Best of Phoenix

Best of Phoenix 2021: Far East and Asian Cuisine

Hana Japanese Eatery.
Hana Japanese Eatery. Jacob Tyler Dunn
The culture of the Far East provides some of the most distinctive, and tasty, bites in the world. Here in the Valley, we're blessed with some of the best Asian restaurants and cuisine in the western hemisphere. The competition was intense, but here are the Far East and Asian restaurants and eats that took home a Best of Phoenix award in 2021.

Best Filipino Food

PHX Lechon Roasters 659 East Main Street, Mesa

It sounds like a tree breaking in half — ripping down the middle with a deafening crack. But it's just Brian Webb hacking the head off a full mahogany-lacquered pig with a cleaver. Webb's lechon baboy is serious business. He turns the pig for hours over live charcoal, as he learned to from his wife Margita Webb's family in Lapu Lapu City, in the Philippines. Lemongrass and garlic perfume the meat, tender but for the pieces with crackly bits of skin. At PHX Lechon Roasters, the Webbs also cook to-go meals (on some occasions), including whole kamayan dinners with edible gems like lumpia rich with pork and fried spareribs. Their ube pandesal, soft purple dinner rolls oozing molten cheese, are among the most comforting bites around.

3 Regions Vietnamese Kitchen - 3 REGIONS VIETNAMESE KITCHEN
3 Regions Vietnamese Kitchen
3 Regions Vietnamese Kitchen

Best Vietnamese Restaurant

3 Regions Vietnamese Kitchen 28325 North Tatum Boulevard, Cave Creek

Quality Asian restaurants are no easy find north of the 101, but 3 Regions Vietnamese Kitchen is a glaring exception. Chef Jenna Dao, a native of Hue, Vietnam, prepares dishes from the country's three primary regions: north, south, and center. Her specialty is a yawning bowl of bun bo hue, a rice noodle soup fragrant with lemongrass and bobbing with tender sails of beef, slivered onion, and deep red chile oil. Her pho is also very good, if, when craving soup, you can turn from bun bo hue. Her banh xeo crepes are crisp, lacy, and crammed with decadent pork. Even her simple bun — rice noodles dipped in fish sauce, garlic, and citrus — feels pleasantly funky and extra refreshing.

click to enlarge Glaii Baan has a dreamy vibe throughout. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Glaii Baan has a dreamy vibe throughout.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Best Thai Restaurant

Glai Baan 2333 East Osborn Road

Glai Baan, which serves the street food of northern Thailand, isn't your average Thai restaurant. The menu is fairly small — there aren't expansive lists of curries and noodles and rice dishes. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in authenticity and out-of-this-world flavor. Soup isn't usually a showstopper, but the kao tom moon — a large bowl of rice, chicken broth, ground pork, shrimp, and crispy garlic oil — nearly made us shout with joy the first time we tried it. The kanom jeeb, little pork dumplings with scallion and ginger soy, is another standout dish. The drink menu gets switched up every so often, but it's filled with creative cocktails with region-appropriate ingredients like lemongrass and Asian spirits. We highly recommend making a reservation and/or calling in your takeout order well in advance; Glai Baan is hugely popular with diners who come from all over the Valley to experience this tiny gem.

click to enlarge Drunken Tiger - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Drunken Tiger
Lauren Cusimano

Best Korean Restaurant

Drunken Tiger 1954 South Dobson Road #5, Mesa

What's on the menu at Justin Park's rollicking, black-walled eatery, Drunken Tiger, in a Mesa strip mall where the East Asian brews and soju cocktails flow? Korean street food, drunken munchies, classics, hybrids, and whatever the hell he feels like cooking. This place is so freeform and YOLO that Park has been known to hook up watermelon with soju and Pop Rocks. The young chef can cook up a storm. Classics like thin, flavor-bursting bulgogi and chewy tteokbokki bathed in fiery chile sauce tend to be right on target. So, too, are his remixes, like a Korean take on elote and a KFC (Korean fried chicken) that sees buttermilk-brined dark meat fried to perfect crispness and juiciness — ideal for sidekicking one or many drinks.

click to enlarge Hana Japanese Eatery has some high-end sushi. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Hana Japanese Eatery has some high-end sushi.
Lauren Cusimano

