For the first time, we’ve vetted the Valley’s Asian restaurants to bring you the tastiest Thai food, the sublimest sushi, the most phenomenal pho. We’ll introduce you to Korean barbecue, Filipino finger food, Cambodian curry, and Dongbei dumplings. We’ll string you along on a noodle tour and show you where to shop. And we’ll spotlight the must-try eateries, from traditional gems to contemporary boundary-pushers. It’s all part of our Definitive…ASIAN FOOD GUIDE.
THE ESSENTIAL 12
Dining at this discreet, Zen gem sequestered in a Scottsdale shopping center is a transcendent experience. Chef Shinji Kurita’s refined Japanese cuisine is as breathtaking to behold as it is to savor. Pristine seafood, marbled beef and at-peak vegetables arrive in intricately composed, exquisite bites. Order by the course or, with at least 24 hours notice, request the chef’s five-course omakase tasting menu starting at $100. 7001 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-664-0180, shinbay.com
2. Hana Japanese Eatery
Gracious hospitality from Lori Hashimoto and her family, coupled with boat-fresh fish and seafood, make this cozy neighborhood BYOB a favorite hangout for sushi and sashimi lovers from all over town. But raw fish isn’t the only reason to make Hana a regular stop. The menu is chock full of homey, soul-satisfying Japanese favorites like yakisoba, noodle soups, chicken katsu, teppan-cooked steak, and a mind-blowing ika maruyaki – grilled squid. 5524 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-973-1238, hanajapaneseeatery.com
3. Yasu Sushi Bistro
At his contemporary Japanese izakaya (gastropub), Yasu Hashino excels at sushi and sashimi, but the cooked dishes, served as sharable small plates, deserve equal attention. Hashino was the first to bring sumibiyaki (a style of old-school Japanese charcoal grilling that imparts little smoke flavor) to town. The inspired, daily-changing menu reflects Hashino’s commitment to quality and seasonal cooking. 4316 E. Cactus Rd., Phoenix, 602-787-9181
4. Nobuo at Teeter House
James Beard Award winner Nobuo Fukuda knocks down boundaries with his East-meets-West cuisine in Downtown Phoenix’s historic Teeter House, yet he never loses sight of his fundamental Japanese sensibilities. Small plates with top-notch ingredients and dazzling flavor combinations keep savvy diners eating out of the palm of his hand. Who else can pair house-cured salmon with soy, basil and pecorino so impeccably? 622 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-254-0600, nobuofukuda.com
5. Asian Cafe Express
Don’t be intimidated by the 20-plus-page menu. This no-frills Hong Kong-style diner excels at practically everything they tackle, from soups to egg rolls to killer wok-fried noodles. If you still can’t decide, pick something from the daily specials (suggestion: steamed pork dumplings) or bring your own seafood in from Mekong Supermarket across the street and let ACE cook it for you for only $5. 1911 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-668-5910, asiancafeexpress.com
6. Roka Akor
“Sleek and sexy” describes the boundary-pushing Japanese cuisine as aptly as it does the swanky decor. Specializing in robatayaki (charcoal-grilled fare) and impeccable sushi, Roka Akor seduces even the most sophisticated diner with sublime butterfish tataki and flame-kissed seafood and steak. Even humble vegetables get a new twist from a spin on the robata. But beware: The depth of the sake and shochu list is as intoxicating as the spirits themselves. 7299 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-306-8800, rokaakor.com
7. SOChu House
Hong Kong-born Johnny Chu is the king of Asian fusion, frustrating purists but delighting anyone with a yen for dynamic flavors. The menu is a mishmash of modified Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes with Chu’s signature flair for bold sauces: think soy-garlic, black pepper-mint, sweet ginger, savory black bean, and more. The menu’s strong suit is its “tapas” section, including fiery, sizzling shrimp; Shanghai steamed dumplings called soup gyoza; and exquisitely seared pork potstickers. 2801 N. Central Ave. Phoenix, 602-340-9777, sochuhouse.com
8. Chou’s Kitchen
The secret is out concerning this bare-bones regional Chinese café. While familiar dishes like Kung Pao and orange chicken dot the menu, the dough-centric cuisine of the Dongbei region (made up of three northeastern provinces) is the star, tucked under the “handmade delights” section. Rib-sticking dumplings, pan-fried buns and plump meat pies deliciously fill the belly without taking a bite out of the wallet. 910 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-821-2888
9. Nee House
The first clue that this tablecloth-decked Cantonese-style Chinese restaurant is serious? Crystal-clear fish tanks alive with tilapia, sea bass, crabs and lobsters. Another clue is the wait during peak weekend dinner hours. While Nee House handles the basics – stir-fries, fried rice, noodles – with aplomb, the real sparklers are the seasonal seafood and fish preparations meant for sharing (market priced, generally $8-$10 per pound). 13843 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix, 602-992-3338
