Best Sichuan Restaurant 2018 | Original Cuisine | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

In the past several years, Sichuan-style cooking has become one of the most popular regional Chinese cuisines. And why not? Just try to resist the vibrant, lip-numbing properties of Sichuan peppercorns, or the spicy, oily allure of a mala sauce. One of the best places to explore the sophisticated, boldly flavored world of Sichuan-style cooking is at Original Cuisine. The menu is huge, encompassing noodle dishes, meaty stews, and vegetable small plates. Try the house barbecued fish, a whole fried catfish, topped with peanuts and perfumed with peppercorns, that's served over a fragrant, chile-infused stew.

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This long-running family-owned restaurant (formerly known as the Tahoora Grill) serves terrific Indian, Pakistani, and Afghan fare in an unassuming east-side dining room. Come for the Indian restaurant staples like the succulent chicken tikka masala and butter chicken. Stay for fragrant, beautifully seasoned dishes like shrimp biryani cooked with fresh herbs and spices, or the beef chapli kabab, a Pashtun-style minced beef kebab served with fresh veggies and herbs. Not sure what to order? The restaurant offers a popular all-day Sunday buffet that lets you sample from around the menu.

Patricia Escarcega

How do we love Haji-Baba? Let us count the ways. First, the menu is filled with standout Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes, from juicy gyros and crispy falafel to a velvety lamb tongue sandwich (trust us, just try it), and our favorite, richly spiced chicken shawarma accented with a pungent and addictive garlic sauce. Next, all that food we just mentioned is less than $10 per dish, as are most of the menu items. Also, before or after your meal, you can take a stroll down the aisles of the market housed in the same space, picking up international coffee, small bags of spices, and several varieties of baklava to take home. Finally, service is always friendly and fast, making Haji-Baba one of our favorite spots in metro Phoenix for a casual meal.

Chris Malloy

The best African restaurant in Phoenix has no waiters. Often, the menu doesn't faithfully reflect what the kitchen is cooking. But that can be forgiven, for Authentic Ethio African is a ghost restaurant — one that specializes in takeout and delivery — and the food is that good. Injera, made from teff, wheat, and barley, is riddled with pocks and explodes with wholesome, sour tang. Stews like chicken perfumed with ginger and berbere, fresh farmers' cheese made from whole milk, and cabbage and carrots yellow with turmeric are some of the many surprisingly soothing items that come atop. Ghost or not, this unheralded restaurant impresses.

Persian restaurants usually tend to be over-the-top affairs featuring white linen tablecloths, baroque furniture, and dangling chandeliers — or else they're barebones kabob counters. Saffron JAK finally offers something in between the two — a casual spot for a sit-down lunch or reasonably priced dinner, featuring freshly baked sagnak flatbread. The menu includes lamb and chicken kebabs, of course, but also less-traditional fare such as sagnak pizzas topped with feta, and "Persian tacos" stuffed with grilled meat and basmati rice and topped with yogurt sauce. Whatever you order, make sure to grab a loaf of bread to take home. And if you can't make it to the brick-and-mortar location, follow @saffronjak on Instagram to keep tabs on the restaurant's food truck, which offers a limited menu at a number of places around town, or find its booth at Phoenix Public Market.

Healthy eating is all the rage these days. But sometimes, we just want some blueberry blintzes. Or a big, carb-laden bagel piled high with cream cheese and lox. Goldman's Deli, a Chicago-style deli, specializes in classic Jewish fare like the aforementioned bagels, tall brisket sandwiches, warm bowls of matzo ball soup with chicken, noodles, and veggies; and potato latkes dotted with applesauce or sour cream. Everything is done just how we remember our bubbe making it, which is to say rich, delicious, and comforting. But if you want to nosh on something that's more New World than old country, Goldman's has lots of other choices, including breakfast fare like omelets, and lunch and dinner fare like barbecue chicken, and yes, even salads.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

These days, it's not unusual for restaurants to offer options for vegan diners. But many of them miss the mark, relying too heavily on artificial substitutes for meat and cheese, or only offering up bland vegetable platters. Most could stand to learn a few tricks from The Coronado, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant in the heart of central Phoenix that excels at creating plant-based comfort food. From deep-fried cauliflower tacos to tepary bean burgers to savory breakfast burritos, everything on the menu is made up of ingredients that you can recognize. Even more important, it tastes fantastic.

"Eat your vegetables." We lost track of how many times we heard it growing up. Now, we're adults, and no one has to make us, because we actually love veggies, and Pomegranate Cafe in Ahwatukee is one of the best spots in town to healthfully indulge. Truth be told, Pomegranate is almost vegan; there are just a few dishes that aren't. But in any case, we love to take ourselves over to Pomegranate for meat-free options like the spaghetti squash with mushroom walnut "meatballs," the poblano wild mushroom street tacos, and the buffalo cauliflower. And if you're just looking for something light or sweet, the restaurant also produces a fantastic selection of baked goods, all of which are vegan, and some of which are gluten-free. The menu has helpful icons to identify gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and nut-free dishes, so diners with a variety of allergies can come to Pomegranate for a safe and delicious meal.

Judy Nichols

Finding a place to eat with our gluten-averse friends used to be a challenge. We want a great meal, but we also want our friends to have just as many menu options as we do. Enter Jewel's Bakery & Cafe. The story goes that owner Julie Moreno began her foray into the world of GF cooking when her daughter was diagnosed with a gluten allergy. What resulted is a bright, cheerful cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and most importantly, no food containing gluten. And at Jewel's, we don't even miss it. Breakfast dishes like lemon raspberry pancakes and lunch options like a Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich are just a few of the reasons we come back to Jewel's again and again.

This Saturday farmers market — which bustles at Brown Avenue and First Street, walkable from the nearby brunch nexus — offers some of everything. In the tight arrangement of stands, you will find a slew of prepared-food vendors peddling food from salsa to barbecue brisket to Syrian desserts. The Valley's very best farms, like Blue Sky Organic Farms and McClendon Select, take up ample real estate here. More interesting still may be a few of the smaller stands, like Brother Nature Farms, where you can find rare heirloom tomatoes, wonky herbs, and specialty lettuces. And Chmachyakyakya, the stand of Mark Lewis, a man of mystery who makes tea from ocotillo flowers, and lunch from other foraged desert life.

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