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Ethnic food in Phoenix

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  • Sarah C Jan 31, 2003 09:07 AM
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My husband and I moved to New Orleans five years ago from Southern California. We have found that we miss the west a lot, and will probably eventually move back in that direction. We have also discovered that we like big cities, as opposed to New Orleans which is a small city without the ethnic diversity and variety of international foods that we loved in the LA area.

I lived in Tucson years ago and love the city but I don't think that's the answer to our ethnic diversity issue. How diverse is Phoenix? Is there a significant Asian population? (We've found that Houston has an Asian population, with wonderful Chinese noodle shops, etc., almost as vast as that in Los Angeles.) Is there "real" dim sum in Phoenix? How about other immigrant groups? It goes without saying, of course, Phoenix has a huge Latino population, with accompanying food options. And what about grocery shopping -- are there really good sources of fresh produce (also another sore spot for New Orleans)? Farmers' markets? I know there are Trader Joe's stores and that's a big plus!

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  1. A 99 Ranch market had just opened up in Phoenix while I was working there a couple of years ago...in fact it's one of those "mall" like situations...like 99 anch Market in Vegas...it was pretty new so I'm sure that other restaurants and such have opened up around it.

    1. i
      IamJacksBrain

      Where to start? There isn't a huge Asian (or any other ethnicity besides Mexican that I can think of) population here in Phoenix, but that doesn't mean there isn't good Asian food to be found, you just have be diligent. I would say Chinese is Phoenix's major weak spot; there are a lot of Chinese restaurants, but few good ones. You probably won't find the class or variety of Chinese in, say, Houston or LA. I'm not sure what you mean by "real" dim sum, but there are a few restaurants here that offer dim sum. They each have their strong points, but of the ones I've been to C-Fu Gourmet is still the best for dim sum.

      There aren't any farmers' markets around here that I know of (that's not my thing), but there are the usual assortment of Asian and Middle Eastern markets. Lee Lee is probably the biggest since they're the size of a supermarket, and their variety is pretty good (they cover the Asian continent, and some non Asian countries as well).

      I hope this helps.

      1. I'm not going to start a defensive string on New Orleans here, but if you're living there and you don't find it to be full of a great diversity of ethnicities, historically and today, you must be living a very isolated corner of Kenner!

        Seriously, before you leave, get out and explore, get a copy of "Gambit" and check out the restaurant section. Variations of Latin, Asian, African and Caribbean cuisines await you! Post on the N.O. board on this site for suggestions!

        No, New Orleans is no longer a "big city" population-wise, but in terms of cultural variety, especially for its size, it's hard to beat in the region.

        Link: http://www.bestofneworleans.com/dispa...

        5 Replies
        1. re: Leo in B.R.

          "In the region" maybe . . . unfortunately we moved here from a region far more diverse. There cannot be too many ethnic-ish restaurants in New Orleans we haven't tried, and yes, we follow Gambit, T-P, Chowhound and other reviews religiously. The best non-traditional NO food we've found here is Vietnamese. We just have this craving for authentic Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Iranian, and other foods that do not exist here. (No, we don't live in Kenner, but we did recently discover a good Indian restaurant there.)

          1. re: Sarah C

            I have only one suggestion-Don't move here! I have lived in Boston and the Bay Area, and for the last 5 years in Phoenix. I was restraining myself from being too vicious about the lack of ethnic dining options in town, but I have to let loose just a little bit. You will have no trouble finding good mexican food here, that's a given. Otherwise, the pickings are slim. I have run across a few decent middle eastern restaurants and a great Ethiopian place, have heard good things about a thai place, and found one good south Indian restaurant. I have never had good chinese food here, and I've tried several places. That's about it, in the country's sixth largest city! I've almost given up on most "ethnic" food (although, being a chowhound, I will keep trying).

            As for grocery shopping. The picture is a little brighter. There are a couple of large Asian markets with good produce departments. There is a great produce market in Guadalupe, a small hispanic community nestled just southeast of Phoenix proper. The farmers' markets I have visited have been disappointing (they grow a lot more cotton in Arizona than foodstuffs). There is also a chain of upscale grocery stores (AJ's) and Whole Foods, which have good produce selections. Trader Joe's is a big plus. Unfortunately, with no natural barriers (mountains, water, etc.) the Phoenix metro area has just spread out further and further, so while all the places I mention are in the "Valley of the Sun," they could end up being 20-30 miles away from where you end up.