10. Reathrey Sekong
The Valley’s only Cambodian restaurant has changed its name (from Sekong by Night) but not its exotic vittles. Cambodian cuisine is influenced by India (spices), China (soy sauce) and neighboring Thailand and Vietnam (aromatics, presentation). Menu favorites include deeply flavored lok lak pan-fried beef, lemongrass- and coconut milk-steamed tilapia, and crisp rice flour crepes stuffed with pork, shrimp and roasted coconut. 1312 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 480-238-0238, reathreysekong.com
11. Café Ga Hyang
Korean food is hearty, spicy and unfamiliar to many, but sprightly, 60-something Sun Johnson will gladly make the introductions as she guides you through her richly flavored menu. With partner/chef Nick Rocha in the kitchen, diners win with complex soups and stews – some fiery, some not – and flavorful mixed rice bowls. Not ready for prime-time Korean? Order the tame but tasty kalbi (barbecued beef short rib). 4362 W. Olive Ave., Glendale, 623-937-8550
12. Soi 4
Tucked away in a tony Scottsdale shopping center, Soi 4 orchestrates a perfect storm of stylish contemporary digs and bewitching Thai dishes, complete with trademark sweet-salty-sour-hot flavor balance. The small plates, soup and salad sections of the menu are the strongest, including the not-to-be-missed tantalizing appetizer miang kum (mustard leaf-wrapped prawns with roasted coconut, grapefruit, herbs and palm sugar). 8787 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-778-1999, soifour.com/scottsdale
All Southeast Asian cuisines embrace a hot-sour-salty-sweet flavor mantra, but none more so than Thai. In-your-face flavors combined with high-contrast textures set Thai curries and stir-fries apart from their Asian counterparts. Typically, Thai is the only Far Eastern cuisine where the diner chooses the chile heat level, ranging from mild to “Thai hot,” sometimes represented by numbers. Unfortunately, there is no universal standard; one restaurant’s medium is another’s hot. Fragrant, long-grain jasmine rice, a staple at every meal, is often the only tame tiger on the table.
Key Flavors: Galangal (rhizome with similar flavor to ginger); lemongrass; Thai basil; coconut milk; kaffir lime leaves; chiles
Pad means “stir-fry,” and this national rice noodle dish plays up the sour-salty-sweet flavors. Not all versions are created equal, but Wild Thaiger gets the equation just right – the perfect balance of al dente noodles and crisp bean sprouts, egg, shrimp and chicken bathed in a sauce of tamarind, lime, palm sugar and fish sauce, and sprinkled with toasted peanuts for crunch ($11.95). 2631 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-241-8995, wildthaiger.com
Malee’s on Main
Behind every great Thai cook is a unique hot and sour soup recipe. Malee’s version ($5.50/cup, $12.99/bowl) is pleasantly pungent, swirling with lemongrass, galangal, garlic and chiles, and bobbing with mushrooms, chicken and shrimp. 7131 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-947-6042, maleesthaibistro.com
Heat seekers are especially attracted to this warm, spicy salad of ground meat (traditionally pork but sometimes beef or chicken) mixed with toasted and ground rice, galangal, red onions and scallions, tossed in lime and fish sauce ($8.95). Cool cabbage and mint leaves offer welcome respite from the heat. 1601 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 602-971-4988, kruathaicuisine.com
Pad Kee Mao
Dubbed “drunken noodles” because the spiciness either cures a hangover or drives you to drink, this stir-fry ($8.95) starts with fat, wide rice noodles coated in a hot chile paste spiked with flavor bombs lemongrass and galangal. Traditionally made with thinly sliced beef, it’s also available with chicken, pork or mixed vegetables. 10880 N. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602-971-1293; and 7448 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-435-6949, salathaiaz.com
Nunthaporn’s Thai Cuisine
Served old-school style, with just meat and “gravy” – no vegetables – this russet-hued curry is silky smooth and rich from just a splash of coconut milk, and deeply flavored with chiles and kaffir lime leaves. Thinly sliced beef sirloin is traditional ($11.50), but Nunthaporn also offers tofu, chicken, pork and a variety of fish and seafood options ($11-$17). 17 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-649-6140, nunthapornthai.com
If Thai is the boisterous, jolly uncle always telling belly-busting jokes, Japanese cuisine is the quiet, dignified grandfather who, when he speaks, does so softly and with purpose. Flavors are delicate and refined. Minimalist presentation is as respected as the taste. Beyond sushi, there’s an intoxicating gamut of dishes – some elaborate, some spartan – that distinguish Japanese cuisine as an illustrious art form.
