Best Seafood 2011 | Noca | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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.
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.
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.
Courtesy of La Grande Orange
There is just one restaurant's phone number stored in our smartphone, and it is that of Arcadia institution La Grande Orange. And there is just one reason that number is on speed-dial: LGO's chicken wings. Yeah, we really do love these things that much. If it's Sunday night, there's a good chance we're ordering two dozen wings (hey, they're awesome cold the next day, too) and a salad to take home and chow down in front of a baseball game or a disc from Netflix. If we're hosting a party, we're ordering seven or eight dozen (and that never seems to be enough, by the way; our guests scarf 'em down like there's no tomorrow). We're hard-pressed to think of a local joint whose wings are as big and meaty as LGO's, and we love that they're baked, not fried, and tossed in a peppery sauce that boasts tang and spice in equal measure. Okay, we know what you're thinking: We've totally over-hyped these babies — and we'll admit that they aren't cheap ($14 for a dozen) — but we stand by our proclamation that LGO's wings are the very best in Phoenix.
At Rock-N-Roll Fingers, there's only one thing you need to ask yourself: "Do I want the big box of chicken fingers or the small box of chicken fingers?" Because at Rock-N-Roll Fingers, they raise the kids' menu classic to new heights of deliciousness. The all-white chicken fingers are fresh, never frozen, breaded by hand and golden-fried to order. A big pile of waffle fries on the side, a slice of buttery Texas toast, and a couple of special sauces are the perfect accompaniments. If you're feeling brave, get your fingers buffalo-style and let them take a dip in Frank's Red Hot. With this much juicy fried chicken and all the classic rock tunes you can handle, lunch will never be the same.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
If ever there was a time for comfort food, this is the year, and when it comes to the simple satisfaction of consuming a hot plate of delicious Southern-fried chicken, Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe, the soul food eatery in downtown Phoenix, is the place to do it. Name your preference for dark or white meat, then wait for your plate of succulent fried fare to arrive — steaming, golden brown, and coated in a crispy, lightly seasoned batter. With a choice of two sides including red beans, mac and cheese, and cabbage, and a chunk of homemade corn bread, this plateful of pleasure is nothing short of feel-better goodness.
Jackie Mercandetti
Debate about Big Earl's all you want — but pork ribs are one thing this Scottsdale-ified faux smokehouse does right. Tender with a pleasant gnawability and great flavor, these racks of pretty pink pork are the first thing chef and owner James Porter should haul to safety if the joint ever catches fire. We recommend you order a rack to go with an extra piece of cornbread on the side. Whatever you do, don't add any extra sauce. Enjoy.
Sarah Whitmire
Stacy Phipps, owner and chef of Stacy's Smokehouse, makes some crowd-pleasing 'cue — no wonder he recently opened a second location in Scottsdale. What makes it so drool-worthy? In part, the signature sauce. Rich and sugary sweet, we like it slathered on ribs, beef brisket, and rib tips, the tender smoked meat flavor coming courtesy of almond and hickory woods. Good thing there's homemade cornbread for soppin' once you've crushed the 'cue. We'd better hope that Phipps has plans to bottle and sell his signature sauce in the near future so we can savor it anytime.

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