Lauren Bailey's 5 Best Hidden Food Gems in Metro Phoenix

The countdown to Best of Phoenix is on. Mark your calendar: This year's issue will be on newsstands September 26. What better way to warm up than by asking some local "experts" to list their own personal bests? This week, Lauren Bailey of Upward Projects shares her favorite hidden treasures in town.

By Lauren Bailey

We've all said it until we are blue in the face: Phoenix's food scene is every bit as gratifying as other major markets out there. Maybe it's the convenience this city affords us that makes it all the more challenging to get out, but dig in and you will be handsomely rewarded, especially if you know where to look. Some of my favorite hidden gems are below.

See also: - Craig DeMarco and Lauren Bailey Open Joyride Taco House in Gilbert on Tuesday, June 4 (and We've Got Pictures!)

Pho Thanh Hidden in a somewhat-scary strip mall is an authentic Vietnamese pho house. Favorites include bi cuon, spring rolls served with crisp lettuce, thai basil, mint, and sprouts ($2.25); pho tai nam, noodles with sliced beef and beef brisket served with a heaping plate of sprouts, thai basil, mint, lime, and jalepeño. The broken rice and bahn mi are also delicious!

Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket & China Magic Noodle House This is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon perusing aisle after aisle of amazing imported products from all over Asia as well as South America. The produce section boasts mile-high stacks of beautiful baby bok choy, chinese long beans, and a stunning lineup of fresh Asian herbs. The butcher's section is not to miss either with hard-to-find fish, and specialty cuts. After you are done, you can head right around the corner of the market and hit up China Magic Noodle to watch these guys hand-stretch your noodles to order in the window in their kitchen. My favorite is #34, beef with fried noodles in XO spicy sauce.

Carniceria La Pinos The tiny deli sells the best carnitas by the pound . . . I always grab a pint of the guacamole, salsa, and mini tortillas for a quick lunch or dinner.

Food City A staple in my quest for ripe produce . . . always ripe (and cheap!) mangos, avocados, papaya, and more. I also always have their house-roasted green chiles and poblanos in my fridge for a quick omelet or taco. Their tortilla chips are thin, crispy, and never disappoint!

Haji-Baba Anytime I am lucky enough to be in Tempe, I have to stop here. I love the vegetarian combo, a plate piled with falafel-stuffed grape leaves, tabouli, babaganoush, and more or the gyro combination with gyro, saebusek, tabouli, kibbe, and stuffed grape leaves. I always get the lebni to douse everything in. On my way out, I grab some spices, tea, or homemade baklava from their cases in the adjoining market.

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