Best African Restaurant 2020 | WaaMo Restaurant | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Chris Malloy

Officially a Somali restaurant, WaaMo also exhibits strong influences from other east African countries, like Ethiopia and Eritrea, not to mention Mediterranean flavors. Braised goat is one of its core Somali specialties. Owner and dining room fixture Basheir Elmi heartily recommends this to diners who aren't regulars. Sambusas, deep-fried pastries, are another Somali favorite. But you can also grab Greek salad and kebab sandwiches here if you want. The vibe in WaaMo is unlike anywhere else in town, generated by the warmth of spiced coffee and that of Elmi meeting and greeting the diners, of watermelon juice and deep-fried chicken leg. WaaMo is a true unsung gem.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Our greatest kosher restaurant happens to be a north Phoenix establishment you could eat in without even knowing it's kosher. But young Bukharian stalwart Café Chenar obeys the laws of kashrut through and through. Tashkent native and chef Mazel Uvaydov makes tweaks to keep kosher, some so deft they slide under the radar. For one, manti, a kind of dumpling, are often dipped in sour cream. At Café Chenar, they come with tomato sauce. The restaurant's wide-ranging menu contains plenty of treasures to discover, including the Uzbek plov (a meat and rice dish), kebabs, hanum (a steamed pasta roll filled with potato and onion), and roasted Cornish hen. They even unveil specials for Jewish holidays, like sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) for Hanukkah.

Here, the mien is friendly, reading the deep menu is like falling into a wormhole, and the portions are grand — and it all adds up to make this New York-style Jewish deli a worthy stop for breakfast, lunch, or a gargantuan cinnamon roll for the road. JJ's boils more than 20 kinds of bagels every morning. They're of the giant, fluffy variety, and they do best under a mountain of whitefish salad or lox. Hot sandwiches on rye with stacks of pastrami or corned beef are also top-notch. An underrated nook on the menu is the robust knish selection, which includes a glorious doughy knob perfumed with bacon. And if you're ever feeling under the weather, we suggest picking up a bowl of Jewish penicillin, a.k.a. a hearty, comforting bowl of JJ's matzah ball soup.

Katie Johnson

Chef Damon Brasch was the first restaurateur in the Valley to seduce herbivores and carnivores alike with meatless variations on burgers, chicken, crab puffs, po' boys, cheesesteak, and those legendary Buffalo wings. Green's mock meats could fool even the most anti-veggie meat-eater, and hearty sides like chili fries, soy-free samosas, fried Brussels sprouts, and eggless rolls make it a meal that leaves just enough room for dessert from next-door sister business tSoynami (at the Phoenix location), where soy-based ice cream treats in 18 varieties await — including popular flavors like cookies 'n' cream, mint, peanut butter and chocolate, rocky road, peach cobbler, and chocolate chip cookie dough. Green's two locations stand out as the places in town where we miss meat the least.

Giving Tree Cafe

"Delicious AF" is how Giving Tree Café describes its banana bread with macadamia butter, but that moniker could be applied to lots of things on its all-vegan menu. The fare includes an all-day breakfast menu (the spinach-packed vegan quiche is especially good), spicy-leaning starters like blistered shishito peppers and turmeric cauliflower, soups, pizzas, and sandwiches. (There's a juice bar, too.) We're partial to the "Main Events" entrees — savory, inventive dishes like mole tacos made with lion's mane mushrooms and vegan seafood gumbo studded with okra and jackfruit.

Judy Nichols

Gluten-sensitive and food allergy sufferers will find much to love at Jewel's, but so will regular consumers of gluten — a true test of how tasty a gluten-free restaurant is. When we dine here, we don't miss the gluten in the famous chicken and waffles, or the hot chicken sandwich, or the green chile pork grilled cheese sandwich. Definitely not at the bakery counter with brownies, muffins, cakes, cookies, and more — all of which are made sans gluten. The homey neighborhood feel, friendly staff, and bright, airy dining room add to the good vibes. Go for breakfast or lunch and order freely; you won't be disappointed.

Many local farmers' markets have similar amenities and vendors, but what sets apart the Uptown Farmers' Market from other such gathering spots is vital in these socially distant times: space. There's ample parking at its home at North Phoenix Baptist Church, so you don't have to walk for blocks carrying your farm-fresh haul to your car. (And during summers when the pandemic isn't keeping us separated from one another, it's nice to grab a savory breakfast burrito in the air-conditioned comfort of the church's Family Life Center.) The vendors can spread out nicely, so we're able to socially distance while we buy gorgeous loaves from Proof Bread, award-winning tamales from The Tamale Store, sweet treats from The Bakery PHX, and organic produce from local favorite McClendon's Select. There are plenty of sanitation stations around the premises to keep those hands clean, too. Uptown Farmers' Market allows us to shop beloved metro Phoenix businesses and still feel safe in these times.

Tempe Farmers Market stands proudly across the street from a brand-new Whole Foods and just down aways from a brand-new Trader Joe's. Proud because it's jam packed with made-in-Arizona products. Marked by its bright red T for the town it serves, this small grocer has been open since 2009 in downtown Tempe. On its shelves, you'll find local produce, cheeses, meats, and liquids from creamer to beer. The locally owned market is also something of a bodega, with a vegan deli known for its excellent vegetarian and/or gluten-free wraps, as well as colorful, organic smoothies (we recommend the Desert Palm). Another perk of the Tempe Farmers Market? The east end is where you'll find cocktails and live music at The Dark Side bar.

When H Mart, the popular Korean supermarket chain, opened its first Arizona location in Mesa this summer, we waited outside, in the sun, in a face mask, to get in. And it was worth it. H Mart blends contemporary grocery store aesthetics like dark wood and clever graphic signage with a dizzying array of Asian food products. However deeply you want to dive into Korean cuisine, you can do it at H Mart, whether with marinated galbi ready to cook up (delicious) or frozen durian (hard pass). The fish department is huge and packed with seafood both familiar and not-so-familiar, and there's a whole side of one aisle devoted to ramen. The store also carries a pretty decent selection of Western food items you'd find in any regular supermarket, so you can get your gojuchang and fresh udon noodles along with your Pop-Tarts and orange juice. The adjoining food hall boasts even more culinary delights to explore. It would take a very long time for anyone to discover everything H Mart has to offer, which is why we keep returning, again and again.

Cattle, one of Arizona's 5 Cs, is the star of this polished neighborhood meat shop — and not just because its grass-fed beef comes from some of our finest ranches. The array of cuts at Arcadia Meat Market is majestic: tomahawk ribeye, bavette, short ribs, tri-tip, tongue, heart, brisket, and so on. Nick Addante, owner and shop fixture, also sources Arizona chicken, regional pork, and grass-fed lamb. You can watch animals being broken down in the back room, where dry-aging cuts hang, building flavor almost like fine wine (but in far funkier directions). As a bonus, AMM stocks products by a slew of local food and beverage artisans. And they shuffled supplies in the early days of the pandemic to accommodate not only these producers, but customers struggling with grocery store shortages. Like any truly great butcher, this shop has proven to be a neighborhood cornerstone.

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