Back East Bagel Co
There's nothing fancy about Back East Bagels — and that's what we love. Just bagels in wire baskets and kind folks to serve them. Yes, you can get espresso drinks and pastries, but this is the only place in town we've found that knows how to make a bagel just right. The secret's out, because we've found ourselves more than once in a long line on a Sunday morning, craning and wincing, waiting to see if the person in line will order that last everything bagel and relegate our morning to mere poppy seeds or a cinnamon raisin. No worries, more will be out of the oven soon — warm and fresh, just as a bagel should be. And with 21 bagel flavors, chances are you'll find a few you can live with.
George's Famous Gyros
Got a hankerin' for some gyro euphoria? George Salvaridis of George's Famous Gyros understands. A first-generation Greek growing up in Chicago, Salvaridis pimped pitas in his father's eateries from the age of 8, then moved to Greece for a spell before landing his own gyro eatery in Scottsdale. Made with choice ingredients (including a 20-year-old tzatziki recipe) and soft, puffy pita bread, try the original stacked with seriously good seasoned meat, or kick it up a notch with the Gyro Picado. Like a kick to the Greek groin, the Picado serves up flavorful meat with a spicy helping of grilled onions, peppers, and jalapeños. And don't forget the crazy-addictive French fries — they're almost as famous as George's gyros.
Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge
Lauren Saria
James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross, of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge in Central Phoenix, may be best known for his command of French cuisine, but what most folks may not know is that he makes a damn fine hamburger, too. Sit at a table or belly up to the kitchen bar and start with the eight-ounce patty of perfectly prepared Angus chuck, then choose from toppings of Gruyère, Mimolette, cheddar, or blue cheese, mushrooms, shallots, and crispy bacon on a soft, delicate bun for a sumptuous flavor sensation — just don't call it a "cheeseburger."
Maui Dog
The hot dog is a wonder of utilitarian food work. Its simplicity is one of the reasons it has endured for years. But sometimes you get a wild urge, and dousing bun and meat tube with ketchup and mustard just won't cut it. That's when you go to Maui Dog, where culinary daredevil John Stamatakis pays tribute to the island flavors that inspired him, piling coconut, spicy mayo, and pineapple on his signature Maui Dog. It may sound like a strange proposition, but the combination of sweet, savory, and spicy works. Stamatakis' secret is the bun: slightly tangy bread that recalls the best elements of classic Hawaiian rolls. Grub-on-the-go hot dogs are fine, but sometimes a messy wonder like the Maui Dog is worth sitting down for.
Stanley's Home Made Sausage Co.
Sarah Whitmire
In a tiny storefront on McDowell Road, they're making a whole bunch of sausage — and, boy, is it good. In fact, they've been making sausage at Stanley's for damn-near 50 years, and it was the first Polish deli in Phoenix. Today, Polish is just one ethnicity represented. Also hanging behind the two middle-aged Polish women running the joint are links of Hungarian, Yugoslavian, Swedish, and Italian sausage. And then there's ham, hot dogs, capiccola, prosciutto, bologna, bratwurst, salami, and at least a dozen kinds of cheese. Oh, and there's meatloaf, roast beef, and, of course, pierogis. It's a meat lover's dream. You can buy the stuff and run or stick around to nosh on one of Stanley's 21 different sub sandwiches. We've had more than a few of them, and we're here to say that you won't be disappointed if sausage is your thing. And if sausage isn't your thing, well, we're not sure we can be friends anymore. Sorry.
Prado
Jackie Mercandetti
Restaurants often give a nod to charcuterie with a single entry; Mbar's tapas menu is a standout with its range of choice bits. First, we'll explain the tapas. Three categories of small plates are listed on the tapas menu at Mbar: pinchos (snacks), tapas de pescado (seafood), and caza menor, which means "small hunt." The dishes listed here include a variety of nose-to-tail treats: offal, small game, salumi, and charcuterie. Guided by Prado chef de cuisine Peter DeRuvo's commitment to carefully sourced ingredients and delivering delectable flavors, each dish is accented with fresh, local vegetables, house-brined giardiniera, heirloom legumes, or wild greens. The variety of dishes inspires sharing. Try the surprise flavor of "Zoe" salumi decocoa or more traditional "Redondo Inglesia's" Serrano ham, and follow with the Merguez lamb sausage, heirloom legumes, and wild oregano. The beef heart with pickled radish, arugula, and aged balsamic is as tender as the beef tongue and unctuous headcheese on the house charcuterie plate. Tripe lovers will treasure DeRuvo's treatment — "Fiorentina" style served with sofrito, polenta, and duck egg. In the tradition of the house, the menu changes with the seasons. In other words, you'll be back.
Iruna
Aaron May's now-defunct Sol y Sombra barely registers as a blip on our nostalgia radar anymore, in large part to the fact that his equally ambitious Iruña has dandily filled the tapas gap in this town. Iruña offers the same stellar cornerstone tapas that put May on the map, including patatas bravas, tortilla española, and pollo colonial. Iruña has also updated the menu with a variety of fresh seafood, including Pulpo Escabeche (tender, marinated baby octopus) and artichokes with clams, which features a broth we could literally drink by the tankard. Whatever tapas you choose, grab a specialty cocktail or a tall glass of sangria to wash it down.
Taylor's Chowder House
In 1985, Dave Taylor of Taylor's Chowder House started dipping Alaskan coldwater cod in his signature batter of tempura and "regular" batter (a concoction he got from a friend in Utah) for his fish and chips, a menu item that quickly became a best seller. Dave's no longer a part of the west-side seafood staple he established, but his Alaskan cod dinner (a.k.a. fish and chips) is no less popular. Lightly battered and seasoned, deep-fried, and tender and flaky, these scrumptious swimmers arrive with tips pointing heavenward. And if you like a little kitsch with your fish, there's no end to the nautical-themed eye candy — it hasn't changed since it washed up at Taylor's over 20 years ago.
Noca
Evie Carpenter
The name Ingrid Bengis may not ring a bell for some, but for many of the nation's top restaurants like The French Laundry in Yountville, California, and Le Bernardin in New York her company, Ingrid Bengis Seafood, sets the standard for the highest quality in fishy fare. Lucky for us, Noca, a modern American cuisine establishment in Central Phoenix, counts Ingrid Bengis among its suppliers. From tastings to simple suppers to featured dishes, Noca may not bill itself as a seafood restaurant — but who cares when you're feasting on fresh crab salad, mussels, and herb-crusted halibut? Those in the seafood know get to Noca on Wednesdays, where a buttery, gourmet version of the lobster roll is truly a delicious catch.
Shimogamo Japanese Restaurant
Lauren Saria
Usually, we stay fairly close to home when we're heading out for sushi. That is, until we tried Shimogamo. Now, we have no problem driving out to the southwest corner of the Asian-centric intersection of Warner and Ray in Chandler. This tiny storefront, connected to C-Fu Gourmet, won us over immediately — from the talkative and friendly sushi chef and the ever-gracious owner and his wife (they are Japanese immigrants, unlike many owners of Valley sushi joints, who tend to be from South Korea or China) to the beautiful and classic sashimi, nigiri, and maki. Try the buttery salmon and escolar sashimi. We especially enjoyed the mackerel, presented as sashimi, but with the rest of the body flash-cooked and sculpted with a torch and placed in a bed of daikon to make it appear as though it were jumping out of the water. We gobbled it all up. Gimmicky sushi rolls are not Shimogamo's game, as the restaurant focuses on the traditional. That's okay with us. That just tells us Shimogamo is the real deal.

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