Mesa’s newest African eatery is Ghana get you.
A kid home from school with a cold might be given a peanut butter sandwich and some warm broth by his mom for lunch. That’s one of the few American culinary scenarios in which the words “peanut butter” and “broth” would comfortably occur in the same sentence.
You’ll find a few others at Max’s Mukhaase in Mesa. Some of the best dishes at this West African diner are served in peanut butter broth.
One of them – simply and disarmingly named peanut butter soup – features large pieces of bone-in chicken and a ball of sticky white rice, bathed in a robust, salty-sweet stock of pulverized goober peas. The peanut broth makes a surprisingly spot-on accompaniment for the poultry, but I liked a vegetarian application even better – ladled over zucchini stuffed with tender cauliflower, served with delectable baby carrots and rice. The leftovers of this plentiful stew were my lunch for two days after my visit.
“Mukhaase” means “kitchen” in Twi, the language of proprietor (and, on my visits, genial host and head waiter) Max Danso, a native of the city of Accra in Ghana. The place does indeed have the pleasant feel of casual, friendly home hospitality. The dining room is large and bright, the napkins come in wooden rings adorned with seashells, and Ghanaian reggae thumps hypnotically from the big-screen TV.
Situated on the underside of Africa’s upper Atlantic bulge, Ghana is perhaps best known to Westerners as the homeland of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The food is somewhat less famous. Even experienced diners versed in African cuisines like Ethiopian or Somali will generally find new tastes and sensations in Max’s West African-style goodies.
Considering Ghana’s substantial coastline, it’s not surprising that fish figures prominently on the menu. The whole fried tilapia is served with kenkey, a corn dough roughly the consistency of damp modeling clay, and two of the hotter salsas I’ve had: one red, one dark brown. Prying back the scales reveals the delicate, sweet white fish, flawlessly cooked and even better with judicious dabs of the salsa. The kenkey was a little less accessible. As my companion noted, it’s an acquired taste, “the acquisition of which one meal is not sufficient.” Diplomatic, right? Kofi Annan would approve.
More addictive among the starches was the fufu, accompanied by succulent bone-in chunks of goat in savory broth. Fufu is a bit like mashed potatoes, but different enough that foreigners who visit Ghana and other African countries long for it when they come home. Regular customers at Max’s Mukhaase include former LDS missionaries who can’t get their fufu fix anywhere else.
Other dry-land fare includes Red Red, a hearty concoction of fried plantains and black-eyed peas in a palm oil sauce, and beef jollof – big, tasty cubes of meat over flavored rice, maybe the most palatable option on Max’s menu for the less adventurous.
“Jollof” refers to the spiced rice, by the way. Max says it means something like “love rice.” I could certainly taste the love.
Contact: 1245 W. Guadalupe Rd., Mesa, 480-471-6022, maxsmukhaase.com
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tu-Su; dinner 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Tu-Su, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. F-Sa
Highlights: Peanut butter soup ($11.99); stuffed zucchini with peanut butter sauce ($4.99); kenkey with fried fish ($11.99); Red Red ($12.99); fufu with Goat Light Soup ($11.99); beef jollof ($11.99); chicken jollof ($11.99); meat pies ($2.99)
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