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PHX - Tell Me About Your Hidden Restaurant Gems

One of the great aspects for me in being a Chowhound is discovering some hidden gem that never gets much talk on these boards or even coverage in the local press. But these places get hidden behind the classics (Durant's) or the latest find (Twisted) or the perennial favorite (Phoenix Ranch Market, LGO, Delux).

So, help me out here, Phoenix hounds!!! What are your "hidden gems," the places that you love but rarely get more than a passing mention?

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  1. I really like the Bodega Bistro for Tapas. They are way out in the Cavecreek/Carefree area but I think they're worth the drive. Headed there tonight. :-)

    1 Reply
    1. re: arizonagirl

      I love Bodega. The empanadillas with chorizo and manchego are awesome. Killer churro too. :)

    2. Can only think of one not mentioned very often...Elie's Deli (44th St/Thomas).

      2 Replies
      1. re: azhotdish

        I love Elie's - the proprietress feels makes you feel like her long lost niece, and the lentil soup, hummus, gyros, dolmades, tzatiki, are excellent!

        1. re: yamalam

          I had Elie's lentil soup for the first time today - you're right, delicious.

      2. crazy jims...its on 15th ave, south of indian school..not a darn thing fancy or upscale about it...not so much a dive as just a neighborhood spot...love the bleu cheese dressing and the gyros.......mmmmmmmmmmmm

        1 Reply
        1. re: winedubar

          mmmmmmm i second crazy jims and I think they have another location downtown, but their feta cheese (which comes on many items!) is AMAZING. And the pita that comes along...delish!

        2. Shish Kabob House. 51st Ave and Olive. Judging from the lack of diners, no one knows about it but as I've droned on about on here, the food is outstanding.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Firenza00

            I'll second SKH, although I'll echo my recommendation from another thread to order anything but the falafel. By the way, to find SKH via Google Maps, you've got to spell "kabob" as "kebab."

            Another candidate: Grill El Quetzal, the Guatemalan restaurant in Mesa. As noted in my post earlier this week, it's really good, but it's gotten no press and always seems empty.

            1. re: silverbear

              We're freakily in sync. The falafel is the only thing we dislike there. :) Sorry about the spellling. :)

              1. re: Firenza00

                Your spelling is fine. I think it's the restaurant's spelling that is a bit unusual, but when translating from languages that don't use the Roman alphabet, spelling is always up for grabs.

                1. re: silverbear

                  A Scottish friend maintains that a "kebab" is very different from a "kabob". The distinction is mostly lost on me but it involves late night drinking, dodgy food stands, and fiery hot sauce. As best I understood a kebab was rather like a gyro here but given his described condition at the time of eating, I'm not sure how much I can trust his description.

            2. re: Firenza00

              gd, i haven't been there in 15 years, since we lived on the west side. it WAS a great place though, bet it still is. and quite the deal!

              1. re: Firenza00

                Shish Kebab House has been one of my staple dinner spots for a while now. It's not the best Persian food in town (I prefer Persian Room) but it's fairly economical and the food is pretty good. I go there about 3-4 times a month (probably because it's in my part of town).

              2. Osha Thai in Scottsdale. It never gets any love, but its my favorite place in town. Admittedly, I haven't had any Thai in Mesa yet.

                1. I think China King in Chandler has the best dim sum.

                  1. Feeney's on 12th Street and Maryland has consistently great steaks and a really varied menu. It's an old neighborhood place that has been there for years and is always a great meal that doesn't break the bank. We also like the dimly lit, separate rooms that has a nice ambiance.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: claree

                      my favorite part of feeny's is the truly old school salad bar, fake bacon bits and all. and predicting what the hostess will be wearing :)

                    2. Los Favoritos in Apache Junction is a complete dive and has great Mexican food -- plastic forks, paper plates and lots of "atmosphere". Don't look too closely at the housekeeping, just order the green chile burrito or chile relleno or tacos de lengua or enchiladas or ......... Get both the red and green sauce on the side, yum! You'll sit on mismatched plastic chairs at small tables facing the unlovely Apache Trail unless you opt to eat in the parking lot out front. It's a total dive and my favorite quick lunch spot (I hesitate to call this a "restaurant").

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Sherri

                        I assume the Los Favoritos shops are all related, but, I've only had tacos and burros at the one at 8489 E Mcdonald Dr, Scottsdale, AZ. It was within walking distance of my old apartment, and I was never disappointed. Even the fish tacos were pretty good, considering. I still think about going there, but, I've never acted on the thought, since moving a couple of miles away.

