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.

GreekTown Restaurant
Lauren Cusimano

For a lesson in restaurant longevity, consider Greektown in Sunnyslope. After five decades, George Vassilou's welcoming and often boisterous eatery may not have changed much in décor, but the classic Greek dishes, hailing from recipes passed down by Vassilou's grandmother, are as fresh and flavorful as ever. There are the dolmades and spanakopita, of course, as well as loaded plates of lasagna-esque pastitsio, char-grilled lamb chops, and the shrimp Grigori, which includes prawns stuffed with rock crab. And if you want to spike your meal Greek-style with one of nearly two dozen kinds of ouzo — including a devilish moonshine version — Greektown is the place to do it.

Hummus Xpress
Laura Hahnefeld

Mediterranean eats served up Subway style is the tasty idea behind this excellent, fast-casual, and wallet-friendly spot in Tempe. Helmed by Lebanese-born chef-owner Ahmed "Eddie" Hantas, Hummus Xpress lets Med fans pick their food vehicle (pita, bowl, or plate) before moving on to top-notch choices of signature sauces such as the Yemeni hot sauce called shug, seasoned grilled meats, and veggie delights like sauteéd broccoli with the wild thyme called za'atar. Have Hantas run the gamut for you for a more unique creation and don't dare miss his outstanding falafels — crunchy on the outside with a hint of Southwestern flair from Mexican chili powder, they're made from a recipe Hantas says took months to perfect.

Imperial Market & Deli
Allison Trebacz

This nearly 10-year-old family-owned spot of cured meats and comfort foods makes sure you don't sit shiva when it comes to finding outstanding Jewish delicatessen favorites. Stop by for stacked sandwiches like pastrami, salami, and corned beef tongue served up with cole slaw or chunky potato salad (pickle included, of course); a steaming bowl of matzo ball soup; or the Imperial Burger bulked out with grilled pastrami. Since you're also in a full-service kosher market with products from New York City, California, and Israel, chances are you'll browse the aisles of kosher wines, meats, and baked goods for a few take-home treats.

A penchant for premium ingredients is what makes Dolce Vita Italian Grocer so distinctive.
Jackie Mercandetti
A penchant for premium ingredients is what makes Dolce Vita Italian Grocer so distinctive.

What makes Walter and Marti Bergamaschi's tiny, unassuming grocery and Northern Italian-based eatery in east Mesa so exceptional is the same penchant for premium ingredients that makes the gelato sold in their space next door so first-rate. The bruschetta is as simple and fresh as classic bruschetta can get, the sandwiches are made with items like parmacotto ham and smoked prosciutto exemplary, and the housemade ravioli is lusciously filled with delights such as fresh vegetables, herbs, and savory beef. Take the tastes home by picking up a boutique olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or one of several rare cheeses and cured meats.

Crudo
Crudo

Crudo is an Italian restaurant speakeasy of sorts: a welcoming escape hidden in the back of a shopping plaza in Arcadia where notable chef Cullen Campbell, who cooked at the James Beard House this year, transforms first-rate ingredients into expertly crafted modern Italian dishes. The ever-changing menu may include raw ahi tuna with smoked olives, lemon, and egg; caramelized onion and bacon relish served with fresh mozzarella; and Campbell's luscious squid-ink risotto. Pair the meal with a cocktail or glass of wine from Crudo bar owner Micah Olson and you'll see why this hidden haven of Italian fare feels like the secret that's hard to keep.

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