The right food at the right time can ease the crushing burden of it all — or temporarily numb it, at least.
That's true for chefs just like it is for the rest of us. Recently, we got to wondering where Valley chefs turn to when they desire some comfort on a plate. So we asked eight Phoenix chefs and restaurant owners what their go-tos are. The short answer: pizza, fried rice and pollo asado. Read ahead for the rest.
Stephen Jonesthe larder + the delta
200 West Portland Street, #101
Stephen Jones, chef and owner of the larder + the delta, likes fish with a kick.
Local comfort dish: The mackerel fried rice from Glai Baan. I know it sounds odd, but damn, it's that good. I’ve been ordering it since day one. It was the very first thing I ordered and have ever since.
What's to love about Glai Baan: I’m a sucker for all things fish sauce and spice, and this has all of it. Not to mention, mackerel is in my top five of all things fish. So, winning! From the service to the food, Cat and Dan nail it.
My own menu item: I'd have to say the Hoppin' John. I don’t know if it gets more comforting than rice and peas. Every culture has their own version, their own uniqueness, their own comforting experience, and at the end of the day, that's what we often lean toward when making our dining decisions.
Kat and Brad MooreShort Leash Hot Dogs + Rollover Donuts
4221 North Seventh Avenue
Short Leash owner Kat Moore and her husband Brad like to keep it simple.
Local comfort dish: For everyday comfort food, the potato chips and chicken sandwich from Ingos. I love the green spicy sauce that comes with the chips and the crunch of the potatoes. Just a perfect snack with a cold IPA on the patio.
What's to love about Ingo's Tasty Food: I like the size of the place. It’s simple and efficient and not pretentious. I like that you can see them making your food, and it’s a simple menu with no added fluff.
My own menu item: I tend to hop between three things: I can’t get enough of our cauliflower wings, but if I don’t want spice, I go for our mac and cheese, which we make from three cheeses. If I’m really hungry, the Brat-stuffed pretzel. We make the pretzels fresh every day, and I love sauerkraut. It reminds me of my German grandmother and home.
Helen YungSweet Republic
The co-owner of Sweet Republic leans on noodles and congee.
Local comfort dish: Chinese food for me is comfort, and I love New Hong Kong. I always get the beef noodles (dry style) because my son loves it. Basically, if my son’s happy, I’m happy. I also love their congee. It’s like a rice soup, and you can get it with fish, chicken, pork, or beef. I like it with pork and black duck eggs. And their chicken wings are the best in the Valley: super crispy, garlicky, and a little spicy.
What's to love about New Hong Kong: I love the people there. They feel like family because we’ve been going there for so long. It’s always the husband cooking and the wife up front taking orders, and sometimes their daughter helps. You always see a familiar face. And the prices and portions are so recession-friendly. One takeout can last you a couple of meals.
My own menu item: I always like what’s new and exciting, so for me it’s whatever our newest [ice cream] flavors are. We try to keep things interesting for our customers by pushing out new flavors every week, like a chocolate walnut oatmeal cookie, [the peanut heavy] Hot Tin Roof, ultra chocolate, and sweet corn.
Phil “The Grill” JohnsonTrapp Haus BBQ
511 East Roosevelt Street
The owner of Trapp Haus BBQ likes to recharge with ramen.
Local comfort dish: When I'm having a long day, I choose SoSoBa to bring me comfort. The Mic Drop — it’s in the name. It has carnitas, pork belly, kimchi, and udon noodles swimming in a 24-hour pork broth topped with a crispy chicharron. While I wait for my ramen, I grab an Old Fashioned. They have a wide selection of rye to choose from. Okay, as a phat boi, I must confess: Sometimes I go there just for dessert. Their miso carrot cake will turn any day into a great day, trust me.
What's to love about SoSoBa: I love the local feel of SoSoBa. It’s a low-key gem. It’s my Cheers. When I come in, I don’t have to order, they already know what I want.
My own menu item: One of my favorites dishes at the Trapp is ... everything. Apple smoked St. Louis ribs with smoked mac and cheese and mean greens with jalapeño cheddar cornbread. And for dessert, chocolate coconut bread pudding glazed in a bourbon sauce. It reminds me of Sunday dinners with dad and mom. It didn’t matter what was going on in the world outside them doors. So long as we had each other paired with great comfort food, we didn’t have a care in the world.
Lindsey MageeOllie Vaughn’s
1526 East McDowell Road
Lindsey Magee, chef-owner of Ollie Vaughn’s Kitchen and Bakery, has a family favorite.
Local comfort dish: My local go-to for comfort food is Los Dos Molinos. My family has been going there since we moved here in the '80s. We used to make the trek all the way down to the South Mountain location, and now that we live two minutes away from their Camelback location, we go even more often. They don’t even bother to bring menus to the table since everyone in my family already knows what they’re going to order. I’m an adovada burro, enchilada style, with red sauce. I always order a side of sour cream for my gringa palate. My dad is the chile relleno, my mom orders mama’s special, my husband is carnitas, and cheese crisps for the kids with guacamole.
