Best Vietnamese Restaurant 2009 | Da Vang | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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 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.

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.

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?

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.

We've been huge fans of falafel since way back in our student days, when the neighborhood falafel joint kept us well fed on a budget. What's not to love about a hot, crispy, fried chickpea ball? Our first taste of the fantastic falafel at Spices, though, took the obsession to a whole new level. Here, the falafel is formed into small patties and perfectly cooked so that the inside stays still moist and flavorful and the outside is light and crisp. (Too many restaurants serve a hard, crunchy version that takes a lot of tahini to soften it.) Whether tucked into a fresh pita or served as an entrée with salad, hummus, tahini, and pickles, it's something we find ourselves craving all the time. We're sure that our younger selves would be envious.

We won't lie — we're huge fans of the half-pound Angus burgers at Fez. They routinely satisfy our carnivorous urges. But sometimes a veggie burger is just what we crave and, sadly, even some of the best burger joints in town can't deliver a truly delicious, meatless patty. At most places, veggie burgers are a lame token dish. What makes Fez's veggie burger so special happens to be the same thing that makes all of the food here so craveable: It's distinctive. This vegetarian-friendly burger is a homemade black bean patty scented with garlic and cumin, grilled until it's gently crispy on the edges. Topped with goat cheese and tomato spread and tangy red onion slaw, it's tucked into fresh, soft ciabatta that beats an ordinary bun any day. Clearly, the kitchen puts as much care into making a delicious veggie burger as it does into making juicy beef burgers, and for that reason, we're impressed.

It was l'amour at first bite. Leave it to a French restaurant to figure out that the best way to seduce our palates is simply to feed us a really delicious, unforgettable hamburger. The signature Brasserie Burger at Metro Brasserie has just the right balance of comfort and novelty, a thick, perfectly cooked beef patty inside a fragrant, deep golden brioche bun, topped with creamy sauce gribiche, sweet smoked Vidalia onions, tangy cured tomato, and Bibb lettuce. The entire thing oozes decadent sauce and juices when you bite into it, so if you can manage to eat it without licking your fingers, consider yourself a true burger-eatin' pro. And be sure to order it up with a side of crispy frites so you have something to clean your plate with. (Yeah, it'd be easier to just lick the platter, but you know how those French are about manners.) Bon appétit!

Timur Guseynov

Award-winning chef Kevin Binkley has built his reputation on cutting-edge cuisine at his Carefree fine-dining spot, Binkley's, but for most of us, the place is a special-occasion splurge. Thankfully, though, he's also branched out into affordable, accessible eats at nearby Café Bink. From French onion soup to flat iron steak, Binkley does comfort food with as much finesse as his high-concept stuff. No matter what you order here, be sure to get it with a side of fries. Honestly, we could make a meal out of these gorgeous golden pommes, which are lightly crispy yet fluffy on the inside — and so scrumptious that we have no willpower to stop eating them. Café Bink makes these fries they way they do in Belgium, first blanching them, and then twice-frying them. They're served up in a cute paper cone, with three delicious dipping sauces. Which one is best, the creamy aioli, the heady truffle ketchup, or the herb-kissed sauce verte? You may never come to a conclusion, and you may never want to.

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Was it serendipity or just an act of pure, calculated genius? We have no idea who invented the beer shake or how they came up with such a cleverly yummy concoction, but we'd sure love to give them a high five. Four Peaks Brewery serves the perfect dessert for beer lovers like us: the Oatmeal Stout Shake. It's pretty much exactly what you'd imagine — ice-cold Oatmeal Stout (a dark beer that's rich and creamy enough on its own) swirled into a frothy treat with vanilla ice cream. Even when we're ready to close out our bar tab, somehow we can always justify one more round when it's in the form of this sweet, slurpable dessert.

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