Key Flavors: Nori (seaweed, generally dried into sheets and used for wrapping sushi or as a garnish); ponzu (citrus and soy dipping sauce); miso (fermented paste generally made from soybeans); shoyu (Japanese soy sauce); dashi stock made from konbu (kelp) and dried bonito (fish flakes)
Served in a black-and-red lacquered box, this meal is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Available in nine styles ($8.95-$15.25/lunch; $23.95/dinner, one style only), the gyuniku – grilled New York steak draped in traditional teriyaki – is exemplary, paired with rice, ginger-dressed greens, seasonal pickled vegetables and a slice of seasonal fruit. 5524 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-973-1238, hanajapaneseeatery.com
Nagasaki Grill Toh Zan
Donburi is essentially Japanese fast food – a bowl full of rice capped with any number of toppings ($7.50-$11), from maguro (tuna) to crunchy katsu (breaded and fried pork cutlet). This mom-and-pop spot, popular with visiting Japanese baseball players, serves up a terrific maguro-don featuring soy-marinated, ruby-red tuna. 2120 W. Southern Ave., Mesa, 480-668-6688
If a 30-cent package of instant noodles is your sole experience with this Japanese specialty, you’re in for a treat. The ramen craze storming much of the country has yet to sweep through Phoenix, but there’s still a good bowl of slurp-worthy noodles to be had. The cha-shu ramen starts with an earthy, umami-kissed pork broth filled with chewy noodles, thin slices of pork, slivers of kikurage (cloud ear mushroom) and plenty of scallions and sesame seeds ($8). 914 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-248-9090, cherryblossom-az.com
The Japanese have elevated the battered-and-fried cooking method to elegant culinary art with tempura. As simple as it seems, perfect tempura is difficult to execute. It requires skill to yield a lacy, golden crust with a delicate crunch and no greasy residue. Toyama nails it every time, whether they’re frying seasonal vegetables or shrimp ($7.25-$8.95). 23415 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-513-1221, toyamarestaurant.com
Here is a sampling of the best sushi spots in town, where wild and crazy combo rolls take a back seat to old-school tradition:
5524 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-973-1238, hanajapaneseeatery.com
2051 W. Warner Rd., Chandler, 480-899-7191, shimogamoaz.com
Sushi on Shea
7000 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-483-7799, sushionshea.com
23415 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-513-1221, toyamarestaurant.com
Yasu Sushi Bistro
4316 E. Cactus Rd., Phoenix, 602-787-9181
A Word on Wasabi
Wasabia japonica is known as Japanese horseradish, but though botanically it’s in the same family, it isn’t technically horseradish – it’s just called that because of its sinus-clearing potency. Most sushi restaurants serve the green wasabi in paste form, but serious sushi houses will (for an upcharge) serve extra sharp pickled wasabi or even superior freshly grated. You just have to ask.
The earliest written references to sushi were recorded in the 8th century, and it wasn’t the fresh sushi we know today. Sushi developed as a method to preserve fish through salting, then packing it in cooked rice. The fermented result was a pungent-smelling acquired taste. Over the centuries, preserving gave way to the desire for quicker consumption and eventually morphed into the use of fresh fish and painstakingly just-cooked rice seasoned with rice vinegar.
Think “sushi” means fish? Nope. Sushi refers to the rice itself, not the toppings, although the term has become a generic catchphrase for the whole category.
Sushi Short grain rice
flavored with rice vinegar
Sashimi Raw fish, no rice, generally served as five thin slices
Nigiri Raw fish served atop a “finger” of rice
Chirashi sushi Big bowl of rice with a variety of raw fish (chef’s choice)
Maki Rolled sushi
Hosomaki Roll with nori seaweed on outside
Uramaki “Inside-out” roll – rice on outside
Temaki Hand roll – large, cone shaped
Maguro Ahi tuna
Toro Bluefin tuna belly
Hamachi Young yellowtail
Uni Sea urchin
Katsuo Skipjack tuna
Amaebi Sweet shrimp
Unagi Freshwater eel
Aji Japanese jack mackerel
Even by Asian cuisine standards, Vietnamese is nuanced – light, refreshing, and delicately flavored. A coastline stretching more than 2,000 miles means fish are plentiful, but in the U. S., beef and pork are more common. Rice is king, whether in the form of grains or noodles, but late 19th-century French colonists left an indelible mark – hence pâté-stuffed baguettes (banh mi) and savory crepes (banh xeo).
