Pomegranate Cafe
Jackie Mercandetti

The best thing about this cute little eatery in Ahwatukee, owned and operated by mother-daughter team Marlene and Cassie Tolman, is the emphasis on tasty, healthy food. The fact that everything is vegan just happens to be a bonus for those who eat that way. Sure, the Tolmans source locally from surrounding farms and Valley businesses, ensure their fruits and vegetables are organic, offer gluten-free options, and make their vegan pastries and raw treats from scratch using natural sweeteners, but it's the deliciousness of the dishes that keeps us coming back for more. Open for breakfast and lunch, vegans and non-vegans alike can fill up on a.m. eats plus stellar sandwiches, soups, salads, and bowls washed down with primo smoothies in jars. We're especially partial to the wrap made of collard leaves called the Rainbow; the Grilled Cheese Napoleon with a lovely macadamia basil pesto; and the Super Green Kale Salad topped with crispy flax crackers. What, no meat or cheese? We hadn't even noticed.

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Jackie+Mercandetti
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Whether it was by slim chance or sheer accident that chef Walter Salazar came to Tempe from Tucson last year to take over ownership of Villa Peru just as the world's obsession with Peruvian cuisine was peaking, the Valley's lucky to have him. Along with members of his family, all originally from Lima, Salazar serves up a menu based on traditional Peruvian cuisine in a cozy, carpeted room with the occasional travel video of Peru running on a flatscreen TV. The restaurant's absence of liquor means an absence of pisco, the grape brandy and national drink of Peru, to accompany the fare, but dishes of Salazar's popular ceviche, the cold potato appetizer causa de langostinos, the Peruvian-style comfort food known as chili chicken or ají de gallina, and the exotic taste of lucuma ice cream frequently make their way out of the kitchen and onto tables anyway, keeping the obsession alive and our taste buds tingling.

Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe
Jacob Tyler Dunn

For more than 40 years, this unassuming stand-alone spot a few blocks east of Chase Field has remained one of downtown Phoenix's best restaurants for comfort food. And in recent years, it's caught the attention of various TV food shows, giving the humble little eatery some much-deserved props. You'd be hard-pressed to find better fried chicken — golden and crispy with juicy, delectable meat — in Phoenix. Of course, there's other excellent, stick-to-your-ribs Southern food as well, like fried catfish, grits and greens, pork chops, and chicken-fried steak. With plenty of homespun charm to complement the delicious grub, here's hoping Mrs. White (yes, there really is a Mrs. White running this place) sticks around for another four decades doing what she and her family do best: whipping up soul-satisfying food.

Aloha Kitchen
Lauren Cusimano

Unlike the One Percenters, the majority of us can't jet-set off to Hawaii for a swanky luau when we're having a case of the Mondays. For our money, and there's not a lot of it, we get our tropical taste on at this little gem in Mesa that's been serving up fast-casual Hawaiian eats for over 25 years. We love the island-style favorites like luscious kalua pork, tasty saimin (an Asian-style noodle soup served with Japanese fish cakes), and savory, fist-sized filled dough balls called manapua. And if your aloha spirit needs some super-sizing, specials, in the form of loaded plates of Hawaiian eats for under 10 bucks, are served up throughout the week. Many thanks, Aloha Kitchen — or should we say, mahalo nui.

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Jackie+Mercandetti
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When it comes to Dongbei cai, the food of northeastern China, this humble eatery in Chandler may be the only one of its kind in the Valley. Originally from the province of Liaoning, owners Tong Rizzo and Ping Chou serve a menu of unique and comforting dishes from a selection-packed, near-descriptionless menu. Given the language barrier here, the menu may be tough to navigate, but the welcoming service and wallet-friendly prices make it a culinary journey worth taking. Like dough? It's homemade here, from behind a glass window, and comes in the form of plump filled dumplings, fried buns, and tasty meat pies, which Rizzo calls "Chinese hamburgers." Don't miss cold items like spicy noodles and the cryptic "green bean jelly with vegetables" (the northeastern Chinese version of a Cobb salad), and warm and rustic creations like the eggplant, potato, and pepper stir-fry and chicken, wild mushroom, and potato warm pot.