                        1. re: johnseberg

                          OMG! You mean there is more than one of these joints? It boggles the mind -- and might provide more accessible good eats for the rest of the valley. I'll keep my eyes open in the future. Thanks for the "Heads Up".

                        2. re: Sherri

                          There's one in CHandler as well at the corner of Dobson/Chandler. We live up the street and stop in here often...cheap as can be and never disappointing. The breakfast burritios are also fantastic.

                          1. re: Sherri

                            I've been systematically working my way through the burrito listings at Los Favoritos (AJ location only, so far) and can happily state that, so far, each is my new favorite! Machaca for a weekend breakfast, Carne Asada and today's Adovado are stellar. I've been happily surprised to find guacamole in many of these although it was not specified anywhere.

                            Forgot to mention when explaining the dining options, the afore-mentioned parking lot is dirt ....... if there is air-conditioning, it pants rather than cools. All these minuses enhance the "dive" atmosphere. Will continue my research project .........

                            1. re: Sherri

                              I made a pilgrimage back to my old neighborhood for a breakfast burrito at the Los Favorito's in Scottsdale. It was very disappointing. Very dry (chorizo, egg, potato, cheese). The egg was all but non-existent. Sad. Los Betos near Thomas on Hayden is a much better option for breakfast burros in this area.

                          2. Soma at Shea and Tatum. They give nutritional info up front, and it's all very reasonable. Considering how healthy it is, it's quite tasty.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: kindofabigdeal

                              Good choice, as is Soma Express on Camelback.

                              Mishima on Thomas has been there for years but many neighborfood folks are unaware of it. Mike-san offers good food that's easy on the wallet.

                              Blue Fin on Central is a real gem but often overlooked,even though it's been there longer than the freeway and is now surviving light rail mayhem.

                              Akaihana, formerly Mr. Sushi, is hidden behind a Marie Callender's just off the Black Mountain frontage road, an unlikely location for what once was the best sushi bar in town, and has been satisfying customers for almost two decades.

                              Niccoli's Deli can't be spotted very easily from 16th Street but neighborhood old-timers know how good it is.

                              Everyone now knows about Dick's Hideaway, kind of a conspicuous speakeasy.

                              A Slice of Sicily sits behind a Carvel on Indian School and is seldom mentioned for havng some of best pizza and red-sauce Italian fo miles around.

                              Karsh's Bakery, well-konw to old-timers, is almost invisible. Clasiic Italian Pizza started out as a truly hidden gem but is well-known now.

                              Back East Bagels in Tempe fits the bill.

                              Almost forgot -- Sushi Ko at 92nd and Shea, which is tucked out of sight behind Chompie's, is one of the best sushi bars in the metro area.

                              1. re: misohungrychewlow

                                Love Slice of Sicily - their calzones and sausage pizza are very good.

                                1. re: misohungrychewlow

                                  Great list.

                                  Mr. Sushi / Akaihana has been a solid performer for two decades. It gets little hype, but has a steady clientele.

                                  Karsh's -- Many will disagree, but I like the taste of Karsh's cakes better than Tammie Coe. I'll be the first to admit that Tammie Coe cakes are the most beautiful in town, but for pure eating enjoyment, I'd go with Karsh's.

                                  Soma -- I really want to like this place, but it has disappointed me on each visit. I've only tried it for breakfast; maybe I'd like it better for lunch or dinner. One frustration I've experienced is that the emphasis on healthful eating is negated by the supersized portions.

                                  1. re: silverbear

                                    FYI: A new Soma Cafe just opened up in Chandler (SW corner Kyrene/ Chandler Blvd)

                              2. If you want something special, try Daniel's on Camelback. My wife and I have been vacationing in Scottsdale since 1985 and I thought we had been to all the really good restaurants. Well, right around the corner from our condo is this small Italian restaurant that has to be one of the gems. The owner is out front and he adds a lot to the place. The wine list is incredible; you will not find these wines at Cosco: he buys direct form the vineyards in Italy!!!
                                Of course, if this is a bit much, there's always Chomsy on Shea.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: croquetman

                                  Daniel's used to get a lot of buzz here, but not as much these days. I don't know if that means it has declined, or perhaps (and I think more likely) it has simply settled into a steady groove with an established clientele.

                                  1. re: IamJacksBrain

                                    Yes! Benjarong is quite good! A total surprise...and a lovely staff - very good service.

