Joe's Farm Grill's Fresh as Can Be Fontina Burger
David Holden
Joe's Farm Grill's Fresh as Can Be Fontina Burger
Nothing goes better with a juicy Fontina burger or a grilled all-beef hot dog than a good basket of fries, and at Joe's Farm Grill — a Jetsons-esque eatery with its own organic farm, located in East Gilbert's Agritopia community — they've turned fry-making into an art-form. Cooked in trans-fat-free oil, Joe's standard-issue fries are crisp and light, a tribute to all that's tasty about a potato. But what really keeps us coming to this far corner of the Valley are the variations: fries smothered in homemade chili and a handful of cheddar cheese; baked potato fries done up in sour cream, cheese, chives and crumbled bacon; addicting sweet potato fries with chunky pineapple-serrano dipping sauce; and the most garlicky garlic fries the Valley's ever seen. Tossed with olive oil, herbs, and pecorino romano, these potent potatoes will keep the vampires at bay for at least a week.
Chicken wings are just an afterthought at so many restaurants, often buried in a list of run-of-the-mill starters like mozzarella sticks or fried jalapeños. That's why we head to Long Wong's when we have a real hankering for them. Here, wings are the star of the menu — no mere appetizer, but the main dish itself. The people at Long Wong's understand wings, which means they totally get why a big pile of six or 10 of these babies equals a meal to us. Fried to a golden crisp, and still moist inside, we're happy to eat 'em unadorned, but the sauces are just too good to pass up. We're keen on honey hot and garlic parmesan cheese, but we also love the classic, tangy hot sauce. Beyond mild, medium, and hot, Long Wong's bumps up the heat level another notch with addicting, deliciously brutal "suicide" sauce. If you catch us chowing down on wings at Wong's, don't worry if you see us looking a little teary-eyed. Those are tears of joy.
SunUp Brewing Company
Molly Smith
We knew these were our new favorite onion rings when we polished off a whole plate in a matter of minutes. Most restaurants are heavy-handed with the fried coating, which fills us up after we eat just a few. But Sonora Brewhouse does 'em differently, more like tempura than breaded bar snacks. These oversized rings are dipped in hefeweizen batter that's surprisingly light when it comes out of the fryer — puffy and moist on the inside, crisp and golden on the outside — and brings out the sweetness of the onion itself. Served with creamy homemade ranch dip, they're the perfect partner for a cold pint of pale ale. Don't be shocked if you find yourself ordering another plate when you order another round of drinks.
A Touch of European Cafe
Courtesy of A Touch of European Cafe
An antiques shopping spree in historic Glendale just doesn't feel complete without a pit stop at A Touch of European Café, a darling BYOB with a handful of tables inside and out. The hearty Polish fare is just the fuel we need when we're trawling for treasures, and reasonable menu prices satisfy our bargain-hunting urge. Fresh kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, and garlicky pork goulash often tempt us here, but we can hardly resist the pierogies, a plateful of doughy boiled dumplings pan-fried in butter. We especially like 'em filled with potato or sauerkraut, with plenty of sour cream on the side. Sure, this comfort food seems better-suited to an Eastern European winter than a Sonoran summer, but you'd be surprised at how much they hit the spot, even in August. After a long day shivering in too much air-conditioning, a steaming plate of pierogies is the best way to thaw out.
George & Dragon Pub
We get the urge to cross the pond whenever we see a British Airways jet flying out of Sky Harbor, but instead of splurging on a plane ticket, we usually just cruise over to George & Dragon for a taste of jolly old England. The place is buzzing with beer-fueled spirit, from the lively crowd at the bar to the focused blokes playing darts and pool. A few TVs, a rockin' jukebox, and tons of colorful banners get us in the mood to party with the expats, and a platter of fish and chips only adds to the Brit flavor. George & Dragon's version is gloriously gut-filling, with a slab o' fish that takes up half the plate. Coated in a crisp, golden batter, the firm-fleshed fish is deliciously moist. As for the chips, they're hefty and not too greasy, cut thickly enough to keep the insides fluffy. Round things off with a side of creamy coleslaw, and we're ready for a pint — or three.
