taly itself might close for business in August, but around the Valley, you can nosh all afternoon on bargain bruschetta, well-priced pastas and buono vino.
Amaro Pizzeria and Vino Lounge
28234 N. Tatum Blvd., Cave Creek
From Cowboy Ciao/Kazimierz World Wine Bar alums Tagan Dering and Frank Vairo comes this swanky pizza/wine café. The mellow lounge beckons you to sink into a sofa and stay a while; the paintings evoke scenes of Vairo’s ancestral hometown of Carolei in southern Italy – “near the laces of the boot,” he says. At happy hour, all full-size antipasti are half-off, including wood-fired bruschetta ($3.50); tangerine-sized veal, beef and pork meatballs in tangy marinara ($5); mortadella focaccia ($5); crispy calamari ($5.50); and stupendous shrimp scampi smothered in chile/lemon/garlic butter ($6). Any pizza is $2 off, as well. Drinks include respectable house wines for $5, basic draft beers for $2.50 and well drinks for $3.50. 4-6 p.m. daily.
Cien Agaves Tacos & Tequila
7228 E. First Ave., Scottsdale
You gotta love a restaurant that boasts a full “taco stand.” OK, it’s not an actual stand but a signature section of the menu brimming with more than a dozen tasty tortilla bundles. The boisterous turquoise taquería feels like a day at the beach, and plenty of plates evoke that sunny feeling, too. Shrimp is always an excellent taco-filler choice, be it beer-battered and moistened with sweet-spicy island sauce, or sautéed in fiery guajillo chile sauce cooled a bit with rice. You don’t often see ono tacos around town, and here, they come Tecate beer-battered with Baja sauce and chunky mango salsa, or marinated in sweet tamarind and grilled with
These chilly adult milkshakes, kissed with a bit of liquor, deliver the ultimate brain freeze.
3622 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
As the name suggests, this hip, spanking-new eatery celebrates brats and sausages, but there are delectable extras in the Haus. Owner Dave Andrea knows what diners want with their handcrafted links and crispy Belgian fries: a thick, luscious shake. And Chef Payton Curry kicks it up a notch with a dose of booze: a Nutella malt shake gussied up with chocolate pretzel bits and whiskey; an Adult Date Shake that purees Arizona dates with rum; and a Young Grasshopper cooled with Crème de Menthe and Andes Mints. If all goes well with construction, by the time you read this, Brat will have moved out of the “pop-up” space it’s been operating in its parking lot during building renovations. Eager milkshake fans should give them a call first to make sure they’re up and running. Some things to count on: regional ingredients, like Arizona’s McClendon’s Select and Agritopia fruit, Sonoma’s Straus Family ice cream, and seasonal extras like Oregon huckleberries (the bomb with Chambord) or Meyer lemon Italian crème with vodka.
3633 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
Chef-owner Esther Mbaikambey delivered a lightening bolt to the West Valley last November when she opened her authentic Afro-Caribbean eatery named after a traditional African sticky dough made from starchy cassava-root flour. The outwardly nondescript joint celebrates the vibrant cuisine of her native Nigeria and Jamaica between its mango-hued walls. As for the food, Mbaikambey’s got your goat, mon, and it’s so delicious you’ll wonder why Americans don’t eat more of it. Try goat bundled in cassava leaves stuffed with beef, dried smoked fish and peanuts. Yassa chicken may come from Senegal, but it is international comfort food when marinated and deep fried, set atop sautéed onions, bell peppers and rice, and served with a side of black eyed peas. You won’t be able to stop spooning up dumpling soup – bobbing with carrots, onions, tomatoes, corn and plump dumplings – until every last drop of beef and chicken broth is gone. For a sweet finish, the sugar pie hits the spot, or try the pof-pofs – dense, deep-fried flour dumplings rich with sugar and butter.
Pssst. Have we got some tasty news for you. Here’s the skinny on some super-secret menus at our super Valley restaurants.
668 N. 44th St.
(Cofco Chinese Cultural Center), Phoenix
You’re not crazy. The people at other tables around you are eating more interesting dishes than your Kung Pao chicken. That’s because they’ve got the inside scoop on a more interesting menu, one that’s reserved for diners who appreciate authentic Szechwan specialties instead of Americanized Chinese foods. To be clear, the gringo-ized sweet and sour shrimp served at this colorful, boisterous eatery near Sky Harbor Airport is first-rate. But if you beckon your waiter over and whisper “menu 2,” you’ll be rewarded with delights like pig ear, fuqi feipian (deeply spiced beef offal), slippery stir-fried pig intestine with pickled chile, earthy tea-tree mushrooms burbling fragrantly in a hot pot, or a plate of mixed mountain vegetables spiked with jalapeño. The menu is in Chinese with vague English translation, and most of the staff doesn’t grasp enough English to help explain, so just trust. Not all menu 2 dishes are offbeat; some treasures include tea-smoked duck, dim sum, impossibly moist twice-cooked pork, and a mix of fresh seafoods atop sizzling rice cake.
Think you’re a big eater? Tackle these belt-busting victuals with an unexpected caveat: The food actually tastes terrific.
Papi Chulo’s Mexican Grill
5101 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
Facing down a 6-pound, 2-ounce burrito can be intimidating. Imagine a sofa cushion crossbred with a tortilla, and then fathom trying to cram the whole crazy thing down your gullet. Since the Big Papi Burrito Challenge began last September, more than 50 contenders have gone teeth to tortilla with this brobdingnagian burro.