The Dhaba
Courtesy of Dhaba

Biggest clue that The Dhaba's gonna serve up a tasty Punjabi feast? Just look around — this stylish place is almost always packed with young Indian families, who order so many dishes that there's barely room on the tables for their dinner plates. Don't be surprised if you find yourself doing the same thing, especially once you experience the craveworthy chaat, savory northern Indian street snacks that overwhelm your taste buds with hot and cool, sweet and spicy, crunchy and soft. Marinated meats and various flatbreads fresh from the tandoor are equally appealing, along with rich curries and stews simmered in complex, aromatic spices. You won't find some of these unique dishes anywhere else in town, so The Dhaba is a must-try.

Sala Thai Restaurant

Thai food is all the rage in Phoenix — seems new spots are cropping up in every neighborhood these days. From fancy to no-frills, there's something to suit just about any taste and budget, but truth be told, we're fans of a humble hole in the wall called Sala Thai. It's laid-back and affordable, and better yet, the menu is packed with mouthwatering dishes that you won't just find anywhere. How about sliced duck in a coconut-milk-based red curry sauce, or juicy barbecued Thai sausages with sweet chile sauce? The flavors are amazing, and the kitchen is happy to go as "Thai hot" as you dare. Tangy, chile-spiked chicken larb, citrus-y papaya salad, noodle dishes, complex soups, whole fried catfish, and several vegetarian entrees comprise the 100-plus selections. It's a lot to explore, but until we can actually pull off a trip to Thailand, we're happy to eat our way through Sala Thai's stellar menu.

Asian Cafe Express
Heather Hoch

Don't be fooled by the nondescript name — Asian Café Express is all about authentic Hong Kong cuisine, masterfully created by chef-owner Michael Leung. The atmosphere feels a lot like Chinatown, too, from handwritten signs listing specials in English and Chinese to tables full of Chinese customers who make the restaurant bustle at dinner. They're here for chilled five-spice beef, plump pan-fried noodles kissed with heady black bean sauce, whole fish prepared a half-dozen ways, and all sorts of different hot pots, stir-fries, soups, and dumplings. Portions are generous, and prices are a bargain, too. In fact, there's so much to love about Asian Café Express that we routinely bypass our neighborhood Chinese joint to come here for the good stuff.

Yasu Sushi Bistro

Yasu Sushi Bistro may look like a humble neighborhood spot, but fans come from across the Valley for a taste of authentic Japanese cuisine. Exquisite ingredients are chef Yasu Hashino's forte, from pristine seafood to buttery wagyu beef. As the restaurant name suggests, sushi is a big deal at this bistro, and if you snag a seat at the counter, you can't go wrong in Hashino's hands. Cold, briny Kumamoto oysters, silky kampachi, and beautiful ama-ebi (fried heads and all) are just a few of the treats we've sampled here. Beyond the raw fish, though, this place specializes in succulent sumibiyaki grilled dishes, including the best tsukune (chicken meatballs) we've had in the States. And don't miss the list of daily specials, particularly the melt-in-your mouth braised Kurobuta pork belly kakuni. Yep, this hip, laid-back izakaya is truly a delectable little taste of Japan — and to think, it's just a stone's throw from Paradise Valley Mall.

Restaurant Takamatsu
Evie Carpenter

The Korean formula for a good time suits us perfectly: a group of friends gathered around a tabletop grill, heaping plates of marinated meat to sizzle up as you like it, and plenty of ice-cold beer to go with it. That's living! And that's why we're crazy about Takamatsu, where Korean barbecue is the house specialty. Splurge on intensely flavorful bulgogi (thinly sliced beef), succulent kalbi (beef short ribs), scallops, spicy pork, or rib eye. There's also excellent dol sot bi bim bap (beef, veggies and rice crackling in a hot stone pot), stir-fried kimchee with pork, sushi, and several kinds of hearty Korean stews. And don't worry if the whole cook-it-yourself shtick seems intimidating — the helpful waitstaff definitely won't let you go hungry.

