Best Hot Dog 2011 | Maui Dog | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tirion Boan
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.
Bring a group of friends to Phoenix Palace to experience the ultimate in Chinese brunches — dim sum. Har gow, shu mai, char siu bao, dan tat. To the uninitiated, this list may just look like a jumble of syllables. To those who enjoy good dim sum, that list is anything but unintelligible. Delicate har gow rice-wrapped shrimp balls, steamed shu mai dumplings, snowy char siu bao buns filled with tender barbecued pork, and eggy custard-filled dan tat tarts are all pitched by ladies pushing carts loaded to the max with these delights and more. Enjoy the hot tea, engage in a good amount of pointing (to bridge the language barrier), and don't be afraid to try new things, because most dishes on the menu are about three bucks. Before you know it, you'll be ready to tackle the chicken feet.
What the heck is a hot pot? Remember that little craze in the '70s called fondue? Well it's back, only this time with an Asian twist. Chef Johnny Chu (formerly of Lucky Dragon and Fate, currently of Sens) brought this L.A. trend to Chandler last year. Like most ethnic joints in this town, Tien Wong resides in an easily overlooked strip mall in Chandler. But step through the doors of this sleek eatery, and the aroma of spicy broth will help you forget where you are. Sit down, choose your broth (watch out for the spicy one, it's no joke), meats, veggie, noodles, and then cook everything yourself. It's great fun. Bring your friends, so you can try all the fun stuff, like cuttlefish, black pork (it's not actually black), razor clams, Korean pumpkin, and spicy tofu. Save room for dessert — the green tea cheesecake is delish!
Jackie Mercandetti
What Noodles Ranch lacks in the rustic, no-frills, cheap-as-dirt charm you'll find at some of the Valley's pho joints, it makes up for in bold flavors and a classy but casual setting befitting its South Scottsdale address. We crave the fragrant bowls of pho (we're partial to the pho ga va rau xanh, containing high-quality chicken chunks, broccoli, and baby bok choy), tastefully presented plates of bun (try the bun ba xao, with stir-fried beef, zesty lemongrass, and peanuts), or the Viet spin on that old standby pad Thai. Of course, the foundation for all these dishes (and the reason for this Best Of) is the stellar noodles, freshly made and cooked consistently well every time. Sure, the zingy spices and fresh meat and veggies might be the attention grabbers, but it's the soft and wide rice noodles, slurp-worthy vermicelli, and flavorful egg noodles that do the heavy lifting at Noodles Ranch. And for that, we must recognize their contributions to our happy dining.

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