5 Best Things I Ate and Drank in September

Potlikker mussels and cornbread at Okra
Potlikker mussels and cornbread at Okra
Lauren Saria

Last month, we celebrated the desert and all it has to offer with our 37th annual Best of Phoenix issue. In the food and drink section you'll find well-loved Phoenix restaurants and names you may never have heard before — it's a great representation of Phoenix food right now. If you haven't taken a peek, you should. September's best bites and sips features fare from a trio of new restaurants and a dish that you might have overlooked at one of my favorite lunch spots. 

I hope you get to try some of it for yourself soon. 

Potlikker Mussels and Cornbread at Okra

What are "Potlikker mussels" you ask? Well, they're mussels cooked in the leftover liquid from cooking down greens — and let me tell you, they're delicious. In this sharable plate at the newly opened Okra, chef Cullen Campbell serves up a dish of fresh mussels swimming in a rich broth tinged with garlic, onion, butter, and more. And even though you're going to want to dunk your head in the bowl of this Potlikker broth, the real star of the dish is still Campbell's cornbread. Griddled to have the perfect crisp exterior, it's buttery and bursts with real cornmeal flavor.  

Spicy and salty the htipiti makes a great start to your meal.
Spicy and salty the htipiti makes a great start to your meal.
Lauren Saria

Htipiti at Spartan Pita and Gyro

Though Spartan Pita and Gyro is a simple neighborhood Greek restaurant, diners will find a few unexpected dishes on the restaurant's menu. These surprises include everything from a Philly Gyro baguette sandwich that's loaded with gyro meat, feta cream cheese, and grilled onions and peppers to excellent htipiti, a less common (than hummus) starter spread. Made with feta cheese and peppers, this spread punches up the start of your meal with spicy, salty flavor. 

This Arizona-made whiskey will appeal to scotch lovers, too.
This Arizona-made whiskey will appeal to scotch lovers, too.
Lauren Saria

Dorado Mesquite Smoked Aged Whiskey from Hamilton Distillers

I discovered this whiskey for the first time at the Farmer Chef + Connect earlier this month in Tucson, and it's one of my new favorite Arizona spirits. The idea for the mesquite-smoked whiskey grew out of the fact that the owners of the distillery also own a custom furniture company and had leftover mesquite wood scraps. They decided to use the native wood to dry their malt (instead of the usual peat) and in the process infuse the spirit with a gentle smoky flavor that's reflective of the Sonoran desert. If you love the aroma of a desert campfire on the nose, then you're going to want to get your hands on this drink. 

Duza's Kitchen serves simple but well-done lunch and breakfast.EXPAND
Duza's Kitchen serves simple but well-done lunch and breakfast.
Lauren Saria

Roasted Prime Beef Sandwich at Duza's Kitchen 

Chef Mensur Duzic spent years in the cafeteria at Phoenix Children's Hospital, but earlier this month, he broke out on his own to open a freestanding restaurant, Duza's Kitchen. Located in the Coronado neighborhood (specifically in the former home of Astor House), it's a comfortable neighborhood spot — with a great back patio — that serves breakfast, lunch, and coffee. For lunch, you'll want to try one of the open-face sandwiches, preferably one loaded with the roasted prime beef. The thick slice of meat will be perfectly cooked and can be topped with your choice of cheese and sauce.

Teeter Tots: if the name doesn't win you over, the flavors will.
Teeter Tots: if the name doesn't win you over, the flavors will.
Lauren Saria

Teeter Tots at Nobuo at Teeter House

Nobuo at Teeter House is my favorite place for lunch in downtown Phoenix, and if you don't understand why, just take a peek at the menu. You'll find everything from house-cured salmon to a tonkotsu sandwich, and it's all priced under or around $15. So when you go to the Heritage Square restaurant for a midday meal, start with an order of the Teeter Tots. They're easily overshadowed by all the other excellent options (including those amazing pork belly buns), but the $6 order is worth a try. You'll get firm cubes of tofu battered tightly in panko and fried. Served in a spicy miso sauce, they'll have you chopstick-sparring with your lunch mate for the final bite. 


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