BEST GREENS 2006 | Memphx Cafe | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Dammit, we know our gol-darn greens! We've spent many years in the Deep South. We've dined repeatedly at the (sadly) now-closed Stacy's soul food restaurant, as well as Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe and Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles, in Phoenix. We've even brunched at Roscoe's over in La-La Land. All of them do, or did (in Stacy's case), a mean plate of collards. But the recently remodeled joint on Indian School Road, just west of the 51, called Memphx has the best greens we've ever tasted anywhere. The owners, who hail from (you guessed it) Memphis, Tennessee, and right here in Phoenix (MEM-PHX), are on their way to turning their place into the best soul food restaurant in the area. Now, we weren't too fond of their concept of putting fried chicken and catfish into taco shells (guys, you're taking the Memphx thing too far!), but we'd go back again and again just for the greens with ample smoked turkey mixed in. There's obviously a secret ingredient, but the cook admits that she uses not just collard greens, but turnip and mustard greens as well. She substitutes the ham hocks that would be used in the Deep South with the smoked turkey (it's an obvious sop to health nuts, but you can't tell the difference really). She admits that she seasons the concoction with garlic and jalapeos, but will reveal nothing else. If you go there, ask for a double order of the greens (one order's just $1.75), and an order of Memphx's hushpuppies. For the uninitiated, a hushpuppy's a ball of fried cornbread so named because at fish fries in the South, bits of the cornmeal batter from the catfish would be scooped out of the deep fryer, cooled and thrown to the begging yard dogs, with the admonition: "Hush, puppy!" As for us, we can't stop talking about these greens.
Okay, you're probably asking how we can recommend anything at a downtown Phoenix Chinese restaurant. That is, how good could some dive behind Chase Field be? After all, we're not talking about a sports bar here. But if that's what you think, you're ignorant, round-eye. Actually, the area surrounding Sing High contained a throng of Chinese businesses back in the day. It was the PHX's oldest Chinese neighborhood. But even though the place has been owned and operated by the same family for 78 years, we aren't recommending the chop suey. It's not bad, but we've had better. What we're saying that you should brave the terrible downtown parking situation these days to sample is Sing High's six-piece Asian rumaki appetizer. Now, we're used to rumaki where the strip of bacon is wrapped around a water chestnut (this was a popular appetizer in old Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies of the '50s), but real Chinese rumaki is much better. At Sing High, the cook wraps bacon around a water chestnut and liver, and then fries it. Of course, there's a secret ingredient that makes it all Sing. Most recipes call for soy sauce, ginger and chili flakes. If your arm doesn't go numb from the impending heart attack after eating a plate or two of this delicious assemblage of ingredients, your cardiovascular system's in much better shape than ours, which is why we shared a plate with another diner. If you're a liver lover and who doesn't crave crispy bacon? you're in for a treat. Just don't overdo it.
Pain, suffering, and punishment. That's the theology most of the world's major religions sell. Well, later for that cheese! We've decided to worship that corpulent, jolly "buddha" with a small "b" known as Jin Foo, Bu Dai, or Hotei. This smiling, big-eared mendicant with a belly like Homer Simpson's greets visitors to the Chinese Cultural Center's Golden Buddha restaurant, where we like to pay homage by snarfing loads of dim sum, the best in the Valley by far. As you sit, servers race around you with gleaming steel carts, asking if you'd like to sample their wares, everything from steamed pork buns and shrimp dumplings to more exotic eats like beef tripe and barbecued jellyfish. For the fearless, there are fried chicken feet, and for the fearful, huge slices of eggy cake. Now, isn't this more fun than singing hymns in Sunday school? It's the only religion where being fat and happy is the mark of a true believer.
Without naming any names, there are a lot of big shots locally in the sushi game, some with labyrinthine sushi emporiums, outfitted with as much glitter and bling as money can buy, statuesque waitresses to fetch your raw fish for you, and, usually, a line of doods behind the sushi counter who might as well be making cheese-drenched nachos as toro nigiri. Over these places, we'll always take a smaller purveyor, one devoted to quality, who knows his fish like Captain Jack Sparrow knows the Black Pearl. One such purveyor is Tempe's Sushi Eye, helmed by sushi chef Richard Cho, who not only does traditional sushi right, but also whips up some of the best specialty rolls that we've ever had. Cho's got quite a catalogue of them. Our faves include the ASU Roll, with shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and macadamia nuts; the riceless Atkins Roll wrapped in cucumber; and the Climax Roll, with hunks of tuna and wasabi sauce, which is best eaten after a trip to the adult Fascinations superstore next door. Cho's a real maestro of maki, and is always adding new ones to his menu, so repeat visits are obligatory. You'll leave wishing Cho's House of Rolls was catty-cornered to your condo.
