March means the middle of festival season in the Valley. In fact, the month kicked off with the Devoured Phoenix Culinary Classic and closed out with the Check, Please! Arizona Festival last Sunday. The events have been keeping me busy but it's now time to look back on the very best things I ate last month. This time around list includes a few dishes from brand new spots, as well as some longtime favorites you might have forgotten about. And a cocktail.
I hope you get to try some if it for yourself soon.
See also: 10 Best Things I Ate in February
Hot and Spicy Pig Ears at China Magic Noodle House
The noodles are obviously the star at Chandler's China Magic Noodle House, but they're hardly the only reason to make the drive. The restaurant serves plenty of other dishes, including an appetizer of Hot and Spicy Pig Ears. If you've been paying attention, you might already know that I'm a big fan of offal, so it should come as no surprise that I love this dish. China Magic Noodle House cuts their pig eats so thin that you can practically see right through the layers of cartilage and skin. The slices are then marinated in a spicy sauce flecked with chile and sesame. The cold crunch of caritlage might be a turn off for some diners, but the pork-iness of the dish combined with the not-so-subtle spicy kick are a perfect way to start a meal, in my opinion.
Fried Bologna Sandwich at The Pink Pony
Spring Training has come and gone but the new Pink Pony is here to stay. If you haven't headed out to Old Town Scottsdale to check out the renovated restaurant, you should do so soon. Be sure to go for lunch, when you can order the Fried Bologna Sandwich. It's a good representation of the restaurant's slightly playful menu and comes with slices of Italian mortadella, a cold-cut made from ground pork and pork fat. Each slice gets perfectly fried on both sides before being layed with the restaurant's housemade pickles, housemade potato chips, and mustard. This is the kind of elevated everyday cuisine I could eat over and over again without getting bored.
Ful Medames from A.T. Oasis Coffee and Tea
This simple dish is a staple meal in Egypt and Sudan though it's also popular in Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. You can find it at A.T. Oasis Coffee and Tea, the Phoenix coffee shop owned by Aisha Tedros. You can read all about Tedros and the shop in her Big Brains Finalist profile, but in short A.T. Oasis has become a gathering spot for the local African immigrant community. As such, you can go there and linger over a cup of coffee and a plate of ful medames, homemade cooked and mashed fava beans topped with plenty of olive oil, raw onions, tomatoes, and jalapenos. You scoop up the mixture with slices of warm pita bread and eat with your hands. If she's around Tedros will likely check on you at least once while you're dining -- and probably give plenty of warning about how spicy the jalapeno seeds can be.
Banana Cream Pie Trifle from The Parlor
With all the awesome savory stuff going on at The Parlor (including this awesome dish of Risotto with Grilled White Shrimp) it's easy to overlook the sweet side of things. But that's a big mistake because the restaurant's desserts are really great. The last time I was there I tried the Banana Cream Pie Trifle, which features luscious layers of sliced bananas, banana cream, and vanilla cream. It's topped with a crumble of graham cracker but you get a whole layer of it at the bottom of the cup. The graham cracker crumble contributes a slightly salty crunch to the dessert, perfectly balancing out the rest of the sweet elements.
Whiskey Sour at Second Story Liquor Bar
You wouldn't expect to find an awesome little bar and restaurant above Gelato Spot in Old Town Scottsdale but that's exactly what owner Tommy Plato and his "cast" have created. Second Story Liquor Bar serves a nice menu of modern American cuisine but what I'm most excited about is bartender John Christie's menu of cocktails. Christie can and will spew history and facts about cocktails if you nab a seat at the restaurant's bar and while everything on the 12-drink cocktail menu is great, what truly won me over was a simple whiskey sour. I'm not sure how he did it -- beside the fact that he used a more traditional recipe that includes egg white -- but Christie's whiskey sour was a perfectly-balanced drink with nice body and a silky feel.
Seafood Tofu Soup from Chodang
See also: Spicy Tofu Soup from Chodang
It's been a while since we've visited Chodang Tofu and BBQ in Chandler but this cozy Korean spot is still serving solid Korean fare in the southeast Valley. The last time I stopped in for lunch I ordered a bowl of the seafood tofu soup, a classic traditional Korean stew made with a soft, custard-like tofu. The restaurant will complement the bowl with everything from beef to dumplings and in the seafood bowl you'll find a handful of shrimp, clams, and scallops swimming in a bubbling hot bowl of spicy, flavorful broth. They're going to ask if you want an egg. Your answer should always be yes. Be forewarned that the shrimp are head and shell-on so you'll have to use your hands. Same with the clams, which are still in the shell.
Smoked Brisket at Little Miss BBQ
I don't know if I can say it any more enthusiastically than I already have, but if you haven't yet made the trip to this south Phoenix BBQ joint then you should really go. Like, right now. The Texas-style barbecue comes courtesy of Scott (a Scottsdale Culinary Institute grad) and Bekke Holmes. The brisket is the star and gets smoked in the large black smoker outside of the restaurant for a full 11 hours before it makes it to your plate. It's perfectly tender, moist, and smokey and has that ideal outer crust that makes Texas brisket one of my favorite types of BBQ. It doesn't need it, but when you go you should at least try Holmes' housemade spicy barbecue sauce.
Gambas al Pil-Pil at Lola Coffee at The Yard
Lola Tapas is back. Sort of, at least. The second location of the downtown Phoenix coffeeshop from Daniel Wayne opened recently at Sam Fox's The Yard and after 5 p.m. is serving a menu of Spanish tapas. I never had the chance to dine at Lola Tapas but if the new incarnation is half as good as the original, I can see what all the fuss was about. The best dish I tried during my first visit to the Lola at The Yard was the Gambas al Pil-Pil. The dish features tender shrimp dressed in a marinade of oil, garlic, and paprika. It sounds simple but there's a reason this is one of the most famous and popular Spanish tapas. Thank goodness the small plates come with a side of crusty white bread because there's no way I would have let that dish go back to the kitchen without sopping up every last drop of sauce.
Thai Noodle Soup at RedThai Southeast Asian Kitchen
Chef Johnny Chu has been doing modern Asian cuisine for years and as of this month has ventured into Thai fare with RedThai Southeast Asian Kitchen in Sunnyslope. The place isn't a Thai restaurant exactly -- you'll see a lot of menu items from Sochu House here as well -- but does offer some excellent Thai dishes including the Thai Boat Noodle Soup. The best part of the dish is the spicy lemongrass broth, though the tender sliced rib eye isn't to be overlooked either. The bowl also comes loaded with noodles, onions, garlic, scallions, and cilantro, making for a surprisingly filling and satisfying lunch.
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Rice Pudding at Pane Bianco
The menu at Central Phoenix's Pane Bianco changes regularly but there's at least one thing you can count of them having: rice pudding. If you've never saved room for this dessert, you've been doing it wrong. The housemade rice pudding is so good it has the power to bring non-rice-pudding-believers to the right side. The last time I swung by for lunch, my large bowl (yes, I ordered a large) came topped with a housemade fig jam. Sometimes it will come with raisins but in this case the subtly sweet figs perfectly complemented the heavy vanilla flavors from the rice pudding. Plus, it's organic so it's good for you, right?