We're getting to the end of our off-season. Soon, when the weather cools and fall arrives, more restaurants will start opening. And at last, you'll be able to comfortable drink beer and eat good food outside. But lucky for us, there are great new places to eat at right now. Our critic has been on a nice run. These are three of the best new spots we have seen lately. They have everything from handmade pasta to ceviche to roasted duck, and they're bound to make the end of summer a little tastier.
5609 East McKellips Road, Mesa
Osteria is a restaurant that feels modern and ambitious, while remaining faithful to the virtues of honest, simple Italian cooking. We Phoenicians are so blessed with top-notch Neapolitan-style pizzerias that it can be tempting to pass over newer options, but the thin, chewy, elegantly hewn pies at Osteria are worth your attention. A highlight is the Salsiccia, topped with mushrooms, red onions, and a sweetly spicy homemade fennel sausage. As for fresh pasta, don’t miss the campanelle — the frilly, bell-shaped pasta is deliciously light, and it’s paired with a bright, intensely flavored pesto of coarsely chopped basil and fresh lemon. A bowl of silky ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta, topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and pistachio crumbles, is wonderfully salty and rich. Food doesn’t get much more comforting than this.
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2637 North 16th Street
Casa Corazón, a Mexican restaurant that opened about three months ago on 16th Street, boasts a first-rate menu of classic central and southern Mexican dishes. The chiles en nogada, an ambitious dish rooted in Mexican Independence and central Mexican Pueblan cuisine, is delicious. Cochinita pibil is another highlight, the slow-roasted pork butt wrapped in a banana leaf and dripping with a mellow citrus sweetness. For slightly more robust flavor, order Azteca Tinga, a shredded chicken dish featuring a wonderful tomato-chipotle sauce. There’s a full bar near the front of the restaurant, and apart from the usual list of agave-based Mexican cocktails, you’ll find a handful of unique libations. For dessert, there are Mexican-style buñuelos spackled with cinnamon and sugar, and shaped roughly into the figure of a heart. If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating a freshly fried buñuelo, this is a good place to start.
2221 North Seventh Street
Bri (rhymes with “cry”) is a globally inspired small-plates restaurant. Various culinary traditions collide on the menu, most prominently Italian, Korean, and Sichuan-style Chinese. The diversity reflects chef Vince Mellody’s eclectic culinary resume, which includes restaurant consulting gigs and a stint as executive chef at Otro Cafe. A good introduction to the chef’s handiwork is the braised pork spare ribs. The gently charred pork hunks, slicked in a flavorful fermented black bean sauce, are beautifully caramelized and intensely rich. Mellody’s “drooling duck” dish is on a similar plane. The duck breast, glazed in a chile-tinged sauce, is rich, salty, and irresistibly fatty. More simple, but equally satisfying, is a smoky, succulent, wood-roasted duck leg garnished with crispy garlic. Bri’s small plates game is too good to ignore.