Best Japanese Restaurant

Hana Japanese Eatery 5524 North Seventh Avenue

For more than a decade, Lori Hashimoto and her family have run a no-frills Japanese restaurant with uncommon range. The sushi at Hana is first-rate, especially some of the higher-end options. Uni quivers under a quail egg and vanishes in your mouth with the same briny glory of smelling a salt wind off the sea, only far creamier. Toro is so gloriously marbled that it looks more like pork cheek than tuna. Hana can finesse traditional dishes like monkfish liver and many kinds of tempura. The kitchen has all the goodness of the sushi bar, plating bang-up fried oysters, katsu breaded with panko, and even teriyaki that, yes, is well worth ordering.

click to enlarge Chou's Kitchen - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Chou's Kitchen
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Best Chinese Restaurant

Chou's Kitchen 1250 East Apache Boulevard #101, Tempe

A surefire way to banish all memories of sticky Americanized Chinese food is to step into this Tempe stalwart and embrace the depth of Sunny and Lulu Zhao's northeastern Chinese menu. To begin, don't overlook the drinks. Why settle for water when you can sip plum juice or fresh papaya milk? At Chou's, noodles and clay pots are just the iceberg's small tip. The main event is the world of dumplings, most famously pan-fried meat pies whose doughy sheaths give way to hot ground beef. Dumplings contain squash and egg, pork and pickled vegetables. You can go with classic potstickers or tuck into steamed mackerel enrobed in dough. Chou's has the kind of menu that you could order from 10 times and still have 20 more things to try.

Flavors of India - DIANA MARTINEZ
Flavors of India
Diana Martinez

Best Indian Restaurant

The Tasty Touch Flavors of India 4727 East Bell Road, #5

You never know when you're going to stumble on a gem. One night, we were in the mood for Indian food and wanted to get takeout from a place nearby. The Tasty Touch came up on the Google search, and the rest is history. We've been back plenty of times to this strip-mall eatery, where the service is uncommonly friendly and the food is always spot-on. The lamb biryani with caramelized onions and saffron rice is a frequent go-to, as is the chicken saag, chunks of dark meat chicken swimming in a puree of spinach, onion, ginger, and garlic. We love to dip Tasty Touch's incredible garlic naan into the liquid of the saag, too. There's so much to explore on Tasty Touch's menu that we know we'll be making trips there for a long time to come.

A mixed seafood platter from ShinBay. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI PHOTO
A mixed seafood platter from ShinBay.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Best Sushi

ShinBay 3720 North Scottsdale Road, #201, Scottsdale

A $185 seat at Shinji Kurita's omakase temple ShinBay gives you more than a meal. It's a ticket to a culinary event, a spectacle. Kurita sharpens his knife on the whetstone, whirls chopsticks and pinches food with surgical precision, hand-sculpts blocks of sushi rice with the whole-body movements of a ballerina, and gently brushes immaculate fish with soy-sake reduction and places it before you. Kohada nigiri drips a few dark drops onto its plate before vanishing into your mouth. The fish is incredibly fresh. Even the rice seems to burst with perfect fragrance. The shad is excellent. The eel, too. The eggplant with bonito shavings rocks. Shit, you'll actually even see fresh wasabi root. Kurita is our undisputed sushi king.

click to enlarge Octopus Tiradito with Gyoza at Kaizan. - JACKIE MERCANDETTI PHOTO
Octopus Tiradito with Gyoza at Kaizan.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Best New Sushi

Kaizen PHX 515 East Grant Street, #100

Housed in a wing of the Galvanize co-working space downtown, Kaizen doesn't look like a sushi restaurant. And yet, it's handily the best sushi restaurant to have plugged in its rice cooker since the pandemic began. Chef Gustavo Munoz prepares traditional Japanese sushi (maki, sashimi, etc.) but also raw-fish dishes that straddle Japan and the Americas. They're as brilliant as they are unlikely. Highlights include a scallop number, pearly coins of bivalve bathed in an electric dark green yuzu-and-serrano-charged aguachile, and a Peruvian-Japanese tiradito with similar brightness but much more creamy oomph. Critically, eel, snapper, and other simple nigiri taste clean and fresh. This is your new spot for sushi downtown.

click to enlarge Origami Ramen Bar - LAUREN CUSIMANO
Origami Ramen Bar
Lauren Cusimano

Best Ramen

Origami Ramen Bar 4810 East Ray Road, Suite A1

Early in the pandemic, Osaka native Yusuke Kuroda was laid off from his job at the reputed American Japanese chain Nobu. He resettled in Arizona, where he opened Origami Ramen Bar in Ahwatukee, putting his learnings from Nobu and cooking in Japan into long-simmered bowls of noodle soup. For rich miso ramen, the simmering of chicken and pork bones lasts 12 hours. A blend of miso pastes from Hokkaido lends even more depth. One slurp, and a wild flavor landscape of umami comes to life, incredible in its intensity and subtleties. His other ramens are also exceptional, including a paitan that is pretty much chicken soup to the seventh power.

