Chow Bella

10 Best Things I Ate and Drank in April

I ate a lot of ramen and Chinese food this month (check out our Ultimate Ramen Battle and Best Chinese Restaurants list to read about that) but somehow still managed to get to quite of few other types of restaurants as well. Some of the best things I ate and drank come from places that have just opened their doors, while others are classic dishes that I'm just rediscovering.

I hope you get to try some if it for yourself soon.

See also: 10 Best Things I Ate and Drank in March

Wontons with Chili Sauce at Henry's Taiwan

This classic Szechuan dish is a seriously satisfying way to start your meal at Henry's Taiwan in Tempe. It's an affordable appetizer -- technically it falls under the "dim sum" portion of the menu -- that comes with eight pieces for under $5. The handmade wontons feature impossibly delicate, thin layers of dough made from flour, eggs, water, and salt that are then wrapped around a small amount of flavorful pork. The whole dish then gets covered in a wonderful housemade chile sauce. I love the combination of spicy chiles, bright cilantro, and peanuts, which add a pleasant crunch.

Falafel at Alzohour Market

If you're going to make the pilgrimage to Alzohour Market in north Phoenix then it's likely because you're hunting for some authentic Moroccan cuisine. But don't let that stop you from ordering the falafel, a traditional Middle Eastern dish. Owner Zhor Saad makes a remarkably good version that features a super smooth filling of ground garbanzo beans with parsley, onions, cilantro, and garlic. The outside of each of the doughnut-shaped falafel will be fried to a perfect golden crisp. At under $7 it makes a shareable starter or a filling lunch.

St. George Cocktail by Micah Olson

If you haven't gone to Crudo to taste mixologist Micah Olson's talents for yourself, then you're missing out on one of the city's best experiences right now. What I like most about Olson's drinks, based on those I've tried so far, is that they tend to be easy to drink -- the kind of cocktails you want to simultaneously savor because they're so good but also chug because, well, you can. At the recent St. George Spirits cocktail dinner at The Gladly Olson seriously killed it with his drink that contained St. George Rye gin, St. George California agricole rum, Hum Botanical Spirit, beet and watermelon syrup, lemon juice, and bitter lemon soda with a melon ball, basil, and fennel seed dust as accents. Despite the long list of ingredients the drink was well-balanced, smooth, and just overall enjoyable.

See also: Behind the Scenes at the St. George Cocktail Dinner at The Gladly

Pasta Erbe Aromatiche at Franco's

Your first visit to Franco's Italian Cafe in Scottsdale might be intimidating. The menu is pretty much entirely in Italian and nothing has descriptions. I almost made the mistake of simply going with something recognizable, but was fortunately persuaded by my server to order the Pasta Erbe Aromatiche instead. The dish features handmade strozzapreti pasta, a longer version of twisted cavatelli, with a fragrant sauce made with white wine and just a touch of cream. You can smell the herbs as soon as the plate arrives in front of you, making for a complete sensory experience that shouldn't be missed.

Roasted Bone Marrow at The Local

I'm a big fan of how much offal chef Chris McKinley has worked into his menu at The Local and one of my favorite dishes so far has to be the roasted bone marrow. It's nearly impossible to go wrong when you're combining the flavors of super rich, buttery, slightly mineral bone marrow with bits of crispy bacon. Spread the marrow and bacon over the accompanying garlic crostini and you're pretty much in heaven. To me, it strikes a perfect balance with its glamorous presentation but approachable, even familar, taste. I'm happy to report that McKinley says this dish isn't going anywhere though he hopes to change the menu regularly.

Boricua at Republica Empanada

It's been a while since I had a chance to dine at Mesa's Republica Empanada, so when my family was visiting from out of town and asked to have dinner there I happily obliged. I'd forgotten how addicting good their wheat flour empanadas can be, particularly the Boricua. The savory pastry features a filling of pernil, or slow roasted pork, and arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas. The rice combines pigeon peas and ham hock, which then gets cooked in sofrito sauce made of onion, tomato, garlic, and other seasonings. The result is a surprisingly complex and filling little empanda. Just make sure to save room for an order of the fried plantains too.

Doughnut with Maple Glaze and Bacon at Fractured Prune

I'm no bacon fanatic, though I do think in certain circumstances it can be a delicious addition to a dish. This is one of those cases. It all starts with the fact that Fractured Prune -- the brand new shop in Chandler that lets you customize your doughnuts as you order -- serves seriously awesome cake doughnuts. I can appreciate a pillowy doughnut too, but I think that the heavier cake variety does a much better job standing up to the sweet maple glaze and bacon. What's more, Fractured Prune doesn't skimp on quantity or quality of bacon. You get a full layer of smokey bacon chunks atop your fresh doughnut making for a sinful breakfast or near-perfect dessert.

Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil at Caffe Boa

You can say you heard it here first: pumpkin oil is going to be big. Ok, so I don't know that for sure but I do know that it's supposed to be pretty healthy and more importantly to me, it tastes really good. At Caffe Boa in Tempe, owner Christine Wisniewski offers an oil flight that includes three types of pumpkin seed oil made by her cousins in Croatia. My favorite of the three was by far the Toasted 100% pure pumpkin seed oil, which retails at $23 for a 500ml bottle. The oil has a bold nutty flavor with some earthiness. It may not be the best for cooking, but makes a great dipping oil or salad dressing. You can try all three for yourself for $12 at Caffe Boa. The flight comes with a side of hot pita bread for dipping.

Ika Kara Age

I can't go to Hana and not order this dish. It's too good. And once you've had it you'll probably never be able to eat calamari and any other restaurant ever, so don't say I didn't warn you. It's a really simple appetizer of butter marinated squid that's just barely battered in a thin layer of potato starch and then deep fried. The result is the most incredibly buttery squid you've ever tasted -- seriously, it's like it's been marinating in butter for days. Plus the lightly crisp exterior perfectly accentuates the tenderness of the fresh squid but doesn't take away from the delicate flavor of the seafood itself.

Brioche at Crepe Bar

Leave it to Crepe Bar's Jeff Kraus to bring one of the biggest, most recent dining trends to Phoenix. Wednesday through Sunday the restaurant offer a brioche du jour that features a unique housemade brioche with a jam or cheese of the day. The brioche itself is pretty interesting, it comes in sticks (or at least it did on our visit) and is fairly crispy, in a nice way. On our visit Kraus served it up with a side of English Tea-flavored ricotta with strawberry preserves. The flavors of black tea and strawberry made a surprisingly enjoyable combination. I'm looking forward to going back to experience more of the chef's toast creations.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria