By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
Big Jim at the Welcome Diner: When people talk about the Welcome Diner, the tiny, iconic eatery at 10th and Roosevelt streets, they inevitably bring up the Big Jim — and they should. Because that sandwich, a teetering tower of well-herbed chunks of fried chicken, bacon, melted cheddar, and thick, peppery sausage gravy between scratch-made buttermilk biscuits, pretty much sets the tone for Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson's (Old Dixie's food truck) tight menu of New Orleans- and Southern-inspired eats. And with just nine seats and a few tables outside, Southern comfort never felt so cozy. (924 East Roosevelt Street, 602-495-1111, www.marthaandmary.net/welcomediner)
Bastila at Alzouhour: Moroccan bastila is nothing short of an exotic delight — a rich and sumptuous sweet and savory pie that tastes like Christmas and looks like a supersize cookie. You'll find a very good bastila at Alzouhour, the tiny Middle Eastern eatery, bakery, and market where owner Zhor Saad makes hers with spice-cooked chicken and crunchy sweetened almonds stuffed into a paper-thin shell of phyllo crust sweetened with cinnamon and sugar. Typically prepared for special occasions, it's only fitting that this hearty meat pie comes big enough to enjoy with friends. (7814 North 27th Avenue, 602-433-5191)
Push Pop at Bink's Midtown: James Beard Award finalist Kevin Binkley's reimagined plates of produce at his charming bungalow turned restaurant are reason enough for us to eat our vegetables. But his equally innovative desserts make doing so all the more rewarding. Consider the push pop, Binkley's gourmet version of the popular kiddy treat filled with layers of ever-changing ingredients like butternut squash ice cream, pineapple chutney, and tamarind chocolate syrup. It may be the most perfect (and playful) way to eat dessert in the Valley. And thanks to his newest location, Scottsdalians are pushing Binkley's pops, too. (2320 East Osborn Road, 602-388-4874, www.binksmidtown.com)
Mole at La 15 y Salsas: The mole at Elizabeth Hernandez's cheery Oaxacan restaurant and market in Sunnyslope is pretty much everything you'd want. Dark, intricate sauce? Check. Dozens of ingredients? Check. Spices ground on a metate? Well, sure, why not. She makes two kinds: black mole, which is smoky, spicy, and a bit sweet, and mole rojo, which is spicier and simpler than the black and made without chocolate. They can be had spooned over chicken or chicken enchiladas (enmoladas), but the black mole is best over the tamal oaxaqueño, where it meets with a moist and delicate masa cake wrapped in a banana leaf. (1507 West Hatcher Road, 602-870-2056, www.facebook.com/la15ysalsas)
If you don't have a cassette deck in your car, you missed out on about half of the strange, inventive pop songs on this list. That's reason enough to buy back your old Walkman on eBay. In the meantime, you'll find most of these songs streaming online, sans the all-important tape hiss.
Wolvves — "Live Forever": I don't know that I'd want Wolvves to watch my cat or pick me up from the airport or hang out with me for any length of time, but that ambivalence is a sign they're doing something right on "Live Forever," which is the kind of generational-ennui anthem Bret Easton Ellis started with before he moved on to serial killers and tweet-length movie reviews. Wolvves is playing loud, fast music and reveling in it, but it's not like they're excited about it.
Playboy Manbaby — "Funeral Pizza": Playboy Manbaby is playing loud, fast music and reveling in it, but don't get them wrong: They are excited about it. Robbie Pfeffer and company, whose Rubber Brother Records opened for business at midyear and proceeded to blanket the Valley in cassette EPs, tend toward the hairy and unwashed and gauche — other songs on Obsessive Repulsive are titled "Beer Gut" and "Minivan" — but in the hectic Manbabyverse there's a positive correlation between unrehearsed ugliness and weird affirmation.
Fayuca — "Por Que Seguir": Barrio Slideshow saw Phoenix's bilingual masked men earn some MTV exposure — no small feat for a politically minded, Spanish-singing ska-punk band in the year 2013. If the Jason DeVore-featuring "Shoot It Up" is the band at its most relaxed, single "Por Que Seguir" is pure energy, with a video that brings 1984-style tropes into a working-class life.
Dry River Yacht Club — "Dead Mother Dearest": Any Dry River Yacht Club album is doomed to failure, because most people will come to it already having seen and heard their crowded, ecstatic live shows. El Tigre, subject of a crowded, ecstatic release party late in the year, does its level best to compete. And if it's not quite as good at transporting you to the scene of the "Safety Dance" video as the band's pre-industrialization rock is in person, at least it gives you something to listen to in the car on the way to and from shows.
decker. — "Shadow Days": "Shadow Days" is not the kind of song most people turn into a music video —but then, it's not the kind of song most people make, so when Sedona's space-folks turned their unsettling six-minute drone into a time-traveling battle between an old man and himself, it wasn't especially surprising. Worth it, of course, but not surprising.