A Call To Arms - Four Worthy Mom & Pops
Setting aside food chat site allegiances for the moment, it’s the time of summer when restaurants die. And there’s been what seems like an explosion of really exceptional mom & pop ethnic joints over the past year, and these guys need all the exposure they can get. If these restaurants go under while mainstream joints dominate the conversation, it’d really be a tragedy, because they’re all turning out fabulous food and trying (in some cases struggling) to find their audience. Please check them out. Please discuss them. Help get the word out if you feel they deserve it. Christopher’s, Bourbon Steak and Distrito will still be there.
This is a Pakistani joint on Granite Reef just north of McDowell, and it’s run by an ex-biotech career changer who’s been catering for a few years, and recently jumped on a restaurant space when he found a good deal. The menu’s predictably long on meats and short on vegetables, but the pakoras are exceptional, crisp and beautifully spiced and shockingly light on oil, served in a huge pile with a pair of solid chutneys. All of the grilled meats I’ve tried are delicious, but I’ve found myself especially fond of the Chicken Tikka, charred but tender with a pleasing level of heat and a surprising depth of flavor. The dishes that have been destroying me, however, are the curries. The Beef Nihari (A curry? Listed on that section of the menu, anyway.) puts huge, tender chunks of beef in an oily, spicy curry that’s almost gravy-like, rich and silky with an intense meat flavor – like a celebration of beef bones. The Chicken Qorma is unlike any qorma I’ve had anywhere, thick and sticky and so aggressively spiced that tasting it is total sensory overload. It is *INTENSE*, shockingly complex, whole spices strewn all over the place, and it’s completely fabulous. What’s more, as an illustration that the chef is trying his best to do the right thing, he started doing it with bone-in chicken, switched to boneless when the non-Pakistani crowd complained, and recently switched back because he decided that it’s more important that he make the food the way he knows it should be made. The place is routinely deserted, and it’s a crime. They need help and they deserve it.
Café Ga Hyang
Ga Hyang isn’t new, but they’re approaching their one year anniversary under new ownership, with a completely revamped menu that does Korean the right way and ditched the Chinese save for a couple of Chinese dishes that are now made “Korean style.” It’s run by a couple of Takamatsu’s old cooks, but I never had anything approaching this good at Takamatsu. I suspect they weren’t free to make the food they way they wanted there (though this is speculation on my part). Duk Boki puts chewy rice cakes in a sauce that almost looks like marinara except that it’s made of fire, pureed chiles with loads of garlic. The Haemul Pajeon is one of the best dishes on the menu, not because it’s out of the Korean restaurant mainstream, but because it’s done exceptionally well, with an incredible crisp texture and an abundance of seafood. There are no table grills, so BBQ isn’t a strength, but it’s still solid, my favorite being the Sam Gyup Sahl, thick-cut pork belly served sizzling with salted sesame oil, ssamjang, vinegared lettuce and big chunks of raw garlic and green chile. Naeng Myun is made for Arizona summer, thin, glutinous buckwheat noodles swimming in an ice cold beef broth with Asian pear, cucumber and brisket, and served with a spicy house-made mustard. The Cham Pong is a fiery but deeply flavored soup with tons of seafood and thick, beautifully-textured noodles made fresh in house. But arguably the best thing is the banchan, rarely served fewer than a dozen at a time, all prepared in-house, all brilliantly fresh and vibrant, and a shining example of how these guys are operating at a different level than the other Korean joints in town. They got a great writeup in the New Times a couple of months ago, but the same week they (temporarily) lost their liquor license, and the loss of the late night beer crowd is really hurting them. They won’t have the license until after the summer. I’m worried that might be too late. They need all the help they can get to make it through the summer.
It’s been a good few months for Central Asian. I’ve only been here once, but man, every single time I hear from somebody who’s been here, they had a fabulous meal. I had some Afghani mantoo, tender lamb dumplings bathed in yogurt, a sweet, spiced tomato sauce and a handful of dried mint. This dish is just so damn likeable, and though the sauces seem heavy at first, the lamb shines right on through. The grilled meats here are awesome, and I especially love the Beef Sheesh Kabab, abundant with the natural sweetness of tons of onion, and the Chicken Malai Boti, bursting with bright, fresh herbs and a fairly significant kick. Beef Bolanee was also delightful, a filling of ground meat seasoned with garlic and dried herbs sandwiched between an almost crepe-like bread, crisp and lightly browned with just enough body to retain a bit of bready character. These guys seem to be finding a crowd, but it’s slow going and they deserve better.
