Chef Oscar Graham's ceviche de pescado features a mound of chopped pieces of tilapia in a thin, bracingly sharp juice of lime and Peruvian chile peppers.
Evie Carpenter
Chef Oscar Graham's ceviche de pescado features a mound of chopped pieces of tilapia in a thin, bracingly sharp juice of lime and Peruvian chile peppers.

Like any good Peruvian chef worth his sea salt, Oscar Graham makes very good ceviche. And at this tiny no-frills spot in Chandler, his ceviche de pescado — a mound of chopped tilapia in a sharp and spicy juice of lime and Peruvian chile peppers topped with slivers of red onion and served with a hunk of sweet potato and pearly, large-kernel Peruvian corn — is just about perfect. There are other good dishes as well: papa a la Huancaina (a kind of Peruvian-style potato salad), well-herbed grilled chicken, and spicy seafood paella. A glass of dark, sweet, cinnamon-tinged chicha morada (Peruvian purple corn juice) helps wash down the tongue-tingling flavors.

The Cuban sandwich is almost a rite of passage here, but there are several other satisfying dishes, too.
Jackie Mercandetti
The Cuban sandwich is almost a rite of passage here, but there are several other satisfying dishes, too.

For lovers of the Cuban sandwich — the divine creation of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard stuffed into crunchy, buttered bread — this small, tidy spot of homestyle Cuban eats on the city's west side is your place. But there are other good dishes, too: garlicky and meltingly tender lechon asado, classic ropa vieja, and golden orbs of fried and meat-filled potatoes called papas rellenas. The Cuban-style desserts — flan, flaky pastries filled with tropical fruits, and bread pudding kissed with guava — are made fresh each morning and make for a delicious ending.

Leo's Island BBQ
Jackie Mercandetti

There may not be a more divine, island-inspired indulgence than the Hawaiian plate lunch. Piled into a styrofoam container, the aloha-infused carb load features two scoops of rice, a side of macaroni salad, and (usually) a pan-Asian protein of your choice. You'll find excellent plate lunches at this cheery little eatery in Peoria. There's a signature sweet-and-tangy teriyaki beef, Spam topped with two eggs and slathered with brown gravy (grilled Spam moco), and juicy kalua pork with a light smoky and salty flavor. And with nearly 30 plate lunches all under nine bucks, getting full fast at Leo's can happen for under a 10-spot.

New Hong Kong Restaurant
Lauren Saria

Get past its weathered appearance and you'll find first-rate Cantonese cuisine hiding in plain sight at this passed-it-a-million-times Chinese restaurant in Central Phoenix. Courtesy of Jian Yu, a chef in Kaiping, China, for over 32 years, and his family come tangled nests of expertly prepared stir-fried noodles, trembling clay pots nearly blowing off their lids to expose steaming, flavor-packed broths, and moist, marinated meats. Of course, the good stuff comes off the Chinese menu (not the Americanized one or the value buffet), so make sure to ask for it. You just may kick yourself for not stopping in sooner.

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Before the summer of 2011, the only place to score late-night Korean food in the Valley was out of it — specifically, 360 miles away in L.A.'s Koreatown. But thanks to this welcoming west side restaurant, top-notch Korean cuisine can be had until 2 a.m. every day but Sunday. After bites of banchan (the little dishes of marinated vegetables, kimchi, and other delights that accompany meals), you'll find dishes like fiery duk boki, Korean fried chicken, spicy seafood stew, and the refreshingly cold noodle dish naeng myun. After 10 p.m., Ga Hyang feels more like a Koreatown bar, where regulars and industry folk celebrate the end of a long day with karaoke and cold bottles of Hite.

Filled with classic Thai dishes, as well as signature creations, Chanpen is a hidden gem in South Phoenix.
Jackie Mercandetti
Filled with classic Thai dishes, as well as signature creations, Chanpen is a hidden gem in South Phoenix.

If Chanpen seems like the only Thai restaurant in South Phoenix, it's probably because it is. But that's okay with owner and chef Chanpen Ramonaitis (whose Thai name is Tuk). She's happy to serve her expertly prepared classic Thai dishes and signature creations to anyone who happens upon her tiny, unassuming home. Along with street food eats like fried fish cakes and crispy Thai toast, there are colorful curries and stir-fried dishes laden with crunchy vegetables and, if you choose, pieces of slick and tender roasted duck. For more unique offerings and improvised dishes of Thai-style favorites, look to the specials board behind the counter.

Pho Thanh Restaurant
Lauren Cusimano

Pho Thanh, it should be noted, does not care about your Westernized dining needs of English-speaking servers, short menus of seasonal, farm-to-table fare, or dimly lit, cozy interiors. Its priorities lie in a massive listing of crazy-cheap, top-notch Vietnamese dishes (most made with more fresh herbs and stinky fish sauce than you'll know what to do with) served up under a sea of fluorescent lights by a Vietnamese man who isn't into chitty-chat. Hit the fried spring rolls called cha gio first, then move on to some refreshing thit nuong or an intense bowl of bun bo hue. When they start putting the chairs up on the tables, you'll know it's time to go home.

James Beard Award winner Nobuo Fukuda offers the closest thing to a real izakaya (a casual Japanese eating and drinking establishment) this side of the Land of Rising Sun. Sourcing prime ingredients and combining them in simple yet inventive ways, his dishes are no less than exemplary works of culinary art. During the day, there may be offerings of warm duck salad or a luscious panko-fried soft shell club sandwich. And at night, there are spectacular small plates and a reservation-only omakase experience you'll probably talk about for weeks. But no matter when you dine at this refined historic bungalow in downtown Phoenix's Heritage Square, you'll be hard-pressed to find an experience like it anywhere in the Valley.

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Jackie+Mercandetti
Ethiopian+Famous+fills+a+niche+for+Central+Phoenix+fans+of+the+African+cuisine.

Like any good Ethiopian chef, Abebech Ejersa's doro wot, made with onions, boiled egg, and peppery berbere, is pretty much perfect. But then, the same could be said for nearly all her traditional Ethiopian favorites, most of which are prepared from recipes Ejersa has used for years, at home and in her former restaurant in Ethiopia. The dishes — such as aromatic, slow-cooked stews of spicy vegetables and juicy meats served atop floppy discs of injera bread — are more boldly flavored than you might expect. Make sure to pair your dinner with Ejersa's must-experience Ethiopian coffee ceremony by calling the restaurant ahead of time to reserve a spot.

Karaikudi Palace
Jackie Mercandetti

What's better than an exceptional Indian restaurant with one chef? An exceptional Indian restaurant with three of them. Thanks to a trio of culinary school chums from India, this pleasant little spot in Scottsdale serves up vibrant South Indian dishes like a smoky and spicy curry of baby eggplants stuffed with onions and spices; fish cooked in coconut sauce with red onions and green chilies; and thin and crispy stuffed dosas, the crispy-hot Indian-style crepes. Packed with handfuls of ingredients like chiles, tamarind, ginger, cumin, and cardamom, Karaikudi is one palace that doesn't pull back when it comes to the spice.

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