Chou's Kitchen
Jacob Tyler Dunn

The east Valley has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to incredible Asian food. Many of the restaurants have opened in the last couple of years, but our favorite place for Chinese food has been around for a bit longer. Chou's Kitchen, which serves the cuisine of northeastern China, has a diverse menu worth exploring. We love the stir-fried eggplant with minced pork and garlic sauce, the fish filet in hot chile oil, and above all, the xiaolongbao, steamed dumplings filled with soup and pork. Travel + Leisure included Chou's Kitchen on its list of the best Chinese restaurants in the U.S. several years ago, bringing well-deserved national attention to this local favorite.

At India's Flame, to start, the naan has a flaky, wafery bite and gives you the same warming goodness as buttered popcorn. During lunch, well-spiced cups of chai are included with a sprawling buffet, and so are bracing glasses of mango lassi. You can pick and choose from the extensive menu or ride with the buffet. In either case, don't miss daal maharani, a creamy slurry of lentils with a mellow curry heat. A hearty, refined curry features bone-in goat, a shade chewy but rich and satisfying. The list of standouts goes on: tandoori chicken perfectly moist inside despite oven-blackening on the surface, coconut-milk-deepened korma packed with vegetables, and a nice carrot rendition of halwa for dessert. This hidden gem does it all.

Haji Baba Middle Eastern Food
Patricia Escarcega

This deli-cafe-grocery's lamb tongue sandwich gets all the love. But what makes this longtime Arizona State University and Tempe staple the best isn't its best dishes. It's that the simplest meals and bites of food are so satisfying. A chicken shawarma sandwich explodes with juice, and gets just the sour touch it needs from pickle spears. Its pita is soft, hot and chewy, the kind of wrapping that you could eat without what it wraps. Shawarma and other sandwiches, all unreasonably cheap, are often tightly foiled and ready almost immediately. If you are even driving by this restaurant's modest sign in its fading strip mall, at least stop in for a bag of fresh Aleppo pepper, a brick of feta, or baklava to go. Bars of baklava are simple, crackly, hypnotically syrup-soaked, and chewy on their non-crackly lower halves, with all the goodness of pecan pie and then some. They're even great for breakfast.

Jollof King
Chris Malloy

The food that owner Kwasi Nyerko and Chef Mercy Boadi serve at Jollof King is Ghanaian, Nigerian, and a hybrid of the two West African countries. At a seat in the vibrant restaurant, you can happily dig into warm spoonfuls of gelatinous okra stew or egusi, a renowned African stew made with melon seeds. Some of the standouts at this low-key spot include the lumpy banku — a ball of starchy corn with a pleasant, barnyard funk built through fermentation. Nut soups star. The chef makes two, including ground-nut soup, one of Ghana's most beloved dishes. The crimson depths are a warming, beautiful union of tomato, smooth peanuts, and, most of all, habanero. Garlic and ginger help shape it all into something soulful, and so does the pillowy fufu dumpling plopped in the bowl if you wisely opt for one. This is one of the best soups in town.

Chompie's Deli Restaurant, Bagels, Bakery & Catering
Molly Smith

Chompie's isn't necessarily the Katz's Delicatessen of greater Phoenix, but it's close enough. Started in 1979 by the Borenstein family from Queens, New York, Chompie's has gone from a simple bagel shop to a restaurant chain in its 40 years in the Valley. The New York-style deli and bakery lists menu items like kishka with double-baked Jewish rye, cabbage rolls, schnitzel, and that piled-high pastrami sandwich. All this, while the bakery features East Coast-esque bagels and the ultimate treat of peace, the black-and-white cookie. Chompie's also offers holiday menus for occasions like Christmas, Passover, St. Patrick's Day, and Yom Kippur break-the-fast.

Cafe Chenar
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

For people who love to eat the world, one of the most exciting openings of the last year was Café Chenar in north Phoenix. This one-room restaurant — the third eatery opened by the Uvaydov family, who also run LaBella Pizzeria and Restaurant, and Kitchen 18 — serves Bukharian food. This is the cuisine of a Jewish minority in Uzbekistan, one at the intersection of Europe and Asia and at a prominent point of the old Silk Road. Being kosher, the dining room observes the laws of kashrut, meaning there's no dairy on the menu. Steamed manti arrive in a bamboo vessel not with the customary sour cream but a ramekin of light tomato sauce that lifts the rich noodles. This is a menu that you could close your eyes, point at, and be perfectly happy. It's loaded with plov, Cornish hen, lamb rib kebabs, and enough dumplings to fill a book — or the stomachs of a large, hungry party. During Hanukkah, the kitchen serves sufganyiot, simple and satisfying with a cup of green tea.

Verdura
Verdura

Verdura takes a second to process. The tables and chairs in the large dining room are spaced apart like a well-planned neighborhood. Then there are the open kitchen, plants, lava lamps, and big framed photos of Prince, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and Joan Jett. The counter-service, plant-based eatery has fun dish names like London Calling and the CBGB Salad, but the food is all business. The carne asada nachos, made with seitan, are in the running for best nachos in town. The I'm Just a Po'boy sandwich is a pile of flash-fried mushrooms, while London Calling is "phish" and chips. Everything is spot on, but the Goth Waffle will have you popping in for a visit at random hours. It's a warm, black-in-color bubble waffle, made with activated charcoal and topped with tart raspberry sorbet. Verdura is not just vegan-friendly — it may be vegan-converting.

The Coronado
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Do you want to trick your carnivore friends into abandoning their sinful, meat-eating ways by showing them how stupidly good vegetarian food can be? Then go to The Coronado and prepare to be confused: Its veggie burgers are so good you'll forget you're not eating meat. The goat cheese and jalapeno marmalade quesadilla is so absurdly delicious it won't matter that your hands are crazy sticky and your mouth is on fire just a little bit. The Coronado also has brunch specials that vary from week to week, outside seating, beer on tap, games in the back, and an array of beautiful and tasty baked goods.

Best Restaurant to Trick Yourself Into Eating Healthier

Green New American Vegetarian

Green New American Vegetarian
Courtesy of Green

Here's a common complaint about many vegan food items from one flesh-loving carnivore: A lot of it tastes like soy and old tube socks. But then, Green opened up in Phoenix and Tempe, spreading the gospel of proper vegan cuisine to the steak-obsessed masses. Chef Damon Brasch had the magical idea to blend a multitude of cooking styles, yielding tasty comfort food from vegetarian or vegan ingredients that's both familiar and daring. There are the West Coast Fries, better than any spuds from In-N-Out; barbecue wings worthy of any sports bar; and, hands down, the best crab puffs in the entire Valley. But Green does more than simply trick the taste buds into eating better — the menu shows the true versatility of spinach, chickpeas, and cabbage when prepared with a lot of care and a dash of excitement. Were it not for actual burgers or wings, Green could make a vegan/vegetarian out of almost anyone.

Food allergies and sensitivities definitely make eating out more challenging; for those who require gluten-free food, options can be limited and not always tasty. But in Jewel's Cafe, the gluten-sensitive among us have a place where everything on the menu is safe to eat, and it's all delicious. Jewel's does breakfast, brunch, and lunch; highlights include the award-winning Nashville hot chicken sandwich, the chicken and waffles, and the chorizo burrito. The baked goods here also are incredible; on any given day you might find red velvet cheesecake bars, chocolate chip scones, or peanut butter bacon brownies. What we're saying is, Jewel's isn't a great gluten-free eatery — it's a great place to eat that happens to be gluten-free.

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