Papago Brewing Company
Meagan Simmons
We've always looked forward to a mind-boggling beer selection, hearty bar food, and the jolly, life-sized statue of a Belgian monk that awaits us at Papago Brewing. But ever since we sampled the sliders at this friendly, laid-back neighborhood brew-geek hangout, where brewery paraphernalia and beer taps serve as décor, we can hardly come up with an excuse not to visit. (Yes, we're blaming our increased alcohol consumption on a humble plate of miniburgers.) Instead of the wimpy, thin patties you get at most places, Papago Brewing makes its sliders with cuts of grilled beef that are as juicy and flavorful as steak — only smaller — and then tucks them into fresh, soft buns along with melted Swiss cheese and a generous layer of caramelized onions. They're so good that lately, we can hardly drink a pint without a plate full of these little beauties to munch on.
Cornish Pasty Co.
Shelby Moore
Few epicurean delights in the Valley are as saliva-inducing and ultimately satisfying as a pint of lager and a steaming hot pasty — Cornwall, England's culinary contribution to the world. Tempe has Cornwall native Dean Thomas to thank for being on the pasty map, and his off-the-charts success with his two-year-old Cornish Pasty Co. is a testament to Thomas' hard work and originality. With a new location in the works and near-daily offers for franchise deals, Thomas is the living embodiment of the American Dream by way of southwest England. And his ingenuity extends to the multiple varieties of these football-shaped calzone-like pastries that can be stuffed with everything from salmon with asparagus to chicken tikka masala to pork with apple and steak, and potato and rutabaga, as in the case of the traditional "oggie." Our fave pasty, though, is the bangers and mash, stuffed with chunks of housemade sage and pork sausage, mashed potatoes, and grilled onions, with a red wine gravy on the side. Comfort food at its best. For the bangers and mash alone, young Thomas deserves beatitude. Saint Thomas of Cornwall, patron saint of all pasties. And we don't mean those things strippers wear.
Veneto Trattoria
You knew it had to happen. After watching so many episodes of The Sopranos for all these years, we'd start hunting down the Italian delicacies they raved about on the show. Little did we know that baccala is a lot harder to come by in Arizona than in North Jersey. Well, we've finally found the good stuff: Veneto Trattoria's decadent baccala mantecato — dried, salted cod prepared Venetian-style. If you've never tried it, it's nothing like the way it sounds, neither dry nor particularly salty. Instead, the snowy white fish is slow-cooked until it falls apart, then mixed into a fluffy, creamy consistency that melts in your mouth. At Veneto, they serve it with the traditional accompaniment of grilled polenta. It makes a fine appetizer, as a prelude to housemade fettuccine or osso buco with saffron risotto, but now that we're so obsessed with baccala, we need a whole plate to ourselves. Whaddaya gonna do about it?
Dimly lit and done up in sophisticated shades of gray-blue and chocolate, with good-looking clientele lounging on plush banquettes and inviting couches, Sol y Sombra is undoubtedly one of the sexiest restaurants in town. But don't get too distracted, at least not until you've ordered dinner — the food here is just as exciting. Executive chef Aaron May and chef de cuisine Walter Sterling have crafted a dynamic, delectable menu that elevates the humble tapas dish to a miniature work of art. Everything is beautifully presented and vibrantly flavorful, from the simple, comforting Tortilla Espanola, a thick slice of potato pie drizzled with garlic aioli, to succulent slices of duck breast with shaved fennel. With a nice bottle of rioja or tempranillo from Sol y Sombra's expertly edited wine selection, you'll be geared up for a leisurely evening of sipping, grazing, and flirting with those cute strangers at the next table. The Spanish would be proud.
Ajo Al's
Despite County Attorney Andrew Thomas' failed attempt to ruin this terrific family restaurant with his P.R.-driven "Dirty Dining" campaign (the case was tossed out of court earlier this year), Ajo Al's remains a trusted standby for thousands of spice-happy Valley eaters. We like the food just fine, but it's the chicken soup that brings us back for more, and then more. It's got a bite to it, and a rather thick broth imbued with black pepper and probably more than a pinch of chili powder. The delicious chunks of white chicken meat are too big to swallow in one bite, so it becomes a three-utensil (fork, knife, and spoon) affair, and that doesn't count the mandatory tortilla or two to soak up every last drop. Really, it's a meal in itself and, as a bonus, will clear the sinuses by the time you're done.

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