Have you tried the Cuban-style pizza at Edward’s Cuban Bakery in west Phoenix? It leans more Chicago deep-dish than Neapolitan in spirit, with a thick, doughy crust and crisp, caramelized edges that beg to be eaten. Light on tomato sauce, and nicely shellacked with a lightly toasted mantle of melted Swiss cheese, the Cuban pies are buoyed by toppings like thick, fatty half-moons of Spanish chorizo and jamón.
The pizza at Edward’s probably won’t do much for the Valley’s wood-fired pizza devotees, but it has an undeniable freshness that you can trace back to the dough, which is made daily at the restaurant. And the pizza, as it turns out, is just one of Edward’s many singular joys. There’s a stunning lack of Cuban restaurants around metro Phoenix, a deficiency that’s at least partly corrected by Edward’s, which brings a host of traditional Cuban dishes, snacks and pastries to the Valley.
The small, casual counter-service restaurant opened a little more than a year ago in a sprawling strip shopping plaza near 43rd Avenue and Indian School Road. This is mostly a takeout joint, although the small dining room holds about a half-dozen tables and stools. A TV plays the latest reggaeton hits, and a colorful wall mural featuring the pastel-colored image of owner Maikel Cuello Valladares adds some character to the otherwise nondescript space.
You’ll find an enticing drink menu featuring Cuban malt and fruit sodas, including the king of the pineapple-flavored sodas, Jupiña. You can also order a freshly blended batida, or milkshake, with flavors like guava and coconut.
There’s a good selection of Cuban snacks at the ready, and the highlights here include the croquetas, lightly breaded croquettes stuffed with ham and cheese, and tamales Cubanos. The bundles of steamed corn are almost as soft as pudding, and you can practically spoon them into your mouth.
You’ll want to leave room for entrees like ropa vieja. Edward’s Bakery makes a wonderful rendition of the traditional Cuban beef stew. The long-braised, finely shredded beef is wrapped up in the perfume of garlic and peppers and paprika — deliciously flavorful and moist, with a touch of sweet smokiness. Have it with a side serving of platanos maduros — sweet-savory fried plantains — and Moros y Cristianos, rice and black beans, for a deeply satisfying combo meal.
Something lighter, but no less satisfying, is the Cubano, a thickly built and lightly pressed sandwich generously bundled with sliced pork roast and ham, and then deliciously mortared together with Swiss cheese. A judicious dabbing of mustard makes the whole thing sing.
It’s unwise to leave Edward’s without consulting the bakery case, which has an always revolving selection of fresh Cuban desserts like señoritas, ultra-flaky pastries filled with vanilla custard. There’s also the wonder of guava-filled tartaletas — small, delicate, fruit-filled tarts that crumble deliciously in your mouth with the buttery resolve of shortbread.
And you must try at least one capuchino — a spongey, syrupy yellow cone-shaped cake that dissolves on the tongue like a sugar cube. There’s no coffee involved in its creation; the pastry’s unique shape, so the story goes, was inspired by the hoods worn by the Capuchin order of friars (the foodie monks also inspired the name of the popular coffee drink). In any case, the capuchinos at Edward’s Bakery are outrageously good, and reason enough to stop by for a visit.
Another restaurant that’s bringing traditional Caribbean flavors to metro Phoenix is Caribbean Palm, a family-owned Jamaican spot with locations in south Scottsdale and Tempe.
The Scottsdale location, which has been open at the Papago Plaza for three years, recently moved a few doors down, taking over the space that used to belong to the British Open Pub. The Tempe location, meanwhile, is the newer outpost of Caribbean Palm — the menu is smaller here, with a bigger emphasis on snacks, desserts and smoothies.
At both locations, though, you’ll find classic and hard-to-resist Jamaican appetizers like patties, flaky pastries filled with seasoned ground beef or curried chicken, and saltfish and conch fritters, which are pan-fried and served with a pleasantly spicy yellow coconut curry sauce.
A more exciting starter, though, is the shrimp rundown — the dish features beautifully pan-seared shrimp, bathed in an expertly seasoned and lightly spicy coconut sauce.
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Highlights from the entree menu include the classic braised oxtails. The slow-braised medallions are wrapped in a thick, savory, lightly smoky sauce, and the fatty meat flakes right off the bone. The dish is served with spinners — rolled boiled dumplings that help soak up the sauce beautifully. The rice and peas on the side are serviceable but a little under-seasoned, although a side of lightly seasoned cabbage and carrots turns out to be conspicuously good.
Goat curry, meanwhile, has all the rich, comfort food undercurrents that you want from a bowl of goat curry: the hunks of meat are tender and spongey, soaking up the flavors of onion and ginger and peppers.
There’s also an intriguing “fusion” menu at Caribbean Palm that often blurs the lines between classic Jamaican and Italian fare. If you’re curious about what happens when you blend jerk chicken with a pasta Alfredo, this is the place to find out. From this side of the menu, though, one of the stronger dishes is the shrimp ragout — the sauteed jumbo shrimp were beautifully cooked on a recent visit, and bathed in a lightly zesty and exceptionally buttery vin blanc sauce.
The best way to finish a meal at Caribbean Palm is with a slice of the coconut rum cake, which is extra-moist and liberally infused with the flavors of rum, then topped with a fine layer of coconut flakes. Will you daydream about escaping the desert for the lush rainforests of Jamaica after eating this? Possibly, but at least you don’t have to get on a plane or show your passport to enjoy a small piece of the island here in metro Phoenix.