BEST DELI 2005 | Katz Delicatessen & Restaurant | Food & Drink | Phoenix
They say you can tell a good Chinese restaurant by how many Chinese people are dining there, and we feel the same way about a good deli, if you know what we mean, which is why we were so happy to see a nice Jewish guy like David Leibowitz on a recent trip to Katz Deli. Leibowitz works up the street at KTAR radio, and assured us he's a regular. So are we, after tasting the chopped liver, which, to us, is the most important item on the menu at any deli.

We dragged a friend from New York along on our deli mission. At first, she suggested we simply recommend that anyone looking for good deli food in Phoenix have it FedExed in from Carnegie Deli in Manhattan. Very funny, we said. She changed her mind after lunch at Katz Deli, where she pronounced the whitefish as good as the chopped liver (although she found it odd that the whitefish salad was orange) and gave the corned beef the New Yorker's seal of approval.

She also nodded her approval at the decor, which could have been plucked out of any one of a number of boroughs (think wood paneling and cartoons from the 1970s, along with faux-leather booths dating back at least that far). The friendly help? Now that wasn't so New York. But that was just fine with everyone.

With "cattle" being one of the Zona's four C's, along with copper, cotton and citrus, and considering the fact that the PHX once was home to one of the largest feedlots in the nation, you'd think that there'd be killer barbecue on every corner of this burg. But for whatever reason, great barbecue is harder to find than a fur-wearin' Phoenician in August. That's why we're friggin' thankful someone bent our ear about Big City BBQ, which has slammin' barbecue, whether you're talking about pulled pork or chicken, beef brisket or pork spareribs. The sauce is thick and tongue-tingling, but the meat itself is soft and juicy, so that superior sauce isn't hiding second-rate meat. Sides are off the hook as well: candied yams, savory mixed greens, peppery black-eyed peas, brown sugar baked beans, and so on.

For dessert, there are sugar biscuits and peach cobbler, but the barbecue is the real reason to pay a visit. Believe us, you won't be mad at us for recommending Big City to you.

We don't know what we'd do without Stacy Phipps, proprietor of Stacy's, Phoenix's finest soul food restaurant. Phipps consistently prepares the best fish, fried chicken, greens, rice with gravy, and black-eyed peas that we've had outside of Dixie. Moreover, he includes items on his menu sure to warm the heart of any erstwhile son of the South, like fried chicken livers and chicken gizzards, that mass of muscle in the fowl meant to grind up any stones the unlucky clucker has swallowed. Fortunate indeed was the little girl or boy down South who got to eat the gizzard or the liver when their mama cooked a whole chicken for dinner, and we feel just as fortunate when we down a whole hopper of gizzards and/or livers at Stacy's. But that's not all. There's barbecue, sweet tea, corn bread, peach cobbler, and so on. Why, with Stacy's nearby, we never have to go home for all that good eatin', which is exactly the way we want it.
Jackie Mercandetti
From Central Avenue, Autumn Court looks like some funky gingerbread house, but stepping inside is like walking into the fog-draped Chinatown of San Francisco in the 1940s. The main dining area is designed like a faux autumn arbor, with a tree's amber-tinged limbs overhead and a waterfall that gurgles over fake masonry. Dining areas are walled in by dark, wooden paneling and glassed-in shelves with all manner of wax and plastic fruits, veggies and dry goods. Paper lanterns hang overhead, and the tables are set with kitschy ceramic glasses filled with chopsticks.

And the food? A grab-bag of reliable, old-school faves, like pot stickers, crispy aromatic duck, sizzling rice soup for two, moo shu pork, moo goo gai pan, spicy Szechwan chicken, and many others. Not as exotic as some other places in the Valley, but 100 times better than what you'll get at the mundane, prefab chain joints.