Tumi Fine Peruvian Cuisine
It’s tough to find an East Valley Peruvian restaurant that Oscar Graham *hasn’t* had a hand in at some point, but his new place is called Tumi Fine Peruvian Cuisine, and it’s tiny, and it’s exactly what anybody who spent any time at Contigo Peru while he was in the kitchen there has come to expect from him. Papa Rellena, mashed potatoes mixed with beef, raisins, egg and onions, formed into thick torpedoes and fried until they have a crisp exterior and creamy middle, are awesome on their own and better with the accompanying aji amarillo. Seco de Res is almost like Peruvian pot roast, tender beef in a delicious gravy with creamy white beans – a nice Italian influence. The Aji de Gallina I had didn’t quite have the zip of what I get at Contigo Peru, but I like it almost as much and it’s available through the week, not just on the weekend. Arroz con Mariscos had great balance, and a formidable mix of seafood. Really good stuff. It’s been a little while since my last visit (need to get back), but this guy is one of the main reasons we have a surprisingly good Peruvian scene in Phoenix, and on that basis alone he deserves support. That the food rocks makes it easy.
“We're not talking about foodies. Foodies eat where they're told; ... Chowhounds, on the other hand, blaze trails, combing gleefully through neighborhoods for hidden culinary treasure. They despise hype, and while they appreciate refined ambiance and service, they can't be fooled by mere flash.”
Had to Google that one. Help these places and others like them thrive. Show these folks that we appreciate these kinds of restaurants, and demonstrate to others who might be considering going out on that limb that if they do things right, they can succeed. Please, wherever you choose to do it, dig, Chowhounds... dig!
I will throw on here Scottsdale BBQ Company located at Granite Reef and McDonald in the lot with Bashas in the far left corner if you are facing south
Everything is made in house - They do excellent ribs (get the Spicy sauce) and pulled pork - along with all home mades sides, our favorites are the Green Beans (with ham and bacon pieces) and the rice and the baked beans - all the sides are good, however those are our favorites - they have fresh tea and lemonaide if you would like to eat there and they now have a beer and wine license so you can get some cheap pitchers, and since it is near the dog park if you want to eat outside (which might be rough because of the heat) you can bring your dog and sit in the fenced area outside the restaurant - Owner / Staff is very friendly
Saw your post and decided the errands could be ran today in Chandler instead of N Scottsdale and checked out Tumi - It was very good - We did end up going with the Papa Rellena which was delcious along with some of the fried yucca with the green and red aji sauces - For the main we split the Pescado a lo Macho which i thought was a bit better than the last time we had it at Contigo Peru and the fish seemed a bit larger along with a bit more seafood mix, everyone in there dining seemed like they knew each other and were speaking spanish they chef came out to hug one the patrons goodbye - very friendly and inviting atomsphere there - will certainly be back
There is also a yelp deal for Tumi right now $10 for $20 - so that certainly helps if you are on the fence
Dmnkly did the chef from Contigo open a new restaurant? It is only a few miles away from them, suprising they are so close to each other - What goes into aji sauce? The green one is amazing i would eat it with anything :)
Yeah, Oscar Graham was at one point involved with Contigo Peru, then Villa Peru, and now Tumi. Maybe more I missed. It is a little odd that he'd open up just down the street, but then that's what Sun and Nick did at Ga Hyang, too... the difference being that I think Tumi and Contigo are quite similar, while Ga Hyang is head and shoulders above Takamatsu. But it does seem odd that these people wouldn't want to pick a 'hood that's underserved rather than fighting over the same customers, yes.
It's funny you mention the aji verde... we were just discussing that elsewhere last week. I think it's one of those sauces where if you ask around, you're going to get a lot of competing definitions, but my impression is that the cornerstones in the most traditional sense are aji amarillo and huacatay, which might be at least partially responsible for the variance since they're both tricky to come by around these parts (the latter, especially). Some sort of slightly creamy element seems to be a common theme as well, and a lot seem to blend in plain old lettuce, though I suspect that's a way of jury-rigging it when huacatay is unavailable. I'm definitely not an authority on the subject.
