Oh, hey, hi there! September's officially in the books. Which means it's a perfect time to look back on all the great food I ate and share some of my favorites. There's a little of everything here -- 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.
Focaccia di Recco at Davanti Enoteca
My server was right when he said, "You're going to have fun eating this dish. It's already good, but the honeycomb triples the dish's flavor." A must-try at this new Italian restaurant in Scottsdale headed up by chef Peter DeRuvo, the focaccia di recco features thin, crispy bread filled with lusciously soft cow cheese and the option (you want this) of an accompanying melting honeycomb to spread on top. At $18, its price may seem a bit startling, but, like most of the dishes here, it's worth every cent.
Chana Chatpata at the Dhaba Cafe
For a wallet-friendly pick-me-up, South Asian style, you can't do much better than the $5 Punjabi chaats, or street snacks, at the Dhaba's new next-door cafe in Tempe. The chana chatpata, made with ingredients like chickpeas, tomatoes, garlic, and Indian spices, is especially good. Fresh, tangy, and wonderfully spicy, it goes nicely with a cup of masala chai, or Indian spiced tea, included with the price.
Paella Valenciana at Mimita's Cuban Cafe
If you've got the time and a few hungry friends, order up the paella valenciana at this Cuban restaurant in Chandler. A version of the classic Spanish rice dish, this comforting concoction of ingredients (think Spanish chorizo, saffron rice, shrimp, peppers, and baked chicken) requires a two-hour wait time (Hint: Call it in before arriving.) The price says $62 for two people, but it easily feeds four. More friends than you knew you had? Get the full size portion for $109.
Spam Musubi at Island Grill
Like a piece of sushi gone super-sized, this inventive treat -- a cross between traditional Japanese and local Hawaiian cuisine -- features a slice of good ol' grilled Spam layered atop a block of rice with a dash or two of Teriyaki sauce and then wrapped together with dried seaweed. Why's it so good? The rice and sweetness of the sauce balances the saltiness of the Spam. Plus they're crazy-cheap, around $1.50 each, at most Hawaiian eateries, including this one in Glendale.
I'm always on the hunt for killer eggs Benedict, and this one just might be my new favorite. Served at these two restaurants of New Mexican fare in Central Phoenix, this Benny features two poached beauties with a nicely spicy jalapeño Hollandaise sauce atop pillows of English muffins layered with tasty pieces of pork loin from Nueske's (Wisconsin shout-out!). Sure, it's $15, but it's a split-worthy/fill-you-up dish, especially with sides of griddled taters and beans.
Pig Wings at Rehab Burger Therapy
Those looking for a respite from yet another plate of chicken wings could do worse than get them piggy-style from this new burger joint in Old Town. Aptly called pig wings, $10 will get you a plate of meaty chunks of pork with a crispy coating served "on a stick" (each with a single bone through the center) and generously coated with a sweet, thick, spicy peach barbecue sauce. Grab an ice cold beer and they get even better.
Fresa con Crema at Paletas Betty
Let's face it: There are lots of places to score paletas, but once you've been to the house of Betty Alatorre de Hong, you've been to the top of paletas mountain. At locations in Chandler and Tempe, Betty's small-batch creations made with crazy-fresh ingredients always have me poking my head inside to see what's new, but the fresca con crema, made with a lively fruit (like strawberry or raspberry) mixed with cream, is an easy go-to classic.
Butternut Squash Ravioli at Rusconi's American Kitchen
Chef Michael Rusconi (Lon's at the Hermosa Inn and the Royal Palms Resort) brings in the taste of fall at his new restaurant in Paradise Valley with a stellar dish called butternut squash ravioli ($15). Inside three large pillows of homemade pasta, the butternut squash is fresh and flavorful. All that's missing is a big pile of leaves outside to jump into.
Com Hen at Hue Gourmet
If you're going to take the time to indulge in the cuisine of Hue, the ancient citadel of Vietnam, the least you can do is try its specialty, com hen ($6.50) courtesy of this unique food stand in Mesa's Mekong Plaza. Instructions: Pour the clam broth over the second bowl filled with ingredients like rice, peanuts, taro stems, pork belly, minced banana flowers, jagged pieces of Vietnamese sesame rice crackers, and slices of green apple. The result is a complex medley of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and peppery-hot flavors -- and a taste as addictively peculiar as it is intense.
Pain Perdu at Vovomeena
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Thanks to DJ Fernandes (owner of the Tuck Shop) for this new, locally owned breakfast and brunch spot smack dab in the middle of the fast-food hell that is Seventh Avenue and McDowell. And an extra-special thanks for the restaurant's pain perdu ($6.95), or New Orleans-style French toast, featuring two thick slices of warm, custard-soaked banana bread cooked then drizzled with a thick and sticky whiskey caramel sauce and topped with slices of fresh banana. Delicious.