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When chef Jeffrey Beeson took over tiny Convivo this year, a great thing just got better. The setting in this modest place off a strip mall parking lot is casual, but the eats are all glamour -- American classics goosed up with unexpected flavors. Local produce is a star here, and we get our daily vitamins with the Convivo Collection, an ever-changing assortment of grilled vegetables that might include leeks, red pepper, Japanese eggplant, carrots and zucchini, delightfully paired with garlicky hummus, salami, barley salad and pecan-crusted goat cheese. Appetizers are adventurous -- an edgy house-cured salmon nesting with crispy fried ravioli in a pineapple butter sauce with peppery nasturtium leaves, for example. Entrees are outright excitement, such as coconut-crusted ahi tuna topped with fried calamari and slicked in plum-marigold-mint vinaigrette alongside soba noodles. And for dessert, our favorites are the guajillo chile-squash flan in fragrant cinnamon syrup, or a fudgy ancho-chile brownie. With food this stunning, we're more proud than ever to say that we're American.
There's something decidedly unromantic about having your éclair handed to you by a person wearing a cowboy hat or a teenager who repeatedly uses the word "like" as a modifier. Rest assured that this will never happen to you at Au Petit Four French Pastry and Bakery, located between a pair of escalators on the ground level of the Camelback Esplanade. Recently opened by a newly arrived Frenchman, Au Petit Four offers delicious, authentic pastries, salads, sandwiches and quiches with a flourish and a friendly (and correctly pronounced) "Bonjour!" Whether you crave a croissant, a brioche, a "Parisian salade," or just an earful of wonderful French accent, Au Petit Four is pure Gaul.

