Peking duck from Hong Kong Asian Diner
Peking duck from Hong Kong Asian Diner
Jackie Mercandetti

The 10 Best Things I Ate in Metro Phoenix in 2014

In 2014, there were too many good bites to remember -- and some I'd be happy to forget. But each dish on this list stands out not only for the flavors achieved by talented chefs, but also as a memorable experience that revolved around food. Some dishes are unlikely to ever be replicated in exactly the same way, while others have become some of my favorite plates to return to time and time again.

See also: 10 Best Places to Drink in Metro Phoenix

Peking Duck from Hong Kong Asian Diner

This Tempe restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside or, for that matter, the inside. But Choi and Bai Kuang's restaurant is a temple to simple, well-executed Cantonese cuisine. The Peking duck is a sharable dish that begins with a plate of crisp duck skin served with a side of fluffy white buns. Build your own miniature sandwiches of fat-lined skin, sweet and salty hoisin sauce, and slices of green onion for a melt-in-your-mouth experience of contrasting flavors and textures. The secondary plate of moist, flavorful meat makes this a dish that keeps on giving. (9880 S. Rural Road, Tempe, 480-705-7486)

Little Miss BBQ offers a range of perfectly-smoked meats.
Little Miss BBQ offers a range of perfectly-smoked meats.
Jackie Mercandetti

Brisket from Little Miss BBQ

This year, we entered a new age of barbecue in the Valley, the age of Little Miss BBQ. At this point, it's nearly unanimously accepted that this South Phoenix restaurant is where you'll find the hands-down best barbecued meats in metro Phoenix, and as at all Texas-inspired 'cue spots, the brisket is king. Owners Scott and Bekke Holmes dry-rub their brisket with pepper, salt, cayenne, and garlic before leaving it in a wood-fired, custom-made R&O Smoker for 11 hours. After all that time at a steady 250 degrees, you end up with moist, flavorful meat that's pretty much perfect. (4301 E. University Drive, 602-437-1177, www.littlemissbbq.com)

Chef Shinji Kurita's spectacular omakase-style dinner changes daily.
Chef Shinji Kurita's spectacular omakase-style dinner changes daily.
Lauren Saria

Tsukuri Six from ShinBay

Though the menu at Scottsdale's ShinBay changes almost constantly, the Tsukuri Six has become, more or less, chef Shinji Kurita's signature dish. This ever-changing bento box of small seafood bites can include a wide variety of flavors and textures, making it just as visually stunning as it is fun to eat. Some of the chef's go-to bites include finely chopped bluefin tuna tartare made with pine nuts, avocado, and fresh wasabi and a single delicate oyster served with ponzu gelée, a slice of cherry tomato, and a spot unctuous uni, or sea urchin. (7001 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 480-664-0180, www.shinbay.com)

This weekly special is delicious and affordable.
This weekly special is delicious and affordable.
Lauren Saria

Polenta Board from Crudo

If there's one thing Crudo has going for it -- besides great cuisine, excellent cocktails, and top-notch service -- it's that the restaurant constantly offers fun dining deals and specials. Crudo's twice-a-week family-style polenta boards are a perfect example. Chef Cullen Campbell serves wooden platters full of creamy polenta made from Hayden Flour Mills cornmeal along with themed toppings and meats. On any visit, you might get hay-smoked pork butt or Tenderbelly pork jowl, always with an array of house-made sides including sweet pickled garlic or a spicy giardinere. (3603 E. Indian School Road, 602-358-8666, www.crudoaz.com)

Fried chicken and donuts, a match made in fried food heaven.
Fried chicken and donuts, a match made in fried food heaven.
Lauren Saria

Vietnamese + Herb Fried Chicken from Welcome Chicken + Donuts

The second restaurant from Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson -- the couple behind the already-successful Welcome Diner -- just opened in mid-November, but it's already become a destination for those seeking finger-lickingly good fried chicken and excellent artisan doughnuts. On the savory side of things the Vietnamese + Herb fried chicken has become a personal favorite. The combination of pungent sauce and fresh herbs makes this a well-balanced guilty pleasure made up of light, crisp batter and moist chicken meat. (1535 E. Buckeye Road, 602‑258-1655, www.facebook.com/welcome chickenanddonuts)

This simple dessert takes me back to childhood memories.
This simple dessert takes me back to childhood memories.
Lauren Saria

Pineapple Li Hing Mui Ice Candy at Super Chunk Sweets and Treats

Certain flavors are hard to find here in Arizona, which may be part of the reason why Super Chunk Sweets and Treats' Pineapple Li Hing Mui Ice Candy resonates so strongly with me. The combination of sweet, fresh pineapple, and tart li hing powder is nothing new, but it brings back memories of time spent in Hawaiian paradise. During the summer, owners Country and Sergio Velador keep their candy shop's fridge stocked with these simple frozen treats. I'm already counting the days till next year's batch debuts. (7120 E. 6th Ave., #19, Scottsdale, 602-736-2383, www.superchunk.me)

Barbecue octopus with black eyed peas.
Barbecue octopus with black eyed peas.
Lauren Saria

Sous Vide Octopus from T. Cook's

At T. Cook's at the Royal Palms, Chef Paul McCabe puts together beautiful and thoughtful cuisine that's probably best experienced through #PM31, the restaurant's weekly improvisational multi-course dining experience. Months later, I'm still thinking about the chef's Spanish octopus dish, which paired tender tentacles with black-eyed peas and a side of crunchy corn bread. The play on classic barbecue flavors and perfect execution make this my favorite octopus dish to date. (5200 E. Camelback Road, 602-808-0766, www.tcooksdining.com)

Simple, but memorable samosas from Little India in Tempe.
Simple, but memorable samosas from Little India in Tempe.
Lauren Saria

Samosas from Little India

This tiny Tempe market and restaurant offers a real dining adventure. With just a handful of tables and chairs tucked away into the back corner of the store, there's little charm to mention but when it comes to chaat, or Indian street food snacks, it's the best bet in town. The samosas are simple but deeply satisfying as a snack or starter. A crispy, fried-to-order exterior gives way to piping hot, flavorful filling of potatoes, peas, carrots, and spices. The side of tamarind chutney adds both sweetness and spice. (1813 E. Baseline Road, Tempe, 480-730-7770, www.littleindiaaz.com)

Butter marinated squid.
Butter marinated squid.
Lauren Saria

Ika Kara Age from Hana Japanese Eatery

Though it may be a simple dish -- and an appetizer at that -- the ika kara age can be life-altering. Pieces of squid come marinated in sweet butter and then battered tempura-style and fried. The meat achieves a texture and buttery flavor that seems downright impossible until you've experienced it yourself. And once you do you'll probably never look at calamari the same way again. (5524 N. 7th Ave., 602‑973‑1238, www.hanajapaneseeatery.com)

The buttery bun seals the deal for this dish.
The buttery bun seals the deal for this dish.
Lauren Saria

Carolina Dog from Joe's Farm Grill

A trip to The Farm at Agritopia is always a treat, but it's particularly enjoyable when there's time to stop for a bite at Joe's Farm Grill. At this retro-futuristic farmside restaurant, you'll find plenty of good options, but the Carolina Dog is one I return to time after time. Maybe it's the combination of a grilled all-beef hot dog and heap of smoky pulled pork that makes this dish work so well, but the crisp housemade coleslaw and toasted, buttery bun sure don't hurt, either. (3000 E. Ray Road, Gilbert, 480‑563‑4745, www.joesfarmgrill.com)

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