Pho Thanh Restaurant
Lauren Cusimano
As delicious as it is inexpensive, Pho Thanh has become our go-to spot for a quick and easy bite of Vietnamese food. It's pretty obvious that we're not alone, either, because this summer, Pho Thanh doubled in size — taking over the adjacent storefront on the Viet-centric northwest corner of 17th Avenue and Camelback Road. And every time we're in the restaurant, nearly all the tables are full of diners slurping down big bowls of meat-filled pho, diving into tasty servings of bun (vermicelli noodles), or munching on $2.50 (not a typo — they really are that cheap) bahn mi sandwiches that rival, yes, those served at a decidedly more famous Vietnamese sandwich shop in the Southeast Valley. For taste, value ($20 will fill up two hungry people and send them home with leftovers), and cleanliness, Pho Thanh is quickly setting the standard for Vietnamese food in Phoenix.
Restaurant Takamatsu
Evie Carpenter
Your quest for kimchee stops here. Tucked away in a Chandler strip mall, Takamatsu has been serving authentic Korean eats for more than a decade. Watch sweet marinated strips of bulgogi (barbecued beef), pork belly, or tongue cook right at your table or try something a little more challenging, like black goat soup or kimchee bokeum (highly recommended). No worries if you're a Korean food virgin; the staff will walk you through the menu and answer any and all questions. Each entrée is served with an array of Korean sides, including delicious little morsels of mung bean and marinated cucumbers. After you have polished off dinner, your meal is completed with a tiny cup of hot cinnamon tea. It's like dessert without the guilt!
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About 10 months ago, the restaurant formerly known as Copper Kettle resurfaced along the light-rail tracks, in the form of Curry Corner. Situated a couple of blocks west of the station at Dorsey Lane and Apache Boulevard, Curry Corner has become one of our favorite new eateries. This mom 'n' pop joint serves bursting-with-flavor Indian-Pakistani food. We love to grab a few friends and order up a whole mess of dishes to share. The last time we were there, we had four entrées, two appetizers, tons of naan, and a couple of drinks. The total? Just about $40. An unbelievable deal, especially when you consider how good the food is. Here's hoping this joint is still around in 2045, when Valley Metro might get around to laying some tracks in your neighborhood.
Cafe Istanbul
Kyle Lamb
Oh, how we love Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food. The flavors, the colors, the freshness — the varieties of spelling! We like to make Mideast staples such as hummus and tabbouleh at home, but they never taste quite as good as they do when made by the pros at the Valley's several fine Middle Eastern joints. And that goes double for the great food at Cafe Istanbul. This longstanding restaurant gets it right every time, from its ever-popular chicken shawarma sandwiches to its fine lamb and beef kebabs. Really, though, when we hit up Cafe Istanbul, we want to try a little bit of everything, so we have to choose the two-person Al Amir Combo, an expansive and beautifully arranged platter of all that's good about this particular cuisine. Check it: There's creamy hummus, minty tabbouleh, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), chunks of feta, baba ghanouj, mujadara, loubieh, moist falafel, chunks of medium-rare lamb, outstanding chicken, possibly the best kefta kebab in the Valley, and all the soft, warm pita bread you want. At $29.95, this generous plate will fill you up just enough that you'll have a little bit of room left to make you want to peruse Cafe Istanbul's lovely dessert case.
Greekfest Restaurant
Diana Martinez
Our romance with Greekfest began with a craving for rack of lamb, and it got messy — in a good way — when we also fell in love with this wonderful Greek restaurant's mousaka. And its pastitsio. And its youvetsi! But back to that lamb: You can have it in any number of Greek configurations exohiko, arni psito, or just a simple, lemony rack of lamb, with the robust spices of this gourmet palace. Fresh seafood (the best halibut, swordfish, and salmon) and superb Greek fare served in steaming ceramic pots vie for attention with the delicious aroma of chicken souvlakis turning over crackling fires. Greekfest offers a long list of Greek wine and a wide variety of appetizers, and if you're there on the right night, live music played on the big, gorgeous grand piano will accompany your entrée.
