Best of Phoenix®

Best Of 2010


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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Hero Worship
Nobuo Fukuda

See: a video interview with Nobuo Fukuda.

Four years ago — fresh out of college — I left the United States and landed on a small island south of Osaka, Japan, where I spent the better part of a year teaching English to children who will grow up to be fishermen, hanging out at way too many Japanese rock shows and eating fabulously good sushi. It was the best time of my life, but it left me with some lingering questions. Questions like what element in human nature drives us to leave behind everything we've ever known, to trade in the comfortable for whatever else is out there, to adventure in foreign lands? Sometimes, you just have to take that journey.

If there is an answer to be had, it may lie within the heart and mind of Phoenix's own Chef Nobuo Fukuda. He took the opposite journey, falling in love with Phoenix four years before I was even born. He found here a place with wide-open spaces full of potential and the chance to build his life the way he wanted it. He left Japan and set up shop here. How can you help respecting the hell out of a person like that?

First, there was Sea Saw restaurant, where Fukuda revolutionized the way Phoenicians thought about and ate high-end sashimi. These days, he's still pushing the envelope of Japanese cuisine at his new restaurant, Nobuo at Teeter House, in downtown's Heritage Square. In a tiny and cramped kitchen, he summons gigantic flavors in his fried soft-shell crab sandwich, his aiolis infused with Japanese chili sauces, and his signature take on sashimi. He regularly exposes Phoenix to something priceless: a taste of another culture. Something I believe we could all use a lot more of. Jonathan McNamara

New Times web editor Jonathan McNamara would gladly start his life over in Tokyo should the opportunity present itself. He interviewed Fukuda on August 11 at the chef's new restaurant, Nobuo at Teeter House.

When I was a kid, I went to see the World Fair in Osaka. It blew my mind to see so many different kinds of people. They had Asian. They had European invites. In Japan, there is only one kind of people. They had a rock from the moon. They had lines for two hours to see this rock from the moon. I think I already knew I wanted to move out from that small country.

When I'm driving, I listen to the radio. Talk radio. Sometimes music. On the way to work I'm thinking about what else I have to do. When I'm coming back from work, it's usually how dinner was. There's a lot of work, work, work in my mind right now. Maybe some day, I won't have to think like that.

My favorite thing to eat in Phoenix is Vietnamese rice noodle soup — pho. From Da Vang. Between rice noodle soup, pho with beef, and duck soup with egg noodle or seafood with egg noodle.

To me, Japanese cuisine is different in the United States because Japanese food in Japan . . . there are so many different kinds everywhere from high-end to street food to home-cooked to country-style. However, in the U.S., there is usually only one kind — like sushi, tempura, teriyaki, something like this. Very limited. I think in the near future, there will be more variety of Japanese cooking. In New York, different styles of ramen are popular now.

I don't like eating anything I have high expectations for and it doesn't live up. It's that I have such a small stomach. It could be anything, but it should be good enough to use up my time and stomach.

My challenge is it's very hard to get ingredients; especially seafood. Fortunately with vegetables, a lot of local farms are starting to get in more and more and work with us.

If I weren't cooking I'd probably go back to the mountain. I was on a ski patrol for 10 or 12 years.

Without my hands I'd be devastated.

My hero is Bruce Lee? At the age I was watching his movies, I was like, "He is a god."

Before bed I always drink.

622 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 85004
Best New Restaurant
Lauren Saria

This is the little restaurant that could.Amid a sour economy — and even in the middle of the summer slowdown — this is the place that had locals buzzing on Twitter, Facebook, and good old-fashioned word of mouth in 2010.The excitement started with a trifecta: rustic, comforting American eats by chef-owner Charleen Badman; cozy, bustling atmosphere; and rock star treatment for regulars and newbies alike, courtesy of co-owners Pavle Milic and his wife Emily Pullen. Soon, the Stetson Drive gin joint became the Valley's go-to place for top-notch Arizona wines (still a rarity — but not for long, we predict, thanks to Milic's pioneering efforts) and affordable late-night eats as well. Comforting dishes like braised leeks with mozzarella and fried egg, and perfectly crispy jidori chicken have come and gone with the seasons, but Badman has only continued to delight us with new dishes along the way. Cheers to a new classic in the middle of Old Town.