Key Flavors: Fish sauce (nuoc mam); lemongrass; star anise; lime; cilantro
Bun Bo Xao
Blank-slate rice vermicelli noodles get layered with mouth-popping flavor from garlic- and lemongrass-seared beef and
onions, fresh cilantro, fried shallots, crushed peanuts and a side of nuoc cham, the slightly sweet, slightly vinegary dipping elixir made with fish sauce ($5.25). 4538 N. 19th Ave., Phoenix, 602-242-3575
Thank the French for introducing baguettes to Vietnam, but thank the Vietnamese for creating insanely delicious (and ridiculously inexpensive) sandwiches with thinly sliced meats, pickled vegetables, cilantro and jalapeño slices for zing ($2.75-$3.25). 1901 W. Warner Rd., Chandler, 480-855-1778, leesandwiches.com
Literally “salad rolls,” goi cuon (fresh spring rolls) begin with brittle rice paper turning soft and slippery with a dunk in warm water. From there, any number of fillings are added to create a refreshing hand-held snack. Thinly sliced pork and shrimp are traditional, along with mint, rice vermicelli and vegetables. Rice Paper features 14 fresh spring rolls, from traditional to funky. 2221 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-252-3326, ricepapereatery.com
Saigon Pho & Seafood
Traditionally a breakfast staple, pho (pronounced “fuh”) is an invigorating noodle soup suited for any meal. The delicate, cinnamon- and star anise-scented broth (either beef or chicken with plenty of onion slivers) is poured over thin rice stick noodles and topped with any number of proteins – sliced beef (tai), meatballs (bo vien), chicken (ga) or the most common version, a combination of sliced beef, meatballs, brisket, tendon and tripe (dac biet). Add accoutrements – basil, jalapeño slices, bean sprouts and lemon or lime slices – to taste ($5.95-$6.50). 1381 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-786-8828, saigonphoaz.com
Get your hands – literally – on this onion- and turmeric-flavored rice crepe with wisp-thin, crisp edges folded over a purposefully meager amount of shrimp and pork and a generous amount of snappy bean sprouts ($7.99). Pinch off a large piece of crepe and stuff it inside a piece of lettuce along with pickled vegetables, cilantro and mint, and roll it up. Dunk the roll into nuoc cham. Now bite. Mmm. 7016 N. 57th Ave., Glendale, 623-939-6136, littlesaigonaz.com
Some say Chinese cuisine in America is about as authentic as a penguin in Florida. Admittedly, most Americans have tasted little outside of the Cantonese cooking style brought over by the first Chinese immigrants. Faced with limited ingredients and wary American palates, these immigrants adapted their cuisine to a new style, American-Chinese, often inventing new dishes like General Tso’s Chicken and presenting a fortune cookie with the bill, a decidedly un-Chinese custom.
Many Chinese restaurants have two menus: one for sauce-heavy American-Chinese dishes and another for Chinese customers, filled with traditional home-country fare. Most Chinese restaurant owners are thrilled when you show an interest in their traditional cuisine, so don’t hesitate to ask if they have a Chinese menu and start exploring this ancient cuisine beyond chicken chow mein.
Food scholars talk about four schools of Chinese cooking – Northern, Western, Eastern and Southern – but across these schools, there are as many as a dozen distinct regional cuisines. Most of the Valley’s 100-plus Chinese restaurants are Cantonese, but there are a handful of other regional cuisines represented. Here we highlight the diversity.
