Okay, how about this: The food, which effectively combines elements of Persian, Mediterranean and Russian cuisines (Uzbekistan is a former Soviet republic), is remarkably fresh, flavorful and healthful. It’s the kind of place you want in your black book for a no-frills, restorative lunch or that quick dinner pickup after a long day. You’ll feel good about what you’re eating and how little it costs.
The fare is primarily variations of grilled meat, with shish kebabs ($7 to $17) and kebab sandwiches ($5) making up the bulk of the menu. Marinated and grilled lamb, chicken, beef and ground beef are distinctly seasoned and deliciously tender. Arranged on platters with mounds of heavenly spice-perfumed rice, fresh vegetables, pliable pita bread and tangy yogurt spread (in irritatingly small containers), it is fine eating. Veggie kebabs ($6) are decent, but the shrimp and fish versions ($8 and $11) pale in comparison to their meaty counterparts.
Wandering away from kebabs can be fruitful, and your foray will be guided by pictures of the dishes posted around the order counter. I loved the shurva ($5.50), a delicate broth afloat with chunks of red bell pepper, carrot and two lamb loin chops. Blinchik are similar to blinis – two tender crêpes stuffed with well-seasoned ground beef and daubed with yogurt spread ($2.50). Triangle-shaped somsas ($4), made from a flaky yet sturdy pastry, also have a toothsome ground beef filling. Another reminder of Russian influence is the comforting pelmeni, tender meat-filled dumplings in a dill-seasoned broth packed with beef chunks and vegetables ($4 small, $6.50 large).
The falafels have an admirable crunchy-outside/creamy-inside quality and can be ordered as an appetizer ($2.50), sandwich ($5) or dinner ($5.50). Beef shawarma ($5 as a sandwich, $8 dinner), cut into matchstick pieces, was tough, juiceless and did not thrill. The salads make up for it. Tabbouleh ($2.50) is light on bulgur wheat filler and bursting with intense flavor, and the simple but refreshing tomato, cucumber and onion Uzbek salad ($2) is nicely enlivened with dill. Uzbek bread ($1.50), an alternative to pita, is reminiscent of a denser Parker House roll. There is even dessert for those inclined. The napolean is a stack of heavy pastry layers held together by condensed milk, and medovik is a cross between yellow and spice cake (both $3).
Uzbek cuisine may not have culinary cachet, but the adventurous eater with an eye on the bottom line will find that Golden Valley is a trip worth taking.
Cuisine: Uzbek and Mediterranean
Address: 8115 N. 19th Ave., Phoenix
Phone: 602-861- 4055
Hours: 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. daily
Highlights: Meat shish kebabs ($7-$17), shurva ($5.50), blinchik ($2.50), falafel ($2.50; sandwich $5; dinner $5.50), tabbouleh ($2.50).
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