Best Of :: Food & Drink
Oh, how we love Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food. The flavors, the colors, the freshness — the varieties of spelling! We like to make Mideast staples such as hummus and tabbouleh at home, but they never taste quite as good as they do when made by the pros at the Valley's several fine Middle Eastern joints. And that goes double for the great food at Cafe Istanbul. This longstanding restaurant gets it right every time, from its ever-popular chicken shawarma sandwiches to its fine lamb and beef kebabs. Really, though, when we hit up Cafe Istanbul, we want to try a little bit of everything, so we have to choose the two-person Al Amir Combo, an expansive and beautifully arranged platter of all that's good about this particular cuisine. Check it: There's creamy hummus, minty tabbouleh, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), chunks of feta, baba ghanouj, mujadara, loubieh, moist falafel, chunks of medium-rare lamb, outstanding chicken, possibly the best kefta kebab in the Valley, and all the soft, warm pita bread you want. At $29.95, this generous plate will fill you up just enough that you'll have a little bit of room left to make you want to peruse Cafe Istanbul's lovely dessert case.
Don't let the name and the address fool you. Citizen Public House, from former Cowboy Ciao culinary master chef Bernie Kantak, may sound pretentious, but its stylish yet relaxed atmosphere and offerings of classic American fare with a delicious kick in the ass are nothing short of modest classiness. From picture-perfect scallops and standout starters like the luscious pork belly pastrami to the Original Chopped Salad (so popular it has its own Facebook page) and dreamy desserts courtesy of Tracy Dempsey — at Citizen Public House, deliciousness is in every detail. Partner and mixologist Richie Moe (also a Cowboy Ciao alum) devotes as much attention to the libations as Kantak does to the food. So whether it's an evening out, a pairing dinner, happy hour fun, or late-night noshing all with the added enjoyment of a team that's as comfortable to be around as your dining companions Citizen Public House deserves to be in heavy rotation on your restaurant playlist.
There's a trend that we're crazy about. All the cool kids are doing it, and it's where you can catch the best eats — and the hottest gossip about the food world, which lately has us wishing we'd produced a reality show called The Real Chefs of Scottsdale.
Late-night menus are being offered at a handful of local restaurants, and at some of the best ones, too. Usually called "Staff Menus," these late-night dinners often feature a single meal selected by the chef or the waiters, and often on an off-night, like Monday, and made available to a limited number of diners.
At Posh — where you literally never know what's on the menu — you can dine Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Chef Josh Hebert's improvisational cuisine. FnB's Saturday late-night "industry" menu features Chef Charleen Badman's fine take on street food — pho, mac 'n' cheese, Sonoran hot dogs, or ramen — and, typically, a celeb-chef-spotting or two, while a recent late-night Sunday supper at Noca featured BBQ, with a deviled egg as amuse bouche, cupcakes for dessert, and plenty of brisket, hot links, and baby back ribs in between. (And just to give you an idea of how gourmet these guys roll, the salad that evening at Noca was watermelon with Benton's Country ham, arugula, pickled rind, feta, croutons and a red wine reduction.)
Citizen Public House now stays lit 'til 1:30 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, offering pub-grub favorites like its chicken-fried Wagyu burger, chopped salad and bacon-fat heirloom popcorn. Or sup on mussels, escargot and crispy French fries Saturday nights after 10 at Petite Maison.
Have a good time, just don't blame your late-night indigestion on us.
Payton Curry called his pop-up restaurant at The Welcome Diner a therapy project. His therapy became culinary-inspired healing for the 2,800-plus diners who showed up between April 1 and a cosmic final cleanup on July 5 — fittingly, the day of the now-famous haboob. Curry created his daily menu based on what was fresh and available each morning from local purveyors. Scoring a spot inside the nine-seat diner ensured a dream eating experience: watching the chef and his dessert-creating wife, Shantal, prep, cook, and banter with guests. At the outdoor picnic tables, the collegial atmosphere was extended by an attentive, knowledgeable staff, something often missing from a pop-up. The FB&J sandwich is now legendary — lightly seared foie gras with a hint of rosemary and strawberry jam on toasted brioche. Handmade fettuccini appeared one night with lamb, sheep's milk cheese, chickpeas, and golden raisins. It appeared on another as the foundation for a vegetarian dish topped with tomatoes, sweet corn, squash, and sorrel.Bacon-wrapped rabbit on a bed of pickled zucchini, radish, cherry tomatoes, and golden raisins, and squab with morel ravioli, greens, and pecans were one-night stands, savored for the moment and longed for until Payton pops up again we hear you can catch him these days at FnB in Scottsdale.
Phoenix went food-truck-crazy in 2011, with no fewer than half a dozen of them tooling around town at any given moment. The granddaddy of them all is still Short Leash, the "mobile hot dog" eatery that appears at such disparate locations/events as the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, Stinkweeds, First Fridays, and various gallery openings and private functions. In other words, Short Leash is in high demand. The hot dogs (provided by local fave Schreiner's) are uniformly excellent, and the creations that Short Leash has come up with (all named after the owners' favorite dogs) are clever and delicious (our favorite: Moki — with green chiles, pinto beans, cheese, and mayo). To boot, Short Leash lets customers submit pictures of their dogs, who may just get a special named after them. Be sure to follow these guys on Twitter and Facebook to find where they are at all times, because that is where Short Leash also excels: its expert utilization of social media. While your lame friends are clogging up Facebook and Twitter with superfluous information about how they're hungover or how they just cleaned their refrigerator or how they cried during the last Harry Potter film, Short Leash is updating its status with the kind of info we really need, like where can we get a hot dog — now! We're glad to have Short Leash on the prowl.
Some of the best chefs in town popped up this summer in downtown Phoenix — thanks to Cycle. With the worn-out Lexington Hotel in flux (not quite ready for renovations, but also not ready to shut its doors entirely), a nothing-fancy old bar and restaurant was sitting empty. 'Til Cycle. Every weekend (and sometimes during the week, at its peak), local chefs and a mixologist or two set up shop and wowed us with everything from Andrea White's South African cooking to Josh Hebert's take on ramen. The New Times editorial staff (full disclosure here) even took over for a night or two, finding it the perfect spot to scarf La Tolteca's caramel churros and brainstorm ideas for the Best Of issue you're reading right now. In a city where thinking outside the box is far too rare, it's nice to see a creative concept in play. And even nicer to hear that the Lexington's put its renovations on hold a little longer — meaning Cycle will now run through at least December.