Mejico in Central Phoenix Delivers Well-Prepared, Northern Mexican-Inspired Fare

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Enchiladas de Res, Queso Fundido, and Chile Relleno with flan.
If the crowds at Mejico Cocina Mejicana are any indication, there's room for another Mexican restaurant in Phoenix.

And if the well-­prepared, northern Mexican-­inspired fare there is a guarantee, this cool, contemporary restaurant, opened in February in the old Linda's space, ought to be around for a long time.

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Chef Bernie Kantak's The Gladly: Neat New American Cuisine

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Chef Bernie Kantak's cuisine won't have you missing Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.
Anyone waxing melancholy about the loss of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse either hadn't eaten there during the sad year before that venerable steakhouse was shuttered or has yet to dine at The Gladly, which moved into Ruth's longtime location late last summer. Even if the owners of Scottsdale's award-winning Citizen Public House, the powerhouse behind The Gladly, weren't offering impossibly inexpensive happy hour prices on house cocktails and high-end appetizers, Chef Bernie Kantak's tasty lunch and dinner menus would be reason enough to celebrate this neat New American restaurant.

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Gertrude's at The Desert Botanical Garden

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Gertrude's tuna sandwich
I was determined, while dining at Gertrude's, not to be distracted by the chatter of tourists seated at tables on either side of mine at this Desert Botanical Garden hotspot. Fortunately, the food on Gertrude's recently redesigned menu was mostly so dreary, it was impossible to think of much else.

Because this restaurant, named for Desert Botanical Garden founder Gertrude Divine Webster, caters to that year-round, garden-visiting tourist trade, I expected a surplus of popular foods and a ton of clever Southwestern cuisine. There was plenty of such fare when Chef Steve Eldridge was at the helm of the kitchen here, and nearly all of it was excellent. And while there's lots of prickly pear jus and Queen Creek calamatas to be found among the new, post-Eldridge sides and entrées, very little of what my dining companions and I ordered proved tasty enough to finish.

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10 Places to Eat Calamari in Metro Phoenix

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Fez in Phoenix offers fried calamari with a side of paprika aioli.
My grandmother referred to it in the singular: calamaro. I saw her prepare squid only once, in the late 1970s while visiting my parents and me from her home in Ohio. I watched Grandma while she cleaned the ugly thing, removing the body from the tentacles; cutting the body in half and then into strips. She'd already soaked the slimy pink mollusk in milk; I'd encountered it floating in a bowl in the fridge when I returned from school the day before.

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Ancient Chinese Secret: Asian Hong Kong Diner in Tempe Serves Excellent Cantonese Cuisine

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Peking duck and garlic snow pea leaves.
A meal at Hong Kong Asian Diner in Tempe is like eating at your favorite aunt's house. That is, if your aunt owned a Chinese restaurant that served expertly executed Cantonese cuisine.

On Sunday nights, multi-generational Chinese families usually occupy the large tables in the center of the restaurant's clean but dated dining room. Owner Choi Kuang flits from one party to the next, making enthusiastic conversation with customers and urging guests to finish this dish or that.

She usually will be your server, and be warned: She's a powerful force -- in a good way.

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Tarnished Treasure: 24 Carrots in Tempe Misses the Mark

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercadetti
Tacos, a carrot overeasy drink with an Arizona bowl.
I believe that you should eat whatever makes you feel good and stay away from whatever doesn't. When I heard about 24 Carrots, a Tempe restaurant and juice bar specializing in vegan cuisine, I was excited, because meat-free food has come a long, long way since the advent of the Tofurkey. Unfortunately, for a restaurant that specializes in promoting vegan and raw food, 24 Carrots offers little in the way of innovation, and the food is just not great.

There seems to be a gaping void at 24 Carrots. The space feels incomplete, the source of the ingredients is shrouded in mystery, the food is generally missing flavor, and the service is spotty at best. There is no sign above the storefront. Handwritten notes and store hours are Scotch-taped to the doors. I would be willing to give the slow service and half-finished décor the benefit of the doubt if this were a brand-new restaurant. But 24 Carrots opened its Tempe location in December after a five-year stint in Chandler -- it seems the owner has had more than sufficient time to work out the kinks.