Whole Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions
Asian Hong Kong Diner
Cantonese cuisine reveres the fresh, natural flavors of vegetables and meats, and no fare better exemplifies this than fresh seafood. This quintessential Cantonese dish is not on the American-Chinese menu or the Chinese menu, but it is a house specialty. Watch your server net a live tilapia from the fish tank and within minutes present the fragrant, steamed beauty at your table, smothered in slivers of fresh ginger and scallions and drizzled in a delicate soy-scented broth (market price). 9880 S. Rural Rd., Tempe, 480-705-7486
Water-boiled Fish & Mapo Tofu
Sichuan peppercorns and spicy chiles take the spotlight in Sichuan cuisine, so “water-boiled” is a misleading name for this fantastically flavored bowl of fiery joy. Red chiles, chile oil and hua jiao (Sichuan peppercorns, which impart a tingling sensation) give this complex soup ($10.95) its unflinching heat, but the broth is also filled with tender, succulent bass, celery and Napa cabbage. Mapo tofu ($7.95) is a savory dish featuring salted black beans, soft tofu cubes, crushed Sichuan peppercorns and douban jiang, Sichuan’s blistering chile bean paste. 2386 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-857-2070, chandlerszechwanpalace.com
Hot pockets, buns and pies
Dongbei – a three-provinced region formerly called Manchuria – is famous for its dumplings, buns, and savory pastries, which are specialties of this regional restaurant. Chinese chive- and egg-stuffed pan-fried hot pockets are gloriously golden brown on the outside. Steamed then pan-fried pork buns ($5.98) sport crisp bottoms, and the ginger- and onion-flavored fried beef pies ($4.98) are rib-sticking comfort food. 910 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-821-2888
San Dong Chicken & Jia Jiang Mien
Refreshing cold appetizers are hallmarks of coastal Shandong cuisine, which is also influenced by the flavors of its neighbor to the east, Korea. At Chef Chiang, skip the American-Chinese menu and dive into the adventuresome Chinese-Korean menu featuring San Dong chicken, fried then steamed and served chilled over cucumbers soaked in garlicky black vinegar sauce ($12.95). Mild mannered jia jiang mien ($6.95) is Shandong’s version of spaghetti, featuring steamed noodles topped with a thick, savory black bean sauce – pure comfort. 4929 W. Chandler Blvd., Chandler, 480-940-4000
With characteristic honeyed, crackling brown skin, Beijing’s most famous dish is ceremoniously served tableside at this upscale Cantonese restaurant. The server presents the gilded platter of duck and then methodically rolls the meat with a few wisps of scallion and cucumber strips into thin, soft Mandarin pancakes brushed with plum-hoisin sauce ($36.95). 23623 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-585-6630; and 9160 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-391-0607, jadepalaceaz.com
New Restaurant Alert!
A new restaurant featuring both Cantonese and Sichuan cuisines (prepared by different chefs schooled in each cuisine) quietly opened in Tempe in late January. During the first month it was open, the menu was printed only in Chinese. There wasn’t even an English sign on the building. Now, most of the menu has been translated into English, and the boxy, windowless restaurant is getting buzz. Highlights include spicy Sichuan specialties yu xiang eggplant and pork belly in garlic sauce. 2314 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe, 480-966-3098
Dim Sum translates loosely to “touch the heart.” These Cantonese teahouse snacks were traditionally eaten in the early morning or early afternoon, but in the U.S., Dim Sum effortlessly morphed into the perfect weekend brunch. For the best Dim Sum experience, gather a group and head to Great Wall in the West Valley or Phoenix Palace in the East Valley. Peak times – around noon – result in a wait at either restaurant, but turnover is generally quick. Once seated, prepare for an onslaught of cart after cart heaped with mini steam baskets and saucers of steamed, fried, simmered and baked goodies. Ask the cart maven to describe the dishes and then point to the ones you want. It’s OK to pass up a cart because another one isn’t far behind. After a while, you’ll see the same carts and know the drill. Each time you order a dish, the cart attendant marks your tally card. After you’ve had your fill, waddle up to the cashier with your filled Dim Sum card. Most dishes run less than $3, but some are in the $5 to $7 range. Count on three to four dishes per person.
Photos – Clock-wise from furthest left:
Typical of Chinese pastries, this egg custard is barely sweet, with a flaky crust made of lard.($2.35)
A fried pastry made from glutinous rice flour, coated in sesame seeds and filled with delicately flavored, sweetened lotus paste. Alternately, filled with red bean paste. ($2.35)
Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce
Crisp-tender greens flavored with sesame oil and oyster sauce. ($5.50)
Steamed char siu bao
Snowy white steamed buns filled with honeyed pork barbecue (generally available baked as well). ($2.35)
Dim Sum noodles
Chow mein noodles stir-fried with soy sauce, cabbage and onions. ($2.95)
Shredded daikon radish (no turnips) mixed with bits of Chinese sausage, flattened into a cake and steamed, then cut into squares and pan-fried. ($2.35)
These two-bite, soup-filled pork and shrimp dumplings (xiao long bao) are served in a tiny tin cup to catch the soup. ($2.35)
Chopped shrimp lightly seasoned with rice wine, sesame oil and white pepper, wrapped in wheat starch dumpling skins and steamed. ($2.95)
Feet are an acquired taste, even when deep-fried, then long simmered in sweet soy and spices until tender. But for some foodies, it’s not Dim Sum without them. ($2.95)
Delicate, purse-shaped bundles filled with minced pork, shrimp and scallions. ($2.35)
Shrimp rice noodle roll
Rice noodle sheets wrapped around whole shrimp and served in a light soy broth. ($3.50)
Also known as Wife Cake, these flaky, lard-crusted pastries are filled with lightly sweetened winter melon and a hint of coconut. ($2.35)
Great Wall Cuisine
3446 W. Camelback Rd.,
Dim Sum hours:
11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
2075 N. Dobson Rd., Chandler,
Dim Sum hours:
10 a.m.-3 p.m. daily.
