BEST CAJUN/CREOLE RESTAURANT 2006 | Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Feeling ravenous? Good. You'll need to bring a big appetite to Baby Kay's, or at least make room in your fridge for leftovers. This sunny, friendly joint with pale yellow walls, homey wooden furniture, and upbeat music on the stereo promises mighty fine eatin' for days when you'll happily ditch your diet to dig into something rich and filling. Start things off with some hot wings or crabcakes, or, if you'd rather guilt yourself into ordering something lighter, rest assured even the grilled chicken salad is on the spicy side, thanks to a dose of apricot-habanero Tabasco dressing. Then gear up for a big helping of creamy crawfish touffe, a plate of spicy jambalaya jammed with chunks of chicken and andouille sausage, or a steaming bowl of chicken gumbo. (If it's too much trouble to choose, get all three with the Cajun Combination dinner.) It might take some endurance to clear your plate, but feel free to take your sweet ol' time like they do in Louisiana. Goodness gracious, a food coma never felt so good!
Cozy, candlelit Citrus Caf makes a primo date destination, or just an intimate spot to sip wine with foodie friends, nibble on something dreamy (like warm almond-crusted grilled Brie with apples), and marvel over the menu, an ever-changing list of bistro classics handwritten on a display board that waiters bring to each table. Sizzling filet au poivre, buttery lapin la moutarde, marinated lamb chops, and herb-crusted salmon are just a few of the delightful dishes that might make an appearance on any given night. As you might guess, dinner here is a splurge, but if you're expecting a smidgen of haughty Euro attitude with your French food, you'll be surprised at how attentive, discreet and (quel shock!) downright welcoming the service is at this elegant eatery. Just thinking about Citrus Caf makes us feel all warm and fuzzy.
If you're a meat-and-potatoes kind of person, Bavarian Point serves the ultimate comfort food, our favorite for German fare. The Wurst Pfanne is made for indecisive sausage lovers, with sizzling hot Polish sausage, bratwurst, and knackwurst all on one plate, and the rindsroulade offers an unusual take on steak, with vegetables rolled up in thinly pounded sirloin. Other specialties include Hühnerbrust Calbados (chicken with cream sauce and spaetzle), veal Wiener schnitzel, and several seafood options, but Bavarian Point does pork best of all. Loosen your belt and settle into a cozy booth before you dig in to the schweinebraten, a classic presentation of tender roast pork with moist dumplings and savory, not-too-salty sauerkraut. It's rich, it's filling, and it's the ultimate complement for an ice-cold glass of beer (there are a dozen on tap here). If that doesn't take care of your raging protein craving, nothing will.