7125 E. 5th Ave., Scottsdale, 85251
Best Old Arizona Charm
The Stockyards Restaurant

It's hard to imagine that the area near this stretch of East Phoenix used to be the country's biggest cattle feedlot, but a visit to The Stockyards — situated in what was once the Tovrea Land and Cattle Company's administrative offices — can take you back in time to an era when ranching was still a big part of the local culture, and the city's movers and shakers did business over hefty steaks and stiff cocktails. Meat and potatoes is still the name of the game here, with exotica like elk and demurely named "calf fries" supplementing steaks, burgers, salads, and seafood dishes. Settle into a big booth, ogle the cowboy-themed paintings and branding iron chandelier, and enjoy a reminder of when the West was still Western.

5009 E. Washington St., Phoenix, 85034
Best Competitive Eating Splurge

Sometimes, you just need a little steak. Other times, you just need a lot of steak. When heaps of beef are what you're after — and you've got the cash — there's no better meal than Durant's 48-ounce porterhouse. Plain on the outside, fancy-pants on the inside, Durant's is a Phoenix institution that's hosted powerful politicos, celebrities, and mobsters alike. Nestled menacingly amidst the sparse yet solid menu of savory steaks and classic cocktails, this massive meal waits to take on all challengers. A slab of meat that would be appropriate to serve your pet velociraptor, this steak's part filet mignon, part New York strip, and all delicious. Order the steak however you want — from blue to well done — and the kitchen magicians will cook it to perfection. That's no small task with a cut that's a good three inches thick. Finish it and you'll be inducted into the illustrious Porterhouse Club, your name engraved on a brass plate affixed to one of several polished wooden plaques that adorn the restaurant's walls. The storied restaurant began offering the 48-ounce Porterhouse Challenge in 1996 and has since racked up a pantheon of more than 1,200 victorious eaters. At $83.25, the 48-ounce Porterhouse isn't for the faint-hearted. But if you've got the money — and the stomach — Durant's won't disappoint.

2611 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 85004
Best Competitive Eating Bargain
San Felipe's Cantina

San Felipe's Cantina is known for many things: decent guacamole, dangerously cheap shots of liquor and draft beer, obnoxious clientele. What it should be known for, however, is the El Gordito Burrito. Also known as "the Fat One," the El Gordito is a big-ass taco de harina made with chicken or steak, rice, beans, and cheese, all wrapped in a tortilla the size of a manhole cover and covered with spicy sauce and melted cheese. If you eat it all in one sitting, San Felipe's will throw you a party and give you a T-shirt — size XXL, of course.Tipping the scales at close to seven pounds, this burrito's a scary bastard. But at only $19.95, you can't afford not to buy it — that's less than $3 per pound! Whether you attempt to eat it all at once or take it home and feed yourself for a week, there's no place around where you're going to find a burrito that gives you more bang for your buck.

2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, 85281
21001 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix, 85050
Best Hot Dog
The Main Ingredient
Evie Carpenter

When Matt and Courtney Diamond opened their bangin' little "ale house" in a Seventh Street bungalow, it wasn't enough to have a great list of regional craft beers and quaffable, affordable wines. They came up with some scrumptious eats, too, the most beer-friendly of them all being the Coronado Coney, named after the historic district where the restaurant is situated. This is one top dog, a plump, juicy all-beef frank from Schreiner's Sausage, a local institution right up the street. It's tucked into a soft, dense sourdough bun that's lightly toasted, slathered with Humboldt Brown Ale mustard, and sprinkled with red onion. Which really makes the dish — the wiener or the bun? Who knows. It's a good conundrum to ponder over another pint of IPA.

2337 N. 7th St., Phoenix, 85006

Hero Worship: Nobuo Fukuda


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