BEST DIM SUM 2007 | China King | Food & Drink | Phoenix
In other big cities, a jaunt to Chinatown helps ease the wanderlust — and quell the hunger for Chinese food — when a trip to Hong Kong just isn't in the cards. But we do things differently here. Nope, there's no Chinatown in the Valley, but there is Chandler, home to an enormous Asian population with a craving for the flavors of home. And when it comes to dim sum, China King reigns supreme. This place is no palace of old-school Chinese restaurant excess, nor is it some hard-to-find hole-in-the-wall. Instead, it's in a spacious, freestanding building that feels like a bustling banquet hall, with families seated at big, round tables while servers constantly make the rounds with their carts. With more than 50 dim sum choices, you never know what delicious dishes might be revealed in the next steamy stack of containers. Could it be shrimp har gow, so moist you can see through their translucent wrappers? How about some sticky rice, wrapped up with pork, shrimp, and fish cake in a tidy lotus leaf package? Maybe it'll be a fluffy steamed bun, filled with sweet chunks of barbecued pork, or shrimp paste fried on sugar cane stalks. Sooner or later, it'll all make its way to your table — even the chicken feet. At China King, everybody gets the royal treatment.
It's easy to be indifferent about tofu. Most of the time, soybean curd is served up as flavorless, flabby white chunks that merely absorb the tastes of other ingredients in a dish. We guilt ourselves into eating it when we're not in the mood for meat because it's light and healthful. But when do we ever crave tofu on its own? Only when we're at Fate, where chef-owner Johnny Chu's brilliant handling of the delicate substance sends us into fits of joy. Chu cuts firm tofu into wedges, fries it up until the outside is golden and crisp, and then serves it with a soy-based dipping sauce. And guess what? The flavor is just as addicting as the texture.

We happily gobble it up plain, as an appetizer, but it's equally delicious in the veggie-laden entrees. We're especially keen on the House Dynamite, Chu's spicy-sweet spin on sweet and sour, and the Cantonese Black Dragon, which comes slathered in the most mouthwatering black bean sauce in town.

We don't care how hardcore a carnivore you are — don't write off tofu until you've tasted it at Fate.

