The Iron Curtain Chefs

There's no language barrier at Yasha From Russia. Despite the deli owner's heavy Russian accent, I understand quite clearly what he means when he orders me to "get out."

There's been a spate of Eastern European restaurants cropping up in the West Valley lately, and in most places, I've found that the uninitiated are made to feel quite welcome. But not so here.

Apparently, I've committed sins in this store -- unpardonable gaffes that include asking to see a menu ("There isn't one," sniffs the counter lady. "There's only takeout.") and asking the owner what kind of meat is in my piroshki as I pay ("How should I know?" he snaps. "Why didn't you ask the counter lady?"). My final crime? He has caught me wandering around his deli-grocery, jotting down a list of the products he sells.


Yasha From Russia

7011 North 27th Avenue, Phoenix

602-347-6055. Hours: Takeout service, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

He demands to see my notes. He calls me "highly suspicious." And then he tosses me out. Perhaps he thinks I'm a spy, sent in to share his secrets. So I will: Yasha From Russia sells deli food. And groceries. And many items are Russian. Ooh. Now he'll have to kill me.

Given the nasty treatment, I almost hate to admit that Yasha From Russia is a powerful addition to our local ethnic food scene, but it's true. Those piroshki are perfect, the plump dough pockets packed with creamy mashed potato, homemade sauerkraut or that top-secret meat (in my case, it turns out to be chicken).

And the selection is admirably broad. Wares span rainbows of frozen dumplings (cherry, potato, beef, lamb, sour cream), an array of smoked fish (sprats, sturgeon), imported cookies galore, dozens of Eastern European sausage varieties and case after case of exotic meats and cheeses. There's a lot more, but I was forced to eat my notes.

Scary service aside, Yasha From Russia is a breath of fresh air for our local ethnic dining scene. Until now, our options for really challenging cuisines have been pretty limited, restricted mainly to regional Mexican delicacies (like chapulines, the fried grasshoppers served at north Phoenix's Restaurant Oaxaca) and exotics from Africa (such as kitfo, the Ethiopian raw steak/cottage cheese dish found at Tempe's Blue Nile Cafe).

Over the past six months, though, there's been a mini-Eastern European migration going on in the West Valley, bringing about the opening of Armenia Restaurant and Bosnian Atmosphere Cafe alongside the year-and-a-half-old Yasha. Apparently, a lot of people are leaving their war-torn homelands for a quieter life in the Valley of the Sun. And while most of the clientele at the new shops are immigrants craving their native dishes, there's plenty of room for American diners looking to explore new frontiers, too.

The food is exciting. It's incredibly inexpensive. And best of all, at Armenia and Bosnian Atmosphere, at least, the staffs don't accuse you of espionage.

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