We live in the northern reaches of a great desert. That doesn't stop metro Phoenix's suppliers and cooks from bringing great seafood to the people of the Valley. Some of the places you can find a great place are expected, and some aren't. The options call on the marine traditions of coastal places all over the globe, from New England to Japan. Here are four sure to satisfy your craving for great seafood.
Maine Lobster Lady
Legally named Diana Santospago, the lobster lady’s New England-style rolls outshine the sum of their parts brilliantly. Lobster, butter, and bread sounds like a simple meal out of Dickens, but, treated right, the ingredients evolve into something higher. Santospago’s lobster roll skews one-dimensional, toward unchecked softness given that the lobster meat isn’t fried. Another trick that changes the game, Santospago says, is that she spurns tail meat, using just meat from lobster claws. With sourcing and skill and some magic — like ditching clarified butter for butter clouded with milk solids, like keeping a spacious, immaculate truck — the Lobstah Lady can convert even the shellfish skeptic into an ephemeral believer.
Much of Chula's always-evolving fish-anchored menu comes from creatures taken out of the sea off the coast of San Diego, where the proprietors have a fishing boat. Chula's Japanese-inspired spicy tuna bowl is a fantastic dish. It comes with just enough togarashi-doctored Kewpie mayo to slick the fish. That fish has a clean marine flavor and lush texture. Charred shishito peppers are brightened with yuzu and beech mushrooms pickled in rice vinegar and sake. Nori flakes, black sesame, and scallions add filigrees to the flavors. Daikon and bok choy add coolness and gentle snap. All said, the spicy tuna bowl has a rare blend of richness, lightness, and freshness that, flashing through your mind days later as a memory, may abruptly alter your afternoon lunch plans.
Cafe Bink in Carefree
"We try to keep things fairly simple," chef Justin Olsen says of his approach to food at Cafe Bink. "We have some more complex flavors in some of our other dishes, but everything tends to be simple." Olsen's trout dish reflects this philosophy. On the plate, the trout has the shape of a veal cutlet pounded pencil-thin to monstrous proportions. Skin crackles under the fork, crunches under your teeth. The meat is succulent, fresh, and reaches its fragrant potential thanks to herbed brown butter. It's pretty satisfying to inhale a rustic 10-ounce trout with a high-end flourish or two while sitting on a patio, soaking up some rays, and ogling nature.
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Nelson’s Meat and Fish in Phoenix
Nelson’s Meat and Fish is a fish market of an almost unprecedented caliber. Owner Chris Nelson developed relationships with fishermen all over the country and world when he worked full-time as a supplier of hotels and restaurants with Seafoods.com. He taps into his vast network of long-liners and deep-ocean salmon farmers, his scallop guys and his crab trappers, to provide super-fresh seafood to Phoenix. In the shop's display case, scallops glisten like pearls, and filets of salmon gleam sunset-orange under the bright lights. The limited menu of prepared food includes poke banh mi sandwiches, cider-vinegar-based coleslaw, pickled cucumbers, ceviche, and Chesapeake Bay shrimp salad. You can take food next store to eat and sip at The Wandering Tortoise.
Mariscos Ensenada in Phoenix
Mariscos Ensenada makes a mean shrimp aguachile, a preparation of uncooked fish in the family of ceviche. Aguachile uses citrus to make raw fish more palatable. Raw seafood sits in bright pools colored by pulverized peppers, runny deep-red or electric-green baths kicking with bracing flavors. At Marsicos Ensenada, the green sauce is lightning. Serranos, cilantro, and citrus give the sauce a wildly bracing zap, making the shrimp taste fragrant, marine, and superfresh. Slivers of red onion add blunt, pungent aromatics. Cucumber slices add clean flavors and crunch. You almost can't get enough of the green sauce on your tiny spoon. Each bite is a gastronomic flash bang. This is the apex of lush warm-weather eating.