The AZ Fry Guy; photo by Angelina Aragon

New Year Eats

Written by M.V. Moorhead Category: Food Reviews Issue: January 2018

A roundup of interesting new neighborhood spots for your 2018 dining plans.

West Valley
The AZ Fry Guy
Opened: February 2017
Against most standards of sophisticated taste, I’ve always found that anything tasty is likely to be tastier still when battered and fried. As his name would suggest, the titular Fry Guy – formerly a CA Food Truck Guy – seems to agree. The Catfish Po’ Boy ($10), on a splendidly chewy baguette with crisp cabbage and a spicy chipotle aioli drizzle, features flaky white fish wrapped in a light and crunchy batter that isn’t greasy in the slightest. Same goes for the crustacean quintet in the 5 Piece Shrimp ($13.99). These came with house-made tartar sauce, which I was advised not to limit to seafood but to try on the chicken as well. It was sage advice – the richly spiced, mustard-heavy elixir enhanced the breast ($2.99, à la carte), the whole wing ($1.50) and the tender ($1.99). All succulent, and all dressed in a deeper golden-brown batter. From the sides, try the rich, elusively spiced yams, more interesting than usual for that particular tuber.
Must try: It’s a cliché, but in the case of the Fry Guy’s banana pudding ($3 or $4), one that happens to be true: It’s just like my Mississippi-born mother used to make.
13048 W. Rancho Santa Fe Blvd., Avondale, 623-374-7230, azfryguy.com

East Valley
Yu Tian Xia Hot Pot
Opened: October 2017
Part of the explosion of Asian eateries along the Broadway/Dobson area of Mesa, this all-you-can-eat palace lets you boil your own meat in a bubbling pot of broth in the middle of the table for up to two hours for a set price ($29.99). Bring friends, since you must finish it all or be charged for any leftovers. I opted for a divided pot, allowing for a dishwater-toned “Mild Mild” broth on one side and a chile-festooned, spicy broth on the other. I tried hand-cut mutton, Australian lamb and prime beef, all of which were on the fatty side, and all of which stubbornly refused to turn a tempting brown in the boiling broth, but faded from red to an unappetizing grayish color. Still, the flavor wasn’t bad, and the meat paired well with my (not so) brilliant choice of vegetable: dry tofu skin, which, before and after boiling, looked exactly like the rubber strap on a swimmer’s goggles but had a surprisingly satisfying flavor. In fairness, I should admit that I had no idea what I was doing. I did, however, finish everything they brought me.
Must try: No dessert, unless you count the winter melon — crispy, cool, no more than fleetingly sweet, but refreshing.
1940 W. Broadway Rd., Mesa, 480-508-6059

Scottsdale
OBON
Opened: August 2017
This offshoot of an upscale Asian fusion joint in Tucson is tucked away in the Scottsdale Quarter. Dimly lit, the place seems to be trying for a trendy hideaway feel. The menu promises sushi + bar + ramen, and features a smattering of Asian bites like the ubiquitous poke bowl and a variety of steam buns. The Obonchan ($7) is an assortment of pickled bites, including eggplant and bracing kimchi. From the sushi menu, the shiro maki ($13.75) brings heat with its commingling of spicy yellowtail and tuna with chimichurri, cucumber and avocado. The ramen ranges from the Obon ($15), with pork shoulder and pork belly, egg and various veggies in garlic oil; to the vegetarian, containing “nothing with a soul.” The heartiest entrée was bibimbap ($21), a rendition of the Korean standard with greens, mushrooms and scrumptious short ribs over rice. It’s all good, but the menu seems less flexible, more limited and limiting than other high-end pan-Asian places like the undeniably clever Clever Koi.
Must try: Sample the pork bun ($5): savory-sweet barbecue with a startling and delightful spicy kick at the finish.
15037 N. Scottsdale Rd., 602-491-2796, fukushuconcepts.com

North Phoenix
Soup & Sausage Bistro
Opened: May 2017
For my first visit to this Eastern European emporium, I decided to try – wait for it – soup and sausage. The bistro offers a variety of each. From the soup side, the offerings include two types of borscht (beet-heavy and beet-free), flaki (Polish tripe soup) and a soulful and delectable solyanka, which mingles pork sausage and bacon with vegetables and meaty olives in vegetable broth. Naturally, there’s also a simple and salubrious chicken-vegetable soup. (All soups are $5.39 for a cup, $6.89 for a bowl and served with fine house-baked bread.) From various Italian and Portuguese sausage options, I choose the plump, juicy and mild Polish sausage ($5.39). My half-Polish, half-Irish wife proclaimed the pork cabbage roll “yummy” ($8.79), and my Anglo-Saxon palate is in no position to disagree.
Must try: Our server could offer us no clear explanation of the name “52 Steps to the Moon” cake ($5.89), but when a dessert is as heavenly as this layering of sweet wafers with subtly tart fruit filling, who cares what it’s called?
13240 N. Seventh St. , 480-319-2208, myeurokitchen.com