What's to love about Los Dos Molinos: I love this [place] because it tastes like Phoenix to me and I always have it with a fresh margarita. Los Dos is definitely a hidden gem. I love the colorful atmosphere, and the spicy food and strong drinks always invoke a party.
My own menu item: My number one comfort dish on the Ollie Vaughn’s menu is the biscuits and gravy. That is a dish I grew up eating nearly every Sunday in my family. It’s what you eat the day after a Los Dos dinner to calm your tummy down.
Jennifer RussoThe Market by Jennifer’s Restaurant + Bar
3603 East Indian School Road, Suite A
Jennifer Russo, chef-owner of The Market by Jennifer’s Restaurant + Bar, is all about the antipasto.
Local comfort dish: My favorite local go-to restaurant when I'm seeking comfort food is Pizzeria Bianco. I always order the antipasto platter. I've been ordering it for over 20 years, ever since he opened the place.
What's to love about Pizzeria Bianco: I love that this dish always has fresh meats and cheeses, along with locally sourced veggies. It also reminds me of my great grandmother because she would make antipasto platters for every family gathering. The food and service at Bianco is always on point. I also love that they have Italian rosé.
My own menu item: My number one comfort dish on my own menu would be my three-meat bolognese. It's a modern twist on my great grandmother’s classic recipe. It’s a seasonal dish that we put on our fall and winter menu. On our spring and summer menu, my favorite dish would be our nicoise salad.
Nadia Holguin and Armando HernandezTacos Chiwas
Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez, the husband-and-wife team behind Tacos Chiwas, often crave the taste of home.
Local comfort dish: (Armando) Our go-to restaurant for comfort food has been Ghost Ranch for the pollo asado. They have the best pollo asado in Arizona. It’s fantastic and reminds me of my family’s restaurant, where they have been selling pollo asado for over 20 years in Chihuahua ... it’s simply one of those dishes that makes me feel happy.
What's to love about Ghost Ranch: We love this restaurant so much, not only for the delicious food, but also because the staff is very friendly and makes you feel like you're at home. [Chefs] Rene Andrade and Roberto Centeno are doing a great job showcasing Mexican food, especially with this dish.
My own menu item: (Nadia) My number one comfort food on our menu is deshebrada rojo gordita. It brings back so many memories with every bite, flashbacks of my childhood where I was woken up to the delicious smell of freshly made gorditas made by my grandma and the chile Colorado slowly simmering on the stovetop. It’s such a simple dish but very fulfilling, with the perfect amount of beans, shredded beef, and potatoes. But the sauce is what brings it together. This is always my recommendation to people when they come to our restaurant.
Pornsupak “Cat” Bunnag and Dan RobinsonGlai Baan
2333 East Osborn Road
The owners of Glai Baan, chef Pornsupak “Cat” Bunnag and her partner Dan Robinson, like to grab a slice — and maybe something fancy.
Local comfort dish: We only have Sunday and Monday off, so our options are pretty limited since many restaurants we like are closed. Dan really loves pizza, so on our day off, we usually go to Pizzeria Bianco, The Parlor, or Cibo. We order The Wiseguy at Bianco and the house pizza at The Parlor. When we treat ourselves, we like to go to Tratto or Restaurant Progress. We always get the chicken liver at Tratto.
What's to love about these Valley restaurants: We love not only the food [at these restaurants] but also the people.
My own menu item: I’d say it’s kaproa gai kai dao, which is stir fry minced chicken with garlic, Thai chili, and Thai basil served with rice and fried egg. Or the rice soup which is served with minced pork and shrimp in a simple, delicious broth. I can eat it every day and won’t get bored.
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Damon BraschGreen New American Vegetarian
2014 North Seventh Street
Local comfort dish: I’ve been going to Cafe Lalibela for 15 years. It’s my favorite restaurant in the Valley. We always order the shorba soup and the vegetable combination, a combo of stewed vegetables on top of sourdough injera bread. It’s the perfect match, because even though we sample all of it, we all have our go-tos: My daughter loves the fosolia, my other daughter loves the tikil gomen, I love the misir wat, and my wife loves the collard greens.
What's to love about Cafe Lalibela: The service is amazing. It’s family-owned and operated, and we’ve watched their kids grow up. Now their kids run the restaurant. It’s one of those places where you can walk in and they recognize you, yet you haven’t been there for six months. They’re just wonderful people.
My own menu item: For the summertime, I have to go with our tSoynamis. Right now, our chocolate monsoon tSoynami is back, which is our homemade chocolate cake folded into our soft serve ice cream. This time of year, when it’s hot and muggy out, that’s my go-to.