With so many great new restaurants opening in the Metro Phoenix area, one of the hardest things to do is figure out which one to check out first. Here are three to put at the top of your list.
Lucky Star Asian Dining
Flat-screen TVs mounted throughout the restaurant play slideshows of select menu items, like cubed mapo tofu drenched in devilish red sauce and a heaping pile of lamb skewered on toothpicks along with oily red peppers. Along with standards like Mongolian beef and orange chicken, Lucky Star offers a variety of Szechuan and Cantonese foods. The black pepper chicken on hot iron is plated on a small skillet at the table for maximum sizzle. Bite-sized pieces of chewy chicken, onions, and bell peppers steam throughout the meal, and crunchy bits of black peppercorns burst with flavor in every chomp. The slightly sweet glaze offsets the pleasantly sharp spices in the dish. An unexpected standout is the vegetable dish bean curd with sliced egg and chives. The star of the dish is the thin strands of five-spice pressed tofu (bean curd). The rich tofu slivers are lighter in the center and browned at the tips and edges, and have a satisfying, firm texture. Stir-fried with soy sauce, chopped chives provide a little more bite, with bits of scrambled eggs, onions, and peppers providing extra flavor. In the back of the restaurant, a hallway decorated with vinyl records and gold masks leads guests to several private karaoke rooms. These rooms feature a small menu of snacks and drinks, including beer, sodas, cans of sweet milk, bottled water, and herbal teas.
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MidiCi has cheese boards, salads, and simple plates like prosciutto and melon. A really nice burrata with tomatoes and beet hunks will set you back just $6.50. The roster of salads is diverse and extensive. Dressings are house-made — “house-made” being the word that seems to occupy the most verbal real estate on their lengthy menu. The lineup of pizzas is dizzying. In price, they range from $7.50 (Margherita) to $13.50 (truffles and other good stuff). There are some wilder pizzas for the adventurous among us, including a shrimp scampi pie, another with ricotta-stuffed crust, and everybody’s favorite pizza to love or hate: Hawaiian. Not many places that crank out good Neapolitan pizza get so wonky with what's on them. But the most brilliant thing about MidiCi may not be the pizza itself, but all the gratis toppings. MidiCi has a sidebar where a bounty of toppings await: fresh basil, dry wild oregano, chopped garlic, chile-infused oil, and the list goes on and on.
Soup & Sausage
True to its name, soups figure heavily on the menu. Apart from the memorable flaczki, there is a wonderful house borscht, a sweet-sour, oniony soup dominated by the flavors of stewed tomatoes, beets, and garlic. It’s less sour than other borschts you may have enjoyed in the past, with a distinctly light and refreshing quality. There are two cabbage rolls to choose from — beef or pork. Trying to decide which one is better is like trying to split hairs with a cleaver. Both versions are generous in both size and flavor, the massively juicy lumps of meat wrapped in leafy tendrils of stewed cabbage, and topped with a deliciously acidic tomato sauce. If you prefer to consume your meat without cabbage, try the homemade meatballs. They are beautifully rolled and seasoned, and sing with notes of garlic and onion. The “potatoes” part of the restaurant’s meat-and-potatoes equation comes in the shape of homemade dumplings. You can order them fried or boiled. Either way, they are very starchy, chewy, and totally swoon-worthy.