If Helen had a face that could launch a thousand ships, then Greekfest serves entrees that can launch a thousand tips. Greekfest has been our favorite for too many years to count, and somehow, it keeps getting better. Owners Susan and Tony Makridis have built an empire of the senses, with stunning flavors, a Grecian palace setting, and personality so charming we can't help but shout "Opa!" when our saganaki arrives. How could we restrain, as the mild kefalograviera cheese is soaked with brandy, then dramatically flambéed at our table? If we want exotica, we slurp oktapodi skaras (grilled octopus in cabernet sauce). When we're feeling a little more traditional, we go for the moussakas (slices of baked eggplant and ground lamb with béchamel and cheese), or roasted rack of baby lamb dressed with pine nuts. Greekfest is a festival of flavors we're happy to attend all year long.
There are those days when nothing will satisfy your culinary cravings like oyster omakase. You know the feeling. Hey, when that mood hits, head for Hapa Sushi Lounge. Omakase, of course, means a multicourse chef's choice dinner (in Japanese). And at Hapa, depending on the bounty of the day, it can be an upscale orgy of mollusks exquisitely paired, if you like, with wine, sake, sparkling wine and champagne. Perhaps the selection will include a trio of Washington State oysters, served in-shell on a long sushi-style tray. Different varieties are presented hot, in a sauce of sake, soy, grape seed oil and chives; or cold as palate refreshers, in varying baths of ponzu, spicy daikon and green onion or lime and chile. Playing the perfect partner is wonderfully smooth Kurosawa Daiginjo sake. In this Valley's shell game, Hapa Sushi Lounge is a guaranteed winner.
Haiku, the poetry, tries to capture life's emotion in a few simple lines. Haiku, the restaurant, is -- as its menu gushes -- a blend of "poetic food and art." And it succeeds in capturing the best of local Japanese dining experiences in a tiny, 10-table spot with a brief, uncomplicated menu and always-fresh ingredients. Like its namesake, Haiku embraces simplicity with only the finest elements represented. Tonkatsu comes as only authentic tonkatsu should: with shredded cabbage. New Zealand mussels are stuffed with real crab and a creamy mushroom sauce, then slid under a broiler. Salad is spectacular, with cucumber, seaweed strips, daikon sprouts and smelt roe tossed in ponzu. The signature Haiku steak is topped with grilled asparagus and shiitake mushrooms under a drizzle of enoki mushroom sauce. Memorizing poetry in high school was no fun. Today, we can't get enough of it, served as it is at Haiku.
Sushi is sushi, right? Really, it's just rice, mixed with vinegar, and topped with stuff. Raw tuna. Yellowtail. Maybe some nori (seaweed), or, for a splurge, a quail egg. It's not even cooked. So what makes a sushi chef a chef? A few minutes watching the professionals at Sushi on Shea is all the answer you need. It's art in motion, watching these guys craft a simple California roll. Ask them to surprise you, then watch them let loose on their own artistic creations, as they flash knives, slice fish and vegetables into impossible shapes, and arrange a colorful plate worthy of hanging in a museum. But what makes the true difference, of course, is taste. And nobody is more consistently superb than Sushi on Shea. Only the freshest seafood -- ruby-red tuna, sparkling smooth hamachi, and silky salmon -- is used. Any of the daily specials, posted on the chalkboard above the sushi counter, are spectacular. Oh Shea, can you sea? You bet.
There are plenty of places to get cheap sushi; fast-food Japanese shacks abound in our town. But you get what you pay for: flabby, skimpy fish rolls that have been sitting in their plastic trays for hours before you order. And there's usually little choice in these bargain joints; maybe a California roll, sometimes a tuna roll or cucumber roll, perhaps some salmon. Then there's Origami's. While this place serves its food fast, you'd never know it to sample the sushi. All selections are hand-rolled to order, right before our eyes. The variety is magnificent, competing with our better full-service sushi shops. And the portions are unparalleled: An order of spicy tuna rolls, at just $3.99, brings a platter of eight jumbo pieces -- more the size of California rolls than the traditional teeny tekka maki rolls -- and stuffed with fish the thickness of our thumbs. At Origami's, we say sushi, good buy.
Jean Paul Sartre opined that "Hell is other people." For those who agree, heaven must be a sushi happy hour so tasty and affordable that you don't mind being surrounded by that most annoying variety of Other People: shoppers at Scottsdale Fashion Square. On weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m., and from 9 to 11 p.m., Kona Grill offers select half-price sushi rolls, $4 sake bombers, and half-price appetizers -- including Sweet Maui Onion Rings, among the best onion rings in the Valley. For folks who hate a crowd, this is a Faustian bargain, since Kona Grill's bar is ever-jammed with sunless-tanner-loving androids discussing condo interest rates. After some tuna wasabi and a few rounds of sake, however, the crowd will seem positively existential.
Over there, it's pronounced "cuisine de Cooba." Over here, it's pronounced Havana Cafe. However you say it, Havana Cafe is tiny but classy, and the breadth of the menu is breathtaking. We find it hard to choose, so we love the combinacion de favoritas -- a mouth-watering platter of moros (white rice cooked with black beans), tamal Cubano (tamale of fresh ground corn, pork and sofrito seasoning), yucca frita (a fried, potatolike vegetable), platanos maduros fritos (fried ripe plantain), and ensalada de col (cabbage in a lime, garlic and cilantro vinaigrette). Paella is always a showstopper, too: a huge pan brimming with fresh Maine lobster, Manila clams, green-lip mussels, bay scallops, Gulf shrimp, chicken breast, Spanish chorizo, pork, Valencia rice and imported saffron. Stamp our passport! We're going to Havana Cafe.
Some folks think the only thing a bakery can crank out is sweets. We know better. Pastries are wonderful, but don't overlook more-filling foods, like the delectable wechez, deep-fried potato brimming with ham and cheese. Papa relleno takes the edge off your hunger, bringing a crisp croquette stuffed with mashed potatoes and ground beef, while Argentine-style empanadas are ethereal turnovers plump with ground beef.

This doesn't mean you should pass on dessert, of course; finish up with flaky quesitos, buttery puff pastry ribboned with sweetened cream cheese; or tembleque, a cinnamon-coconut pudding. Other showstoppers include pastelito guayaba (guava turnover), dreamy-creamy cheese flan, and fluffy tres leches cake.

For stunning Puerto Rican taste treats, K-Rico is A-OK.

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