*Photo and prices from Phoenix Palace
The mystery of Korean food lies only in its stateside scarcity. Once you get to know it, you’ll find many similarities to other Asian cuisines. In addition to hot-sour-salty-sweet, Koreans embrace a fifth flavor – bitter – but of the five, hot reigns supreme. Chiles and garlic are integral to Korean cooking, and spicy seafood, beef and tofu soups and stews dominate menus. Kimchi (kimchee), the spicy, garlicky, salt-preserved vegetable condiment (generally made from cabbage) is present at every meal, as is rice. But rest assured, not all dishes are tongue-searing. Korean barbecue is moderately sweet, with plenty of umami (meaty-savory-earthy), soy and garlic flavors.
Key Flavors: Garlic; gochujang (chile paste); doenjang (soybean paste); Korean barbecue sauce; gochugaru (red pepper powder); sesame oil
Café Ga Hyang
Every Korean meal comes with banchan – mini side dishes of pickled or fermented vegetables to be shared. Expect four to eight dishes, at least one of which is always kimchi. Others might include crunchy bean sprouts doused with vinegar and sesame oil; sesame- and soy-marinated sweet potato cubes, pickled daikon radish or marinated Asian greens. 4362 W. Olive Ave., Glendale, 623-937-8550
Kalbi & Bulgogi Barbecue
Get primal and cook your own dinner at Takamatsu’s tabletop grills. Kalbi (thinly sliced short ribs, $21.95) and bulgogi (thinly sliced beef, $14.95) are marinated in sweetened soy and garlic. Toss the meat on the grill, and it’s ready in minutes. Wrap a piece of barbecue in the leafy greens and eat with your hands. (Minimum of two orders.) 4214 W. Dunlap Ave., Phoenix, 623-842-0400,
Café Ga Hyang
Bibim means “mix mix” and bap means “rice.” Toss the bowl full of artfully arranged vegetables, meat and fried egg ($7.95/lunch, $9.95/dinner) with the warm rice beneath until thoroughly mixed. It’s one Korean specialty that isn’t spicy at all. 4362 W. Olive Ave., Glendale, 623-937-8550
This simmering spicy stew ($8.95) brimming with garlic, onions and pork gets triple rewards from the addition of kimchi: a wonderful sour flavor, serious heat, and a delightful crunch. Cool the palate with the accompanying rice and banchan. 1116 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-668-7979, hodoriaz.com
Soft Tofu Soup
Chodang Tofu & B.B.Q.
Soon Dubu Hot Pot – a bubbling crock of chile-inflected tofu soup ($10.25) – comes in 11 flavors, from beef to pork to seafood to fish roe (for the adventurous). Say yes when the server offers to crack a fresh egg into the boiling soup; it cooks almost instantly and adds richness. Soups come with banchan and rice. 501 N. Arizona Ave., Chandler, 480-855-7712
Filipino cuisine is a melting pot of Spanish, American and Southeast Asian flavors. Pork is paramount on the Philippine archipelago, despite its 22,549 miles of coastline and robust fishing industry. Many dishes are either fried or stewed, and almost always flavored with vinegar, imparting a pleasant to pungent sour taste.