            1. re: kjhart

              Thanks for the input -- I think you'll agree with me that where you've lived in the past colors your opinion of a new city of residence. I would have guessed that if there is a 99 Ranch Market there must be some decent noodle shops and the like nearby; have you gone looking? We will have to visit Phoenix one of these days and scout around, but it doesn't sound like our ideal destination at the moment. The best we've found outside of LA is Houston, but that city is dreadfully congested and doesn't have a lot of visual appeal.

              What to do?? Well, we're not making any major moves for awhile.

              1. re: Sarah C

                This link may help for Phoenix.....

                Link: http://www.cofcochineseculturalcr.com...

                1. re: Sarah C

                  As a chef and a phoenix transplant from Houston and somone who has traveled...ALOT. I would have to say Houston is the most grastonomically diverse city in the country. Phoenix does not compare, not even close. I will agree Houston is huge and cogested and not very visually appealing. but leave ten minutes early, get an E-Z Tag,and take the beltway. Over head in Houston is low, meaning house prices, so you'll have extra money to travel to more appealing places. I would say a second more pretty option is Austin. thats one diverse friggin place right there, and the nigt life rocks.

          2. A few personal favorite New Orleans Ethnic places-

            Vietnamese -Tahn Dhin, Pho Tau Bay, Nine Roses, Kim's, Kim Sons, Hi Do Bakery, Dong Phong Bakery & Restuarant.

            Central American -Baraca, Pupuseria Divino Corazon, Beinville Street Restaraunt, Los Comales, Union Supermarket.

            Middle Eastern -Jerusalem Deli, Mona's, Lebanon's

            Thai -Sabai

            African -Benachin

            Indian -Taj Mahal on Metarie Road

            But frankly, I suggest real New Orleans joints for the local flavor which can't be duplicated elsewhere in the country (and I've tried Tucson and Phoenix "New Orleans style" restaurants). Here are a few- Liuzza's New Orleans Italian and seafood on Bienville, Dunbar's Soul Food on Freret, Jack Dempsey's seafood in the ninth ward, Sid-Mar's seafood in Bucktown, New Orleans Food and Spirits. Really there are inummerable local places and po-boy joints which you simply can't get in LA. I've tried that, too!

            1 Reply
            1. re: CPL

              My favorite Vietnamese restaurant is Pho Bang---get #35 marinated thinly-sliced beef & shrimp that you grill at your own table. Add deliciously fresh cilantro, cucumbers, lettuce, etc. to make your own summer rolls. It is fabulous! I love their marinated grilled pork over rice--yum!! Their pho is decent also.

              Go when you have time to relax & not be on schedule. The service is very slow.

              Lots of Vietnamese people go there...1702 W Camelback Rd # 13, Phoenix, AZ 85015.

            2. The Phoenix-area does have it's share of quality Asian restaurants--Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, etc.; however, compared to many other major urban areas of similar size, it still has a lot of catching up to do. On top of that, since Phoenix is so entirely auto-centric and spread out, it can be additionally hard to even find those quality restaurants that DO exist without prior research and or advisement from knowledgeable locals. Things just aren't always as obvious here (unfortunately).

              As for "real" dim sum, I second C-Fu Gourmet in Chandler (Dobson/ Warner). If you're ever in town, I highly recommend. I've had great dim sum in several places back east and in California, and though it may not be the best, it can definitely hold it's own. http://www.cfugourmet.com/

              As far as heavily concentrated Asian neighborhoods, there aren't too many. Currently the suburbs of Mesa and Chandler boast some of the largest and most visible Asian communities. There are definite clusters of Asian markets, restaurants, stores, etc., popping up in those cities. Particularly along Dobson Rd--between Broadway and Southern in West Mesa, and between Elliot and Warner (-ish) in NW Chandler. Of course, other spots do exist.

              There is always the already mentioned Chinese Cultural Center in East Phoenix, which houses our largest and most popular Asian market, as well as a small collection of very good Chinese restaurants. http://www.phxchinatown.com/

              For other Asian markets that I know of off the top of my head: I second Lee Lee in Chandler (NE corner Dobson/ Warner), and another, smaller one in Mesa (NW corner Dobson/ Southern) ... it's name eludes me right now for some reason.

              On another note: Downtown Phoenix has a great year-round farmer's market that debuted last year. Every Saturday morning, rain or shine. http://www.phoenixpublicmarket.com/

              1. Wow. I have to admit that I may be a little biased -- I've lived a *lot* of different places, including southern Cal, and the Valley is the place that I've chosen to live; I love it here -- but I am really surprised that there are people who live here who are disappointed in the ethnic food options. Sure, it's not like Boston or NYC where you get take-out in minutes, but a little investigation nets you not only incredible variety, but what I think is good quality chow, too. It's worth driving, it's worth getting out of your immediate neighborhood to find the gems. And depending on where you are, you don't even have to go far. The tech industry in the east valley has meant that a lot of engineers from a lot of pan-asian and middle-eastern countries have come here and brought their families, and their folks have opened up great places to eat. And, we have the now second-largest university in the nation. People come here from all over, and they demand a taste of home when they get here.

