Another month checked off in the culinary datebook of 2013, another month when I look back on the best things I ate.
From dishes like my new favorite macaron of the moment to sophisticated nachos and a tough-to-find street snack, here are 10 of the best things I ate this month, selected from reviews, first-time visits, and places I've popped into just because.
I hope it inspires. Enjoy.
Shrimp and Corn Tamale at The Blind Pig (above)
The best thing on the menu at this meat-centric venture in Scottsdale (complete with a butcher's case of take-home proteins) is the shrimp and corn tamale ($10). When it arrives, the husk has been spread open to reveal plump grilled prawns resting atop a delicately sweet masa cake covered in a sumptuous corn and cilantro cream sauce for a gourmet take on a Mexican street food that's nothing short of spectacular.
Pumpkin Spice Macaron at Essence Bakery Cafe
Chef Eugenia Theodosopoulous has managed to put the taste of the holiday season into one of her heavenly macarons thanks to a creation called Pumpkin Spice ($1.40/small, $3.25/large). With a creamy filling made with ingredients like organic pumpkin, brown sugar, ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger layered between a lightly flavored orange spice macaron, it's more or less the macaron version of the pumpkin pie.
Lechon Baboy at Halo-Halo Kitchen
Folks at this West Phoenix Filipino bar and restaurant not only no how to party (see: Friday late-night karaoke), they also know how to eat. In particular, on Saturdays, when they stand in line for fresh lechon baboy ($8.99/lb.) succulent chunks of roasted pork with crunchy skin served with a side of seasoned liver sauce. Too early for a cold San Miguel with that? Never.
Porco e Funghi at Nook Kitchen
Nook, Arcadia's new little pizzeria and American eatery from the former owners of Amaro Pizzeria & Vino Lounge in North Scottsdale, won't replace your favorite gourmet pie place, but its Neapolitan-style pizzas are very good nonetheless. The Porco e Funghi ($14) especially, with toppings of sweet sausage, heady mushrooms, Parmesan, basil, and a house-pulled mozzarella that's pretty much perfect.
Half-Chicken Dinner at El Pollo Correteado
The location on Jefferson Street might be gone, but if you're on the west side of the city and get a craving for juicy, well-seasoned, mesquite grilled chicken, El Pollo's original location on McDowell Road should do the trick. A half-chicken dinner will set you back about $6.50. Not bad considering along with the chicken, sides like fresh tortillas, onions, limes, smoked jalapeños, and a fresh and fiery salsa are enough to feed you and a friend.
Duck Curry at Krua Thai Cuisine
This cozy Thai cafe in North Phoenix probably isn't going to be your favorite Thai restaurant, but nonetheless it is one of the Valley's more successful ones. Venture off the more traditional Thai curry path with the excellent duck curry ($13.95), a spicy concoction of tender sautéed duck meat, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, and green onions in coconut milk that's soupier than you might expect but no less satisfying.
Tuna Tartare Nachos at Eddie's House
For a walk on the more sophisticated side of one of America's favorite shareable snacks, it's tough to beat chef Eddie Matney's tuna tartare nachos ($14). The perfect size for two (and half-off during happy hour at Matney's Scottsdale restaurant), it combines fresh cubes of tuna, Arizona corn, cilantro, and bits of bright red nachos for a kind of Asian-Southwestern fusion snack the housemade thick and crispy chips have zero trouble handling.
Brick Toast at T.Spot
For a kind of breakfast-dessert, you could do worse than the brick toast ($3.95) at this re-named restaurant (formerly Tien Wong) in Chandler from chef Johnny Chu. A thick slice of toasted Asian milk bread with a dollop of coconut butter and your choice of chocolate, honey, condensed milk, or caramel, makes for a sweet treat that's perfect with an almond milk tea.
Roasted Salmon at Phoenix Public Market Cafe
For those who can part with $18 for what is easily the best dish on the menu at chef-owner Aaron Chamberlin's (St. Francis) vintage-chic cafe, you'll want the roasted salmon. Succulent, rich, and with just the right amount of seasoning atop a delicately crisp skin, it's almost impossibly perfect, one of the best in town. Order it with a side of heady baked sweet potatoes lit up with chili lime butter.
Fresh Mexican Coconut from the Guy at the Corner of Indian School and 43rd Avenue
If you're craving a street food-style Mexican coconut, keep your eyes peeled for the guy at around West Indian School Road and 43rd Avenue who sells them for five bucks and only on the weekends (he tells me he's sometimes in South Phoenix, too). He'll start by cracking one open with a machete, then pour the refreshing juice into a plastic bag that gets tied around a straw. While you sip, he's back to work, hacking the white meat into thick chunks before mixing them with things like sour salt, chile sauce, lime -- most anything you'd like, really -- for a kicked up coconut snack you'll be glad you pulled over for.
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