Best Chinese Restaurant 2020 | Old Town Taste | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

The second most interesting part about Old Town Taste is that it's not actually in Old Town Scottsdale. It's in a strip mall in Tempe, easily spotted by its bright-red sign. The most interesting part, obviously, is the food. The family-owned Chinese restaurant has a lengthy menu with a Sichuan bent, promising dishes like braised eggplant, mapo tofu, and Szechuan-style blood curd. But what brings us back again and again is the Chongqing-style platter. This house special is offered as chicken or fish, and both options are fantastic, thanks to chunks of meat coated in that thin, crunchy batter and topped with string beans and chile. It's never a bad time to slide into one of Old Town Taste's bright turquoise booths and dig into a meal of authentic Chinese cuisine.

Jackie Mercandetti

A hallmark of a great Indian restaurant is great naan, and at Chennai Chettinaad Palace, it's warm, fluffy, and buttery soft — a perfect companion to the chicken tikka masala or daal makhani. Entrees carry the richness of traditional spices like cumin, garam masala, and coriander, without overpowering with a pants-on-fire spiciness. Don't leave without tasting the biryani; the rice is loose and tender, with a blend of vegetables or a meat of your choosing. It rivals biryani you might find in a restaurant in India. The menu is vast, with almost 200 items to choose from. Start your meal with a cold glass of mango lassi, sample some of the hot pakoras as an appetizer, and move on to entrees from virtually every region of India. Finish off with desserts like gulab jamun or milky rice kheer.

Patricia Escarcega

Set in a nondescript strip mall just east of the Arizona State University campus, Haji-Baba doesn't look like much from the outside. But the restaurant-market has been feeding students — and everyone else who likes great Middle Eastern food at a ridiculously low price point — for decades. The chicken shawarma platter, crammed with spiced meat, basmati rice, hummus, tabbouleh, and a pungent, addictive garlic sauce, is one of our favorite dishes in the entire city. But anything on the menu is a good pick, from the gyro sandwich to the creamy baba ghanoush to the Greek salad studded with huge chunks of tangy feta cheese. Leave enough time to roam the market half of the space, where you can pick up fragrant spices, exotic coffee, and other Middle Eastern groceries.

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.

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