Eden's Grill Inn

Diana Martinez
What did Adam and Eve nosh in the Garden of Eden? Who the heck knows, but they probably couldn't have done any better than the rice at Eden's Grill Inn. Here the saffroned, aromatic basmati is crafted with seven different spices, and filled with sultanas and slivers of Marcona almonds, making it one of the best platters of rice we've ever inhaled in the Valley. They didn't eat meat in Eden, but fortunately we don't have to worry about that heavenly prohibition at Eden's Grill Inn, where the lamb shank is tender and soft, the chicken kebabs golden, juicy and plump, and the ground beef kebab chock-full o' spices. This Eden for Middle Eastern cuisine is run by Marcus and Shalem Narsa, Assyrian Christians originally from Iraq, but more recently from Chicago, where they owned a bakery and restaurant for some 25 years. As you might expect, their desserts are heavenly, especially the baklava, and the multi-layered caramel cake drizzled with melon sauce. Why, you'll think you've died and gone to, well, uh, Eden . . .
Jamie Peachey
Valley diners have more options for Indian fare than most European cuisines, so this is a tighter race to judge than some of the other categories. And though we've rarely met an Indian spot we didn't like, Scottsdale's Tandoori Times garners the glory on taste alone. Its portions tend to be a bit smaller than at other places though reasonable prices help make up for this. And there isn't as wide of a selection as you'll come across in other Indian restaurants. But the flavor of TT's tandoori-cooked meats is more intense than elsewhere, and the quality of the curry gravies seems higher as well. As an added bonus, there's nothing dingy about the clean, airy and smart dining area. And it boasts a couple of the better sweets in town: a nice-size bowl of rice pudding (kheer) with raisins, and those large syrupy pastries known as gulab jamoon. If we pick Tandoori Times this time around, it doesn't mean we don't love the Valley's other Indian places we just love Tandoori Times a little more.
We're not sure we're totally with this whole tapas thing. Sure, if you're some Andalusian alkie hitting the booze parlors in Granada, the quality's guaranteed. Plus, in Spain, these bar snacks often come free with the drinks. Here in Ameri-duh, they make you pay through the nose, sometimes $13, the price of an entree, for a portion of food that barely takes up the better half of the palm of your hand! But at least at DC Ranch's Sol y Sombra, you seem to get your ducat's worth most of the time. We attribute this success rate to the presence of chef Aaron May, who once worked for Food Network overachiever and obsessive clog-wearer Mario Batali. May can whip up patatas bravas that'll make you sing, and gazpacho that'll make you dance like them fools on Fuse TV's Pants-Off Dance-Off. This being Scottsdale, there's a floor show of sorts with all the MILFs showing off their new implants to one another, so you have something to watch while you nosh.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Got a hankering for some truly authentic Vietnamese food? Da Vang's got the real thang. On a chilly winter day, we'll go with pho (a steaming bowl of beefy rice noodle soup) or one of countless filling stir-fry dishes. And during the summer, we'll start with the obvious hello, summer rolls! and then move on to some bun (cool rice noodles topped with barbecued pork, fried spring rolls, or shrimp) or a hot-off-the-griddle banh xeo (pork and shrimp crepe with sprouts) wrapped in fresh lettuce and dunked in salty-sweet nuoc cham. Truth be told, we could eat this stuff any time of year, regardless of the season. Da Vang's the kind of no-frills neighborhood joint where we feel just as welcome stopping by for a quick solo bite as we do relaxing with a bunch of hungry friends. The price is always right, too.
Korean barbecue is just the sort of ethnic food more Americans would love if they tried it. That's because the Koreans love charred meat, just like we do. So when you visit a Korean restaurant like Takamatsu, you not only have a variety of sushi, casseroles, kimchi, and even more exotic fare to choose from, there are also all kinds of marinated beef and pork, which you can grill up on the nifty gas grill built into your table. Eat it up with the half-dozen or more condiments that come with the order. And suck it down with a big bottle of Korean brew, and soju, a liquor made from sweet potatoes that's not quite as strong as vodka. Takamatsu draws its share of Korean celebs when they're in town, like pro-golfer babe Michelle Wie, which should tell you something. The place has a ski-lodge feel to it because of the wooden exterior and interior, so it's not devoid of atmosphere. Now if we could only run into Wie while we're there, and perhaps share a drink with her. A plate of beef, a jug of shoju, and thou, sweet Wie. That's all we really want.
The Valley can always use a new Thai spot, but what Sala Thai brings to the table isn't just more of the same; rather, it brings a different type of Thai cooking altogether one that's not as heavy, relies more on fresh veggies, and can strip the paint off a fire hose in its most potent form. Best order the mild or medium version of everything, if you can't stand the heat. But if, on the other hand, your sinus cavities are lined with flame-retardant metals, have at it! The clear noodle salad served at the hot level can mimic the surface of the sun, and the beef salad might just be that alternative fuel we need to power our cars without gasoline. The Thai omelet is on the cooler side, as is the "son-in-law egg," a mildly fried hard-boiled egg, sprinkled with fried garlic, which makes for the perfect pre-din-din nosh. Hot or not, Sala Thai's preparations are unique, and offer a different perspective on Thai cuisine, which is why it's earned this year's Best Of nod.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
So here's one place where adults can eat with their hands with complete impunity: Tempe's Cafe Lalibela is a classic Ethiopian eatery where traditional stews called wat are served on large pancakes of spongy injera, a bread made from the grain teff, which is native to northeastern Africa. Along with your stew of beef, lamb, fish, and any number of veggies, like collards, lentils or cabbage, you get a hopper of folded teff. You tear off a bit, scoop up the food from platter to mouth, and munch out. No fork needed! Brilliant, eh? Also, the wat lends itself to endless Abbott and Costello-like discussions, such as: "What's on my plate?" "That's right." "What?" "Yes, wat." And so on. Great for hours of amusement as the proprietors wonder when your party's finally gonna vacate the premises.

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