BEST SIGNATURE DISH 2006 | The Pink Taco | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Here's how the conversation went, over the menus at Pink Taco: "Hey," said our dining companion, a Pink Taco fan (actually, Jason Rose, the restaurant's local PR guy), "you've gotta order the Pink Taco." "Oh, no," we replied. "We'll pass. We really don't like fish." That cracked Rose up. Whoops. Our bad. Turns out, the Pink Taco (a.k.a. panuchos) doesn't have any fish in it at all. C'mon, Jason. Who can blame us for assuming? Still, we turned the same rosy shade as the pink pickled onions in the restaurant's signature dish, and after all that, we had to order one. And we've gotta say: It was damn good. A small corn tortilla is filled with beans, grilled chicken, salsa roja, pickled onions and avocado. The chicken is tender and tasty, the tortilla's fresh and the onions are a nice complement. The only problem with the Pink Taco? It was a little messy. We know, we know . . . T.M.I. . . .
Like many longtime Valleyites, we have fond memories of the original Trader Vic's. It was located in downtown Scottsdale, and by the time we made it there, the blush was off the rose, the blowfish draped with cobwebs and dust. Still, for us, this was as glamorous as it got. (This was before the Drinkwaters brought liquor and clubs to town, and before we could order a cocktail ourselves, for that matter even with a fake ID.) We're not sure the contents are exactly the same, but one thing from the old Trader Vic's that seems resurrected with some authenticity at the new version swank and stark, tacked onto the edge of the Hotel Valley Ho is the pupu platter. Still aflame, still featuring enough pork and fried items to ensure you won't make it to the next resurrection of Trader Vic's, we love it, particularly alongside several cocktails we're now more than old enough to order.
We weren't surprised to see lavender on Mthode Bistro's dessert list, where it shows up twice in the form of creamy lavender ice cream (which accompanies wood-roasted pineapple and crisp pastry) as well as lavender cookies (paired with a white chocolate and blueberry frozen souffl). Something about its intoxicating aroma gives sweet foods a special twist. But chef Matt McLinn took us off guard with his Mediterranean-inspired dinner menu, where the herb takes a savory turn in a sauce for tender foie gras. It was unusually good, and now we've found ourselves craving this out-of-the-ordinary flavor. We can only hope that this spawns a trend.
Don't ask us to pronounce "aciliezme." Doesn't matter, you can just ask your kind Efes waiter for the Atomic Bomb. Or order the appetizer platter. That's what we did, and while the waiter did warn us that the pile of reddish crumbs he called hot sauce (hardly looks like hot sauce, more like hot crumbs) was a little fiery, we were not prepared for the assault to the lips, tongue and mouth. After a few minutes of gasping and gulping (water or wine, whatever was nearby), we went back for more. The mixture of breadcrumbs, walnuts and seven kinds of pepper (six for taste, one for color, we're told) is irresistible, in an S&M kind of way. Or maybe it's the luxurious pillows and low benches we're invited to lounge on at Efes, where the rest of the appetizer tray including hummus, spinach pie, pita and falafel was all delectable, and just the right temperature.
Lisa G has us by the balls. Sure, the creative salads at this chic, laid-back little wine bar are addictive (especially the steak salad with spinach and blue cheese). And the hefty sandwiches, made on fresh, fragrant MJ Bread (Tammie Coe's hubby), are some of the best in town. But Lisa's Bowl of Balls is what really gets us hot and bothered. Boy, do these meaty marvels ever delight the unabashed carnivore in us. They're made from owner Lisa Giungo's own family recipe using beef, veal, pork, and some secret-but-tasty ingredients, and they come smothered in chunky, homemade marinara sauce. The portion's certainly filling enough to be an entree, but don't be surprised if your friends all want to try them. Our greedy strategy for getting around that? Order them up as a grinder, with melted provolone cheese, and keep the sandwich all to yourself.
For such a ubiquitous salad, the mighty Caesar is sadly botched more often than not. Whether it's from the wrong kind of lettuce (only romaine will do), overpowering, gunky dressing, or too many shakes of straight-from-the-can grated Parmesan, too many restaurants take a heavy hand with this seemingly straightforward classic. Radda's "La Stella" Caesar is a shining star of simplicity. Although it's not prepared tableside, according to tradition (we're hard-pressed to find anyone doing that these days), this plate of large, crisp, artfully arranged heart of romaine leaves, lightly dressed in subtle seasonings and rich olive oil, still satisfies. The croutons, made from grilled focaccia, are deliciously chewy, and fresh shavings of high-caliber Italian Parmesan are generously feathered on top of the masterpiece. It's easily a meal unto itself. Order it with grilled chicken served thinly sliced and warm and you've got all four food groups.
We are well aware that salad is supposed to be diet food, but we're just as aware at how much wink-wink, nod-nodding goes on around many menus in town. Nowhere is this more evident or, we believe, better justified than at Country Glazed Ham, where we recently made pigs of ourselves over the club salad. No grilled chicken here the chicken atop this salad was deep-fried and delicious, accompanied by bacon, cheese, avocado and enough sweet dressing to satisfy our craving for dessert. The salad comes with a side of enough bread to make sandwiches for a week but if you're like us, you'll down that right then and there, too.
We figured the seafood would be killer at this new Scottsdale hot spot after all, it's Eddie V's sexy younger sib. Sure enough, Wildfish has quickly become our favorite place to chow down on seafood so fresh it tastes like it leaped right out of the ocean into the frying pan. From the looks of the crowds in this bumpin' joint, we're not the only ones who're hooked. And while we'll gladly come back for another plateful of salmon or buttery sea scallops, the one thing we'll insist on ordering is Wildfish's signature crab cake. Here, it's all sweet, moist lump crabmeat with a sassy touch of fresh horseradish. Served up lightly browned, with a helping of creamy chive rmoulade sauce, it's one of the best versions we've ever eaten.
At most places, bruschetta might get just a listing on the appetizer menu, but at Postino, it's more than a mere starter. Served up with a small bowl of olives on a wooden cutting board, it's four large slices of chewy, lightly crisped bread adorned with the most satisfying toppings (there are 10 options in all, and you can pick four no easy task). We like the chopped roasted red peppers piled on a layer of goat cheese; smoked salmon on pesto, sprinkled with capers and minced red onion; and (our favorite) creamy mascarpone and sweet figs, draped in thin-sliced prosciutto. Depending on how many people are sharing the bruschetta, the kitchen will slice up the pieces accordingly. But seriously, this bruschetta's so good you'll want it all for yourself. Even if you can't finish it, you'll still have fun trying.
There are things about the old Mill Avenue Long Wong's we still miss (seeing great local bands, drinking cold beer on the patio), and there are things we definitely won't (um, how to describe that awful smell that only got worse when smoking was banned?). But there's no need to be nostalgic at the new Long Wong's, a colorful little place just up the street from the lot where its predecessor once stood. Okay, so there's no patio, no booze, and no room for shows, but so what? The bird is the word, and these wings are just as good as we remember. Served up original style or extra crispy with carrots and ranch dip, of course you can get 'em slathered in a choice of nine different finger-lickin' sauces (we're partial to the flaming-lips sensation of Long Wong's suicide sauce). And at a nickel under five bucks for a dozen, there's no better way to stuff your face on the cheap.

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