We're connoisseurs of peanut sauce, and lately our obsession has taken us many times to Tempe, where the friendly staff at Lemon Grass Thai have perfected the most heavenly version yet. We're keen on the sizzling beef, a house specialty that sounds quite simple (tender slices of beef, served up on a searing-hot platter, with spinach, cucumbers, and slivered almonds) but that is truly beguiling. Slathered in luscious peanut sauce that's creamy and complex — definitely more than just thinned-out peanut butter — the beef tastes out of this world. Satay chicken comes with the same standout peanut concoction, and you can get a side order of the sauce as well. Seriously, we could dunk everything in that and call it a good meal.
Jamie Peachey
We love to sip, slurp, and suck down noodles as often as possible, no matter if they're cold or hot, or from Italy or China. Luckily, instead of gallivanting around town to satisfy our need for novelty, we need only to roll into Cherryblossom for our fix. At this homey, friendly little Japanese eatery, the menu spans the noodle-making universe, with several Italian specialties and dishes from elsewhere in Asia. That means they make surprisingly addicting chicken parmesan with spaghetti, and deliciously fiery Korean beef with egg noodles, in addition to Japanese favorites, from stir-fried yakisoba to chilled hiyashi chukka to udon, soba, and ramen with a variety of toppings. It's like they know exactly what we're hungry for, even before we do.
Who goes out for potato salad these days? Isn't that picnic food, something you can make at home? Well, yeah — except when it's Sabuddy's awesome Russian potato salad, a far cry from the mild-mannered stuff you'll find at the grocery store deli or in mom's fridge. Here, it's chunky, chock full of ingredients, and deliciously zingy, combining tender potatoes, chopped hard-boiled eggs, sweet peas, cubed carrots, and tangy Israeli pickles. The delicious jumble of vegetables is tossed in creamy mayonnaise and brightened with just enough lemon juice to make it downright refreshing. It tastes good with everything else on the menu, from juicy grilled shishlik to hot, crisp falafel. We'd normally eat just a few bites of regular potato salad, but we can't get enough of Sabuddy's stand-out version.
Lauren Saria
Where's Mary's little lamb? We feel a little sheepish telling you we know exactly where, after another wonderful meal at the Middle Eastern Bakery. This Valley staple cooks up wonderful Lebanese chicken and a mean ball of falafel, but our favorite dish is the lamb kebab. Spiced just right with a hint of cinnamon, prepared perfectly, it's served with a side of tender rice, Greek salad and a piece of fresh-baked pita. We can't resist, we gotta say it: This is one place we're sure to go.
How is it that some of the world's strangest-looking critters happen to be some of the tastiest, too? Because on looks alone, alligators seem like they'd be about as tough to eat as an old lady's handbag. In truth, gator meat is surprisingly delicious — tender, mild white flesh that's as juicy as chicken after a good dunk in the deep-fryer. Of course, you'd never know it, seeing how hardly anybody serves it in these parts, although there is one place where we're sure to find it: Twisted. Chef-owner Carlos Manriquez — the globe-trotting culinary adventurer behind Atlas Bistro (just a few doors down, in the same Scottsdale strip mall) and Tempe's Mucho Gusto Taqueria — serves his golden, batter-dipped alligator bites with cornmeal-crusted calamari, butternut aioli, Cajun remoulade, and curry-pickled Asian pear. A friend had to twist our arm to taste it at first, but we're glad we took the leap of faith. Now we're the ones daring newbies to try it. Aw, c'mon — you'll like it!
Leave it to the Japanese to come up with yet another clever, interactive way to cook your own food with friends: Ishiyaki, which uses a smooth, superheated black river stone for sizzling up delicate slices of raw meat. The folks behind Taneko aren't Japanese — no doubt you're already familiar with their other restaurants, P.F. Chang's and Pei Wei — but they've embraced ishiyaki as a house specialty at their newest venture, which was inspired by Japan's ubiquitous izakaya (pubs). Here, they call it Hot Rock, but the idea's the same. They bring said rock to the table in a dish full of salt, which isn't affected by the heat. (Don't even think of touching it, lest you're ready turn your fingertips into tataki.) Next comes a platter of raw American Kobe beef, cut into perfect bite-sized pieces. Drop one onto the rock, watch it quickly cook, and then dip it into a garlicky, gingery sauce made with ponzu (a tart Asian citrus fruit). It's juicy, flavorful, and downright fun. But beware — if you overcook your pricey piece of meat, you only have yourself to blame.
Courtesy of La Grande Orange
We're convinced that Arcadia's premium real estate values have something to do with the cachet of La Grande Orange. After all, who wouldn't want to live near this place? It's that perfect corner cafe we've always dreamed of, where we can settle in with the New York Times and a latte at a table in front, or bring along a friend for salads on the shady patio and some chit-chat about the eye candy all around us. (As you might've guessed, there's no way we'd stop by on a bad hair day.) The grocery selection is more about gourmet treats than pantry staples, but whenever we're at LGO, imported cheeses, fancy crackers, and squid ink pasta suddenly seem essential. It's supposed to be dangerous to shop on an empty stomach, but even after we fill up on a tuna melt or a Tammie Coe Ooey Gooey cupcake, we can't help it when we fill our shopping basket with impulse buys. For one thing, there's the wine aisle, stocked from floor to ceiling with boutique-y labels. And then there are all the inedible must-haves, like stationery, magazines, and upscale pet toys. We want it all, we want it bad, and we know we're not alone in wishing LGO was in every 'hood. You'd be surprised at how many miles your fellow shoppers drove just to "drop by" this casual hot spot.


Wildflower Bread Company

It's always weird when a favorite local spot suddenly goes global. We like to support independent businesses. Does that mean that now that Wildflower has locations all over town, we should stop going? No way, we say! It just means we can find one most anywhere we happen to be. We love the variety of fresh bread at this little cafe (have you tried the soft pretzels?), and the salads are always super-fresh. On a recent visit, we were particularly impressed by the fact that although it was a busy Sunday morning, the guy who took our order at the counter was more than happy to accommodate all of our odd requests (which included eliminating certain vegetables from one dish, adding fruit to another, and making the whole damn thing fat-free). That's the kind of service we expect from a small guy, and we're glad to see Wildflower still providing it, even as business booms. Or should we say blooms?

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