Welcome to The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.
Up next, the chili salt chicken wings at Asian Café Express.
35: Chili Salt Chicken Wings at Asian Café Express
If someone tells you Asian Café Express is one of the most underrated restaurants in town, pay attention. This person knows the score.
Located in Mesa at Main Street and Dobson Road, Asian Café Express is an unassuming Hong Kong-style café housed in a strip mall suite. Its menu covers Chinese, Southeast Asia, and Western-influenced dishes, but the food, my God, the food, is where this little eatery shines.
Though the entire menu is impressive, some of us need not look beyond the appetizer section. The Chili Salt Chicken Wings come as a plate of five little drums for $4, and yes, you’ll want to get your own order. These won’t arrive with a cup of ranch and a small helping of celery, by the way. These little guys are different.
The drumettes are cooked in canola oil, and tossed in green onions, garlic, spices, and chili oil. They arrive extra crispy while the chicken inside remains juicy. A spoon accompanies the arriving dish, designed to dole the plate’s excess green onion, garlic, and spices into the little dell created by your first bite. It’s love.
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The restaurant has placed a little cartoon red pepper next to this menu item, meaning these wings have a mild kick. Not at all on a competition level, but a little bit of heat just the same.
Asian Café Express is said to be Arizona's first Hong Kong-style café, and was opened in 2005 by Hong Kong-born master chef Michael Leung and his wife, Susan. They’re open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
This well-praised spot has plenty of dishes (more than 300, in fact) to follow this snappy starter, but we wouldn’t blame you if the Chili Salt Chicken Wings at Asian Café Express turned out to be your dish from here on out.
The Essentials so far:
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore.
49: "Dragon" Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour.
48: Dizzy Fig Empanada at Republica Empanada.
47: Linguine Carbonara at Avanti.
46: The Food Court at Mercado de los Cielos.
45: Chicken Feta Salad at George’s Kitchen.
44: Spinach & Cheese Chimi Burro at Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant.
43: Dinner at Rustler's Rooste.
42: Gyro Omelet at Mel's Diner.
41: Zipps Wings at Zipps Sports Grill.
40: Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa.
39: Asian Nachos at Moto.
38: Olive Oil Tasting at Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill.
37: Baby Back Ribs at Don & Charlie's.
36: Limoncello at Cibo.