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It's late and you're hungry. Do you really want another gut bomb like pizza and burgers at 11 p.m.? No, you want something a tad more healthful, like, say the Korean food at this late-night gem in the West Vally. By day, the restaurant is a quiet nook — complete with three enclosed privacy-friendly booths — serving fresh, delicious, and affordable traditional Korean cuisine (and a few Chinese-based dishes with a Korean twist). But after 10 p.m., the restaurant feels more like a Koreatown bar, serving karaoke and soju along with the eats until 2 a.m. every night but Sunday. We love the housemade noodles and signature dishes, as well as such Korean favorites as duk boki (seafood pancakes), Korean fried chicken, the stir-fry dish jap chae, or a variety of soups and stews, like the spicy and seafood-heavy cham pong, a boiling pot of Korean stew with tofu called haemul soon du bu, or the cold noodle dish naeng myun. This place truly is one of our favorites in the West Valley, no matter if it's the sun or moon you see in the sky.

Yupha's Thai Kitchen

What's better than dinner and a movie? Thai food at Yupha's and a cheap flick at Pollack Tempe Cinemas. Thanks to owner and Bangkok native Yupha Dequenne, we can score tasty Thai dishes pre- or post-show time at her easygoing restaurant right next door to the cinema. We're partial to the kanom jeeb (potstickers), drunken noodles served up Thai hot, and Yupha's stellar red curry made with bamboo shoots, eggplant, bell pepper, string beans, and Thai basil. Plus, there's fried bananas with ice cream for dessert. Our one regret: We still haven't found a way to sneak our Thai iced tea into the theater.

Hue Gourmet

Like its moniker, this little gem of unique Vietnamese fare hidden in the food court of Mesa's Mekong Plaza focuses on the distinctive cuisine of Hue, the capital city of Thua Thien, in the Hue province of Vietnam. Translation: This humble food court stall is serving up dishes that even the most pho-faithful in the Valley most likely haven't seen on a Vietnamese menu before. Check out items like bun bo hue (spicy red soup); rice cakes topped with dried, ground shrimp, and fried pork skin; bánh khot (miniature fried pancakes); nem chua hue (cured meat wrapped in banana leaves); and pâté chauds (Vietnamese puff pastries with a meat filling). The best part? Thanks to its wallet-friendly prices, Hue allows diners to feast on the unfamiliar, find some new favorite dishes, or both, for around 10 bucks.

Nobuo at Teeter House
Jacob Tyler Dunn

The accolades heaped upon chef-owner Nobuo Fukuda — a James Beard Award and "Best New Chef" from Food + Wine — really are all you need to know about the man running this transformed turn-of-the-century bungalow in downtown Phoenix's Heritage Square. He truly is one of the best things going in the Valley's culinary scene. Fukuda's ever-evolving menu of seasonally appropriate Japanese dishes is one aspect that keeps this restaurant interesting. The other thing simply is food — fresh, inventive, and always delicious. There's a wonderful soft-shell crab salad, tempting sake-steamed clams, yellow tail ceviche, and washyugyu short rib, among many other small plates and cold and hot dishes. But perhaps the best way to go is omakase-style, meaning you, the diner, let Fukuda decide what you'll eat, courtesy of a coursed-out tasting menu. For that, you'll want to give the master 24 hours' notice, as he dreams up what invariably is a Japanese meal you won't soon forget.

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Jackie+Mercandetti
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Situated a couple of blocks west of the fire station at Dorsey Lane and Apache Boulevard in Tempe, this family-owned eatery recently expanded and serves up bursting-with-flavor Indian and Pakistani food courtesy of chef and matriarch Farah Khalid. Her homespun recipes (many vegetarian) are across-the-board dynamite, including chapli kebab (spicy ground-beef patty), goat karahi (garlicky and tender goat served on a bed of tomatoes and onions), and palek paneer (creamy, dark green spinach and Indian cottage cheese). And with its crazy-affordable prices, it's easy to grab a few friends and order several dishes to share.

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