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.
Kashman's Place
Steve and Nancy Kashman opened the first of their two Scottsdale delis about six years ago with a simple formula for success: Build the best matzo ball soup around, and they will come. Though it's a schlep up for most of us up to north Scottsdale, we've found ourselves making the pilgrimage with greater frequency in each passing year. Thanks in large measure to a huge water tank onsite that replicates the spring water of Brooklyn, the soup has a rich, but not-too-salty broth, with freshly chopped carrots and pieces of celery, large chunks of succulent chicken meat and, last but definitely not least, the matzo balls themselves. Jews (and even gentiles) long have engaged in impassioned philosophical debate over the merits of matzo ball-making, as in should they sink or should they float? These babies tend to sink, but they're not heavy. They are fluffy, but not light. They fall apart when you cut into them with your spoon, but they don't crumble. Like manna, they are truly heaven-sent.
House of Tricks
Timur Guseynov
It takes more than creamy dressing and Romaine lettuce to make a good caesar salad, and rare is the restaurant that makes one substantial enough to eat as a meal. But come lunchtime, the memorable version at House of Tricks always satisfies. Here, it's a generous heap of fresh Romaine tossed with lightly garlicky dressing, crisp, homemade croutons, capers, kalamata olives, and shredded Parmesan, served on an enormous dinner plate. You can order it topped with grilled chicken, or even anchovies by special request, but go for the silky, pecan-smoked salmon, made in-house. The salmon alone is worth a trip to Tricks — we love to graze on an appetizer platter of the savory fish while we sip Chardonnay at the intimate outdoor bar. But added to our favorite salad, it's the best of both worlds, as light and refreshing as an appetizer, and as filling and flavorful as an entree. If only we could indulge every day.
Med Fresh Grill
Meagan Simmons
Chef Mustafa's not telling. Tastes like eggplant? Sure, a little bit. Looks a tad like crushed tomato? Yeah, but looks can be deceiving. The spiciness must mean there are some chiles in there somewhere, right? Mustafa just smiles, and asks if you'd like another cup.

It's Chef Mustafa San's secret sauce. Of which his fans — who know the guy as a master of Middle Eastern munchies from his stints at Tempe's Efes Turkish Cuisine and now Mill Avenue's Med Fresh Grill — are quite familiar. The Anatolian edibles at Med Fresh are some of the best and least expensive of their kind in town: kebab, baklava, falafel, you name it. But we're hooked on his sauce, and slather it on everything — pita, rice, meat, everything. Crikey, we'd eat a dachshund if it was dipped in the stuff. The recipe? Mustafa's not sharing. You can guess all you want. He'll even let you take some home for further, um, analysis. But there's only one way to acquire this savory spread, at the Med Fresh Grill, and the cagey Mustafa plans to keep it that way.

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