Last week Phoenix New Times celebrated the cream of the crop with our 37th annual Best of Phoenix edition. Here are our top picks for ethnic restaurants in metro Phoenix
Best Mediterranean Restaurant
Princess Market and Deli
This family-owned and -operated market and restaurant has been chugging away in Mesa for more than a decade. It's a good thing, too, because without Princess Market's hummus, we might have a serious meltdown. Sold on-site at the restaurant, in tubs at the market, and at a few farmers markets, Princess Market's fresh, light-as-air hummus is easily our favorite in town. We're also fans of the Princess Market breakfast menu, which offers an affordable selection of Middle Eastern morning dishes, including a pita-wrapped egg sandwich and buttery puck cheese served with honey and pita bread. For lunch, you'll want one of the Princess Market platters, which come piled high with tender beef kebabs or flavorful kofta.
Best French Restaurant
Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge
Every year, the number of white-tablecloth, fine-dining restaurants in town dwindles as more casual New American restaurants spring up. But that only makes Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge all the more precious. Located at Biltmore Fashion Park, this sleek French eatery continues to offer upscale fare including foie gras, veal sweetbreads, and pied de cochon in a setting that's anything but stuffy. You'll still find Valley legend and James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross in the kitchen, putting out pristine plates and photo-worthy desserts such as Chocolate Mousse Towers and Gateau Marjolaine. The restaurant even makes fresh bread in-house in a wood-fired oven, and boasts an excellent wine selection curated by sommelier Paola Embry. C'est magnifique.
Best German Restaurant
With a spacious outdoor beer garden and 28 beers on tap, Brat Haus in Scottsdale makes every day seem like Oktoberfest. All you have to do to join in is fill a pint, a stein, or a giant glass boot with the beer of your choice and head outside for a game of giant Jenga, bags, or darts. Eventually, of course, you're bound to get hungry, and the restaurant serves a sizable menu of European-style fare. The housemade pretzels are a go-to snack and come with your choice of several housemade mustards. There's also the dangerously addicting Belgian-style fries (get them with the truffle aioli), grilled housemade sausages (try the spicy brat to punch things up), and classic German dishes, including a nice rendition of pork schnitzel.
Best Italian Restaurant
This year, Marcellino Ristorante celebrated five years at its Old Town Scottsdale location, but chef Marcellino Verzino has been in the business for much longer than that. Before moving his restaurant to Scottsdale, he and his wife, Sima, had a successful run in North Phoenix, and even before that, he owned and operated restaurants in Rome, Calabria, Abruzzo, and New York. The chef takes all that experience — and what he learned growing up in Italy — and uses it to produce authentic Italian cuisine and some of the city's best fresh pasta. He hand-makes pounds of noodles daily and complements the doughy creations with high-quality ingredients including veal, imported mussels, proscuitto, and truffle oil. Choose from entrées including scaloppine al Gorgonzola, or sautéed veal in a creamy Gorgonzola sauce; gamberi affogati, featuring shrimp in a garlic and white wine sauce; or paccatelli al ragu di salsiccia, fresh pasta dressed in a hearty ragu.
Best Italian Deli
Where to go in the Valley for the most Italian cheeses and cured meats, the best holiday candies and cookies, the paisano-perfect canned tomatoes, vegetables, olive oils, and pastas? Niccoli's has it all. You'll feel as though you've maybe stumbled into old Roma instead of having just walked in off of 16th Street. Once you've stocked up on provolone balls and mustacciuoli, grab one of the prepared sandwiches or cannoli that are among Niccoli's other delicious specialties. Linger, if you can, and chat up the molto italiano owners, Joe and Peppy Niccoli, who've been running Italian delis and catering lasagna-and-eggplant extravaganzas for 35 years. Bello cibo!
Best Colombian Restaurant
La Tiendita Cafe
"Lo mejor de Colombia en Arizona" is La Tiendita Cafe's slogan, and it's true. This Mesa restaurant and market brings traditional fare from the South American country to the Valley — everything from Colombian-style arepas and empanadas to Colombian coffee and other hard-to-find grocery products. If it's your first time exploring Colombian cuisine, start with the bandeja paisa. This giant platter of food can fill one starving diner or two light eaters and comes with chicharrón, ground beef, and chorizo sausage, as well as rice, beans, avocado, plantain, a mini-arepa, and a fried egg. It's a standard dish of Colombian cuisine and a great way to get your feet wet. Be sure to take some of arepas to go; they come filled with meat or cheese or even butter and salt.
Best Puerto Rican Restaurant
We fell in love with this family-owned and -operated restaurant almost at first bite. The Chandler eatery serves homestyle Puerto Rican food in a simple, counter-service setting. Start with an order of the restaurant's tostones (slices of fried plantain), which can and should be dipped in mojo de ajo (oil with sweet roasted garlic). For entrées, there are several excellent options, including the pollo guisado, a stew of slow-roasted chicken that's braised in spices with cubes of potato, and the chicharrón, a plate of fried pork cracklings that's impossible not to like. Every entrée comes with sides of beans and rice that's flavored with pigeon peas and ham. There are even Puerto Rican sodas to pair with the food; try the Cola Champagne, a sort of cream soda that's also lightly orange flavored.