Blue Nile Cafe
Flavorful, filling, and amazingly affordable cuisine makes for a winning combination at Blue Nile Café. Vegans and carnivores can happily coexist while using moist, tangy injera (a spongy flatbread) in lieu of utensils to scoop up the menu's delectable offerings. We recommend taking in the experience while dining around the colorful woven basket tables called mesobs. There's a multitude of appetizers to choose from, such as the tasty fried samossas (vegetable- or meat-filled fried dough) and vegan Red Sea hummus. After restraining ourselves from licking the hummus bowl clean, we were more than happy to devour our meal of doro wat (tender chicken cooked in a thick, hot berbere sauce) and Blue Nile tebbs (lean beef expertly sautéed in a mixture of onion, green chili, butter, and herbs). The vegetarian dishes are equally alluring, with bean and vegetable dishes infused with aromatic sauces. Be sure to save room for a delicious dessert such as the vegan orange coffee cake and (in true Ethiopian tradition) a drink from the full service espresso bar.
Petite Maison
The decadence of French food is unrivaled, but at Petite Maison, they take that real-butter, full-fat approach to gourmet dining. The garden bistro atmosphere is perfect for a romantic night out, and the menu also is dressed to impress. Classic escargot and foie gras share menu space with delicate salads, velvety soups, and rich custards. If it's your first time, you may want to opt for the Staff Meal. Late nights on Thursday through Saturday, the chefs whip up an impromptu menu of their favorite dishes at a discounted price. Whatever you do, don't neglect to end with something sweet!
Haus Murphy's
Jennifer Goldberg
Spaetzle and schnitzel and sauerbraten! When we're craving sauerkraut and sausages galore, we head to Haus Murphy to satisfy our craving for German food. We recommend the Jager Schnitzel, a tender breaded pork loin that is pan-fried to a golden brown and topped with a luscious brown gravy packed with mushrooms. (The gravy is equally good on the spaetzle.) And whatever you do, save room for dessert. The strudels are fruit-packed pastry perfection, and the German chocolate cake always satisfies, but it's the sauerkraut cake that has us coming back again for seconds. Check Haus Murphy out on Saturdays for the in-house accordion and tuba players.
Lo Lo's Chicken & Waffles
Granted, this isn't exactly front-page news, but the word is out: Lo-Lo's is one of the must-try restaurants in Phoenix. Neighborhood peeps, tourists, fans of the novel, hangover-nursing hipsters, and, really, just about anybody who understands this concept: fried chicken + waffles = Heaven on Earth. We'll be the first to admit that, years ago, when we first heard of this joint, it seemed an odd combo. Once you try it, though, it instantly becomes as obvious as peanut butter and jelly, Oreos and milk, or biscuits and gravy. Syrup, hot sauce, butter . . . it's all part of the equation. Wash it down with a glass or three of red Kool-Aid, and hasten the onset of your Sunday afternoon food coma with a slice of Lo-Lo's transcendent red velvet cake — and you'll know why Phoenicians have begun calling this place an institution.
Texas BBQ House
If you're looking for Texas barbecue — and nothin' but Texas barbecue — in Phoenix, then Texas BBQ House in South Phoenix is your new favorite 'cue. Armed with family rub recipes, owner (and Texan) Mike Pitt is all about the meat — brisket, barbecued chicken, pork ribs, pork loin, chopped beef, sausage, and turkey — cooked low and slow, smoked over oak wood, and sold deli-style. Dinnerware? Only if it's Texas 'cue style. Your "plate" is a scrap of butcher paper, your "tray" a shallow plastic Pepsi crate — and your "utensils"? Unless we're talking about eating a side dish or dessert, they're hands. Start with the heavenly brisket, then move on to plump and peppery sausages, a sinfully good sandwich of chopped beef, and turkey breast that, thanks to a rosemary rub, tastes like Thanksgiving Day. Stellar sides include mustard-y potato salad, Texas creamed corn with sweet kernels bathed in butter and cream, and pinto beans that taste like the veggie version of the 'cue. Pitt's homemade sauce, if you need it (you probably won't), is on the tables. And make sure to bring the green — this cash-only 'cue joint keeps costs down that way.

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