Mexican, sushi, pasta and more

Mexican, sushi, pasta and more

Mexican, sushi, pasta and more

Phoenix has kept me busy with an endless supply of delicious adventures. Since returning to The Valley in the summer of 2021, I have been eating out almost every night, visiting both essential and vintage restaurants as well as newly opened places.

It’s been a series of delights: a flaming cast iron skillet with Iranian eggplant sauce, Mexico City-style cakes, an impressive bite of truffled sushi, and the foods on this list represent the most exciting dishes of all.

I’ve eaten a lot of amazing things, but for this list I went with my instincts, thinking of dishes that, despite a whole city of new options, I can’t wait to eat again.

Here are the top 10 things I ate in 2021.

Flaming pork and suckling pig bread

Lechon kawali is crispy fried pork belly.

This restaurant introduced me to the sweet and fascinating world of Filipino barbecue. As I sat at the table grilling a pork skewer marinated in banana ketchup, I used my other hand to pop cubes of lechon kawali ($ 12.99), a crispy fried pork belly, into my mouth. Flaming Pig makes an addictive version of the classic Filipino dish. Each piece of pork is covered in crispy skin, which gives way to a layer of glistening fat that coats the flexible meat. I can’t imagine anything more perfect than these pork bites dipped in tangy brown sauce that is fortified with pork liver paste.

Details: 1534 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix. 623-999-7446,

A Guide to the Flaming Pig:Pig reigns supreme at this new Filipino restaurant in Phoenix

Torta Norteña from Tortas CM

I didn’t expect to find the best cake I’ve ever eaten in the back corner of a Glendale parking lot. But I shouldn’t have been surprised, as this quick and casual spin-off is owned by the same people as Mexican sandwich titan Los Reyes de la Torta. La Norteña ($ 11) is a synthesis of the flavors of Sonora and Mexico City. The roast beef cooks on the flat top right in front of you, along with the melted mozzarella cheese oozing over the lightly caramelized onions and ripe avocado, all hidden between the buttered telera bread. I’ve been all over Mexico eating the best sandwiches, but I’m crowning this one king.

Details: 13971 N. 59th Ave., Glendale. 623-600-8630,

CM Cake Guide:How this cake restaurant makes one of the best Mexican sandwiches in the Phoenix metro area

Truffled Amberjack in Shimogamo

Truffle amberjack is an appetizer at Shimogamo in Chandler.

I smelled truffles the moment I walked into this minimalist sushi bar. Shimogamo is more purist than experimental. This is all about stocking up, although the restaurant’s most popular appetizer ($ 19), straddles simplicity and creativity, and in doing so, it achieves perfection. The amberjack sashimi benefits from a hint of truffle oil, which is an unexpected addition to its soy-based ponzu sauce. The earthy flavors pair especially well with the clean, but slightly fatty fish, amberjack (also known as horse mackerel). After trying the salty and mushroom elixir, I decided to make the combo a new part of my cooking repertoire.

Details: 2051 W. Warner Road, Chandler. 480-899-7191,

Kashkbademjan in Alzohour

Eggplant cream kashkbademjan is set on fire at Alzohour in Phoenix.

Next to an Islamic fashion store, Alzohour’s dining room may not be fancy, but the food is epic. The tour de force is a hot skillet of flaming eggplant sauce called kashkbademjan ($ 9.10), which ushered in an epic two-hour lunch. It came on a cast iron plate that was set on fire by owner Zhor Saad upon reaching our table. She cooks and serves the restaurant’s Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes herself, and it shows. When the heat died down and we were able to dive in, the creamy aubergine practically spilled over my pita in a heavenly stain sprinkled with crunchy toasted garlic slivers and fresh mint.

Details: 7814 N. 27th Ave., Phoenix. 602-433-5191,

Stuffed focaccia at The Americano

The ripiena focaccia at The Americano in Scottsdale on December 9, 2021.

Can we get more bread, please? It’s not a request that I normally make, especially when I’m dining at an exclusive Italian steakhouse owned by a celebrity chef. But this focaccia at The Americano is so good it’s hard to resist. Ripiena focaccia ($ 13) comes to the table in a bulbous dome shape cut into quarters and topped with a thick green pesto. Each piece reveals a cross-section of the filling: soft potatoes and a fresh Italian cow’s milk cheese called stracchino, which enriches the bread with a kiss of herbaceous butter flavor. It’s one of the best things on a menu filled with quirky truffle steaks and caviar fries. I couldn’t get enough.

