 375° for 3 minutes. Remove frog legs from oil and toss in Fish Sauce Caramel. Toss in chopped cashews.

*Optional garnish: Combine ¼cup shaved green cabbage and 4 scallions (julienned). Place frog legs on top of cabbage and scallion mix.


41. SONORAN WHITE WHEAT SALAD at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company

Serves: 1

8 ounces wheat berries
2 ounces Arcadian mix lettuce
2 ounces roasted beets
1 ounce halved cherry tomatoes
1 ounce diced cucumber
1 ounce diced red onion
1 ounce lemon balsamic vinegar
3 turns crushed black pepper
1/4 sliced avocado

Add wheat berries to a pot of water (about 1-to-2 ratio of wheat to water) and bring to boil. Turn down and let simmer for at least one hour. Drain the wheat and cool.

cut beets into bite-size pieces, place on baking sheet, and roast in preheated 400-degree oven, turning once or twice until beets are tender (30-40 minutes). Immediately toss wheat and beets with the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, black pepper and lemon balsamic vinegar. Top salad with avocado slices.

Note: Sonoran white wheat berries are available in 1.5-pound bags from Hayden Flour Mills in Tempe and Sossaman Farms in Queen Creek.


60. MOLE NEGRO at Otro

Otro Mole Negro
Serves: 8

9 pasilla chiles                
5 guajillo chiles
4 ancho chiles
2 chipotle chiles
2 chiles de árbol
1/4 cup whole raw almonds
1/4 cup raw peanuts
1 cinnamon stick
3 peppercorns
3 whole cloves
2 pecan halves
1/2 cup raw white sesame seeds
Vegetable oil for deep frying
3 tablespoons raisins
1/2 a telera roll
1 pound red tomatoes, cored and quartered
3/4 pound tomatillos, peeled and quartered
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup canola oil
1 medium white onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (3-ounce) disk Abuelita brand chocolate, grated into powder
4 cups chicken stock, heated

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Remove stems (and seeds for less heat) and place the chiles in a single layer on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for 3 minutes or until just fragrant. Toast the almonds, peanuts, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, cloves and pecans in a large skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat for a minute or two, constantly moving the pan to prevent burning. Stir in the sesame seeds and toast another minute, constantly moving the pan to prevent burning. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat oil in a deep fryer to 375 degrees F. Fry raisins until they puff up and float to the surface. Remove from oil to paper towels. When cool, add to the toasted chiles, nuts and spices. Cut telera roll into 4 slices. Fry bread until golden brown. Remove from oil to drain on paper towels. When cool, chop bread into 1/8-inch cubes. Set aside for later.

Place the toasted chiles, nuts, spices and seeds (basically the first 12 ingredients plus the fried raisins) in a blender with a plunger attachment. Pulse several times, using the plunger, until everything is coarsely ground. It should look like ground coffee. Remove from blender and set aside. Place the tomatoes, tomatillos and salt in a blender. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

Heat a heavy-bottom pot over medium-high heat. Pour in the canola oil. When hot, stir in the chile/nut/spice paste with a heat-resistant spatula, stirring constantly for two minutes, until the oil and chile paste blend together. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook another minute, stirring constantly. Bit by bit, gradually stir in the tomato purée, letting the mixture darken slightly before adding more. By the time all the purée is added, the mixture should only be slightly lighter than it was before adding the purée.

In alternating batches, stir in a cup of warmed chicken stock to thin the mixture and then stir in a handful of the reserved fried bread, working the mixture with the spatula and cooking until the mixture thickens. Once all the chicken stock and reserved bread is incorporated, turn off the heat. Stir in the grated Abuelita until incorporated.

Working in batches, purée the sauce until velvety smooth. (DO NOT FILL THE BLENDER MORE THAN HALF-FULL OF HOT LIQUID.) Let the mole cool to room temperature and then place in a covered container in the refrigerator. When ready to use, pour into a saucepan and reheat gently over medium-low heat, stirring often. You may need to thin with a bit more warmed chicken stock. Spoon mole over grilled chicken or roast turkey.



