Best Vietnamese Restaurant 2014 | Khai Hoan Restaurant | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Heather Hoch

True food love is almost as much about the nostalgia as it is the food itself, and for many Valley residents, eating at Khai Hoan in Tempe is a beloved ritual. Before pho was on every corner, Khai Hoan was serving bowls of the soup for years, being the first spot where many people tried it locally. For that, we love Khai Hoan. The décor is basic, but the food is always spot-on and the service is always friendly. Simple, flavorful spring rolls and huge, steamy bowls of pho — as well as freshly cracked coconuts — transport you to another place. Once you can tear yourself away from the pho, you'll discover delicious, authentic bun cha rice noodle dishes and hu tieu glass noodle soups, but you certainly don't have to stray. We'd understand.

Sure, there are plenty of times when any old Korean barbecue place will do. But when we get a hankering for top-quality banchan and sizzling bowls of bibimbap, there's only one place that truly satisfies. That's Cafe Ga Hyang. Stop in for lunch and you'll find a quiet little West Valley dining spot where your semi-private booth will be festooned with little dishes of spicy kimchee, pickled potatoes, and other starters. Then it will be followed by entrées such as kalbi beef and bubbling bowls of tofu soup.

If you're lucky, charming co-owner Sun Johnson will be your server and double as a guide through the menu if you're unfamiliar with the cuisine. At night, the restaurant gets a more energetic vibe, with karaoke and drinks flowing until 2 a.m. Even better, the kitchen stays open just as late, so you can get get your jap chae fix long after most Valley restaurants have closed up shop.

It seems everyone has their own favorite place in the Valley to order a bowl of pad Thai, but if you seek fresh, flavorful Thai cuisine, then you absolutely have to try Nunthaporn's Thai Cuisine in Mesa. You might think all pad thai is created equal, but once you try Nunthaporn's, you'll know what the dish should be. And don't hestitate to order something different like the ginger and black-fungus-based pad khing, though, because no matter what you order at this modest-looking restaurant, you will not be disappointed. Whatever you order, you can enjoy eating it inside or on the patio as you watch shoppers peruse Mesa's historic downtown promenade off Main Street.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

On the exterior, chef Shinji Kurita's James Beard Award-nominated restaurant looks like just another sleek strip mall dining spot in Scottsdale. But take one step inside and you'll immediately know that you're about to experience something special. Everything from the classical music that plays through unseen speakers to the attentive and knowledgeable servers is as sophisticated and expertly selected as the chef's food.

Kurita gives diners few choices once they've sat down to dine — just the number of courses and accompanying drinks. Everything else is left up to the chef, which is good because we'd never be able to choose between dishes like pan-fried whole soft shell crab, buttery sake mushi, or sake-steamed mushrooms. Fortunately, nearly all of Kurita's coursed menus include the chef's signature Tsukuri Six, a stunning selection of small seafood bites. The selection varies by season but usually includes a variation of Kurita's tuna tartar, New Caledonia blue shrimp, and, if you're lucky, a fresh Kumamoto oyster accented with ponzu gélee and unctuous sea urchin.

Jackie Mercandetti

Drive by this quiet strip mall restaurant in south Tempe and you'd never expect it to be a haven for those seeking expertly executed Cantonese cuisine. As with many great but underappreciated restaurants, this is a family-owned and -operated spot where service is friendly but far from formal. And that's okay, because the real draw is the selection of hard-to-find Chinese entrées, including a rich, comforting platter of deep-fried duck with taro and soy sauce chicken. If you want the good stuff, you'll have to make sure you get your hands on one of the Chinese menus — and don't worry if you're unsure where to start; your server will likely offer plenty of guidance. Once you've explored the actual menu, you'll be ready to graduate to the restaurant's order-ahead offerings which include specialities such as braised whole duck (as in feet, head, and all).

Lauren Saria

You never know who you'll run into at Great Wall Cuisine on Sunday mornings. We've seen local politicians, chefs, and everyone in between standing outside the unremarkable strip mall restaurant waiting for a table. The inevitably large and diverse Sunday crowd gathers and waits (sometimes for up to an hour) because Great Wall is the best place in metro Phoenix for Chinese brunch. If you've never had dim sum at Great Wall, the experience can be overwhelming. Immediately after you take your seat, cart after cart of delicate shrimp shumai, fried noodles, and gelatinous pigs feet will roll by — all you have to do is grab anything and everything you want to try. The noise, the crowd, and the unique flavors of the Chinese cuisine can be difficult to handle, but once you've mastered the art of dim sum-style dining, you'll be addicted to the restaurant's high quality and diverse spread.

Jackie Mercandetti

There certainly are larger Indian restaurants in town, as well as a large number that offer a wider array of dishes than this tiny Tempe spot. But that doesn't mean we don't have an irresistible urge to head to Little India at least once every few weeks. It's our favorite place in the Valley to get the made-to-order Indian snacks called chaat. The options range from the familiar — think samosas hot out of the fryer and served with a side of Tamarind chutney — to the more exotic, as in aloo tikki chaat, a plate of potato patties covered in yellow peas, yogurt, tamarind, cilantro, and a slew of other spices. The restaurant is actually located inside an Indian mini mart, so leave time to wander the store's aisles for a few unique grocery items to take home.

Lauren Saria

When it comes to restaurants, at least, the line between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean gets fuzzy. Luckily, we're here for the food, not to draw lines on a map, because all we know is that Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli in Central Phoenix serves some of the best falafel and dolmades in town. The little market that houses the counter-service restaurant certainly is worth exploring, but what we come back to taste time and time again are dishes such as the bright, fresh tabbouleh, sweet baklava (which comes in three different styles), and tender lamb kebabs. It also helps that the restaurant's staff is always friendly and accommodating and they make even first-time diners feel like longtime fans.

There's nothing fancy about Goldman's — and we wouldn't want it any other way. It feels as though this classic Jewish deli has been in the same spot forever, a place where the chopped liver is creamy, the matzoh balls are fluffy, and the corned beef is spot-on. Put it all on rye with a seltzer and get a hunk of halvah for dessert. Then, if you squint a little (okay, you might need to close your eyes completely), South Scottsdale becomes the Lower East Side of Manhattan, if only till your plate's clean.

Heather Hoch

Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles may have relocated to shiny new digs in the same neighborhood south of downtown Phoenix in 2012, but we can assure you that the much bigger, more contemporary space hasn't had any effect on the restaurant's soul-filled food. It's really no surprise that this restaurant serves such knockout Southern specialties when you consider that owner Larry "Lo-Lo" White is the grandson of Phoenix food legend Elizabeth White of downtown Phoenix's Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.

Larry's restaurant may not be as authentic to the Deep South experience, but that doesn't make the food any less authentic. You can still find any combination of fried chicken and waffles you can dream up, as well as biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, fried catfish, and more. You'll definitely want to wash it down with a jar of Lo-Lo's famous Red Kool-Aid Drank.

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