Shabu Fondue: Chef Johnny Chu's Hot Pots Return in Style

Categories: First Taste

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Lauren Saria
Johnny Chu's new spot is a stylish place for hot pot.
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Shabu Fondue
Location: 7822 N. 12th Street
Open: About a week
Eats: Hot pot
Price: $15 to $20 per person

If you're a fan of hot pot, then you were probably quite disappointed when chef Johnny Chu's T. Spot (formerly Tien Wong Hot Pot) closed its doors earlier this year. Since opening in 2011, the southeast Valley restaurant had been a dining destination for those craving an interactive and unique dining experience unlike anything else in town.

The good news is that Chu's well-loved hot pots are back -- this time in a Sunnyslope strip mall next-door to his other new-ish restaurant concept, RedThai Southeast Asian Kitchen. Abnd though Shabu Fondue only opened its doors last weekend, it's already prepared to make Chu's fans feel right at home.

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Ten Handcrafted American Fare Brings Southern-Style Comforts to The Esplanade

Categories: First Taste

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Lauren Saria
The shrimp and gritcake from Ten is an original take on the southern classic.
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

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Lauren Saria
Inside Ten Handcrafted American Fare at the Camelback Esplanade.
Restaurant: Ten Handcrafted American Fare and Spirits
Location: 2501 E. Camelback Road
Open: About two weeks
Eats: American, Southern
Price: $15 to $20 per person at lunch

"Ten" isn't exactly the most Google-friendly name for a dining spot, so until you consider that it's the middle three letters of chef Jeff Hostenske's last name, it doesn't make much sense. But aside from a strange, numeric name, the latest restaurant to try its luck at the Camelback Esplanade seems to have a few good things going for it.

Hostenske, a former corporate chef for Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill, has firsthand experience with Midwestern and Southern cuisine. That means that unlike other spots in town, he's not just jumping on the comfort food bandwagon, but rather using his experience to cook food that he knows. And you can taste it.

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Arizona Mills' New Food Hall: Burritos By Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza and Sad Noodle Soup

Categories: First Taste

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Lauren Saria
A build-your-own burrito from Tinta at Arizona Mills' shiny new food court -- er, hall.
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

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Lauren Saria
Ooooh! Fancy!
Restaurant: The "Food Hall by Villa" at Arizona Mills mall
Location: 5000 S. Arizona Mills Circle, Tempe
Open: About a week
Eats: 10 new restaurant concepts
Price: About $10 a person

Normally, we don't think twice about the food found in a shopping mall but when we heard that Arizona Mills mall in Tempe was unveiling a renovated, multimillion-dollar, 13,262-square-foot concessions area -- well, we just had to check it out.

Part of the intrigue comes from the fact that one of the 10 new restaurant concepts in the food court hall comes from James Beard Award-nominated chef Silvana Esparza. The concept, called Tinta Mexicana, offers build-your-own burritos, tacos, bowls, and quesadillas.

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Oven+Vine Brings Housemade Bread and Oven-Baked Pasta to Midtown Phoenix

Categories: First Taste

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Lauren Saria
A mushroom and sausage flatbread from Oven+Vine in Phoenix.
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

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Lauren Saria
Inside Oven+Vine
Restaurant: Oven+Vine
Location: 14 West Vernon Ave
Open: About two months
Eats: Brick oven fare
Price: $15-20 per person

When it comes to comfort food, our go-to is carbs. Nothing that can turn a bad day around like a bowl of pasta or a side of toasted bread dipped in olive oil or butter.

For both of these things, Oven+Vine delivers.

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Fogon in Scottsdale: Churro Ice Cream Sandwiches and Steak Fajitas

Categories: First Taste

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Lauren Saria
Steak fajitas
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

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Lauren Saria
Inside Fogon
Restaurant: Fogon Mexican Eatery
Location: 7001 North Scottsdale Road, #147
Open: Just over a week
Eats: Upscale Mexican
Price: $30+ per person

When you first hear the idea "Benihana-style Mexican food," you probably have one of two reactions. Either you think it's a horrible, gimmicky concept or you think, "Well, it might be cool."

(Your reaction is likely to depend on how you feel about onion steam engines and beating hearts of fried rice.)

But when you really stop and consider it, it's not such a far-fetched idea. After all, a lot of Mexican food already is cooked on a grill, so why not just do it in front of the guests to add theatrics to the experience? At least that's what first-time restaurant owner Daniel Correa was thinking when he opened Fogon Mexican Eatery.

