Chow Bella

10 Restaurants Any Self-Respecting Phoenician Should Try at Least Once

LAMP Pizzeria is known for its oven.
LAMP Pizzeria is known for its oven. Jacob Tyler Dunn

click to enlarge LAMP Pizzeria is known for its oven. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
LAMP Pizzeria is known for its oven.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
There are roughly three kinds of restaurants: new spots, old standbys, and the ones you’ve been meaning to visit forever. Maybe your metro Phoenix restaurant bucket list includes famous names like Pizzeria Bianco, Barrio Café, and Little Miss BBQ. Maybe your ears turn slightly pink with shame when forced to admit in public that you’ve never eaten at any of them. When it comes to restaurants that any self-respecting Phoenician should try at least once — places too good to ignore for much longer — here are 10 more to add to your list.

Andreoli Italian Grocer
8880 East Via Linda, Scottsdale
This year marks Andreoli’s 10th anniversary in Scottsdale, which seems like the perfect excuse to savor the virtues of chef-owner Giovvani Scorza’s Italian restaurant and market all over again — or perhaps for the first time. The sprawling menu of homemade salumi, bread, antipasti, salads, sandwiches, and salads, plus a bakery case teeming with pastries and cakes, is ingeniously crafted to inspire peccati di gola: the sin of gluttony. The grilled calamari is always a good idea, as is the porchetta sandwich, stuffed with sumptuously fatty, garlicky ribbons of pork. It is probably against local ordinance to leave Andreoli’s without taking home a few desserts. The pistachio cake, a dense and ultra-moist tour de force bulging with pistachio-flavored frosting, has been known to produce feelings of intense joy.

Little Saigon Restaurant
7016 North 57th Avenue, Glendale
Little Saigon is one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in metro Phoenix; maybe you remember its run at the old ’90s-era Christown Mall. The family-run restaurant migrated to downtown Glendale more than a decade ago, making its home in a historic bungalow framed with white picket fencing. It’s still a gem. The shrimp-stuffed spring rolls are consistently plump and fresh, the banh xeo crepe is gorgeously crisp and flavorful, and gurgling hot pots of sauteed shrimp and spicy fish sauce still warms both belly and soul. The dessert selection, which includes options like coconut- or taro-flavored shaved ice, is not to be missed.

Pane Bianco
4404 North Central Avenue, #A
Pane Bianco is perhaps the quietest sibling in the growing family of Bianco restaurants, an understated spot closely associated with its heavenly split focaccia sandwiches. Those sandwiches have been putting soggy desk lunches to shame for more than a decade — the baked-to-order, wood-fired focaccia is spongy and powdery-soft, and bulges with ingredients like soppressata, house-made mozzarella, and roasted peppers. What used to be a lunch-only spot has expanded its repertoire over the years — the restaurant started serving dinner a few years ago, and pizza and entrees have found their way onto the menu. All of which means you’ve run out reasons for not eating there.

click to enlarge Birria tacos at Hola Cabrito. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI
Birria tacos at Hola Cabrito.
Jackie Mercandetti
Hola Cabrito
4835 South 16th Street
Hola Cabrito is missing most of the things you would normally associate with a destination restaurant in metro Phoenix — there is no well-lit patio with high-end lawn furniture, no famous chef in the kitchen, no tantalizing city or desert views. But Hola Cabrito is one of the hottest tickets south of Buckeye Road, especially on weekend mornings, when a short line trails out the door and the adjacent gravel parking lot gets jam-packed with cars and vendors. The specialty — the thing people wait in line for — is birria de chivo, Mexican braised goat stew, a dish known to smooth away the first signs of a winter cold. You can have it in a bowl, dampened with rich, garlicky consomme broth. Or you can order it without the consomme, the meat softly shredded and heaped on a platter, served with a short stack of corn tortillas, plus all the fixings (chopped onions, cilantro, and homemade salsa). Request the meat tatemada, gently crisped up on the grill, which deepens its natural earthiness and richness. You’ll be glad you came.

Rhema Soul Cuisine
1153 East Jefferson Street, #1
Tucked into a nondescript building near downtown Phoenix, the Childs family has devised a delicious, notably creative menu that draws inspiration from traditional Southern, Caribbean, and Jamaican cooking. You’ll want the chicken and waffles plate, featuring a fluffy red velvet waffle served with crispy, boneless chicken. And there are St. Louis-style ribs, the small bundles of ribs so tender that you can practically fold the meat into your mouth. Traditional sides are uniformly good, including a baked macaroni casserole of thick, buttery noodles, bound together by no less than seven kinds of melted cheese.

