Together with friends we have begun exploring the many small ethnic restaurants here in the Valley. To date we have had wonderful dinners at a Cambodian and a Pakistani restaurant but we want to look further. Obviously we are not going to Mexican/Chinese/Italian because these cuisines are wonderful but all to mundane.
So, does anyone have recommendations?
Haji Baba on Apache in Tempe is great for Arabic but closes at 8pm and is like eating in a market. Cafe Lalibella, also in Tempe, is great for Ethiopean with their sourdough crepes/bread injera. I recommend the vegetarian combo.
There are many choices, but one place to start is at Mekong Plaza, a mall in west Mesa that focuses on customers of southeast Asian origin. The full service restaurants there are generally good at offering familiar Vietnamese and Thai fare, but if you want to dig deeper, explore the food court. You'll find three high-quality places there servings lesser known cuisines:
Kong Fu Gyoza -- Chinese, but not the usual stir-fry dishes. Lots of emphasis on street foods with good gyoza, dandan noodles, and other specialties.
Hue Gourmet -- The food of central Vietnam. Bold soups beyond pho, mini rice cakes with shrimp, dishes you won't see at most Vietnamese restaurants
Wholly Grill -- Filipino food, a cuisine that doesn't get much love among non-Filipinos. Try the specials each day.
I have eaten at Pho 43 Express three different times and been very impressed each visit. The Pho is outstanding and is available with many meat choices. Plentiful garnishes. Hu Tieu (pork and seafood noodle soup) also excellent. A good version of bun bo hue (spicy beef noodle soup). I haven't explored the rolls etc, but everything else has been excellent.
The place is a family run restaurant, often noisy and busy, so no atmosphere. But darn good Vietnamese food.