Sharing my favorite eats of the month from new restaurants, reviewed restaurants, and places I've popped into just because. It's not a countdown, it's a collection. And I hope it inspires. Enjoy.
Pork Stomach and Black Pepper Clay Pot at New Hong Kong
"I can't believe I'm on my second bowl," remarked one of my dining companions at this family-owned Chinese restaurant in Central Phoenix that's alive with authentic, flavorful Cantonese fare. She was speaking of the clay pot dish packed with chewy spirals of pork stomach, scallions, and peppercorns ($9.95). Made courtesy of Jian Yu, who was a chef in his hometown of Kaiping, a city in the Guangdong province in southern China, for over 32 years, this version of Chinese comfort food with an offal twist arrives at the table steaming, shaking, and full of highly satisfying flavors. Even the most timid toward bits 'n' bobbles will ask for seconds.
Grilled Rainbow Trout at Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails
Chef Stephen Jones' version of pozole at this urban gathering place (located on the second floor of the Hotel Palomar at CityScape in downtown Phoenix) may be the best dish (for now) on the menu -- but the grilled rainbow trout ($15) comes dangerously close. Tender, mild, and with a delicately crispy skin, the fish is near perfect; especially topped with sweet corn and over a tasty basil sauce.
Al Pastor Montada at El Chiltepin
Mix traditional Mexican eats with Americanized Mexican snack foods and you've got an addictive creation served up exclusively at this offbeat spot on the city's south side. A variation of the tlayuda, or Mexican pizza, the Al Pastor Montada ($5.50) features melted mozzarella cheese between two crispy tortillas topped with more melted mozzarella, sweet and tender pieces of al pastor, bits of salty bacon, and jalapeños.
Combo Wot Plate at Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant
Thanks to Zufan Alemu, owner and chef of this months-old Ethiopian restaurant on East Thomas Road, Phoenicians now have another spot to score the spicy vegetable and meat dishes for which the country is known. Take a friend along and share a combo wot plate ($13.99) with samplings of stellar creations such as doro wat, featuring chicken simmered in spices, spicy ground peas (mitten shiro), and crunchy spiced cabbage (tikil gomen) atop spongy injera bread.
Grilled Chicken Meal at Mercado Y Carniceria Cuernavaca
Love grilled chicken and have 10 bucks to part with? Head out to this Mexican market in Scottsdale for one of the best meal deals in the Valley. All day on weekends and after 2 p.m. every weekday, score a highly seasoned and wonderfully smoky whole charcoal-grilled chicken along with corn tortillas, a pint each of rice and beans (packed with -- bonus -- thick slices of hot dog), and fresh, spicy salsa for just a sawbuck. Add another whole chicken for five bucks more. This fowl-focused feast will easily feed two to four people, but if you're going solo, prepare for some tasty leftovers.
Berkshire Pork Country Ribs at The House
Dining at chef Matt Carter's charming new spot in Scottsdale might mean a few shakes of the piggy bank, but if it's for the Berkshire pork country ribs ($22), it's money well-spent. Meaty with dead-on seasoning and complemented beautifully by an apple fennel glaze, these grilled porky delights pair perfectly with pieces of fennel and comforting popcorn grits for a plateful of bliss served up bungalow-style.
El Atol de Elote at Guanaquito
In El Salvador, it is said no one in a bad mood is allowed to stir el atol de elote, the dessert made of ground corn, cinnamon, and milk, or it will taste terrible. Thankfully, this one ($3.59), served up at this tiny, unassuming Salvadoran joint in Central Phoenix, is thick, sweet, and with zero grumpy flavor. A perfect ending after a plateful of pupusas.
Soft Shell Crab with Black Pepper at Noodle & Rice
What's not to love about two deep-fried crackling soft shell crabs, fresh veggies like onion, bell peppers, celery, carrots, and a generous amount of black pepper? Answer: not much. At this tiny little spot of Chinese, Thai, and Japanese meals in North Phoenix, this specialty ($10.95) is served up with steamed rice for a dish easily shared with a crab-loving (but, hopefully, not crabby) friend.
Sonoran Hot Dog from Mr. Triny's
If you don't know Mr. Triny, maybe it's high time you should. That is, if you can catch his hot dog cart at the corner of Cave Creek and Mountain View Roads in Sunnyslope on the random evenings he mysteriously appears. His wrapped-in-bacon Sonoran dogs ($3.50) are crazy-delicious, loaded up with the toppings of your choice, and nestled in super-soft buns.
Corn Coins from Federal Pizza
Thanks to bread master MJ Coe, pizza is king at Craig DeMarco's latest restaurant in Central Phoenix. But if you're looking for a stellar snack beforehand, it's the corn coins ($5) that do the trick. A variation of the Mexican street food elote, corn on the cob is rolled in fennel, herbs, and salty peccorino cheese before being sliced into thick, flavorful discs. Completely share-worthy and highly addictive.