Hummus and roasted vegetables
Serves: 4

2 15oz. cans garbanzo beans, drained; reserve liquid
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup mint leaves
Juice from 2 lemons
2 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup tahini

Using a food processor, blend the garlic, mint, cumin, salt and pepper, olive oil and lemon juice until smooth.

Add garbanzo beans and tahini and pulse until fully incorporated.

Do not over-blend to where it becomes too smooth... I like to keep it kinda thick.

Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with roasted vegetables of your choosing.


75. ESQUITES at Barrio Café

Esquites Asados
Serves: 4

4 ears fresh corn
1 cup cotija cheese, grated
½1 stick butter
½1 cup mayonnaise
1 lime
Tapatio hot sauce, to taste
Cilantro, for garnish

Grill corn on the cob on the cooler side of the range until tender, being careful not to over-char on direct flame. With a clean kitchen towel, hold the corn on its side, removing the corn kernels from the cob with a knife in a slicing motion.

Place corn kernels in a saucepan with butter and reheat at a low temperature until butter is melted, being careful not to burn the butter. Serve topped with a dollop of mayonnaise, cotija, Tapatio hot sauce to taste, lime and cilantro to taste. Optional garnish: spicy shrimp.


Photo by David B. Moore; Blackened duck at Nobuo

For various reasons, these praise-worthy plates were excluded from our list. But they still deserve a mention.

You won’t find these dishes on the daily menu, but often a “pretty please” – or an upcharge – will do the trick.
Braised leeks at FnB
Topped with mustardized crumbs and a half-cooked egg, they were so good that they got a write-up in the New York Times and helped launch FnB to nationwide fame. Chef Charleen Badman might be persuaded to make it if she has the goods.
Green chile stew at Richardson’s
Owner Richardson Browne used to make it for weary Downtown suits who’d stumble into his North Phoenix cantina after a long day at the Capitol, and it’s still the best of its kind in the Valley: cheese and spice and everything nice. Readily available. Just ask for it.
Blackened duck at Nobuo
Chef Nobuo Fukuda sometimes includes it as part of his omakase chef’s choice tasting experience, and it’s a mad man: a whole duck slathered in a sweet, hoisin-like glaze, roasted to perfection and filleted right in front of you.

Light Rail Dish Map

These carpetbaggers arrived in the Valley with the national brands that conceived them. Not that our taste buds mind.
Lobster pot pie at Bourbon Steak
Celeb chef Michael Mina may not have been the first human life-form to pack two pounds of fresh lobster meat into a pie crust, but he certainly perfected the notion. At $70, one of the Valley's great bucket list dishes.
CINNAMON BUTTER Rolls at Texas Roadhouse
The creamy, dreamy butter sidekick to Texas Roadhouse’s golden dinner rolls has delightful gritty bits of cinnamon throughout, making it a scrape-worthy endeavor almost worth scrapping over. It’s OK -- the server can always bring more.

Spinach and artichoke dip at Hillstone
It’s genetically the same one that hooked countless spinach and artichoke addicts at now-defunct sister property Houston’s down the street at the Esplanade. Cholesterol panels be damned.

We’d be remiss not to add these sweet stunners to the handful of desserts that made our main list.
Butterscotch pudding at FnB
She's famed for her prowess with healthy veggies, but Charleen Badman knows how to indulge in a little sweet sin, most delectably in the form of her signature butterscotch pudding, a longtime favorite of PM food writers.
Butter cake at Dominick’s
The name says it all. This indulgent treat is so butter-blasted that it barely holds together, swimming in a pool of sweet and sticky caramel sauce with an ice cream crown, before surrendering to the merest prod of a spoon.
Churros rellenos de cajeta de cabra  at Barrio Cafe
Silvana Salcido Esparza's rods of fried dough are filled with a sweet and creamy goat milk caramel with a pleasant hint of funk, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and topped with vanilla bean ice cream, more caramel sauce and candied pecans. It's dulce heaven.



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