Best Indian Restaurant
Woodlands Vegetarian South Indian Kitchen
You won't find any meat on the menu at Woodlands — but we promise you won't miss it when you get a taste of the restaurant's bold curries and fresh chutneys. If you're confused about what to order, just ask for a few suggestions, or go for one of the signature dosas. These paper-thin crepes made of rice and lentil batter are a staple in South India and come stuffed with everything from potatoes and onions to cheese at this Chandler restaurant. We love the spicy Chettinad dosai, which features onion, cauliflower, tomato, and chettinadu spice, as well as the paneer butter masala, a smooth curry studded with cubes of cheese. The restaurant also offers a complimentary chutney bar, where you'll find pickled veggies, tamarind chutney, yogurt sauce, mint chutney, and coconut chutney to punch up or cool down each dish as you see fit.
Best Vietnamese Restaurant
There are few better hangover cures than a piping-hot bowl of pho with a banh mi on the side. Yep, you read that correctly. Desperate times often call for an entire sandwich on the side of your meal. And don't be confused by the restaurant's name. Da Vang Coffee Shop serves so much more than coffee, though you can get a top-notch creamy, strong Vietnamese coffee as well. If you don't feel like going with the classic hot and spicy bowl of pho, try another noodle dish on the menu, like one of the vermicelli bowls. Or ditch the noodles all together and fill up on a few of the giant, fresh spring rolls. Hungover or not, you're sure to get a delicious, filling, and cheap meal at Da Vang.
Best Thai Restaurant
We were worried last year that Thai Rama would close permanently after a car crashed into its building. Thankfully, everyone was fine and our favorite Thai place was up and running. Once again, we could devour the classics it makes so well, including the comforting paht thai, the spicy satay appetizer, the sweet and savory khao paht saparod, or fried rice with pineapple, chicken, shrimp, and yellow curry. Of course, Thai Rama offers more exotic and traditional dishes for more adventurous diners. But if you happen to stop by during the summer, be sure to save room for the seasonal sticky rice with mango for dessert. It's so good, we're actually thankful for the summer.
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Best Korean Restaurant
This Mesa restaurant has been serving authentic Korean fare for years, and we're happy to say that in all that time, HoDoRi hasn't slipped. On any given night, you're likely to find dozens of diners in the restaurant tucking into oversize bowls brimming with rice and spicy meats or scooping up mouthfuls of soft tofu soup. The kimchi bokum bap (kimchi fried rice) is one of our favorite dishes, featuring rice, kimchi, beef, and an egg served in a massive hot stone bowl. And the haemul jungol, a Korean seafood stew, makes an adventurous meal. It's enjoyed family-style, gets cooked tableside, and comes chock-full of everything from squid and shrimp to crab and sea squirts.
Best Chinese Restaurant
New Hong Kong Restaurant
Chef Jian Yu came to the Valley from China's Guangdong province in 1997 and worked at several restaurants around town before taking over New Hong Kong Restaurant nearly a decade ago. Since then, he's built a loyal following of fans who know this place is a destination for well-executed Chinese fare. And don't be fooled by appearances; the restaurant's tired exterior and worn booths stand in stark contrast to the lively Chinese food you'll find inside. Yu's menu includes excellent versions of Cantonese dishes, with some of the best options being the clay pots, the chef's specialty. We love the clay pot with pork belly and rich taro root, while more adventurous diners might like to opt for the pork stomach clay pot, spiked with whole peppercorns. On the Americanized menu, you'll find all the typical dishes, but even the fried rice and twice pork are better than usual here.
Best Japanese Restaurant
Hana Japanese Eatery
If loving Hana Japanese Eatery is wrong, then we don't want to be right. This cozy family-owned and -operated restaurant offers excellent Japanese cuisine including sushi, noodle dishes, and traditional dinner entrées. You'll often find brother-and-sister sushi chefs Koji and Lori Hashimoto behind the restaurant's sushi bar plating photo-worthy dishes of fish. And out of the restaurant's kitchen, you'll witness a parade of cooked dishes including some of the city's best ramen; ika kara age (butter-marinated tempura battered squid), and habachi gyuniku and ebi, a surf-and-turf combo of grilled ribeye and shrimp. The pièce de résistance is the Hana Tomago, a contemporary Japanese creation that features a tempura-battered soft-boiled egg topped with a creamy, yogurt-based sauce; a mixture of mentaiko (marinated roe of cod), togarashi, garlic, and onion; and vinegar-pickled myoga.
Best Soul Food Restaurant
Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe
Since 1964, this downtown Phoenix restaurant has been serving such Southern and soul food classics as macaroni and cheese and collard greens, beloved fried chicken, and chicken-fried steak. The menu is written on the wall — as are many names and messages from customers over the years. The scrawled-on walls and simple décor give the place a certain old-school charm, one that pairs well with a smothered pork chop, plate of fried catfish, or piece of peach cobbler. Even today, owner Mrs. Elizabeth White makes the cobbler at the restaurant, so you'll want to grab a slice before the day's allowance is gone.