Thanks to food television and the Internet, becoming educated on the cuisines of other countries is easier than ever.
But often, finding the restaurants that specialize in them means employing techniques that have nothing to do with technology: talking to friends, driving around new neighborhoods, and taking a chance on that new little spot that just opened down the street.
Here are a few places of culturally different cuisines that are certainly cool on their own but offer up a little extra something to make the experience all the more unique.
Late-Night Korean Eats at Café Ga Hyang
Before June 2011, the Valley's only place to score tasty, late-night Korean food was 360 miles away in Koreatown, the neighborhood in the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. But thanks to Nick Rocha and Sun Johnson, this welcoming west side restaurant in Glendale serves up scratch-made traditional Korean dishes until 2 a.m. every day but Sunday. After 10 p.m., the restaurant feels more like a Koreatown bar, where Ga Hyang's Korean regulars, along with the area's restaurant industry folk, come together for dishes like seafood pancakes, Korean fried chicken, and the refreshingly cold noodle dish naeng myun over cold bottles of Hite, Soju, and glasses of pomegranate wine. If the karaoke machine's been set up in the corner, additional entertainment is just a "My Way" away.
Sleight of Flour-Dusted Hand at China Magic Noodle House
The magic at this modest Chinese restaurant, tucked around the corner from Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket in Chandler, comes in two parts: First, through the dining area's large picture window where, in the style of the Lanzhou region of northwestern China, noodle-making master chef Zhang Qiang, puts on a skillful show of stretching, slinging, spinning, and pulling dough into five kinds of made-to-order noodles. And second: That moment when one of the creations you just witnessed come into being lands as a tender and slippery noodle-nest in front of you -- fried and paired with delectable meats and vegetables, sunk into flavorful broths, or soaked in a creamy yellow curry.
Meat and Bread and Bašcaršija at Old Town Sarajevo in North Phoenix
For those whose immediate travel plans don't include a trip to the capital of Bosnia, you could do worse than a journey to Old Town Sarajevo. A kind of southeastern European tribute to meat and bread served inside a movie set-like replication of Bašcaršija, the Old Town market sector where Sarajevo was founded, the restaurant features Bosnian-born owner Seida Turulja's delectable lepinja (housemade Bosnian bread) bulked out with sausages in addition to home-style meat stews and giant, flaky pastries filled with beef and cheese. Close your eyes and you may hear the working replica of the town's famous fountain, Sebilj, gurgling nearby.
An Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony in Phoenix at Ethiopian Famous Restaurant and Coffee
For most of us, coffee routines fall somewhere between needing to perk up and pressed for time. But for those from Ethiopia, a country believed to be the birthplace of the brewed beverage, the coffee ceremony is a unique and relaxing cultural ritual. See for yourself at Ethiopian Famous Restaurant and Coffee in East Phoenix, where Abebech Ejersa takes java fans on an hour-plus journey though the full life cycle of coffee, or bunna (boo-na), that involves roasting, snacking, sniffing and, finally, sipping. The cost of the coffee ceremony is $12 for two to five people. Reservations need to be made an hour in advance -- more than enough time to enjoy one of Ejersa's delectable wat platters beforehand.
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Fondue with an Asian Twist at Tien Wong Hot Pot
No stranger to Asian eats accompanied by a little entertainment; Hong Kong-born chef Johnny Chu (Fate, Sens, Sochu House) brings the hip and the dip to this Chandler strip-mall restaurant where you and your dining companions get to play both guest and chef. Starring the Chinese hot pot, a communal stew with a history that goes back to the 13th century, Tien Wong invites diners to start the fun by picking a broth followed by ingredients like sliced pork, razor clams, noodles, Korean pumpkin, mushrooms, and spicy tofu. What's not to love about cooking (and socializing) at the table together? Not a thing. Especially when the result is hot cups of flavorful, we-made-it-ourselves soup.