If being able to get traditional Polish liqueur in downtown Phoenix and find homestyle Puerto Rican food in Chandler doesn't get you excited about the Valley's dining scene, then I'd venture to guess that nothing will. Because with every passing month, it seems Phoenix gains new restaurants offering one-of-a-kind dining experiences -- and that's a beautiful thing. The trick, of course, is knowing where to look, and when I think about the best things I ate and drank last month, I get a hunch that there's still lots left to discover. From the simple pleasure of a well-made charcuterie board to the delicate flavor of fresh mirugai, here are the best things I ate and drank in March.
I hope you get to try some of it for yourself.
Tonkotsu Ramen from Dozo Izakaya
Earlier this month you may have noticed Dozo Izakaya in Tempe made it on our list of 8 Asian Restaurants in Metro Phoenix You've Probably Never Tried -- But Should. Well, you really should try it, if only for the experience of eating chicken gizzard and hearts and baby squid hot off the restaurant's grill. However, if you find yourself intimidated by the idea of these less-popular meats, try the tonkotsu ramen. Dozo serves a worthy bowl of ramen made with rich, creamy pork bone broth and loaded with thick slices of char-siu. Plus, at only $8.75 per bowl, it's an affordable meal.
Tostones from FrinGo's Kitchen
Even if you're not an expert in Latin American food, you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the flavor and quality of its tostones. After all, fried plantain chips are a staple side dish in countries from the Caribbean to West Africa. Some of the best I've had in the Valley (or anywhere), can be found at FrinGo's Kitchen, a newly opened Puerto Rican restaurant in Chandler. As with a perfectly executed French fry, the tostones at FrinGo's balance a crispy, well-seasoned exterior with a soft interior that doesn't compromise the flavor of the plantain. Plus, they come with a side of the restaurant's mojo de ajo, a simple oil-based sauce tinged with the mellow flavor of roasted garlic. The combination is addicting.
Charcuterie and Cheese from The Tavern
Though it's easy to overlook on a restaurant's menu, a well-executed charcuterie board is a beautiful thing. By combining salty, sweet, and even sour flavors, a simple plate of meat and cheese becomes a fun adventure for your palate. At Mark Tarbell's The Tavern, you can order either a classic cheese board ($15) or a charcuterie board ($15) -- but ask nicely, and they'll combine the two into one order. That's the way to go. You'll get a taste of a soft and a hard cheese, housemade pickles, and several types of cured meats along with almonds, olives, and roasted vegetables. Whether you're drinking red or white, the spread will offer something to pair with your wine, and the generous portions mean you're not likely to run out of food before your glass (or bottle) runs dry.
Mirugai from Hana Japanese Eatery
Earlier this month, we went into the kitchen at Hana Japanese Eatery in Phoenix to make geoduck sashimi, or mirugai. I'll admit, the long-neck clam's appearance may not be the most appetizing thing I've ever seen, but I do have to give geoducks some credit for being one of the more sustainable options available at the sushi bar. And even more important, they're delicious. When served as sashimi, the clams have a delicate crunch, and the meat is sweet, briny, and clean. With a touch of wasabi, the clam's sweetness becomes even more pronounced.
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Nalewka Babuni from Milk Bar
The newly opened Milk Bar in downtown Phoenix may present itself as a vodka bar, but so far as I could tell from my initial visit, the vodka-based cocktails aren't the most interesting drinks on the menu. I was far more intrigued by the selection of Nalewka Babuni, a brand of Polish nalewki, or fruit liqueurs. The boozy concoctions usually range from 40 percent to 45 percent alcohol by volume, but can be surprisingly sweet, and good for sipping. As an after-dinner drink, the quince variety makes a good option. Not too tart and not too sweet, it's pleasantly complex for the tastebuds. You may be temped to order another, though the decision might make driving home problematic.