Kabab Palace

Just because Kabab Palace happens to be the only Afghan restaurant in town doesn't mean it's any less worthy of "Best Afghan Restaurant." For one thing, after such a long dry spell with no Afghan cuisine to speak of in these parts (Chopandaz, the first and last Afghan restaurant in this area, closed in the early '90s), the food at Kabab Palace is a vivid reminder of the delicious flavors we've been missing all these years.

Owners Haroon Sherzai and Jalal Achakzai, who moved to the Valley from San Francisco, have dressed up an inconspicuous strip-mall space and rolled out a menu full of traditional specialties, from aushak (paper-thin ravioli filled with leeks and scallions, topped with ground beef, mint, and yogurt sauce) and kaddo (baked then pan-fried baby pumpkin served with garlic-yogurt sauce and savory ground beef sauce) to several kinds of juicy charbroiled kebabs.

Homemade mango ice cream and dense, silky rice pudding perfumed with cardamom are just a couple of reasons to keep eating when you think your stomach's ready to burst. Finish off with a strong Turkish coffee, and you'll bounce right back from that looming food coma.

The Dhaba
Courtesy of Dhaba

What is it that makes Indian food so craveable? We're not sure whether it's the fragrance of raisin-studded biryani, the tenderness of marinated meats, the complex, exotic seasonings, or the mouthwatering yin-yang of spicy heat and creamy coolness. Whatever it is, it's something that no other cuisine can match — how else to explain our shameless pigging out whenever we set foot in an Indian restaurant? Usually, we head to The Dhaba, where we inevitably soothe our cravings but set ourselves up for even more hunger pangs when we see what our friends are eating. Anything from the tandoor (clay oven) is good here, from outstanding naan (especially the green chile version) to a plethora of meat dishes.

We're huge fans of gosh rogan josh, tender chunks of lamb in a buttery sauce of dried chiles and yogurt that makes us want to lick our platters clean. There's also great nawabi murgh tikka (chicken marinated in yogurt and spices), fresh sole in a golden curry sauce, and quite a few chaat (scrumptious street snacks smothered in chutneys, yogurt sauce, fresh cilantro, and chile powder).

If you want something sweet, there's milky rice pudding, Punjabi ice cream, and a sweet Indian confection nicknamed "carrot fudge." You might find yourself too stuffed for any of it, but if there happens to be a Bollywood-style dance performance during dinner, dessert is a good excuse to hang out and enjoy the show a little longer.

Asian Cafe Express
Heather Hoch

What's in a name? Well, not always what you might think. To the uninitiated, Asian Café Express might seem like a nondescript fast-food joint serving a mishmash of Asian food, but in truth, this unassuming eatery is pure Hong Kong, baby. Like so many good Chinese restaurants, Asian Café Express is efficient and no-frills, with specials written in Chinese and English tacked to pastel pink walls. Photos of special dishes are helpful, too, since the menu itself sprawls on and on.

Like noodles? This place has dozens of choices, from black mushroom chow fun and beef tripe lo mein to a slew of different soups. Stir-fry dishes round up a mind-boggling assortment of ingredients, such as bean sprouts and shredded pork, or scrambled egg with shrimp. You can get whole fish prepared several different ways, and there are so many hot-pot concoctions that it would take weeks of dedicated eating just to try them all. But hey, it's fun to try — nothing costs more than $7.99, so why not be adventurous?

Sala Thai Restaurant

Looks aren't everything, but here's a place that's as humbly adorable as it is delicious. Tucked into a narrow space that seems like it was intended for a bare-bones diner, Sala Thai serves up affordable, authentic Thai cuisine in a friendly, casual atmosphere. Thai wall hangings and elaborate wooden carvings provide simple decoration, but the real eye candy is what's on the plate — and once you get a look at the menu, you'll want a whole lot of plates. With more than a hundred items to choose from, it can be a challenge to narrow down the choices, but every bite is rewarding, from tangy shredded papaya salad, spiked with lime juice, to savory Thai barbecued sausages, served with spicy-sweet chile sauce. We're fond of the delightful shrimp pumpkin curry, with tender chunks of pumpkin, plump shrimp, bell peppers, and fresh basil in an aromatic red curry paste. Noodles are a big deal, too, and stir-fries run the gamut from pepper steak to spinach with sliced duck. Vegetarians will find several meatless specialties, and heat seekers will be happy to find out just how hot Sala's "Thai hot" really is. If you're not that brave, just take our word for it — your tongue will thank you.

