Meagan Mastriani
Looking for a hot ticket to spicy Korean cuisine? Try Hodori. Tucked into one of the East Valley's best strip malls for Asian cuisine (also home to Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, as well as a small Korean grocery store), this no-frills eatery feeds a savvy crowd that's hungry for authentic Seoul food at reasonable prices. Hodori doesn't skimp on the panchan, those delightful small plates that prep the palate with a variety of flavors and textures, from peppery kimchi to soothing chilled bean sprouts. You could practically make a meal out of those, but hold out for generously sized main dishes like still-sizzling bulgogi (marinated barbecued beef), bibimbap (beef, vegetables and egg on top of rice), or one of Hodori's nuclear-strength tofu soups, served in super-heated bowls that keep 'em sputtering and nearly boiling over as you dip into their chili-red broth. Hodori really knows how to bring the heat.
Sushi Ken
Lauren Saria
We first found out about this recent addition to the Ahwatukee dining scene from several friends who raved about it — and all of them are Japanese. Kinda says something about a place, doesn't it? Of course, you don't need to be a Nippon native to figure out what a find Sushi Ken is. We love the casual, unpretentious atmosphere, the glossy, photo-filled menu (which makes us drool every time), and the easy-on-the-wallet prices. (Dinner combos for under ten bucks? Hai!) So far, we haven't tried a single thing we haven't liked here, and although we stop by every chance we get, we still haven't even come close to exhausting our options. Dream it up, and Sushi Ken has it covered: soba and udon noodle soups, broiled marinated cod, korokke, yudofu, chicken katsu, and sushi galore. They have nearly two dozen kinds of sake on hand, and they even serve honest-to-goodness, hard-to-find Japanese desserts like mitsumame and anmitsu. Forget about light rail; if we had our way, we'd head to Sushi Ken by high-speed bullet train.
Indian Delhi Palace Cuisine of India
From crisp, white tablecloths and ornate Indian décor to the incredible, complex aromas wafting from the kitchen, everything about Indian Delhi Palace hints at a good meal to come, even before you crack open the menu. And sure enough, once the royal feast kicks in, you'll be dazzled by the flavors here — smoky chicken tikka masala, luscious lamb korma, and vibrant palak paneer (creamed spinach with cubes of cheese) are just a few of the standout dishes, which we like to wash down with a frothy yogurt lassi. As for the buttery garlic naan, it's simply fantastic, probably worthy of its own "Best of" for a perfect balance of crisp and doughy textures (not to mention how handy it is for cleaning up every last drop of curry on our plate). And come dessert time, try the creamy rice pudding or some syrup-soaked gulab jamun, even if you think you don't have room. A meal this tasty can't end with anything less than a food coma.
Tasty Kabob
We're in heaven every time we head down Apache, from Rural to McClintock — as far as we can tell, there's nowhere else in the Valley with such an incredible variety of Middle Eastern restaurants in such close proximity. Really, they ought to rename it Shawarma Street. And planted right in the middle of it all is a lovely bistro of the Persian persuasion, Tasty Kabob. Along with solid Mediterranean standards like hummus, stuffed grape leaves, tabbouleh, and juicy, charbroiled kebabs (they have eight kinds, including a marinated filet mignon version), there are plenty of specialty dishes you won't find anywhere else. Eggplant borany bears a superficial resemblance to baba gannouj, but here, the pita-perfect dip combines creamy puréed eggplant with onions, garlic, mint, and a drizzle of yogurt sauce. Fesenjan is a meatball dish with cooked walnuts and pomegranate sauce, and ghormeh sabzi is an aromatic concoction of beef, herbs, and beans. Even dessert is unusual: rosewater-saffron ice cream. Sure, Tasty Kabob lives up to its name, but there's so much more to love about this place beyond meat on a stick.
Blue Nile Cafe
Ethiopian dishes may not be household words yet — zegeney, anyone? — but no matter. All you need to know is that the food at Blue Nile Café is as homey and satisfying as any meat-and-potatoes meal, with way better seasonings. And thanks to moist injera (a kind of thin, spongy sourdough bread), you don't even need to eat with utensils. The above-mentioned beef dish is cooked with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and ginger, while tender yedor watt, a chicken entree, dazzles with spicy berbere sauce. Hearty vegetarian dishes get the same slow-simmered treatment, and appetizers are just as intriguing; we're partial to the kay seer salad (a tangy mix of beets, potatoes, chilies and lime juice) and the addicting, deep-fried sambussas (crisp golden pockets of meat or vegetables). If you can, snag a table in the back room, where colorful woven basket-tables add to the authentic experience. Blue Nile Café has style and substance — and did we mention it's cheap?
Green New American Vegetarian
Courtesy of Green
Even card-carrying carnivores won't miss their beloved animal protein at Green, where seemingly hardcore vegan cuisine — which leaves out dairy as well as meat — gets an American comfort-food spin. Whether you prefer mock meats, tofu, or just a whole lot of vegetables, Green's preparations are fresh and flavorful, with exotic seasonings and sometimes a gutsy degree of spiciness. Bland rabbit food this ain't. Irresistible starters include curry and vegetable-filled samosas with tamarind sauce, and garlicky, chipotle-flavored hummus with pieces of crisp fried pita. There's plenty in the way of Asian-style rice bowls and pan-fried noodles, but the kitchen also cranks out some excellent flatbread pizzas (yes, there is such a thing as vegan cheese), salads, and sandwiches. After a few bites of Green's Argentine po' boy, stuffed with fake steak, caramelized onions and peppers, and zingy chimichurri sauce, we feel like we'll never need to eat real meat again. But what about dairy? Oh, yeah, they even have homemade soy ice cream. What will they think of next?
Coup Des Tartes
Jamie Peachey
Oh, so you're finally gonna dust off that nice bottle of wine you've been hoarding for so long? It's about time. And, boy, do we know just the place for you to drink it: Coup des Tartes, a wonderful but almost too well-hidden bistro located just south of Highland, in a quaint, historic house.