                                    There's a tiny Chinese place - Tao - on Warner at McQueen, that has a killer wor wonton...and the rest of the menu's not bad. Francisco's Pueblo Cafe...another one on Warner, west of Arizona Ave.....Inza Coffee at Pima and Shea - pasteles and chocolos (sic).

                                  2. Dick's Hideaway - what a cool "hidden" spot. Cozy, great staff/service, you can watch them grill steak, shrimp, etc. behind the bar. You can go there on a date, with friends or by yourself and not feel out of place. It's almost like a min Cheers, but with great food. If it were closer to me, I'd probably go there twice a week. Maybe Mr. Richardson would be so kind as to open another hideaway out East - though slightly bigger!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: tastyjon

                                      Slice of Sicily has the best white pizza I have ever had.
                                      Classic Italian pizza in tempe is great too.
                                      Thai rama
                                      Wong's Chinese

                                    2. Razz's Restaurant on the SE corner of Shea and Scottsdale. It's upscale fine dining. It's an open kitchen so you can see them cook. Also, it is pretty romantic, and they always have different art on the walls that you can purchase. http://www.razzsrestaurant.com/menu.htm

                                      Golden Wok on the SW corner of Tatum and Cactus, they make the best beef and shrimp chow fun...definitely Hong Kong style. They use the biggest shrimp that I have seen out of any chinese restaurant. Oh, and their crab puffs are so, so good. They use crab with a c, and not the imitation krab. Also, they accommodate me with my no MSG and no onion requests.

                                      Carolina's - not the one in downtown Phoenix, but not many people know there's the other one on Cave Creek and Cactus.

                                      Great Wall - on 35th Ave and Camelback is one of the better dim sum places that I go to...it always seems to be consistent. The problem with most dim sum places in the valley is that the consistency issue. Some days its a hit, some days not.

                                      Venezia's - one of my fav lunch spots on SE corner of Mill and Southern. Really good pizza, NY style. You can get 2 slices and a drink, or 1 slice, salad and a drink for around $5. Always packed around lunch. http://www.venezias.com/Menu.html

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: sundevilgirl

                                        I really like Goleden Wok. Nice people, nice place, nice food. Not exactly hidden, but I completely forgot to include it on my list. Razz's is an excellent call! It's been a few years since I've been there, but I know he's still in business. Razz used to get a lot of run back in the late 80s-early 90s for being one of the best and most creative chefs around -- not much buzz anymore, but still serves up delicious food. I've heard good things about Venezia's but haven't been there yet. A long time ago that space housed a very good pizzeria before being home to one that was absolutely dreadful. Glad to hear it's worth a visit again.

                                        1. re: sundevilgirl

                                          That Carolina's on Cave Creek is my second home.
                                          I also recently tried Latino Mixed Grill on Greenway & 32nd St. Cute little husband and wife place. A blend of Mexican and Honduran food. Tasty food and very reasonable prices.

                                          1. re: ajs228

                                            Unfortunately Lalo & Kensey no longer own Latino Mixed Grill (which is now called Viva Mexican Grill). Due to my work schedule, we haven't been there for a few months. The menu was the same the last time we were there, but it wasn't the same without L&K.

                                            1. re: JPinAZ

                                              Oh no! I only got a chance to try it once, and it was great. Especially the little empanaditas. I guess that's a lesson about putting off until tomorrow what you can eat today.

                                            2. re: ajs228

                                              Carolina's is AMAZING!!!! The prices are unbelievable, too. Other mexican food recommendations:

                                              -Sylvia's La Canasta... best salsa bar ever. 3 kinds of salsa, 2 kinds of chips. Top notch chimichangas.

                                              -Casa Reynosa... be sure to get a cheese crisp with pork as an appetizer.

                                            3. re: sundevilgirl

                                              We've been following Razz (Erasmo Kamnitzer) around the valley for over 25 years (if you want a list of places he's owned or worked at, let me know; you may be surprised). He is one of the best chefs in the valley. To really experience his skill, ask for seating at the "chef's table" (it is at the bar right in front of the main cooking area) and just let him cook what he recommends (you can state the parameters; vegetarian, asian, latin, whatever). The wine is a different story; he has expensive tastes in that regard; the wine list is fairly good, so feel free to choose your own. He loves talking to his customers (especially blond females; yes he is a flirt), but he is a little "out there" somteimes (as is any other artist). One note; some of the paintings mentioned above are his work.

