China Magic Noodle House
Lauren Saria
The chef here really is a magician, transforming a hunk of dough into made-to-order, hand-pulled noodles with a series of dramatic spins and stretches. Before long, his fingers are laced with fine strands that end up in any number of soups, pan-fried dishes, and other entrées. And the best part (aside from eating them)? It's watching him work his craft from the comfort of the dining room, where a big glass window lets you look right into the kitchen.Prepared in the style of northwestern China's Langzhou region, these noodles come in several varieties, including thin, thick, wide, vegetable, and shaved. We're fond of the spicy beef noodles with XO sauce, but China Magic's lamb noodle soup comes in a close second. Every bite is tender and toothsome — and since eating handmade noodles here, we've become pretty spoiled. Luckily, we have no shortage of hungry friends who'll join us out of sheer curiosity.
Hana Japanese Eatery
Lauren Saria
How fresh is the sushi at Hana? Well, let's just say we've made the acquaintance of our ama-ebi before the beauties met their demise at the hands of chef Rick "Koji" Hashimoto. We've watched him carve up large sections of tuna, tail and fins still attached. And we've gotten a chance to say sayonara to whole fish that had been swimming just before dinnertime. Hana's specials board is always scribbled up with must-haves like abalone, ankimo (monkfish liver), or aji (Spanish mackerel), and they always show up at the table looking so picture-perfect that we hesitate just a split second before gobbling them all up. Order enough goodies and you might even get your very own sushi boat, complete with a tiny flaming sugar cube.
TeHaru Sushi
Timur Guseynov
With its mesmerizing conveyor belt of sushi circling the counter, Teharu has a way of hypnotizing us. Somehow, we lose all self-control when plates of spicy tuna roll, salmon nigiri, and creative makizushi pass before our eyes. Before long, the plates start stacking up. Get the beer and sake flowing, and we're really in the zone. Luckily for us, they charge you by the plate, and it never amounts to much. Every time the bill comes, we still get a little surprised, even though we know Teharu's an incredible bang for the buck.
Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge
Lauren Saria
Truffle-infused filet mignon, steamed mussels with Spanish chorizo, and seductive duck confit are just a few of the appealing creations that chef Christopher Gross and his kitchen team crank out night after night at this sleek, stylish Biltmore eatery, but there's one thing worthy of special props: the sous vide roasted foie gras. Rich, impossibly luscious "meat butter" is always on the menu here, even though protesters routinely picket the place. Yep, Christopher's is a perennial target, but that only makes us love this foie even more.
Noca
Evie Carpenter
The place with the best seafood in town doesn't bill itself as a seafood restaurant at all, but simply as a well-rounded contemporary American fine-dining spot with touches of international flair. No matter. Nobody else in these parts serves seafood from elite purveyor Ingrid Bengis (known for supplying Maine lobster and halibut to luminaries like Thomas Keller). Hungry for a buttery lobster roll? They dedicate every Wednesday at Noca to a gourmet version of the classic coastal nosh. Seafood dishes are usually the stars of the menu, and in the summer, don't be surprised to see king salmon shipped to one of the cooks from her family's Alaska fishery. Noca's always a good catch.
Pane Bianco
Heather Hoch
It may seem crazy that one tiny shop — which has picnic-style outdoor seating only and features just four sandwiches — could be such a heavyweight in this category. But the chef-owner is the celebrated Chris Bianco, which means this is bread from the same guy who turned Phoenix into a pizza mecca. Simple mozzarella, tomato, and basil never tasted so good, and neither did tuna salad (here, it tasted vibrant with lemon juice, Gaeta olives, and red onion). Top-notch sopressata, layered with roasted red peppers and flavorful aged provolone, amounts to one badass Italian sandwich. And every day, the market sandwich brings something wonderful, whether it's wood-roasted lamb with escarole or bresaola with arugula. Simple things make us happy at Pane Bianco.
Stan's Metro Deli
Timur Guseynov
Talk about a blast from the past. Local institution Stan's Metro Deli — which closed its doors in 1998 — made a comeback this year in a spot that's not far from where Stan Stone opened his original Tempe location. Now, his son Keith and business partner Sharon Fenderson continue the legacy with this friendly hangout that serves such classic New York deli-style fare as Reuben sandwiches stuffed two inches thick with pastrami or corned beef, matzo ball soup, potato pancakes, burgers, and all kinds of hearty breakfast food (including fat, chewy bagels from New York Bagels 'n Bialys). As expected, the place does a brisk lunch business and, better yet, it's a major new player in the late-night arena. Can you think of anywhere else to grab a bite up until 2 a.m. or later? Neither can we.
Maui Dog
Crazy, island-style hot dogs and bratwurst served out of a funky surfer shack on Indian School Road have become our latest obsession. And although Maui Dog is just a humble little indie eatery, we wish we could find this on every street corner in town. What makes it so darn tasty? It's hard to explain how savory, juicy wieners go so well with garlicky, seasoned mayo, tropical fruit relish, passion fruit-flavored mustard, and other fresh toppings, but the idea just works. Just as good are the Maui Sliders (also adorned with intriguing toppings), the Maui Spam Slider (they'd have no island cred if they neglected the prized canned meat), and Hawaiian shaved ice in a rainbow of tropical fruit flavors. You can get in and out of Maui Dog in a flash, well fed, and with hardly a dent in your wallet. That's fast food we can embrace.
Caffe Boa on Mill
Lauren Saria
What's not to love about a chef with skills and a sense of humor? Payton Curry has become Caffe Boa's biggest asset, a guy with the courage to take a classic, all-American favorite — fried chicken — and make it better. That he did, all right, and he even dubbed it Payt-N-Bake Fried Chicken, just so nobody forgets who came up with such a succulent dish. He uses 10-day-cured, all-dark meat, free-range bird, and then uses a secret weapon for extra crispiness: duck fat. You heard it right. It takes a duck to bring the best out of chicken. Who knew?
Joe's Real BBQ
Courtesy of Joe's Real BBQ
It's not the primo location on Gilbert Road that keeps us coming back to Joe's Real BBQ. It's not the old-fashioned charm of this 1929 building, decorated with '40s-era Arizona ephemera, or even the dapper style of hat-loving founder Joe Johnston, who's become a local foodie icon. As much as we'd like to say there's something unfair about the appeal of this place, our love for Joe's all comes down to the scrumptious food — and, in particular, the impeccable pulled pork. Heady with the aroma of pecan smoke, and beyond tender from a low-and-slow cooking technique, this pulled pork was plucked straight out of our carnivorous dreams.

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