                We have excellent greengrocers -- Sprouts, Henry's, AJ's, 99 Ranch, Lee Lee's (which is legendary even among my OC friends) -- to the point where I hardly bother with Trader Joes', I find their quality to be substandard compared to what I'm used to. We have Farmer's markets in every suburb.

                Here, we have easy access to: French, Indonesian, Filipino, Hawaiian, Korean, Japanese, dim sum, pho, omakase, Vietnamese, Iranian, Turkish, Ethiopian, Greek, northern and southern Indian, Thai, Irish, Italian, excellent pizza, Sonoran Mexican, Oaxacan Mexican, New Mexican, Texan and Tennessee BBQ, Michoacan Mexican, Jaliscan Mexican. That's off the top of my head; I have a favorite place or places in mind for each of those categories.

                My best friend moved to a nice area in Houston, and she very much misses the desert. She gets good chow there in the swamp, but her visits back here are a whirlwind of getting all the cravings they just don't have there, and not just decent mexican. Plus, she's tired of the creeping mold and sweating all the time.

                1. Farmers markets...plenty of them. The best is Downtown Farmers Market on Saturdays from 8 or 9 am (don't remember the exact opening time) until about 1 PM at McKinley near Central. Go to Matt's Big Breakfast (around the corner) for a wonderful breakfast or lunch before or after the market although there is plenty to eat at the market. Most of the ethnic Asian restaurants are in the east valley-Chandler, Gilbert and around there. For dim sum, I prefer Golden Buddha at the Chinese Cultural Center at 44th and Van Buren. There are many "ethnic" small eateries near ASU in Tempe.

                  1. Interesting that this thread has been revived after nearly four years. We did move to Phoenix in May 2004 (we congratulate ourselves on our timing, as it caused us to miss Katrina). We have explored many parts of the Valley and have found many ethnic cafes and restaurants, as well as more mainstream places. For Chinese food including dim sum, we usually go to Great Wall, which is really pretty decent and populated mostly with Asian diners. We have found lots of Korean and Vietnamese food (yes, we've been to Pho Bang and others); some decent Indian food (favorite is Udupi), Greek, Japanese, and of course a lot of Mexican places of various descriptions. We've had Ethopian and Turkish and Salvadorean and Ecuadorean. We have not found any Thai that compares to what we could get in Los Angeles. Still hoping to find a little hole-in-the wall Cuban cafe (Havana isn't what we're looking for). Haven't been to that Downtown Farmers Market so I will check that out one of these days.

                    Overall, for our tastes Phoenix is a better restaurant town than New Orleans due to the diversity, although we miss the fresh seafood. As someone pointed out before we moved here, there aren't really specific parts of the city that are "Chinese" or "Vietnamese" or whatever, so you have to search out the individual restaurants around the city. As people continue to move to this area, I think we will become more and more ethnically diverse. We do still miss the incredible availability of any conceivable cuisine that we found in the Los Angeles area.

                    Sarah C

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: kittyfood

                      Have you tried Lemon Grass on Broadway in Tempe? That is the best Thai restaurant we have found so far. Pretty good, and will be better once they get liquor license.

                      1. re: Tobelo

                        I would also recommend Thai Elephant downtown. During the weekday, it might be a hassle to go downtown, but on a weekend (even when there is a game), you will have no problem parking right in front.

                        Asia de Cuba (at the Mondrian hotel) isn't hole-in-the-wall authentic Cuban by a long shot, but it is good, and a pretty neat scene. Not at all what you are looking for, but I would recommend it nonetheless, as it is a nice dining experience.

                        1. re: Booger

                          I will have to ry Asia de Cuba . I just tried Babaloos in Ahwatukee and the place is a little upscale but the food was flavorful which is great. I was getting a little tired of hot mexican fare.

                          1. re: arrazola88

                            be prepared to spend tho. with a drink or two you'd easily spend upwards of 75 bucks a person there just sharing a couple things.

                            1. re: winedubar

                              Place is spendy, but they have appetizer and happy hour specials... not to mention we showed up on a Thursday and they had $3 you call its and ladies night specials...and a pretty cool Cuban band! not too bad IMO...