                                              1. re: JC1954

                                                JC1954....we are in total agreement w/ you about Razz....we frequent his restaurant on a regular basis...and consider him a master @ his craft. He is more than accomodating to our guests that have certain food requests and has never disappointed.
                                                Unfortunately he is closed for the Summer...but does re-open when his daughters start back to school and he returns from his summer travels.....

                                                We do enjoy dining @ the Bar have met many nw friends dining there as well.....
                                                and yes...it does help to be blond!!!!!

                                            4. I don't see it ever mentioned on here but we like Yupha's thai restaurant on Hardy and Elliot in Tempe. The food is wonderful and Yupha herself is such a gracious hostess. The lunch specials are a great deal as well. We had a thai exchange student for a year and this was her favorite place nearby to go when she was homesick so I always took that as a good vote of confidence.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: ziggylu

                                                I went to Yupha's once, and had no complaints. I think I had panang, and I remember thinking that it was very similar to what I had at http://www.swaddeethai.com (in Scottsdale).

                                                Yupha's is a bit hidden behind the Olive Garden, but, easy enough to find.

                                              2. Pullano's Pizza 13848 North 51st Avenue On the N.W. corner,always busy with locals,large tables and lots of pizza and wings,probably my favorite wing spot in the valley.

                                                1. La Canasta Capitolio on 15th Ave and Van Buren for their breakfast burritos in the morning and chimi's for lunch. It's clean and welcoming, with a chips and salsa bar that has both the usual corn chips, and fried flour chips too. Plus my lazy bum likes the drive-thru:)

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: yamalam

                                                    We recently tried Chop N' Wok on the corner of Scottsdale and Shea and loved it. It has been there forever and we were really impressed. That and China Village (28th and Indian School) are our favorite for Americanized Chinese food.

                                                    1. re: avandelay

                                                      I have driven by Chop n'Wok countless times, and it looks so sketchy I was never sure if it was even still open. Is it sit-down or just take out?

                                                      1. re: ajs228

                                                        A few seats but mainly take-out. I agree it looks sketchy which is why we never tried it but the food is really quite good.

                                                        1. re: ajs228

                                                          Chop and Wok is worth a try. Little place, run by great people. Large menu with quite the variety in options. Some great, some just good, but nothing ever bad tried (yet). Good vegetarian entrees. They have a fun bar area next door now, too. If I lived in the immediate area, it would definitely become one of my regular, casual haunts.

                                                          Webbie: http://www.chopandwok.com

                                                          1. re: Grey

                                                            Grey,

                                                            We have tried Chop and Wok a few times and nothing wow's us!
                                                            What are some of the dishes you recommend? As we are always willing to give it another try......
                                                            Though I have to say it is much better than Pink Lotus which is across the street.....

                                                    2. What about Guido's. Not the absolute best, but i love the one in Chandler, great atmosphere, beer, taco's and torta's.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: chefstu

                                                        Do you mean Guedo's in Downtown Chandler? If so, I agree it's very good even though I don't get there often. There was a second one in Tempe in the space now occupied by Mucho Gusto. It's a shame Guedo's did not last in Tempe.

                                                        1. re: silverbear

                                                          I also thing Guedo's is great, but geez, a little expensive, IMO for tacos and beer.

                                                      2. To me, Phoenix is one of the most bizarre cities on the planet, the word 'bizarre' having both good and bad connotations. As 'good bizarre' goes, I have enjoyed a couple of visits to a casual Mexican restaurant called Carlsbad Tavern.

                                                        Yes, it's a bad pun on Carlsbad Caverns, and it has a bat motif. They even have their own newsletter, with hammy (batty?) stories. So over-the-top quirky and unpolished that one ends up liking it.

                                                        The restaurant is even quite dark inside, like a cave, though it has nice outdoor seating too.

                                                        The food was very, very good. The pork adovado there, which I had both times I was there, is outstanding and one gets a lot of food for a reasonable price.

                                                        1. i have a place that i think i'd been unfairly classifying in my head as late night drive through. it is fiesta burrito on mcdowell and 74th street. it's a fast food mexican place but it is just good over & over again. i happened to go inside for lunch last week and it was actually super nice & much cleaner than i expected. nice salsa bar as well. my vegetarian sister turned us on to it - recommending their bean chimichangas but i can't stay away from the beef taco combination.

                                                          1. Right now I am in love with Bertha's Cafe on 40th and Thomas.

                                                            This is amazing:
                                                            Asparagus and Havarti Panini $5.50
                                                            Tomato, fresh Mozzarella, roasted red peppers and fresh basil

                                                            http://www.berthascafe.com/

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: travelgirlz

                                                              i'm with you, Bertha's is top notch. Great french toast, great coffee and a vibe in there that is hard to put your finger one. Still cosy, comfy and good chow.