Da Vang
Jacob Tyler Dunn

The menu at Da Vang, our favorite low-key hole in the wall for a cheap, filling meal, is so sprawling that it means only one thing to us: indecision. Should we slurp up a big, steaming bowl of the fabulous pho Da Vang, with thinly sliced beef, brisket, tripe, tendon, onions, and chewy rice noodles in heady beef broth? We crave that pretty often. But then again, there are those excellent stir-fry dishes, like the egg noodles with tofu, as well as summery bun, with barbecued meat or shrimp laid on a cool bed of rice noodles, sprouts, lettuce, and mint. And when we're hungry for a sandwich, the banh mi can't be beat. Think smoky barbecued pork tucked into a crusty baguette with cool, crisp cucumber, cilantro, onion, and carrot. Yep, there are too many tempting dishes at Da Vang — and drooling over our options is half the fun of dining here.

The Breadfruit

The Valley is a really good place to reinvent yourself, and we know plenty of people here who've found success in a whole new field — especially in the restaurant industry. Take entrepreneur Dwayne Allen, for instance. Last year, the Jamaican native and longtime Phoenix resident decided to shelve his career in IT and open The Breadfruit on a sleepy corner just beyond the center of downtown. Not only did the cheerful eatery brighten the neighborhood, it brought the welcome addition of Jamaican cuisine to the area. And now, it's one of our favorite places for a casual bite with friends. It's simple, unpretentious food, made all the better by great ingredients, like mountains of locally grown veggies in various vegan appetizers, or natural, cage-free chicken that's marinated and rubbed in tongue-searing spices for the grilled jerk chicken. Spicy escovitch fish, served with a sweet, hot-out-of-the-oven "festival" (bread stick), is another favorite. And after filling up on the savory stuff, we usually give in to a slice of ginger sweet potato "pudd'n" or the strangely delicious Grape-Nuts, ice cream, and Jell-O sundae. Give it a try, mon.

Green New American Vegetarian
Courtesy of Green

We always feel sorry for our vegetarian friends when the only things they can order off the menu are skimpy salads, side dishes, or the ubiquitous veggie burger. It's a shame more places don't cater to them. And it's far worse for a vegan. Thankfully, there's Green, where nothing on the menu bears a trace of animal products. And lest you think that equals bland health food, what Green does best happens to be total comfort food — flatbread pizza slathered in vegan barbecue sauce and vegan cheese, internationally inspired rice and pasta bowls topped with tofu and veggies, and a chicken Parmesan sandwich made with mock meat and vegan cheese, to name a few. Irresistible spicy buffalo wings are another highlight. If there's any place that can satisfy even meat eaters with tasty vegan cooking, it's Green.

Sage Kitchen

We knew we were in for something good the first time we stopped by Chakra 4 Herb & Tea House and smelled the wonderful aroma of dried herbs and freshly chopped vegetables that hit us on our way in the door. Part herb shop and part cafe, this cheerful, tucked-away spot serves scrumptious, organic vegetarian food that always gives us the energy boost we need. Savory homemade soups, wraps, and sandwiches bursting with ingredients, and colorful salads heaped so high that we can eat until we're stuffed and still not finish — it all goes well with special "health-promoting" teas that ease whatever ails us, from cold symptoms to jittery nerves. We also swoon at the thought of Chakra's exotic, locally made chocolate truffles. After all, who says vegetarians can't be a little naughty?

Mosaic Restaurant

We've covered the waterfront in the Phoenix fine-dining scene, and not once have we spotted a menu with the kinds of creative vegetarian dishes that Mosaic chef-owner Deborah Knight creates. To start, try the luscious 12-mushroom risotto, scented with garlic, or the remarkably flavorful broiled tofu with cured black olive tapenade and savory hijiki seaweed. And along with meat-centric entrees like rack of lamb and beef tenderloin, there's five-spice grilled seitan with honshimeji mushrooms, chestnut-laced rice, and drunken cherry coulis. Mosaic even features a six-course vegetarian tasting menu, something that made us do a double take. Consider us impressed.

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