Restaurant Takamatsu
Evie Carpenter

There's something so nice about finding a great restaurant and sharing the news with your friends. And there's no better place to go with a hungry gang of your nearest and dearest than Takamatsu. Trust us: You'll need a lot of mouths to feed when you see how much food comes with a Korean barbecue feast at Takamatsu. From marinated bulgogi (thinly sliced beef) and boneless chicken to melt-in-your-mouth kalbi (marinated beef short ribs), it's a meat lover's fantasy come true. The best way to experience it is at a table with a built-in grill, where you can cook it all up yourself (with helpful waitstaff standing by, of course). While you're at it, try the crispy haemul pa jeon (seafood and scallion pancake), a pizza-size treat served with sesame-soy dip. There's an expansive sushi menu, too, as well as Japanese and Korean noodle dishes, soups, and other entrees to make your belly happy. At Takamatsu, the more, the merrier.

Yasu Sushi Bistro

Casual but stylish, with sleek furnishings and moody lighting, Yasu Sushi Bistro reminds us of modern izakaya in Japan, where top-notch eats and premium sake are served with an extra helping of hipness. We love to snag a seat at the tiny sushi bar and let chef-owner Yasu Hashino guide us through plate after plate of delicacies, from plump, briny Kumamoto oysters to silky mackerel to rich, fatty toro. But beyond the stellar sushi and sashimi, the robatayaki offerings, grilled over aromatic binchotan oak charcoal, are just as craveworthy. Homemade chicken meatballs called tsukune and bacon-wrapped scallops are a couple of favorites; on days we feel like splurging, buttery wagyu beef is worth every expensive bite. There are plenty of sushi restaurants around town that get the job done when we're craving a quick fix, but none of them really satisfies our jones for an authentic Japanese dining experience like Yasu Sushi Bistro.

Pho Avina

Consider us impressed. For such a tiny restaurant, Pho Avina sure has managed to bulk up its menu with a wide variety of Vietnamese specialties. There are more than a hundred items in all, from simple classics like bun (rice vermicelli noodles) and piping hot pho (noodle soup with a characteristically fragrant broth and fresh herbs), to more elaborate combinations like com tam dac biet, with grilled chicken, pork, beef, and shrimp served with fresh and pickled vegetables on broken rice. There are several do-it-yourself dishes that you wrap in fresh lettuce or moist rice paper, along with quite a few vegetarian options, which you don't find at most Vietnamese restaurants. Dessert is noteworthy, too, with sweet treats like rice pudding, creamy Vietnamese flan custard, and coconut ice cream. Pretty presentations and generous portions are an added bonus, but better yet are the prices — and you don't have to be a student across the street at ASU West to appreciate them.

Cafe Lalibela
Timur Guseynov

Mom always got after us when we ditched the knife and fork to eat with our fingers, but we got our comeuppance when we discovered Ethiopian cuisine, traditionally scooped up by hand with moist, spongy bread called injera.

At Café Lalibela, the food's so tasty that we'd like to call it finger-lickin' good, but as it turns out, taking the expression literally is bad manners in Ethiopian culture. No worries, though — the sourdough flavor of injera is truly addicting, and we're happy to tear off big pieces of it to grab at yawaze yebeg tibs (spicy cubes of pan-fried lamb) and kye sega wat (tender beef simmered in spices). Café Lalibela's vegetarian specialties are amazing, too, from garlicky collard greens to flavorful lentils and peas. Turns out Mom was actually on to something when she made us eat our veggies.

Green New American Vegetarian
Courtesy of Green

Technically, Green serves vegan food — that is, it contains no milk, eggs, cheese, or any other animal product. That may sound intimidating, but trust us: It's the tastiest meatless cuisine in town. The beauty of this place is how even full-blown carnivores can appreciate it. While vegetarians get a bad rap for liking flavorless, healthful stuff, Green shows the naughty side of the veggie lifestyle with decadent treats like fried pita with spicy garlic poblano hummus, thyme fries with homemade vegan chili, and dairy-free Tsoynamis that give Dairy Queen Blizzards a run for their money. We also love Green's sauce-slathered po' boys and its famous spicy Buffalo wings, which have all the punch of real chicken hot wings — incredibly, they're made from mushroom stems. With dishes this craveable — along with a laid-back, café-style atmosphere and cheap prices — we find ourselves veggin' out quite a bit.

Fresh Mint
Jamie Peachey

It's no secret that Asian restaurants are a vegetarian's best friend. When in doubt, you can always go for a veggie stir-fry with rice, or anything with tofu. That's fine with us, but we always did find it kind of strange that so few Asian joints actually cater to the veggie crowd. At Fresh Mint, though, there's no meat on the menu, period, which means that vegetarians can have a field day at this bright, lime-green cafe. The list of appetizers includes several kinds of fresh rolls as well as exotic salads, including green papaya salad and lotus salad. Among the soups, there's a meat-free take on pho, a Vietnamese classic.

And entrees include noodle dishes, curries, various combinations of veggies and tofu, and some intriguing faux meat specialties, such as kung pao soy chicken, and caramelized soy fish in a clay pot. There aren't many fried things here, and that's fine with us, though you don't have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the healthful stuff.

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