Key Flavors: Coconut and cane sugar vinegars;
adobo seasoning; garlic
One of the tastiest Filipino dishes is a finger food – large cubes of pork belly first marinated in vinegar, garlic and spices, then deep-fried to golden brown ($7.99/lb.). Yes, it’s finger-licking good. 3553 W. Dunlap Ave., Phoenix, 602-324-9670, gothalohalo.com
Juicy, citrus- and soy-glazed grilled pork belly, called liempo ($7.50), is a house specialty of this tiny Mekong Plaza food court gem. It’s served with a scoop of rice and a choice of one side (get atchara, crisp pickled green papaya). 66 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-567-4992
It’s hard to resist these finger-sized crispy egg rolls filled with seasoned pork and vegetables ($3.60). Jeepney – part restaurant, part Filipino grocery store – serves them made-to-order, piping hot, and with a side of sweet chile sauce. 2390 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-726-2668, jeepneybistro.com
Charming restaurant-bakeshop Casa Filipina offers two noodle dishes worthy of a taste (both $7.99). Tangy pancit bihon guisado is a skinny rice noodle stir-fry of chicken and vegetables, while pancit malabon is a pleasantly sour mix of broken egg noodles tinged yellow from annatto seeds, flavored with ground pork rinds, and garnished with baby shrimp and sliced boiled egg. Feeling adventurous? Dive into a popular, national dish called dinuguan (chocolate pork) – a homey pork stew simmered in vinegar, chiles and pig’s blood ($7.99). It tastes much tamer than it sounds. 3531 W. Thunderbird Rd., Phoenix, 602-942-1258, casafilipina.com
Named for the Filipino shaved ice and ice cream dessert called halo-halo, this tidy West-side kitchen serves both pork and chicken adobo (Spanish for pickling sauce) on its turo-turo menu (think cafeteria-style line with food simmering in steam table compartments). Both are simmered in the same
soy-, vinegar-, spice- and garlic-infused broth until tender and tangy, and served with a side of rice ($4.99). 3553 W. Dunlap Ave., Phoenix, 602-324-9670, gothalohalo.com
The shelves are dominated by dry goods from Korea – sweet potato starch noodles (dangmyun), kimchee, Korean chile paste (gochujang) and ground red pepper (gochugaru) – while the small butcher selection features thin sliced meats for Korean barbecue and hot pot cooking. 1116 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-833-3077; and 4410 W. Union Hills Dr., Glendale, 623-780-1234
Clean and spacious, this corner Japanese grocer stocks snacks, chocolate, rice and dozens of other essential ingredients on its orderly shelves. Find frozen mochi (rice paste cakes) and an impressive Japanese beer and sake selection. Prepared to-go foods include sushi and compact bento boxes made fresh daily. 1335 W. University Dr., Tempe, 480-968-1890, fujiyamarket.com
House of Rice (Japanese)
It’s surprisingly easy to dawdle in this tiny sliver of a store. Half the space is jam-packed with Japanese dry goods and frozen ingredients. The other half brims with tableware, rice cookers, knives, cast-iron teapots and brightly colored silk kimonos. 3221 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, 480-947-6698, houserice.com
Lee Lee’s International Supermarket (General Asian)
More than 30 countries are represented in the aisles of this mind-boggling mega-market. Find unusual Asian vegetables and fruits, a well-stocked butcher counter, loaded fish tanks and aisle after aisle of noodles, canned goods, spices and condiments. 2025 N. Dobson Rd., Chandler, 480-899-2887; and 7575 W. Cactus Rd., Peoria, 623-773-3345, leeleesupermarket.com
Mekong Supermarket (General Asian)
This multi-culture Asian supermarket is the anchor tenant of the 100,000-square-foot Mekong Plaza. Stock up on Asian staples, fresh produce, seafood and meat, then stroll the extensive food court for some hidden gems, such as Taiwan Express and Deer Garden Signature, a fantastic soup-only restaurant. 66 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-833-0095
New Tokyo Food Market (Japanese)
This tidy market offers Japanese staples with a side of gracious hospitality. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Just ask, and they will try to special order it for you. Parking is limited, and they’re closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 3435 W. Northern Ave., Phoenix, 602-841-0255
Arai Pastry (Japanese Pastry Shop)
Next door to Fujiya Japanese Market in Tempe, Arai specializes in French-style Japanese pastries. Light-as-air cakes, creamy mousses and delicate custards featuring Japanese green tea, sweet red beans, sesame and pumpkin irresistibly fill the display case. If you’ve had dessert at Nobuo at Teeter House, you’ve likely had an Arai specialty. 1335 W. University Dr., Tempe, 480-966-9002,
Super L Ranch Market (General Asian)
Conveniently located off the 202 freeway in the COFCO Chinese Cultural Center, this super-size market has it all: dry goods, produce, a butcher shop, fresh fish and seafood, and a bakery with Asian pastries. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Just ask, and a friendly manager will lead you to the right product. 668 N. 44th St., Phoenix, 602-225-2288
Chinese Wheat Noodles
The oldest form of noodles, originating in northern China, is made with only wheat flour and water.
