2 week visit to Phoenix-- must eats?
I've been in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in Asia for the past year and am heading back to the valley for a couple of weeks before heading back for work... I want to hit up all of the international and comfort foods in Phoenix, specifically the Tempe/Chandler/Gilbert areas. Please give me your suggestions for must-eats. Thanks!
Focusing specifically on the East Valley, I'd recommend the following:
Mekong Plaza -- This is the new, mostly Vietnamese shopping center at the SWC of Dobson & Main in west Mesa. Mekong Market is the anchor supermarket, and there are several good restaurants there. To start with, there's unPhogettable which specializes is rice noodle soups. You may see some dismissive remarks suggesting that you should never eat pho at a place with punny name, but I've had consistently good meals at this place, including not only standard menu items, but also interesting daily specials. Across the hall, there's Com Ban Truan Kieu, which specializes in broken rice dishes. It's also quite good. Elsewhere in the plaza you'll find a Thai restaurant, a Chinese-Vietnamese place with karaoke, a Filipino fast food place, a Taiwanese place, and a tart froyo store. All are worth exploring.
Several miles south along the Dobson Corridor, Phoenix Palace Buffet has emerged as the area's best dim sum. Despite the word "buffet" in the name, the weekend dim sum is the full experience with carts full of steaming goodies. After the dim sum extravaganza, walk over to the Lee Lee market for some shopping.
Over in Gilbert's Heritage District, Joe's Real BBQ is an all-American experience with excellent smoked meats and sides in a charming historic setting. The cheesy potatoes are a must. Across the street is Liberty Market, a more modern-looking place from some of the same people behind Joe's. There you'll find a variety of foods, espresso, etc. in a fast-casual environment.
In Tempe, I think the ultimate international comfort food is found at the Cornish Pasty Company, which takes the pocket sandwiches favored by Welsh miners and updates them with all sorts of fillings from a variety of culinary traditions. The eggplants parmigiana pasty is my favorite, but they're all good. Nice selection of draft beers to go with the food.
Just across the street is Essence Bakery, which serves sandwiches, salads, and pastries. The macaroons are particularly good.
Heading into Downtown Tempe and the Mill Avenue District, some comforting favorites include Restaurant Mexico for inexpensive, Interior Mexican food; In Season Deli for fresh, healthful lunches; and Rula Bula for fish and chips, bangers and mash, etc.
A little bit to the east near ASU, I like Paradise Hawaiian BBQ and Mai Island grill for plate lunches of grilled meat, mac salad, etc. Paradise adds some interesting Korean sides to make things even more varied. Just a block or two away, Phoenicia serves excellent Middle Eastern food. Some of the signature dishes are the couscous and hummus deluxe. I believe there's another Phoenicia location somewhere in Gilbert, too.
That's just a quick list of some favorites the come to mind, but I'm sure there are many other possibilities I'm not even thinking of this early in the morning.
For New Mexican, Los Dos Molinos (Mesa) and Si Senor (Chandler) are both very good. Love the green chili sauce and bean dip at Si Senor.
Opposite Mekong palace, Asian Café Express has good, cheap, authentic (so I'm told) Hong Kong style food. For some reason, anything with black bean sauce is identified as "black pepper" on the menu. The noodles with spare ribs in black bean sauce are great.
For Thai, I think Latitude Eight (Chandler) has the best Thai food in the valley. In fact, my Thai wife and I think it's better than Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas (L8 fish cakes make LoS fish cakes look like hockey pucks). My favorite dish is the Phad Kra Pao, pork/chicken sauted with basil and garlic, and topped with a soft fried egg (just checked this on the menu, and it's Basil Leaf Chicken). L8 is more expensive than the typical Thai place.
Lee's Sandwiches just across the street from Phoenix Palace Buffet / Lee Lee's does Banh Mi Sandwiches starting at 2.50, and fresh Vietnamese baguettes (baked every half hour) for a dollar. Custard-filled french horns for 1.25.
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Go to Jean Georges Vongeichten's restaraunt, J&G Steakhouse inside of the Phoenician! Start in the lounge with one of the fabulous cocktails...they have a few talented bar chefs creating these beverages, some of them are pre-Prohibition recipes. From the dinner menu, the tuna tartare is a great start, there's a tasty ginger marinade surrounding the tuna and avocado! Sweet and sour pork belly is heavenly, and they have some of the best oysters in the country. The steaks with any of the house made steak sauces will knock your socks off...I'm drooling just thinking about the steak! This restaraunt might be a little bit outside of the area you wanted to stay within, but it's worth a few more minutes in the car. I'm not the only one who thinks this; check out their reviews on other websites.