One of these days, we're going to head to Lee Lee, fill up a cart with products whose labels we can't understand, and take our purchases home for some global culinary exploration. But until we conduct that grand experiment, you can just catch us at Lee Lee for our usual purchases, like frozen shumai, Filipino lumpia, containers of fried garlic that go great on everything, Bulgarian red pepper spread, central European meats, Korean ramen, and so much more. We make sure we have extra time to shop when we get to one of Lee Lee's two Valley locations; we like to stroll the wide aisles at leisure, looking at the unusual products and appreciating the gastronomic diversity of the world we live in.
There's pizza sauce, and then there's the house-brand pizza sauce we get from this west-side deli, a Phoenix tradition since 1975. Those in the know about Italian delis — and anyone too lazy to make their own red gravy — will tell you that Romanelli's pizza sauce is the best in town. So's the selection of Italian cheeses and cured meats, holiday candies and cookies, olive oils and pastas. They'll cater your next office party or bar mitzvah, and they'll serve you a delicious lunch to go, but what Romanelli's will mostly do is make you want to back up a truck and fill it with provolone balls and mostaccioli, cannoli and pizzelles. Maybe you'll be inspired to make your own, in which case this family-owned institution sells pizzelle irons, cheese-ballers, and cannoli shells.
Owned by Mahfam Moeeni-Alacron and her husband, Cristobal Alacron, Mingle + Graze was a dream many years in the making. At the shop, which opened in early 2019 in charming downtown Chandler, Moeeni-Alacron uses her expertise to select just the right cheeses for her store and clientele. She also educates people about new flavors. You can build your own cheese board and sample their new cheeses while you're there. (The pecorino is definitely worth a try.) It only takes a few visits before you become part of the Mingle + Graze community; the owners will know you by name after the first time, and once you're a regular, the staff will start working on your food as soon as you step into the shop. This is the best place for cheese in town, but cheese is by no means the only offering at Mingle + Graze. The menu is peppered with creative nods to her Persian and his Chilean heritage in the form of sandwiches, salads, and desserts.
In our state, where cattle is one of the five foundational Cs, great steaks are our standard. If you want to grill, smoke, or reverse-sear the best beef you can get your hands on, a trip to Roni Terry at The Meat Market is a must. All beef is grass-fed in Arizona. Cuts include porterhouses and ribeyes but stray into rarer finds like oyster steak and Denver steak. The pork and lamb options are equally heady. What sets The Meat Market apart most of all, though, are prepared goods, including excellent sausages and a budding charcuterie program. Now and then, Terry sources high-end products like veal leg, a cause for celebration for the meat lover.
Chris Nelson willed this once-scrappy-newbie seafood shop into a foundational pillar of Phoenix dining. See the name "Nelson's" on a menu next to a crudo, grilled octopus, or spot prawns? Pull the trigger. Though we've gushed about it over the years, the colors, sheen, and vivacity of marine life in the Nelson's display case remain a wonder. Nelson overnights fish into the desert from the world's near and far waterways. Vivid scallops, alien king salmon, pinkish monkfish slabs ready to be baked into osso buco: Some of the fish at Nelson's is so fresh, so rare, and so removed from the ordinary experience of a fish market (or grocery) that it almost seems fake. Chat up Nellie, though, and he'll tell you everything about the creature, right on down to the nickname of the fisherman who caught it.
Too many burgers are about the bacon or the chiles, the aioli or the fried egg. The burgers at Stoop Kid are about beef. When you sink your teeth into this bagel shop's single or double, you can tell that you're eating an animal. The patties are packed with rich, primal juice. The ratios of the burger emphasize everything just right. The Pobrecito is a proper single patty with American cheese, pickle, onion, ketchup, and mustard, the cookout burger of your youth dialed to 11. The Stoop Burger is bigger and sexier, a tall double spilling cheddar from brioche. Steve McMillen's burgers are downright flawless — not bad for a bagel joint.
Why not make sandwiches using our metro's most celebrated bread? The baker behind that bread, Jason Raducha, doesn't have to try too hard to make a beautiful Italian sandwich on his chewy semolina roll. But he does. He takes a minimalistic approach to making sandwiches, his creations featuring quality ingredients, smart combinations, with no parts out of place. A caprese ditches raw tomato for roasted, mozzarella for burrata, and balsamic vinegar for saba. It's a more decadent version of the classic. Similarly, he jolts tuna with cabernet vinegar and incorporates potato, making for a fresher, heartier, more sophisticated sandwich. It's all impressively executed and well-sourced, an ideal older-school sandwich shop for today's age of eating.
The Beckett's Table's grilled cheese isn't like any you've had. It's a play on textures, turned inside out: a golden bun, topped with roasted strands of asiago, oozing with an international blend of cheeses. The pillowy brioche is stuffed with a gooey blend of manchego, asiago, white cheddar, mozzarella, and fontina. Sharp, mild, zesty, piquant, and nutty dance together. How does Beckett make a fluffy brioche bun work with the softness of the five cheeses? Unlike other grilled cheese sandwiches, where the crunch comes from the outside (toasted bread), here it comes from the inside of the sandwich (crispy pancetta). A tomato and roasted pepper bisque accompanies the sandwich. Pro tip: Try at least one nibble with the sandwich dipped in the creamy soup. It's a perfect bite.
Hot dogs exist on a spectrum. There's the sketchy side (gas stations and sporting events) and the gourmet side, which is where Der Wurst hangs out. Every Der Wurst dog starts with a Schreiner's Fine Sausages product and a local, baked-from-scratch pretzel bun. All the offerings have slightly off-color names; we like the Dirty Sanchez, which comes with chorizo, cheese, and jalapenos; the Schnitzel Licker, a breaded and fried dog with lemon mayo and arugula; and the Strap-On, a vegan hot dog. There are other choices on the Der Wurst menu, too, like loaded fries and desserts, but the creative, delicious variations on the standard hot dog are what keep us coming back.
It has been more than a year since Fry Bread House founder Cecelia Miller passed away, but her legacy lives on in the form of puffy, craggy, golden-crisp frybread. At this legendary Phoenix Tohono O'odham restaurant, long a pillar of the urban Indigenous food scene, frybread comes in so many satisfying ways: in burgers, as tacos, with stews, even laced with warm chocolate sauce for the kind of dessert you involuntarily close your eyes to as you eat, soul awash in hot joy. The frybread here is so great, though, that you can eat it plain — experiencing the full gustatory potential of the dish.