Casa De Falafel6730 West Cactus Road, Peoria
Located inside a gas station at this intersection called Simon Xpress, Casa De Falafel is a Mediterranean grill churning out authentic Arabic street foods. A menu is stretched above the prep station on electronic screens, promising falafel sandwiches, beef shawarma plates, salads, and falafel rings. Aside from the saj-wrapped falafels, lentil soup is a favorite. The shop was opened in 2016 by Ali and Madda Shakir from Iraq, who dubbed it Casa De Falafel only because Falafel House was taken. (So, no, this isn't a Mexican-meets-Mediterranean fusion eatery.) Both Casa De Falafel and the gas station have a retro vibe, sporting green and pink plastic booths, dark green tiles, neon signs, and a peppy, we're-here-to-serve atmosphere.
Eric's Family Barbecue12345 West Indian School Road, Avondale
Hungry for 'cue in the west Valley? The meats smoked in salvaged propane tanks behind Eric's are the best you'll find. Eric Tanori smokes the old-fashioned way, meaning without the assistance of gas, a labor-intensive method that raises the ceiling for how good marquee cuts, like brisket, can be. In his spacious, cafeteria-style dining room and out on a homestyle patio, that brisket adorns just about every platter. Slices come thick, broad folds pungent with the deep smoke of mesquite. This is one of the best briskets and some of the most impressive barbecue in the Valley. Low-key sides and desserts, like banana pudding and cheese-dusted elote, call to mind the backyard barbecue fiestas from which Eric's was born.
Haus Murphy's5739 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale
For a quarter-century, this cozy, classic restaurant from chef and owner Brett Hoffman has been dishing out authentic German cuisine in Glendale. (You may have seen it on the Food Network.) Haus Murphy's is known for its Original Oktoberfest Pretzel, the sausage sampler, juicy bratwursts, house-made sauerkraut, and quite a variety of schnitzels (including a one-pounder). We're also keen on the potato and quark gnocchi, the haus gulasch in a bread bowl, and gulasch fries. The German aesthetic extends, of course, to the bar, which offers giant bottled biers you can enjoy beneath strung-up lights on the vaguely European patio — a lovely slice of Old World in the West Valley.
La Bamba Mexican Grill Restaurant12102 West Thunderbird Road, El Mirage
The entrance to La Bamba lies beneath no sign, in a strip mall suite between a laundromat and Discount Tire in the deep west Valley. Inside, the extremely friendly chef, Edson Garcia, is multitasking, creating next-level tacos, sauces, horchata, and aguas frescas. Garcia — who has said he was homeless just a few years ago — started his restaurant career as a dishwasher, worked his way up to line cook, then began opening restaurants in this suburban sector of Phoenix. In a recent review, our restaurant critic made a big claim: The al pastor tacos at La Bamba in El Mirage are the best in the Valley. Garcia uses pineapple vinegar and pork belly and serves these tacos on flour tortillas, topped with onion, cilantro, and house-made salsas. It's a hauntingly good example of the level of Mexican fare our city has to offer.
La Mejor Barbacoa6522 North 59th Avenue, Glendale
Just southwest of Old Towne Glendale, you'll find La Mejor Barbacoa sandwiched between an auto repair shop and a transmission repair shop. Blink, and you may not find it at all. Good thing there's a sign, and three flappy banners advertising barbacoa, menudo, and Micheladas. Inside this golden-yellow restaurant, you're greeted with neon beer signs, worn but elegant tables and chairs, oversized house plants, and a friendly, family-like staff. The barbacoa is worthy of its place on the sign, but so is the consome, pozole, and menudo. Most items come with house-made tortillas, a green sauce, and a slow burner of a red sauce (which a staff member will warn you about personally). In the mood for something sweeter? Flip the two-sided menu for mango con chile, ice cream, fruity shaved ice, and aguas frescas.
La Piazza Al Forno5803 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale
This is the classic lunch-spot pizza joint, except surprise, the pizza is incredibly upscale, well-known, even awarded. Seen on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, La Piazza Al Forno in Old Towne Glendale is a trailblazer in bringing wood-fired, artisanal pizza to the west Valley and greater Phoenix. Not to mention, it’s what’s left but also what’s best of pizzaiolo’s Justin Piazza pizza empire (thanks COVID). Plus it’s a certified Verace Pizza Napoletana restaurant, meaning your pizza will arrive with the crispy-chewy crust and expected San Marzano tomatoes. Oh, but it's absolutely a great dinner spot as well.
Litchfield’s300 East Wigwam Boulevard, Litchfield Park
Litchfield’s, nestled inside the historic Wigwam resort, is full of surprises. At first glance, it's simply a steakhouse with a cowboy-sized “cowboy rib-eye” as the show-stopper. But peruse the menu closer and it’s singing with nuanced creations, like perfectly tender Kurobuta pork cheeks, Mexican grouper spiked with chile oil, and homemade pappardelle with king trumpet mushrooms. The biggest surprise, though, is the wine list — a robust revelry through France, Italy, and California that traverses from whites to old world wines, with servers schooled in the subtleties. No wonder it was awarded the 2020 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
Little Saigon7016 North 57th Avenue, Glendale
The family-run Vietnamese restaurant relocated to downtown Glendale from Christown Mall a while back, but the aromatic bungalow looks like it set up shop decades ago. Little Saigon is spotted by the adorable courtyard and white-fenced entrance and remembered by the food. We’ve listed it as one of the 10 restaurants any self-respecting Phoenician should try at least once and stand by it. Menu highlights include the shrimp-stuffed spring rolls, the banh xeo crepe, anything served in a hot pot, and the coconut-flavored shaved ice. However, classics like pho tai are easy orders here.
Mercado De Los Cielos7611 West Thomas Road
What was once a Mervyn's department store is today Mercado De Los Cielos, a Hispanic marketplace on the southern end of Desert Sky Mall. More than 200 tenants call the place home. Though some view Mercado De Los Cielos primarily as a shopping destination, it's also a paradise of counter-service eateries serving up fresh agua frescas, tortas, quesadillas, mariscos, gorditas, and all kinds of street foods. There's a lot to choose from — almost too much. If you struggle with decisions (or, for that matter, pronunciation), photos of almost every dish can be found above the register. And if you're just at Mercado De Los Cielos to shop, grab a pina or mango loko at the raspados de frutas naturales stand to sip as you browse the shelves.