Details: 17797 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale. 480-573-0001,

Sheep barbecue consomme at El Kiosco

A lamb soup or barbecued lamb consommé at El Kiosco restaurant in Phoenix.

You can find explosively tasty central Mexican barbecue at the west side restaurant El Kiosco. The owners are from Querétaro and they grill their barbecue of lamb, or lamb on the grill, in the traditional way, for hours on agave leaves. Sold by the pound or in a potent broth ($ 7) flavored by the drippings that drip off the lamb as it cooks. Rich and salty, the deep red liquid redefined my previous concept of savory. The meat stuck to tiny bones and chunks of fat as he removed it from the oily broth. Rice and chickpeas float in the heavenly elixir, but I soon stopped fishing for them with my spoon and started dipping my tortillas in the bowl. Find this soup, I implore you.

Details: 3650 W. Camelback Road, Suite 3, Phoenix. 602-246-1310,

Roast chicken at Bacanora

Grilled Chicken at Bacanora on Grand Avenue in Phoenix.

It wasn’t until the end of my fascinating dinner that I looked around the corner and saw the rustic Sonoran workhorse of a grill with rotating wheels that lift the grill up and down to control the heat. That’s where most of Bacanora’s small five-item menu comes from. And you can sample the mesquite char on the delicious Green Chili Roast Chicken ($ 32), made with poultry from the local Two Wash ranch. The flavorful bird is sliced ​​into a pile of white and dark meats, all with flawless crisp skin, and served alongside thick plates of potatoes. This dish is one of the reasons Bacanora is an instant Phoenix classic.

Details: 1301 Grand Ave., Unit 1, Phoenix. 602-612-4018,

Love at first bite:Why this Grand Avenue Mexican restaurant is an instant Phoenix classic

Salaw machu eggplant at Thaily’s

The Salaw Machu Eggplant at Thaily's is like the Cambodian version of the Green Chili Beef Stew.

It was difficult to choose which item from the inventive Middle Eastern and Cambodian menu at Thaily’s was my favorite. But my mind keeps going back to the eggplant salaw machu ($ 8.50), a hearty green jalapeño soup that’s wildly tart thanks to the lime juice and fruity tamarind powder, like a Cambodian version of green chili. The spicy broth is packed with fatty chunks of simmered beef and Thai eggplant bulbs cut in half. The eggplant seeds spill out and float around the slimy broth, adding a slight crunch.

Details: 444 E. Chandler Blvd., Suite 1, Chandler. 480-927-3865,

Check:Why I’m obsessed with Cambodian dishes at this little chef-run restaurant

Gnocchi with pesto from Forno 301

Forno 301, July 1, 2021

I didn’t think I would like gnocchi until I tried this masterpiece. In general, dumplings tend to be dense and unappealing. But, on the advice of owner Luca Gagliano, I took a chance and was rewarded with sumptuous potato dumplings dipped in a rich and creamy homemade pesto ($ 14.50). They had olive oil filtered down the sides, but that didn’t stop me from pouring in some of that homemade chili oil as well.

Details: 1616 N. Central Ave., Suite 104, Phoenix. 480-787-5654,

The menu guide:This downtown Phoenix Italian restaurant is known for its pizza. But don’t miss the pasta

Bean burrito in Testal

Burritos in Testal on Grand Avenue.

Chihuahua is the largest state in Mexico, home to a world-renowned tribe of indigenous athletes and an impressive canyon system that rivals the Grand Canyon. It is also the birthplace of Fernando Hernández, who is making some of the best burritos in the Valley. Their puffy Chihuahuan-style flour tortillas are made at home each morning and then loosely wrapped around a variety of simple stews like shredded beef and creamy slices. The minimalist bean burrito ($ 4) is the best of the best, with lush refried beans served in tortillas that are left unrolled and open at the ends. They’re on a level with the monstrous Sonoran offerings we love here, but while they may be smaller, that just means you can eat more of them.

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