For the better part of a decade now, Gio Osso has plated some of the Valley's most progressive Italian food. Now, he also blazes our very best Neapolitan pizza. Osso hews close to the ageless traditions of Naples, birthplace of pizza, including the signature puffy crust, micro-thin center, San Marzano tomatoes, and cooking each pie at volcanic heat. Technically, the pizza is almost without error. Toppings, though, are where Osso truly separates from the pack. He isn't afraid to do taleggio, truffle, trumpet mushrooms, and arugula. Or stracchino cheese with smoked pancetta, caramelized onion, and chestnut honey. These are heady, old-school ingredients arranged in thoughtful ways — resulting in truly excellent pizza.
The owner of Andreoli, Giovanni Scorzo, grew up in Italy's far south. The dry goods, pastries, meats and cheeses, and prepared foods he offers all reflect his link to Italy, which hits you with the smell of fresh-baked bread upon entering. Scorzo crafts all kinds of ingredients from scratch, including cured meats, cheese like mozzarella and burrata, and intricate pastries like sfogliatelle. Plated dishes include an all-star lineup of stalwarts from up and down Italy, including handmade ravioli. Slippery, the thin outer noodle soft, the fragrant fillings even softer, Scorzo's mushroom, veal, squash, and other ravioli channel the Old World. They conjure the humble home kitchens where dough crimps and flour clouds catch the light — the true spirit of pasta.
Lately, charcuterie boards have risen to the level of art: Cheeses, meats, jams, and crackers get displayed so gorgeously that you stop to take a photo before digging in. The Sicilian Butcher definitely understands how a charcuterie board has a chance to make a memorable impression. There's not one, but four different choices for boards, everything from the Polenta board with meatballs, cheese, and toast points; the Cured Meat and Cheese board, which is accompanied by pickled vegetables and jams; and the over-the-top Sicilian in Strada, which delivers panelli fritters, potato croquette, craft meatballs with polenta, artisanal meats and cheeses, as well as jams. Served on a 5-foot-long board, it can easily feed a family or a group of friends. And while you're feasting, don't forget that happy hour is all day, every day; you likely won't regret pairing your charcuterie with a $6 glass of wine or $5 beer.
A $185 seat at Shinji Kurita's omakase temple gives you more than a meal. It's a ticket to a culinary event, a spectacle. Kurita sharpens his knife on the whetstone, whirls chopsticks and pinches food with surgical precision, hand-sculpts blocks of sushi rice with the whole-body movements of a ballerina, and gently brushes immaculate fish with soy-sake reduction and places it before you. Kohada nigiri drips a few dark drops onto its plate before vanishing into your mouth. The fish is incredibly fresh. Even the rice seems to burst with perfect fragrance. The shad is excellent. The eel, too. The eggplant with bonito shavings rocks. Shit, you'll actually even see fresh wasabi root. Kurita is our undisputed sushi king.
Housed in a wing of the Galvanize co-working space downtown, Kaizen doesn't look like a sushi restaurant. And yet, it's handily the best sushi restaurant to have plugged in its rice cooker since the pandemic began. Chef Gustavo Munoz prepares traditional Japanese sushi (maki, sashimi, etc.) but also raw-fish dishes that straddle Japan and the Americas. They're as brilliant as they are unlikely. Highlights include a scallop number, pearly coins of bivalve bathed in an electric dark green yuzu-and-serrano-charged aguachile, and a Peruvian-Japanese tiradito with similar brightness but much more creamy oomph. Critically, eel, snapper, and other simple nigiri taste clean and fresh. This is your new spot for sushi downtown.
Early in the pandemic, Osaka native Yusuke Kuroda was laid off from his job at the reputed American Japanese chain Nobu. He resettled in Arizona, where he opened Origami Ramen Bar in Ahwatukee, putting his learnings from Nobu and cooking in Japan into long-simmered bowls of noodle soup. For rich miso ramen, the simmering of chicken and pork bones lasts 12 hours. A blend of miso pastes from Hokkaido lends even more depth. One slurp, and a wild flavor landscape of umami comes to life, incredible in its intensity and subtleties. His other ramens are also exceptional, including a paitan that is pretty much chicken soup to the seventh power.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, it's a feeding frenzy at Chandler's Phoenix Palace. That's when dim sum is served. During those five hours, a steady offering of delectable Cantonese dishes is wheeled around the dining area's many tables in a kind of ballet performance of culinary hospitality. With so many choices, it takes no effort to litter your table with used plates as you taste savory dishes like spare ribs, steamed and baked barbecue buns, sesame balls, Chinese broccoli, roast duck, crispy pork, and soy sauce chow mein. And don't worry, there's plenty to satisfy your sweet tooth: Creamy buns stuffed with a rich custard and sesame balls filled with sugar and red bean paste are heady, confectionary delights.
These fluffy bao steamed in a Chandler restaurant and at events all over the Valley often are more than bao. They are bao with cute, hilarious, amazing faces. Hello Kitty. Baby Yoda. An Angry Bird with arched eyebrows, all but challenging you to eat him. Mr. Bird, you are doomed, because even the tofu bao here is stellar. Indonesian immigrant Anna Heinback is behind the bao. Though they look new-school, they are steamed in bamboo containers the old-school way. Her char siu (Cantonese-style barbecue pork) and chicken teriyaki make for great munching when walking around a farmers' market or festival.
What if we told you that one of the greatest grilled meats in our carne asada wonderland is an Armenian kabob? Believe it. Kabob Grill N Go owners Tony and Hasmik Chilingaryan grill flank steak, pork ribs, chicken wings, and the sausage-shaped minced-meat skewer known as koobideh. You can order a skewer. You can throw down and get a whole platter with rice and more. Much of what the Chilingaryans cook is displayed in a glass case. Just one look and a quick soulful smell of the grill, and you'll be a new regular.
We used to have a friend named Dino, but we stopped speaking to him when he said he didn't like the gingerbread men at Barb's Bakery, which has been serving Phoenix for decades. We don't need negativity like that in our life. What we do need is one of those spicy, warm cookies from Barb's, and we need one every week. Also a half-dozen of Barb's butter cookies, iced just so and perfect with a glass of cold milk. Barb's Orange Dreamsicle cupcake is the best thing we've ever tasted, next to her made-from-scratch cinnamon roll, sticky with sweet icing and nearly big enough for two. Except we don't like to share our stash from Barb's. Get your own.