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The Standard in Scottsdale: A Restaurant, Market, and Bar in One

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Lauren Saria
The Standard's ahi tuna sandwich
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: The Standard
Location: 10050 N. Scottsdale Road, Ste. 127
Open: Less than a week
Eats: Healthy grab-and-go
Price: $20+ per person

Over the last few months, restaurants with a focus on healthy food and grab-and-go options have been popping up all over town. The Arcadia neighborhood might be the best example of the recent trend, with several of these market/restaurants popping up at all once.

But the newest of this breed of eatery has put its roots down in a different part of town, specifically at 10050 N. Scottsdale Road, in the former home of Abe's of Scottsdale Deli. The Standard serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers the neighborhood two bars, a spacious patio, and market-style takeout dining options.

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Earnest in Chandler: An Olive Oil Cocktail and Savory Monkey Bread

Categories: First Taste

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Lauren Saria
Two cocktails from Earnest, formerly Cork, in Chandler.
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

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Lauren Saria
Inside Earnest
Restaurant: Earnest
Location: 4991 S. Alma School Rd, Sun Lakes
Open: Over a week
Eats: Seasonal American
Price: $30+ a person

For six years Cork was a star in the East Valley dining scene. The restaurant, opened by three alumni from Lon's at the Hermosa Inn, brought a level of culinary excellence to a part of town where fine-dining was -- and is still -- pretty hard to come by. Just last year we spoke to chef Brian Peterson about how the restaurant had struggled to find its niche, but consistent national recognition for the restaurant's wine program and love from local diners seemed to indicate Cork was here to stay.

Alas, it wasn't. On July 1 Cork closed it doors for good and joined a growing list of local restaurants that have decided to redo their concepts to appeal to the more casual dining set. Just over two weeks after closing Cork, the restaurant reopened as Earnest, a seasonal American restaurant with a focus on updated comfort food, craft beer, and American spirits. From the original Cork trio only chef Brian Peterson and pastry chef Danielle Morris remain. Morris' husband Robert, a sommelier who co-owned Cork, isn't involved with the new restaurant.

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The Revival in Tempe: Spirit-Forward Cocktails and Waffle-Wrapped Chicken

Categories: First Taste

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Lauren Saria
Chicken & Waffles
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

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Lauren Saria
Inside The Revival
Restaurant: The Revival
Location: 603 W University Drive, Tempe
Open: Over a week
Eats: New American
Price: $10 - $30 a person

Chef Kelly Fletcher, who spent the last decade running the kitchen at House of Tricks, has a lot of fans in this town. It's not surprising when you learn that he was born and raised here and has worked in Valley kitchens pretty much his entire life. The Revival, which opened its doors on July 1, is the chef's first venture into captaining his own ship. For the project he's teamed up with partner Chad Withycombe, who also owned the space under its former name, Mucho Gusto.

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Justin Beckett's Southern Rail: Southern Food Requires A Little More Soul

Categories: First Taste

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Lauren Saria
Smoked chicken and andouille gumbo
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

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Lauren Saria
Inside Southern Rail
Restaurant: Southern Rail
Location: 300 W. Camelback Road
Open: Over a month
Eats: Southern
Price: $30+ per person

For four years chef Justin Beckett has been serving up New American fare at his Arcadia area restaurant, Beckett's Table. A few weeks ago, he expanded his repertoire to include a second restaurant, Southern Rail, this time focusing on elevated Southern cuisine.

The new restaurant's location -- inside The Newton, a mixed-used development that took over the former home of Beef Eaters Restaurant -- is almost as much of a draw as the chef's name. Southern Rail shares the space with a second location of Tempe's well-loved Changing Hands Bookstore and the (coming soon) gardening supply shop Southwest Gardener.

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Sumo Maya in Scottsdale: Mexican Style Pho and Korean Beef Tacos

Categories: First Taste

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Lauren Saria
Korean Beef Tacos from Sumo Maya in Scottsdale.
When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

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Lauren Saria
Inside Sumo Maya
Restaurant: Sumo Maya
Location: 6562 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Open: About two weeks
Eats: Mexican Asian
Price: $30 per person

Blending two cuisines into a single dish so that both heritages are perceptible but not competing is a challenge. It requires a good understanding of flavor and a creative mind that can deconstruct traditional combinations only to rebuild them in entirely new ways.

At Sumo Maya in Scottsdale chef Herb Wilson does just that. Not every dish on the restaurant's lengthy menu is a perfect 10, but overall it does an excellent job of proving that fusion food doesn't have to be the sort of clunky fare with which we've become all too familiar.

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