El Pollo Supremo

There are plenty of restaurants that make an effort to please everyone. Sometimes, that means accommodating reasonable requests for modifications to a dish. It can also mean adding a token entree outside a place’s usual niche in order to override the veto of one member of a group considering a meal there.Those are all understandable steps to take, but it’s easy to get carried away with excessively long menus mired in mediocrity. That’s why it’s refreshing that places like El Pollo Supremo carry on with tightly focused menus that don’t try too hard.

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M’Olé

Mole, the Mexican sauce often associated with ground chilies, spices, and even sometimes chocolate, can be a complex dish. Secret recipes, tacit knowledge, and a certain amount of improvisation can create the nuance that makes each mole unique. It’s a welcome surprise then that mole is the namesake dish at a simple order-at-the-counter lunch spot on the ground floor of a downtown office tower. The restaurant’s name, M’Olé, is both a nod to the signature sauce and a play on the Spanish interjection used to express approval or celebrate victory.

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Slices on Mill

At first glance, Slices on Mill seems like a typical New York pizza place. It’s location three blocks south of the Mill Avenue / Third Street light rail station is cramped and casual. There are a few high-top tables and two counters, most of them adorned with shaker jars of crushed red pepper. A small patio provides additional dining space. The front counter usually has multiple types of pizza on display. In ordinary times when nearby Arizona State University is at its full population, the restaurant caters to the bar crowd by maintaining late hours until 3 AM on weekends.

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Ramen Kagawa

The movie “Blade Runner,” set in a fictional version of 2019, shows a bleak future. With 2020 being defined by a global pandemic, record heat, and social unrest, the actual present doesn’t always seem much better than the world envisioned in the movie. One memorable scene involves a stop for a meal at a crowded noodle shop in a busy alley. The experience of a quick stop for nourishment in a bustling environment is hard to find with so many downtown workers at home for now, but Ramen Kagawa has bravely opened in the middle of all the malaise.

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Myke’s Pizza

As restaurants struggle to remain in operation while complying with public health directives, many have found themselves expanding into the sidewalk and even the street with enlarged outdoor dining areas. Downtown Mesa has embraced this trend, allowing places to use more exterior space than ever before, one adaptation to the virus that might be worth making permanent. As so many restaurants move outside, there’s one, Myke’s Pizza, that was actually born outdoors on Main Street before migrating to a home inside another business, Cider Corps.

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Four Peaks Brewing Company

It has been about five years since the surprise announcement that local favorite Four Peaks, one of the craft beer pioneers in Arizona, was being acquired by the multinational giant Anheuser-Busch InBev. That news, one of many acquisitions of regional breweries, led to concern about the transaction’s impact on other craft beer producers and inevitable accusations of “selling out.” While the financial arrangements may be different behind the scenes, it’s reassuring that little has changed, and some aspects have even improved, for the consumer.

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Pho Leo

Anyone searching for Vietnamese food, or really any east Asian cuisine, in Mesa is likely to head to Dobson Road, the corridor where countless restaurants have proliferated over the past decade. The Asian Business District at the west end of Mesa is worth exploring and celebrating for sure, but it’s equally important to recognize restaurants serving Vietnamese food in the central and eastern portions of the city. Pho Leo is one of those few places that break the mold with a location where the tracks in the center of Main Street end and east Mesa begins.

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Tea Avenue

Tea is a beverage that has been enjoyed in one form or another for thousands of years. Ever since the first leaves were mixed with boiling water in ancient China, tea has become popular around the world, not only in neighboring lands, but also in the European nations that colonized much of Asia. With millennia of tradition behind the drink, it might be tempting to view tea as beholden to immutable tradition. Tea’s heritage is important, but the beverage continues to evolve with new flavors, techniques, and blends served at modern shops like Mesa’s Tea Avenue. Continue reading “Tea Avenue”

Azukar Coffee

There are many changes in a neighborhood that can be seen as a sign of gentrification. The arrival of coffee houses is sometimes among them. The worst case scenario is that patrons of a specialty espresso shop will displace long standing residents of the surrounding area. The better outcome is a coffee house that reflects its neighborhood’s culture and heritage, promoting community among existing populations while welcoming new customers. As South Phoenix anticipates the changes to come with light rail, Azukar Coffee clearly fits in the second category. Continue reading “Azukar Coffee”

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House

Even before the 2020 pandemic started to make crowded kitchens a source of concern, the restaurant industry, especially the fast food aspect of it, was embracing robotics and automation. At the same time, some places have gone in the opposite direction by stressing a hand-crafted aspect of their food, even in ways that are somewhat silly (e.g. “hand-dipped” ice cream). At Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, the hand-crafted origin of its signature product is authentically and meaningfully reflected in the restaurant’s name and menu. Continue reading “Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House”

Curry Corner

With its streets forming a regular grid of arterials placed one mile apart and intersecting at right angles, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between corners in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. There are subtle irregularities in the addressing system, but it takes something locally rare, streets intersecting at something other than 90 degrees, to stand out. In Tempe, the irregular intersection of Terrace and Apache is distinguished not only by the obtuse angle joining the streets, but also Curry Corner, a restaurant that incorporates its location into its name. Continue reading “Curry Corner”

Kaizen

Call them “ghost”, “virtual,” or “cloud” kitchens. Regardless of the name, the idea of restaurants with their own menus and brands but no on-site dining was already taking off in 2019. The pandemic of 2020 has only accelerated the trend, sometimes without much transparency. A single kitchen may prepare several types of food under myriad brands with availability limited to third-party delivery services with steep fees. Kaizen, named for the Japanese idea of quality improvement, lives up to its name with a better version of a virtual restaurant focused on sushi. Continue reading “Kaizen”

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