With wood floors, coved ceilings, and candles everywhere, the atmosphere is special-occasion cozy, completely worthy of that fine vintage you're ready to sip. The menu's outstanding, too, with dishes that change with the seasons to showcase natural meats, wild fish, and lots of local, organic produce. There are a few old favorites you always count on, like spicy, Moroccan-style lamb shank, juicy filet mignon, and luxuriously creamy risotto, dressed up with whatever's fresh. And no matter what entrée they come with, the Yukon mashed potatoes here are incredible — so buttery you'll want to lick the plate.

Come dessert time, there are usually about a half-dozen freshly baked tarts to choose from. Your bottle will probably be kicked by then, but in case you need consolation, the sweet banana brûlée will definitely do the trick.

Welcome Diner
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Whether you're a nostalgia buff or just a burger lover, head to Welcome Diner for some old-fashioned flavor. Situated on a quiet corner in the historic Garfield District, just a few blocks east of all the art galleries on Roosevelt Row, this adorable Depression-era diner, done up in bright white paint with cheerful red trim, is a true vintage treasure. Inside, there are only nine seats at the compact counter, where it's easy to get acquainted with your fellow diners, and there's always a good view of owner Pete Hearn manning the minuscule kitchen. (And there's more seating outdoors, for the milder months of the year.) The menu is as simple as diner food should be, with an emphasis on premium ingredients, from juicy, organic burgers to freshly made, hand-cut french fries. Living in this fast-food nation — where we couldn't be less connected to where our hot dogs are made or who's cooking our lunch — a trip to Welcome Diner is a refreshing blast from a more personable past.
Scott's Generations
You've got to consider a lot of things, when looking for just the right Jewish deli. How are the knishes? Is the meat fresh? The bagels? What sort of horror will cross the waitress's face when you try to order ham and cheese with mayo on white bread? (Just kidding; we know we're in Phoenix, meaning deli staff has seen it all.) For us, the most important measure is the chopped liver. Is it creamy but substantial, flavored with onions, just like grandma used to make? Why, yes, at Scott's, it is. No generation gap here! Even better than we remember. And served with a heap of bagel chips, cucumber and sliced onions. Heaven on a plate. Or a heart attack, depending on your perspective — and cholesterol level — which is why we're glad this whole taste-test "best of" thing only comes around once a year.
Andreoli Italian Grocer
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
If you think Italian delis are defined by meatball subs and tortellini salad, boy, are you in for culture shock. A far cry from the old-school neighborhood deli standard, Andreoli's is way more Old Country, making it a rare find. Nowadays, how many delis are hangouts for honest-to-goodness Italians? Here, they're all around you, feasting on authentic dishes like grilled, marinated calamari, roasted peppers with garlic and anchovy sauce, bresaola with arugula and shaved Parmigiano, or perfect panini filled with prosciutto or homemade sausage. If you want a taste of la dolce vita, just follow their lead. Grab a San Pellegrino Limonada — or a glass of Chianti — and settle in for a leisurely lunch with friends. Then, instead of rushing home or back to work, finish off with a fresh pastry and a cappuccino. Take your time, and don't bother looking at your watch. When the food's this good, is there anywhere else you'd rather be?

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