                                                            2. Love Trick's in downtown Tempe..Great food and drink
                                                              The wings at Long Wong's and the Chuck Box in Tempe for one of the best damn cheeseburger!
                                                              9th & Ash for cocktails and a haunted good time...Dash Inn too in Tempe.
                                                              Durant's is my favorite all-time ever..

                                                              1. I like Touch of European Cafe in Glendale. It's great authentic Polish food that my grandmother would definitely approve of. My favorites are the stuffed cabbage (golabki) and the homemade kielbasa.

                                                                1. For all you "westsiders"there is a place I tried last week that came highly recommended and for good reason.It's the "White Eagle Deli" at 16846 W. Bell Rd. suite 109 ,which is Bell at the 303 loop .
                                                                  It's a Polish deli with lots of great choices.I had a Rueben and it was great.There were a lot of items on the menu that I would like to try and will in the future.
                                                                  Very clean with excellent service and food.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: twodogs

                                                                    Been there, and enjoyed it. Not for health nuts. Good Eastern European food. I wasn't thrilled with the cod.
                                                                    http://www.whiteeagledeli.com

                                                                    1. re: johnseberg

                                                                      JT's on 50th street and indians school best wings and 2 for 1 brgers on tuesday. lenny's burgers in glendale great little burger joint.

                                                                  2. A place that I love and never seems to get any coverage is Bavarian Point in East Mesa, located on Main Street between Higley and Greenfield. The food is wonderful. The sauces are always thick and rich - and made from homemade beef broth, made fresh weekly. The goulash soup is to die for. You can't beat the desserts. My regular picks are:

                                                                    Appetizers -
                                                                    Hahnchen auf Spinat (Chicken with Spinach) - chicken tenders sauteed with spinach, bacon, and onion in a rich sauce.
                                                                    Gebackenen Cambembert - Fried triangles of camembert cheese served with berry sauce.

                                                                    Entrees-
                                                                    Forsterkottelet - sauteed pork chops with mushrooms
                                                                    Jagerschnitzel - pork scallop with mushrooms and spatzles

                                                                    Dessert-
                                                                    Geb Applerings - apple rings fried and served in a vanilla sauce

                                                                    They always have some great specials as well usually duck, veal, lamb, or buffalo. All meals come with the salad bar which has typical salad ingredients as well as german potato salad, pasta salad, and different veggie salads.

                                                                    I have to plan ahead to go here and make sure I go famished! I still usually have leftovers and am not hungry for days.

                                                                    1. My favorite chinese food places in the valley seem to get the least exposure.

                                                                      Szechuan palace at the Chinese Cultural Center on 44th St off the 202 has fantastic spicy dishes. It's the one place in the valley I've found that has some fairly authentic dishes. Try the stir-friend potatoes in green chile (or however they're going to present it on an English menu). Just don't go on a Monday, that happens to be the main chef's night off.

                                                                      Diamond on 7th ave North of Indian School is a bit of a dive. You go in, and feel just a little scared at the bareness of the place. however, their food hits the right notes for my taste buds.

                                                                      1. I think that you have mentioned it before at your web site, but Kanpai (or Kampai), at Bell & 30th St., is our favorite sushi bar. The fish they serve is always the best, and they often get stuff that isn't generally available in the valley, such as Spanish Mackerel (Aji?). If you go there often and *are polite* (loud noisy Americans are not appreciated at sushi bars; I am one, but I know to tone it down at the sushi bar (usually)) they sometimes have food that they don't/can't offer unless they know you and know that you're willing to experiment (to try food that most gaijin won't try); they just don't get enough to offer on the menu. There are other items they are are beginning to offer generally (ask if they have the Tuna Tartare available). A couple of notes; this is the only sushi bar in Phoenix where I've had (real) King crab sushi or in rolls, and it is the only sushi bar where my wife has *ever* had Swordfish sushi (she told me it was great; I was out of town at the time, and I tried not to pout to hard when she told me about it).

                                                                        1. Espo's in Chandler is often overlooked. I have loved their tamales since high school with nearly everything else being very good. Their sauces are very spicy, and the prices are very good.

                                                                          -----
                                                                          Espos Mexican Food
                                                                          3863 W Chandler Blvd, Chandler, AZ 85226