Second Helpings

Deja Revu: It's rerun time on television, so I thought this might be a good time to do some restaurant-food reruns, too. I returned to several places I'd enjoyed in the past to see if they still lived up to my plaudits. These three do:

Centro Cafe & Bakery, 15820 North 35th Avenue, 939-3383. This place has gone big time, moving from its tiny 24th Street and Thomas location to the former digs of Mike's Golden Crust. Now there are lots of seats, a pizza oven, a bakery and a liquor license. Fortunately, the food is still as cheap, plentiful and tasty as it was before.

Pasta dishes like manicotti, lasagna and orechiette portofino--pasta tossed with rock shrimp and scallops in a spicy tomato sauce--still shine. So does the chicken scarpara, chicken and sausage moistened by a lemon white-wine sauce. The sandwiches, fashioned with thick pita bread, continue to stand out. And the chef shows he knows how to put together a pizza. The model topped with meatballs, artichokes, tomatoes, capers and cheese makes for mighty fine eating.

When you consider that almost everything goes for under 10 bucks, and focaccia and soup or salad come gratis with most dishes, Centro Cafe & Bakery remains one of this town's better values.

Arizona Kitchen, Wigwam Resort, 300 East Indian School, Litchfield Park, 935-3811. This gem may be the Valley's best-kept restaurant secret. A few years ago, with the help of a researcher who studies Native American foods, the talented chefs here put together one of the best Southwestern menus around. The food, vigorous and provocative, is just as good as I remembered it.

How many Valley restaurants offer appetizers like the duck confit burritos (mini-chimichangas, really), paired with a head- turning strawberry-pecan relish? The blue corn piki rolls are stuffed with shredded capon, spinach and goat cheese. And if greenery is your thing, try starting off with a salad fashioned from wild greens and grilled quail. Of course, you could dispense with appetizers entirely and fill up on the wonderful blue corn muffins and jalapeno fry bread that come to the table, along with warm, cardamom-scented honey to pour over them.

Main dishes like sea bass dusted in mesquite flour, buffalo sirloin in a cabernet, vanilla bean chile-negro sauce and venison medallions in a blackberry zinfandel cocoa sauce can take your breath away. So can the guajillo chile ice cream, topped with a chocolate cabernet sauce and served in a striking blue "bowl" of hardened sugar. It's the Valley's prettiest dessert.

Such Is Life, 3602 North 24th Street, 955-7822. It's not only one of the Valley's best Mexican restaurants, it's also one of the Valley's premier restaurants, period. The nopal polanco appetizer--prickly pear cactus leaves draped with chihuahua cheese--is heavenly, especially after you spoon on any of the trio of sparkling homemade salsas. Among the main dishes, the chicken mole is ravishing. The cochinita, pork cooked Yucatan-style in an achiote sauce, isn't far behind.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,


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