Our reviewer revisits four seasoned storefronts in the Valley recently converted into all-new eateries.
Just last year the hallowed college haunt Minder Binders, once housed in a red barn, was still going strong as its latest incarnation: The Mission at Minder Binders. Mission accomplished, apparently, as the space has since been gutted of its signature kitsch (like a British telephone booth and gladiator movie props) in favor of spare, genteel, modern rec-room appointments, elegant light fixtures and arcade games. The menu initially had interesting Caribbean-tinged choices like empanadas and mini agave muffins, but these have been tossed after failing to move. The trimmed-down menu retains the Lester Coke ($12), a tender, mildly spicy jerk chicken sandwich with pepper jack, onions and garlic aioli that also tops the otherwise standard El Chapo Burger ($13). Appetizers include well-fed, crunchy coconut shrimp ($9) with sambal on the side, and Clark Street mini-dogs ($10), a trio of small weenies in different styles (Chicago, chili and the “Social,” with cheddar cheese and bacon). Perhaps the highlight: free skee ball while you wait.
Must try: Easy: It’s the glorious, truly succulent Spanish mussels ($15) in a red sauce of chorizo, corn and peppers.
715 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe
Housed in the building formerly occupied by Satara Thai, this Peoria eatery first came to my notice for the regrettable reason that, at a glance, the sign looks like it reads “SUCKS GARAGE.” Inside, however, the visuals aren’t so off-putting. The theme is automotive, with vintage ad art, license plates and toy trucks everywhere, and an old Harley on display. The dishes on the 1950s-diner-meets-Mexican fusion menu are similarly themed: I start with the V-6 Quesadilla ($10.50), thickly stuffed with a peppy blend of green chiles, chicken, bacon, black olives and other goodies. The Dip Stick ($10.75) is a nicely portioned French dip with good lean roast beef. From a long list of burger selections, I enjoyed the Neighbors Bleu ($11.50), under a blanket of melty blue cheese. The prices seem a little high for such basic fare, but the quality is high, too.
Must try: The carne adovada bowl ($10.75) piles feisty red chile pork on lettuce, Spanish rice and black beans.
8350 W. Paradise Ln., Peoria
Last fall, I was one of many Valley food lovers saddened by the closure of Gourmet House of Hong Kong on McDowell Road, and I have a feeling the owners of the modest, inexpensive Salvadoran eatery that now occupies the building are tired of hearing about it – they’ve hung a sign on the door reading “NO MORE CHINESE FOOD SORRY.” The old restaurant’s terrific sesame chicken might be history, but the new tenants do serve some mighty tasty Central American grub. The owners call it a restaurante y pupusería, so where better to start than with a pupusa? I pick the queso con loroco ($2.35), gooey cheese laced with bitter bits of loroco, a plant that tastes like chard, wrapped up in a fried masa dough pocket and topped with crunchy, spicy slaw. The yummiest and heartiest of the entrees was the carne guisada ($11.99) – fall-apart-tender beef, potatoes and veggies in a reddish-brown gravy with salad and rice. The pollo encebollado ($10.99) is almost as good, bathing the bird in a lighter white sauce.
Must try: The budin ($3) is a heavenly, mildly sweet rice pudding slab that feeds at least two.
1438 E. McDowell Rd., 602-257-9053, restauranteelguanaquito.com
Sweet Home Chicago
Yet another Valley haven for homesick Second Citizens, this spacious sports bar with walls devoted to big-screen TVs and Chi-town sports memorabilia used to be a Rosati’s Pizza – also a Windy City expat. I’m told it’s actually still under Rosati’s ownership, but at some point a smoker was added for Chicago-style barbecue, and a name change was required. The front of the menu still carries the chain’s competent pizza and pasta selections, like the cheese- and sausage-packed Salsicce Al Pomodoro ($12.95), or a surprisingly addictive fried calamari appetizer ($6.95). But try the barbecue in the back. The Figgy Piggy ($12.50) – pulled pork over goat cheese, spinach and fig jam, topped with stout planks of fatty but seriously flavorful bacon – is a full meal in a baguette.
Must try: In the event you need dessert, the zeppole, spelled “zepploe” ($6.95) on the menu – decadent little doughnuts with a side of Nutella for dipping – will feed the whole table, with leftovers.
7570 E. Sixth Ave., 480-508-1000, sweethomechicago312.com