Welcome to Jamrock, as Damian Marley might say, south Phoenix-style. Sure, when you saw the line "Best Jerk," you thought we were talking about County Attorney Candy Thomas. No, that'd be "Biggest Jerk." Rather, what we're celebrating here is that Jamaican barbecue style that uses a dry-rub blend of spices such as allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon and thyme to transform your average clucker into a fiery bantam fighting cock. The jerk ain't the only way you know owner and kitchen maestro Eulet King has more talent and experience in her itty-bitty finger than most chefs do in their whole bods. There's also the oxtail, the curried goat, and the Jamaican national dish of salted cod and ackee fruit, to name a few. And we can't get enough of King's johnnycakes, dense, golden lumps of fried dough that pair so well with any of the entrees, or by themselves, washed down with a glass of lemonade or a bottle of ginger beer. How can such a tiny place produce such a big flavor, you may ask? Well, how did a small country like Jamaica produce Damian's pop Bob? It's a mystery. Best not ask. Just enjoy.
Lauren Cusimano
Say what you want about Republicans, them GOPers ain't stupid. That's why you'll always see a gray-haired herd of elephants in Christo's during the lunch and dinner hours at the old-school Eye-tie joint. At Christo's, the waiters do everything but kiss your tootsies, the grub is good, the drinks are stiff, and they've always got Sinatra on the box. No wonder moneybag conservative types flock here. But what keeps us coming back despite our lack of Grand Old Party affiliation is the linguini escargots: fat black gastropods in a light marinara sauce with garlic and mushrooms over pasta. The taste is so simple, earthy and satisfying that you wonder why more places don't make an effort to depart from the usual butter-and-garlic snail shtick. Moreover, it's a steal on Christo's lunch menu, at $7.50 a plate, a real value for well-heeled Republicans and down-at-the-heels Democrats alike.
Heather Hoch
This category should actually be named "Best Use of Several Mushrooms," since the chefs at Cowboy Ciao mix a combo of cremini, oyster and button 'shrooms topped with grilled portabellini to create the best mushroom fry we've ever tried. The dish served as an appetizer or hefted up for an entree is accompanied by double-cooked polenta and dressed with cotija cheese, avocado and tomatoes. Heaven in a pan.
At first, we must admit, it tasted faintly of lip gloss, a blast back to the eighth grade. But as we munched the lightly dressed shredded cabbage that accompanies many dishes at Ticoz a new restaurant just north of Camelback Road the slightly sweet and sour flavor of passion fruit grew on us. Passion fruit is just one of the unusual flavors (cinnamon's another not so unusual on its own, but the chefs implement it creatively) you'll find in your food at Ticoz. Now we find ourselves craving it so much that well, you'll have to excuse us. It's lunchtime. See ya.
The very talented chef Vanna Vorachitti of Glendale's funky, spunky Siamese Kitchen is responsible for our fave duck right after Donald her spicy gang-pedyang, or roast duck in red curry with coconut milk, tomato chunks, pineapple, bell pepper and basil. Not that everything else on Vorachitti's menu isn't worth eating. For sure, we love her laab, papaya salad, Thai toast, mee krob, tom yum gai soup, and all of her curries. But it's gang-pedyang for which we're most willing to make a special trip to her odd little space in a strip mall that she shares with a tattoo shop and a honky-tonk. That same honky-tonk's music thumps away at the '70s-style wood paneling of her diner-like eatery every evening, so it's probably a good thing that she's closed by 9 most weeknights. Otherwise, you wouldn't feel right eating there unless you were wearing a cowboy hat and a big shiny belt buckle. Are there any Thai cowpokes out there? If so, we've got the perfect strip mall for them.
"You say sanbusa. I say samosa. Let's call the whole thing off!" Wait a sec, Lady Day. Let's call the callin'-off off, instead, and make haste to that little corner of Somalia on McDowell Road known as Juba Restaurant. There we can partake of fragrant, spice-laden cuisine hailing from the Horn of Africa, including scrumptious Somali-style sanbusas, the Somali take on the sometimes meat-, sometimes veg-filled Indian pastries known as samosas. Juba's sanbusas are of minced, spiced beef, stuffed into crispy, fried, triangular crusts. The result is thick, flat, and larger than the samosas you'll find at most Indian establishments. Just try one of these Somali meat pies, and we promise you'll be hooked like a largemouth bass no matter whether you call them sanbusas or samosas.

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