Best Dim Sum

Phoenix Palace 2075 North Dobson Road, Chandler

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, it's a feeding frenzy at Chandler's Phoenix Palace. That's when dim sum is served. During those five hours, a steady offering of delectable Cantonese dishes is wheeled around the dining area's many tables in a kind of ballet performance of culinary hospitality. With so many choices, it takes no effort to litter your table with used plates as you taste savory dishes like spare ribs, steamed and baked barbecue buns, sesame balls, Chinese broccoli, roast duck, crispy pork, and soy sauce chow mein. And don't worry, there's plenty to satisfy your sweet tooth: Creamy buns stuffed with a rich custard and sesame balls filled with sugar and red bean paste are heady, confectionary delights.

click to enlarge Hot Bamboo has a large following. - HOT BAMBOO
Hot Bamboo has a large following.
Hot Bamboo

Best Funky Bao

Hot Bamboo 980 East Pecos Road, #4, Chandler

These fluffy bao steamed in a Chandler restaurant and at events all over the Valley often are more than bao. They are bao with cute, hilarious, amazing faces. Hello Kitty. Baby Yoda. An Angry Bird with arched eyebrows, all but challenging you to eat him. Mr. Bird, you are doomed, because even the tofu bao here is stellar. Indonesian immigrant Anna Heinback is behind the bao at Hot Bamboo. Though they look new-school, they are steamed in bamboo containers the old-school way. Her char siu (Cantonese-style barbecue pork) and chicken teriyaki make for great munching when walking around a farmers' market or festival.

click to enlarge A quick, takeout lunch from Kabob Grill N Go. - KABOB GRILL N GO
A quick, takeout lunch from Kabob Grill N Go.
Kabob Grill N Go

Best Kabobs

Kabob Grill N Go 3050 North 16th Street

What if we told you that one of the greatest grilled meats in our carne asada wonderland is an Armenian kabob? Believe it. Kabob Grill N Go owners Tony and Hasmik Chilingaryan grill flank steak, pork ribs, chicken wings, and the sausage-shaped minced-meat skewer known as koobideh. You can order a skewer. You can throw down and get a whole platter with rice and more. Much of what the Chilingaryans cook is displayed in a glass case. Just one look and a quick soulful smell of the grill, and you'll be a new regular.

Best Asian Grocery Store

H-Mart 1919 West Main Street, Mesa

It was big news when Korean-American supermarket chain H-Mart opened its first Arizona location in Mesa last summer, and we're happy to report that the store lives up to the hype. H-Mart has it all: a dizzying variety of Asian groceries, a not-to-be-missed food court, and killer K-pop playing on the speakers. Sure, it's no mom-and-pop shop, but it also sells everything you need and everything you didn't think you needed until you stumbled across it. Stock up on frozen dumplings, chili sauce, rambutan, fresh seafood, outstanding chilled sake, a new rice cooker, and much, much more. On your way out, you can stop by the food court and chow down on Korean, Japanese, and Chinese takeout — including a to-die-for Korean fried chicken vendor.

click to enlarge Lee Lee International Market's Chandler store. - TOM CARLSON
Lee Lee International Market's Chandler store.
Tom Carlson

Best International Supermarket

Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket 2025 North Dobson Road, Chandler

One of these days, we're going to head to Lee Lee, fill up a cart with products whose labels we can't understand, and take our purchases home for some global culinary exploration. But until we conduct that grand experiment, you can just catch us at Lee Lee for our usual purchases, like frozen shumai, Filipino lumpia, containers of fried garlic that go great on everything, Bulgarian red pepper spread, central European meats, Korean ramen, and so much more. We make sure we have extra time to shop when we get to one of Lee Lee's two Valley locations; we like to stroll the wide aisles at leisure, looking at the unusual products and appreciating the gastronomic diversity of the world we live in.
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