Was able to try Kyber Halal on the way home from work one day, and it was very good, I will certainly go there again, it isn't too far away from work - I put this on yelp:
First time having Afgan food and it was delicious - The best way i could describe the food would be a cross between greek and indian food, however that is probably a very inacurate description - We ordered the Mantoo, which was a dumpling with meat inside served with a red spicy sauce and a white yogurt sauce, it was amazingly flavorful, and the young man with the glasses recommended ordering it for a first time visitor, and I would pass that along - We also got the Chicken Karahi, which was spicy chicken meat in a curried sauce - My wife loved this dish enough to go back a few days later and get it again. I normally do not like curry at all, so if a dish has any I generally do not care for it (not that it isnt good, I just won't like it) this chicken was tender, and I actually asked for a couple pieces of it, very unique taste and also highly recommended, the chicken was bone in, super tender, and cooked perfectly. That dish came with fresh baked Nan bread, which wasn't as crispy as Indian Naan bread but not as soft or fluffy as a pita, somewhere inbetween, however very delicious
In answer to people stating they do not have descriptions of what the food is, they have a blogsite that gives you pictures and descriptions of most things on the menu, so just bring your smartphone into the restaurant with you and they have a small sign on each table with the link to it, so you can try to figure out what you want to experience, and they were happy to answer questioins after we read the descriptions and looked at the pictures
That is the description and pictures of most of the food - hope that helps
They are NOT open on Sundays even if the website does say so
I love these suggestions of off-the-beaten path small places. Good work. All but one of those are far away from where I live, so its rare I'll get a chance to eat there. Last night I was downtown, so I planned to eat first at Khyber Halal. When I arrived at about 6:45, I was bummed to see a sign on the door that said "closed due to electrical problems in the kitchen". I was fully gonna grub on the mantoo. Its close to a soup I used to love at an Afghani place in San Francisco called the Helmand. Yogurt, meat, tomato sauce and mint is a great flavor combination.
Ugh, I should have posted something. We were there for lunch yesterday, and midway through our lunch, they shut down and started turning people away. There clearly was some kind of problem in the kitchen... hopefully it's been resolved.
But also, yes, as mentioned above, they're closing early (7:00 PM) through August 20th for Ramadan.
Nice reminder! I used to love something like that at the Helmand in Cambridge, though it wasn't a soup. Mantoo are ravioli, and the dish I'm thinking of was aushuk at the Helmand, also ravioli, with a yogurt-mint sauce and smothered in ground beef. Now I'm hungry.
In a similar vein are Turkish manti. A bit different, but I love the FnB version sometimes on the menu. Pan-fried dumplings filled with lamb and topped with a yogurt-mint sauce and pine nuts.
At the Helmand in SF, they had both aushak like you describe, but they also had a soup version called aush. It was thick noodles in a beef broth topped with meat, tomato sauce, yogurt and the mint. So good!
When I lived in Istanbul, Turkey, they didn't fry manti, they boiled them. The yogurt sauce was very garlicky and the mint wasn't used, just the tomato sauce. I'm sure there are variations from region to region.
I think all of these dishes are related, but I'm not sure of the family tree.
I'm gonna try again for Khyber Halal to have this dish again!
Thank you so much for this post. I have gotten out of the habit of checking the Phoenix Chowhound board because the same restaurants are discussed over and over. We live in northwest Glendale, home of the chains, andwe wish we had more of these ethnic mom and pops near us. But your post gives us some new ideas for destinations to explore.
Speaking of Glendale, a new Asian supermarket opened last week near us at Bell between 51st and 59th Aves. I hope this means our neighborhood Asian population is growing and some new authentic Asian restaurants will follow.
Was fortunate enough to FINALLY get to Cafe Ga Hyang last night with Dmnkly. We had a group of nine, so a chance to try quite a few dishes, including those mentioned above - Duk Boki, Haemul Pajeon, Sam Gyup Sahl, Naeng Myun, Cham Pong. Delicious. I especially loved the Naeng Myun as it was the first time having this chilled soup, served with hot mustard. Another surprise was the "Kung Pao Shrimp" served Korean style, Crispy batter, tender shrimp, spicy sauce. Delicious. Really happy to have this close to where we live in the NW Valley.
First picture is the banchan. I'm no expert, so open to corrections on the proper names. We had three sets last night for the table: Danmuji (yellow pickled radish), cabbage kimchi, myulchi bokkeum (dried anchovies with shishito peppers), kong jang (sweet soybeans), sukju namul (bean sprout salad), dubu buchim yangnyumjang (pan-fried tofu with sauce), gamja jorim (braised potatoes), radish kimchi, odeng banchan (fish cakes), and musaengchae (daikon salad). Also the Kung Pao Shrimp and the panjeon.