What’s more fun than watching the chef hand-pull noodles through the glass window? Eating any of the five wheat noodle shapes (narrow flat, thick, regular, wide flat and shaved) just after they’re made. Try the narrow flat noodles in a beef and oyster sauce ($6.35), the “regular” spaghetti-like noodles in a beef stir-fry with spicy XO sauce ($8.25) or slurp the long, tapered shaved noodles in a bowl of pho-like broth with vegetables and a boiled egg ($5.25). 2015 N. Dobson Rd., Chandler, 480-786-8002
Wide, flat rice noodle
Sold in sheet form fresh (folded) or dry (flat), the noodles are cut into approximately 1-inch strips before using. Found in Thai stir-fries pad kee mao and pad see ew, and sometimes in Chinese chow fun.
Pad See Ew
Nunthaporn’s Thai Cuisine
Stir-fried in a slightly sweet soy sauce, the wide, flat noodle is paired with barely bitter broccoli, both Chinese and American, plus a scrambled egg to balance the sweetness ($7.50-$12.50/lunch, $10-$16/dinner). 17 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-649-6140, nunthapornthai.com
Medium, flat rice noodle
Similar in width to fettuccine, and sometimes called sha he fen (Chinese) or banh pho (Vietnamese), this noodle is found most often in chow fun, but not, despite the name, in pho.
Asian Cafe Express
Taste the well-seasoned wok in ACE’s intensely flavored stir-fry of soy-splashed noodles, garlic, peppers, onions and sprouts ($7.52). Available in 13 flavors, from beef to black mushroom. 1911 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-668-5910, asiancafeexpress.com
These buckwheat noodles are made from buckwheat seeds, which aren’t related to wheat at all and impart a subtle nutty flavor. Used most often in cold noodle dishes or hot soups; can also be used in stir-fries.
Photos – Clock-wise from top left: Wide, flat rice noodle, Narrow, flat rice noodle, Vermicelli rice noodle, Dangmyun/Tangmyon, Chuanbei Hot Sour Bean Noodles, Mung bean noodles, Soba Noodles, Medium, flat rice noodle
Hana’s delicate, fragrant soy broth is the perfect foil for soba noodles, while a side of crunchy vegetable and shrimp tempura lends contrast to the hot, slurpy soup ($9.25). 5524 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-973-1238, hanajapaneseeatery.com
Narrow, flat rice noodle
About the same width as linguine, these noodles are used in pad Thai and Vietnamese pho.
Malee’s On Main
The feisty flavors of tamarind, galangal and lemongrass are only partially tempered by palm sugar and lime in Malee’s muscular pad Thai, with plump shrimp, chicken and stir-fried egg ($9.99/lunch, $14.79/dinner). 7131 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-947-6042, maleesthaibistro.com
Mung bean noodles
Made from the starch of mung beans, these slippery, neutral noodles are also called cellophane noodles for their translucency, and are available in super-thin (bean threads), thin, and medium sizes.
Vermicelli rice noodle
Similar in thickness to spaghetti, this round noodle is used in soups, salads and stir-fries across many Asian cuisines. Like most rice noodles, they’re made with just rice, water, and sometimes a bit of oil.
Bun cha gio thit nuong
Bun is the Vietnamese word for noodle (vermicelli in this case), cha gio is a fried pork egg roll, and thit nuong is grilled pork that’s first marinated in lemongrass and honey. Put it together and it’s a vibrantly tasty bowl, flavored with salty-sweet nuoc cham ($8.75). 2765 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-945-3182, noodlesranch.com
Chuanbei Hot Sour Bean Noodles
Kong Fu Gourmet
This relative newcomer to the Mekong Plaza food court specializes in fare from Beichuan, in northern Sichuan. Find gyoza dumplings, meat pies and noodle dishes, including this spicy number featuring plump, chewy mung bean noodles tossed in a spicy chile sauce and served with peanuts ($4.60). 66 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-256-0638
Pale earthy brown when dried, these sweet potato starch noodles are slippery and chewy when rehydrated, with a translucent quality. They are often made with buckwheat and/or mung bean starch as well, and are the noodles of choice for the vegetarian Korean stir-fry jap chae.
Home cooks prepare this chewy noodle and vegetable stir-fry for special occasions. Made for sharing, the colorful, sesame-flavored noodle dish can be found in the appetizer section ($13.95, serves about four) at most Korean restaurants. 1116 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-668-7979, hodoriaz.com