BP Street Cafe
1845 East Broadway, #127, Tempe
This family-run Malaysian cafe in Tempe is a noodle-lover’s paradise. Before you dive into the entrees, though, it’s worth trying one of the restaurant’s specialty drinks, which includes bandung, a frothy cotton candy pink drink made with milk and rosewater. It pairs well with the menu’s spicier items. If standard-issue chicken noodle soup is too tame for you, perhaps then you were made for laska, Malaysia’s famously spicy coconut-infused soup. It’s served medium-spicy, with rice noodles, chicken, and fried cubes of tofu. Keep an eye out for off-menu specials like rendang, a labor-intensive meat dish served in an irresistibly rich, gravy-like curry.

click to enlarge The pies at LAMP Pizzeria are worth the drive to North Scottsdale. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
The pies at LAMP Pizzeria are worth the drive to North Scottsdale.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
LAMP Pizzeria
8900 East Pinnacle Peak Road, Scottsdale
It’s true that LAMP Pizzeria, located in north Scottsdale, is about a 40-minute drive from downtown Phoenix. But Matt Pilato’s gorgeously wood-fired pies, which often taste like they aspire to be the best in the city, are worth the long haul from most corners of the Valley. The Gem pizza remains a highlight — a texture-rich pie that’s mosaicked with fresh dollops of ricotta, crisped-up flakes of pepperoni, and hunks of the restaurant’s homemade Sicilian sausage. It’s breathtakingly good. Long wait times are not unusual on the weekends, and the best place to wait for an open table is next door at LAMP Cafe, the pizzeria’s sister restaurant. There you can whet your appetite with homemade mignulata, a Southern Italian stuffed bread oozing with ingredients like sausage, pecorino, peas, and potatoes.

Yasu Sushi Bistro
4316 East Cactus Road
The uncommonly good restaurant, camouflaged by a drab, run-of-the-mill strip mall, has become a cliche in metro Phoenix. It’s become a cliche because of restaurants like Yasu Sushi Bistro, a cozy, upscale Japanese restaurant that brings a taste of Tokyo to an otherwise nondescript strip mall near Paradise Valley Mall. This is a chef-driven restaurant, one where you suspect that chef-owner Yasu Hashino personally selects all the seafood that goes into assembling every piece of nigiri. Put yourself in the chef’s hands with the omakase, a multicourse tasting menu that you must order several days in advance, but which is perhaps the best way to experience chef Hashino’s culinary artistry and fondness for hard-to-find Japanese ingredients. Service is not always speedy, but Yasu Sushi Bistro seems best enjoyed in izakaya pub fashion — with some shochu and plenty of time on your side.

click to enlarge There are about nine different tacos offered daily at Tacos Sahuaro. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
There are about nine different tacos offered daily at Tacos Sahuaro.
Patricia Escarcega
Tacos Sahuaro
2320 North 32nd Street
I am not suggesting you eat your feelings or drown your sorrows in queso. But if you’re going to do it, there are much worse places than Tacos Sahuaro. True, there are no margaritas or micheladas, or even Coronitas, at this friendly, counter-service Mexican restaurant. But there is a very steady supply of top-notch tacos, sopes, gorditas, and quesadillas, served in an unassuming dining room that has the old-fashioned airs of your abuelita’s living room. The best way to experience Tacos Sahuaro is to bring a group, so that you can try something from every corner of the menu. The homemade gorditas, especially, are wonderful. Or come alone — the carne asada and spicy chicharrón tacos will taste just as good, and you won’t even have to share.

777 South College Avenue, #105, Tempe
Sometimes, in my weaker moments, I think with envy about the ASU students and university staffers whose dorm rooms and offices are within walking distance to Nocawich. The sleek sandwich shop — and progeny of the Phoenix’s late, great Noca restaurant — is only open for breakfast and lunch, and generally closed on the weekends. It’s a slightly tragic state of affairs that means eating here will probably require some finessing of your weekday lunch schedule. It’s worth planning ahead, though, for something like the What the Cluck? — a delightfully well-executed fried chicken sandwich that crackles with texture and sweet-savory flavor. There’s also the restaurant’s beautifully crisp french fries, and the Meyer Lansky, a sandwich whose house-made pastrami is alone worth the drive to Tempe.
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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.