photo by Angela Adams

Up with Protein!

Written by M.V. Moorhead Category: Food Reviews Issue: December 2017
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A new wave of flesh-forward Valley restaurants will make meat maniacs flip.

Tempe
Gen Korean BBQ
Opened: September 2017
It’s a universally acknowledged truth that the pleasure of eating meat is enhanced if you cook it yourself – a principle exploited to delicious extremes at this bustling purveyor of Korean barbecue. Each table features a little charcoal grill in the Korean cook-it-yourself tradition, but there’s a twist: For a single price ($20.99 for dinner; $15.99 for weekday lunch), the servers will bring as much meat to your table as you can eat over a two-hour period. As the meat sizzles and your mouth waters, nibble on scrumptious banchan side dishes – kimchi, radish and the like – arranged in semicircles around the grill. Then tear into thin-sliced beef bulgogi, even thinner-sliced beef tongue, and the festive, pineapple-topped Hawaiian chicken and steak. Only the hangjungsal (pork jowl) was too fatty to be appetizing for me. Seemingly overnight, Korean barbecue has become the trendiest cuisine in the Valley, and I’d put Gen near the top.
Must try: Those in your party who eschew meat can still have fun grilling soon doo boo (soft tofu), although they may want to cordon off a meat-free section of grill surface.
2000 E. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, 480-939-2650, genkoreanbbq.com

East Valley
Yan Grill and HotPot
Opened: September 2017
A more modest variation of the same Asian DIY premise is found at this strip-mall joint in Mesa. Here the table grill is topped with an ingeniously designed little rack that rotates small à la carte skewers of meat, grilling them to your satisfaction, often to the accompaniment of little wisps of flame that shoot up in response to dripping juices. The spicy beef ($8.95) and spicy shrimp ($2.75) are don’t-miss basics, while the pork with enoki mushrooms ($3.25) is an earthy combo. Initially, I found myself overcooking a bit – because I misjudged how “done” was done enough, but also because, quite frankly, it was fun. There were some non-carnivorous delicacies, too – sweet corn on the cob ($2.50) that took on a lovely char as it turned, and Chinese buns ($2.50) that, when warmed up and spread with hoisin, made a sweet counterpoint to all that meat.
Must try: The beef with asparagus ($3.50) offers a yummy green crunch in the middle of the cow.
111 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-659-9484

Phoenix
Smokehouse Bar & Grill
Opened: August 2017
DIY is well and good, but sometimes you want your meat prepared by professionals, and sometimes you want it ‘Murican style. Smokehouse satisfies both prerequisites, but whether it’s a “new” restaurant or a rebranded one is debatable: It inhabits the same North Phoenix building as the former Hammered Hog, employs the same chef, and serves a very similar menu. The best way to sample the meats here is with the BBQ Platter ($17 for choice of two meats; $21 for three). For those who like their barbecue on the sweetish side, the pulled pork is divine, and the hot links are pleasantly spicy, but the brisket was a little bland and unexciting on my visit (for a better version, hit Bootleggers down the street). The sides are mostly standards, though there are some welcome down-home choices like cheesy grits, and the hushpuppies are a particularly fine execution of that soul food classic.
Must try: From the short list of Tex-Mex selections, the most interesting is the catfish tacos ($9), with delectable corn meal-battered bottom dweller on tortillas.
3128 E. Cactus Rd., 602-992-3700, shbarbq.com

West Valley
Serra Gaucha
Opened: July 2017
Housed in a former Elephant Bar, this is the west side’s attempt at a Brazilian churrascaria steakhouse – grilled cow, pig, chicken and lamb brought to your table on skewers and carved for you until you cry uncle ($44.95 for dinner; $24.95 for weekday lunch). The enterprise feels like a less slick, less corporate version of Mesa’s Rodizio, with very friendly service. Thus, I’d love to report that it’s better, but the place has work to do. After partaking of the frustratingly unlabeled dishes at the salad bar – the beef stroganoff is a highlight – focus on the basic cuts to get the best experience: the leg of lamb is sublimely lean, and the beer-marinated chicken legs are marvelously juicy. Alas, far too many of the steak cuts consist of a high percentage of inedible fat. And go sparingly on the bacon-wrapped beef and Parmesan-encrusted pork – both strained my usual conviction that bacon and cheese improve everything.
Must try: Don’t pass on the chicken hearts, tiny and chewy but still, well, you know… hearty.
16160 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria, 623-878-8995, serragauchausa.com

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