Why is the Buddha's belly so fat and his smile so wide? Too many Twinkies and six-packs of Old Milwaukee? Wrong again, pork bun breath! Actually, the "golden Buddha" statue in the lobby of the Chinese Cultural Center's Golden Buddha restaurant is Bu-Dai (Hotei in Japanese), the corpulent, smiling mendicant revered for his good humor and generosity. Chances are the Phoenix version has been packing on the pounds by eating dim sum to his heart's delight at his namesake, the new eatery at CCC, which serves dim sum daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. See, dim sum actually means "heart's delight" in Cantonese, so that's a little pun on our part. But we don't kid when it comes to Golden Buddha's dim sum, an endless parade of small plates that include sweet shrimp-stuffed noodles, shark-fin dumplings, barbecued jellyfish, custard-filled pastries, coconut cake, and red-bean-stuffed sesame balls, to name a few. In fact, a few too many trips to Golden Buddha, and you may resemble, well, a golden Bu-Dai. But hey, at least you'll be smilin'.
The first time we visited Stingray Sushi, not long after it opened, we were more impressed by the eatery's decor than its maki or nigiri. Brought to us by the same team that gave us the hip Scottsdale tiki bar known as Drift, Stingray was an instant hit with the Gen Y party set, with its orange walls, zebrawood tables, and general James Bond-ishness. It's taken a little time for Stingray to prove itself as more than just a pretty face, but our last few outings of bellying up to its sushi bar have shown us that it is. Sure, the crowds are still attractive, and the interior is still fit for a Bond nemesis, but now the sushi is produced as professionally as you'll find anywhere else in our oceanless metropolis. And in many cases, it rises to the level of greatness, as it does with the lollipop -- tuna, salmon, whitefish and crabmeat wrapped in cucumber, then sliced and skewered. Or the pink blossom, with unagi, tamago, shrimp and avocado in a roll bound by pink rice paper. Standards like tuna, yellowtail, and toro (fatty tuna) nigiri and maki are just as fresh and delicious. And that's why, over time, Stingray has become the first place we think of when we want to get our sake and sushi fix. Good work, gents.
Sea Saw is the province of Chef Nobuo Fukuda, renowned for his "tapanese" cuisine, a marriage of the Spanish concept of little noshes called tapas with high-end Japanese eats. It's all about the rare combinations of delicate flavors Fukuda brings to the table: kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) purée topped with a bit of curry and a little pile of caviar; chilled, pan-seared duck breast in a soy-zinfandel reduction; white fish "carpaccio" with thinly sliced ginger in a bath of yuzu juice with sesame seeds. It ain't cheap. The portions are nouvelle-size at best (read: small, people). Everything is prepared slowly in front of you by Fukuda and his staff, and by the time your bank account is depleted, you may have to use your remaining five bucks to buy a couple of hamburgers to fill the gaping hole in your tummy. Somehow, it's all worth it, because Sea Saw's taste sensations are so varied, refined and creative that you'll willingly max out your credit card for them. Come to think of it, identity theft would come in handy here. Why, with some rich dood's Amex in your pocket, you could load up at Sea Saw until you're actually stuffed! Anyone out there got a copy of Jerry Colangelo's Gold Card?
There's something about living in the desert that makes you crave seafood as if you were a pregnant walrus. And if we were a hungry, knocked-up walrus in the desert, we'd want a condo nearby Eddie V's Edgewater Grille. It's way up in Scottsdale's DC Ranch, but it's worth the drive, because Eddie V's leaves the competition in the proverbial dust by doing two things: preparing incredibly fresh fish, and doing more than just grilling it and plopping it on a plate, like they do at some other fish eateries in town. If you order oysters, you can bet those suckers are straight from the sea, and the lump crab would snip you with its claws if it still had 'em. But Eddie V's excels when it comes to such piscatorial pleasures as Pacific escolar, Chilean sea bass, or lemon sole -- all served in gorgeous, upscale surroundings. Don't forget to check out the long, swanky lounge bar -- and good luck getting a seat there on a Friday night, especially if you're a pregnant walrus.
Lauren Cusimano
"Hey, can I buy you a shot of ouzo?" If you don't hear that and "Opa!" about a half-dozen times during the evening, then you're probably not at Greektown, where chef-owner George Vassiliou will do everything to make your stay a joyous one short of feeding you moussaka by hand. Come to think of it, he'd probably do that, too, if he figured it'd make you happy. Vassiliou's sure to do his Zorba dance for you, even if you're the only one in the room, downing a plate of souvlaki by your lonesome. The food's all good, whether it's gyro pilaf, dolmades, avgolemono soup, spanakopita, roast lamb, or baklava. And Vassiliou's got a nice selection of Greek beers and, of course, ouzo. The place used to be a Pizza Hut, but you'd never know that from the blue-and-white interior, with its murals and decorative stained-glass windows depicting Grecian cityscapes and seascapes. A lot cheaper than plane fare to Athens, that's for sure.
It must be the lack of zydeco music that keeps the Cajuns and Creoles from starting restaurants in the PHX. Maybe they're afraid they'll spontaneously combust in the dry heat. Or could it be the fact that the alligator isn't our state bird, like it is in Louisiana? Whatever the cause for their P-town phobia, there's a distinct lack of Cajun/Creole eatin' here in the Big Not-So-Easy. Someone get Paul Prudhomme on the horn, pronto! Actually, there is one Louisiana grub-ateria in town worth the visit: Baby Kay's, over at Town & Country. We don't know what Chef Prudhomme would think of Baby Kay's, but at least it's making an effort to represent the bayou. Baby Kay's menu boasts red beans and rice, shrimp rémoulade, crab cakes, boudin with apricot-pepper jelly, and jambalaya with andouille sausage. And like Justin Wilson used to, we gar-on-tee that Baby Kay's serves catfish, po'boys, gumbo, and some of the best garlic bread this side of the Mississippi River.

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