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Breaking the Cyclo: After 12 Years, Cyclo in Chandler Could Use A Fresh Start

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Bun Cha Ha Noi (left), Bun Sai Gon (right).
Entering Cyclo for the first time, you'll notice one thing before anything else: owner Justina Duong. On a recent summer evening, she's wearing a flowered maxi dress, dramatic false eyelashes, and a hip pixie cut. Her elegance appears effortless, like she's a guest herself. She immediately starts talking to a new customer about moon cycles and how the heat affects them, as if she's chatting with a gal pal over Cosmos.

After 12 years in business, it's obvious that Duong must know what she's doing at her Chandler Vietnamese fusion restaurant, Cyclo.

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The Pride of Guadalupe: San Diego Bay Restaurant Offers High Quality Food at Low Cost

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Shrimp cocktail and marlin tacos
Despite aspirations to the contrary, the Phoenix metropolitan area is largely a provincial town. Especially when it comes to food, we rarely leave our comfort zone. In a literal sense, we stay put. Restaurants in the west Valley rarely draw customers from Gilbert, and residents of Scottsdale often can't even tell you how to get to Chandler. By and large, we eat where we sleep, forgetting that better - or more interesting - food is more than a few miles away.

And no place in the Valley is more forgotten than the town of Guadalupe. Drive south on Priest and you'll know you've hit Guadalupe when the landscape suddenly changes as you cross Baseline. Despite sitting in the shadows of the fabricated civilization of Arizona Mills and Ikea, Guadalupe - with roughly 5,000 residents - is the town that time forgot. Largely Hispanic and economically depressed, some of the nicest structures in town are the brightly painted bus shelters. It is not a picture of prosperity.

But nestled in a sleepy corner of a desolate outdoor square is San Diego Bay Restaurant, and it's reason enough to get outside your comfort zone and visit Guadalupe no matter how far the drive. It's a cheery and spotless space, with brightly painted blue walls, mismatched banquettes, bright lights and the chatter of a wall mounted television which alternates between Univision and the Cartoon Network. Whatever it lacks in warmth is made up for by friendly, proud and welcoming staff and some of the best Mexican style seafood outside of Rocky Point.

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The Hunt for Good Escargot in Metro Phoenix

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Escargot with bone marrow from Peite Maison in Scottsdale.
You think of them, perhaps, as garden pests. For me, they are a favorite meal. I eat snails. With a glass of good rosé and the proper amount of French bread, escargot are on my comestibles short list.

I've eaten them in sauces and in phyllo purses, wrapped in sourdough and cooked into stews, and once, very memorably, in a mediocre cassoulet at a place called Patin Couffin in Fayence, a small Provençal village. I remember more about Virginie, the transsexual septuagenarian who ran the place, than I do the cassoulet, in part because her English was so good and because she noticed that my hair was in dishabille and, licking the palm of her hand, patted it back into place. (Also, she sat down at our table, advised us against the fish course, and never stopped talking. Also, there was the part about how she used to be a man and now she was an old woman in a halter top.)

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Lunch Be a Lady: Exploring the Arcadia Lunch Scene

Categories: Cafe Review

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Jackie Mercandetti
Grilled Yellow Fin Tuna Nicoise Salad, asparagus soup, and charcuterie from The Market by Jennifer's.
If you're lucky enough to lounge during lunch like a modern-day Oscar Wilde character, you have plenty of options. Arcadia has expanded its lunch game in the past year with more and more places that cater to the upper-crust, midday meal crowd. Chestnut, Flower Child, and The Market by Jennifer's are three recent additions to the scene.

Each caters to the persnickety demands of the clientele it seeks to win over with gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and other dietary options clearly labeled so that no one has to wonder -- though customers tend to loudly ask anyway. The restaurants also gravitate toward a vintage and quaint yet chic aesthetic that says, "I take myself and my lunch seriously."

If you're willing to drop a 20-spot or more on lunch, you're welcome to navigate the highs and lows of this rapidly increasing East Phoenix neighborhood's offerings. While Flower Child and Chestnut suffer from identity issues, The Market by Jennifer's goes for a more comforting culinary approach, resulting in less healthy but more interesting fare.

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