Offal often gets a bad rap for being the odds and ends of animals that no one wants to eat. The term, used more frequently in British English, refers to non-muscle parts of a butchered animal. It covers all sorts of tasty bits like intestine, liver, kidneys, feet, head, brain, tongue, and more. And we'll admit, these aren't exactly the sexiest of ingredients. But these days, thanks to inventive chefs and a rising interest in culinary adventure, offal's acceptance is on the rise.
Of course, you've never had to look any further that your favorite ethnic joint to find these often flavorful but overlooked protein sources. But now they're also making their way onto upscale, New American menus too. So move over, pâté, and make room, foie gras, because you're not the coolest cuts on the butcher block any more. Here's our list of the 10 best offal dishes in metro Phoenix.
Pho dac biet at Pho Thanh Restaurant: At Pho Thanh, you can count on finding super-cheap and authentic Vietnamese eats, and that description includes this bowl of brimming beef parts. In pho dac biet, or "special" pho, you'll find slices of beef mixed in with chewy chunks of tripe and soft, rich sections of tendon. If the idea of noshing on connective tissue seems offputting, don't fret. In fact, the gelatinous texture and beefy, fatty flavor of tendon might just remind you of pork belly. Dressed up with bright bites of cilantro and crunchy bean sprouts, you're in for an offal treat with this dish. (1702 W. Camelback Road, 602-242-1979)
Chicken liver pâté at The Gladly: There's a simple pleasure that comes with eating pâté, assuming you're not grossed out by the idea of eating liver. To us, at least, this dish feels rustic and traditional. At The Gladly, the pâté appetizer comes with Dijon mustard, pickled onions, and capers, all of which can be piled or spread atop toasted bread. If you're not a regular offal eater, this pâté is a great place to start because the mild flavor won't leave you feeling like you're eating anything strange. It's wonderfully smooth — actually downright creamy — and complemented well by the crisp, buttery bread sourced from North Phoenix's Panini Bakery. (2201 E. Camelback Road, 602-759-8132, www.thegladly.com)
Crispy, fatty fried pork intestine at Lucky's King Wah: Pork intestines might be our favorite type of offal, particularly the way they're served at Glendale's Lucky's King Wah restaurant. There's a trick to getting them, though, and the key word is persistence. You won't find this appetizer on the English menu, so unless you know Chinese, you'll have to ask for it by describing it. Your server will probably try to offer you something else, but insistence will get you a plate of bright red, fatty pig intestines. Dip each deep-fried piece in the vinegar sauce and sprinkle a pinch of salt for a whole new level of flavor. And eat up, because sadly they don't reheat well. (4306 W. Northern Ave., Glendale, 623-937-3960)
Chicharrón prensado at La Merced: At Mesa's La Merced, you can have your choice between two types of chicharrón, either of which can be wrapped just about any way you like, as a quesadilla, gordita, sope, and more. The familiar chicharrón will be crispy pigskins, but here you'll also find chicharrón prensado, or pressed pigskin. These skins get compressed into brick form with bits of meat and fat still attached. And when folded into an oversized quesadilla, they offer a whole lot of flavor bang for your buck. The deep red meat is smoky and sweet, complemented by just the right amount of grease. (855 W. University Drive, Mesa, 480-343-6363)
Chicken feet at Great Wall Cuisine: There are plenty of ways to eat offal without having to feel like you're, you know, eating offal. Chicken feet are definitely not one of them. On Sunday mornings, Great Wall Cuisine serves up an impressive dim sum spread that draws quite a crowd, so be prepared to wait. Once you've landed a seat, don't let the steaming bowl of chicken feet go by without nabbing a dish. These gelatinous treats come smothered in faintly spicy red sauce. Provided you don't mind bones, you'll gnaw your way through layers of skin, fat, bones, tendon, and maybe a bit of meat, though never much. Navigating the inedible bits is half the fun. (3446 W. Camelback Road, #155, 602-973-1112)
Dinuguan at Halo Halo Kitchen: Dinuguan comes from the Filipino word dugo, which means "blood." So, as you might have guessed, this savory stew does, in fact, feature pork blood. And if that's not offal-y enough, traditionally dinuguan can also be chock-full of other tasty tidbits such as lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart, and snout, though that's not always the case these days. The rich stew at Halo Halo Kitchen comes packed with the garlic and vinegary flavor that's typical of Filipino food and offers a mild iron-y taste thanks, of course, to the blood. This West Phoenix joint has a great selection of other Filipino dishes, too, including crispy slabs of lechon, or whole roasted pig, and slow-cooked chicken adobo. (3553 W. Dunlap Ave., 602-324-9670, www.gothalohalo.com)
Tostadas pata at El Rinconcito del D.F.: El Rinconcito in Sunnyslope does Mexican street food in a seriously straightforward setting. And if you're looking to go full-out dining daredevil while you're here, there's no better way than by ordering up their tostadas pata. Perched atop a fried tortilla and buried under a mountain of lettuce and cheese, you'll find gelatinous cubes of pig trotter. The gray chunks will be slightly chewy, in a good way, and make for a perfect lunch on a hot summer day. With cool avocado and touch of white crema, this dish wants to transport you to an exotic locale. (8901 N. 12th St., 602-943-5933)
Crispy pig ears at Crudo: If you've never had pig ears, you've been missing out on some really delicious cartilage. Like chicharrones, pig ears are crunchy, except that thanks to an inner layer of cartilage, they're also slightly chewy. At Crudo, the upscale restaurant in Central Phoenix, pig ears come as a bar snack, appetizer, or side — and we suggest them in all forms. It could be because chef Cullen Campbell uses Niman Ranch ears or because he's achieved a perfect balance of heat and sweet, but either way, we dare you not to finish the whole bowl. Thanks to a generous dose of olive oil, the Fresno chiles won't burn your mouth off, but they will pack just enough heat to ensure that these aren't for your dog. (3603 E. Indian School Road, 602-358-8666, www.crudoaz.com)
Cabeza tacos at Asadero Norte de Sonora: There's virtually no part of a cow's head that doesn't make an appearance in tacos de cabeza. From brains to cheeks and lips to tongue, it's all fair game in this dish. At Central Phoenix's Asadero Norte de Sonora, the cabeza taco means a heap of juicy head meats sprinkled with a healthy layer of onions and cilantro. Like the no-frills surroundings, when it comes to this taco, what you see is what you get, but thanks to the low prices, what you see is usually a lot. The shredded beef parts make for a succulent meal when wrapped in a warm corn tortilla. It's worth noting that the lengua tacos are delectable too, though you'll have to get over the idea of taste buds tasting you as you eat. (122 N. 16th St., 602-253-4010)
Pork stomach clay pot at New Hong Kong Restaurant: New Hong Kong restaurant in Phoenix specializes in authentic Cantonese-style cuisine. And there are plenty of great dishes to choose from on the standard menu, but for the more interesting offerings, you'll need the Chinese edition. On it you'll find this delicious hot pot that arrives at your table bubbling and overflowing with bits of offal. Chewy spirals of pork stomach get mixed in with scallions and, best of all, biting black peppercorns. Our advice: Have a bowl of rice at the ready to clear your palate after sinking your teeth into one. Then go back for another round of rich, rubbery goodness. (2328 E. Indian School Road, 602-954-9118)