Another month, another look back at the best things I ate during September.
From dishes like my new favorite carne asada taco to magnificent Mediterranean eats to a killer lasagna my dining companion likened to the work of the devil, 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.
Bastila from Alzouhour
Moroccan bastila is an exotic delight -- a rich and sumptuous sweet and savory pie with a jaw-dropping presentation and a taste like Christmas. At Alzouhour, the tiny Middle Eastern eatery, bakery, and market in Phoenix, owner Zhor Saad makes hers with chicken and almonds stuffed into a phyllo crust sweetened with cinnamon and sugar ($19.99). Typically prepared for special occasions, it's only fitting that this hearty meat pie comes big enough to enjoy with a few friends.
Camaron al Mojo de Ajo at Así es la Vida:
One of the best dishes at this charming, 20-year-old casual-upscale Mexican restaurant in Central Phoenix is the Camaron al Mojo de Ajo ($24.95). Starring five enormous butterflied shrimp opened up to reveal tender, garlic-flavored white flesh, you'd be forgiven for picking them up to eat the meat right out of the tails. Delicious.
Falafels at Hummus Xpress:
A kind of chef-driven street food stand by way of Lebanon, this fast-casual Mediterranean eatery in Tempe from Ahmad (Eddie) Hantas serves some of the best falafels in the Valley. Featuring thin and crunchy coatings that give way to a creamy filling of ground fava beans seasoned with cardamom, they're kissed with Mexican chili powder for a little Southwest flair. (Falafel pita $6.85.)
Tonkotsu Ramen at T.Spot
This re-named restaurant (formerly Tien Wong) in Chandler from chef Johnny Chu now includes ramen and Asian teas along with its popular hot pots. On the ramen side, you'll want the satisfying tonkotsu ($6.95), a milky, shimmering broth of boiled-for-hours pork bones thoughtfully prepared with toppings like quail egg, sliced pork, pickled ginger, enoki, and black sesame with excellent bouncy thin noodles. Totally slurp-worthy.
Nutella & Banana Empanada at República Empanada
Temper your intake of the savory empanadas at this cheery spot of Latin American comfort food in downtown Mesa if you want to make room for some of the dessert kind -- like the Nutella and banana creation. Its flaky fried casing serves as a delectable crunchy crust. And adding on the optional vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce pretty much goes without saying. ($6.20)
Braunschweiger Pate at Renegade by MOD:
Are you a diner of the adventurous sort? If so, you'll want to pay a visit to ex-Kai chef Michael O'Dowd's risk-taking North Scottsdale restaurant and order up the braunschweiger pate ($12). The cutting-edge dish comes in the form of two discs of dense, black rye bread layered with full-flavored braunschweiger (liverwurst), kale, kimchi, and bits of crisp cured forcemeat topped with a perfectly poached egg. As original as it is intense, this small plate is about as good as it gets.
Detroit Coney Dog at Detroit Coney Grill:
You'll want a Detroit Coney -- make that two -- at this new Motor City-centric joint in Tempe. The best I've had in the Valley so far, they feature a decent all-beef natural-casing dog with a good snap as well as a top-notch signature chili sauce -- made with seasonings and spices such as chili powder, cayenne pepper, and garlic -- with a rich, mildly spiced, and meaty taste reminiscent of Detroit's famous Lafayette Coney Island.
Lasagne Alla Verdure at Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana
Should you have one of Pomo's primo Neapolitan pies at its new downtown location? Yes, you should. But you could also do worse than to order up one of its new items: the vegetable lasagna ($13.95). Packed with fresh veggies layered between pasta, Parmesan, and an ethereal besciamella cream sauce, the dish might best be described in the words of my dining companion, who simply took one look at it and said, "That there's the devil's business."
Carne Asada Taco at Backyard Taco
My favorite carne asada taco, at the moment, comes from this nine-month-old joint in Mesa. Tender, cooked to perfection over mesquite charcoal with just the right amount of seasoning -- so that it doesn't detract from the taste of the grill -- it's topped with cabbage, onions, and a nice, smoky red tomato sauce in a grilled tortilla (even more flavors can be had at the salsa bar). And for just $1.80, you can afford to splurge on a couple.
Chicken Shawarma at Tzikki Pita Grill
A second very good fast-casual Mediterranean joint in Tempe, this time with an Egyptian slant, is Tzikii Pita Grill. What to order here? The chicken shawarma. Made from owner Mo Khalek's grandmother's recipe requiring nine different ingredients (none of which he will tell you) the chunks of well-grilled meat are flavored with a subtly scrumptious seasoning. (Chicken shawarma pita $6.49.)