Kick off 2020 by responsibly exploring the Valley’s spate of new restaurants.
Opened: August 2019
Not long ago, I found the best falafel I’ve had in the Valley at a westside gas station and convenience store – it’s only fair that the eastside would get an equivalent. From a little nook in a corner of a Gilbert gas station, a self-taught Californian proprietress cheerfully delivers jaw-droppingly tasty lobster rolls, lobster tacos and other bounties of the sea. She could go from Mobil station to Michelin star. Start with the Sloppy Lobsta Roll ($16), succulent, flawlessly fried shellfish dressed with the orangey, slow-igniting Takeover Sauce, made from “seven different ingredients,” she says. The crinkle-cut fries on the side are well-seasoned and satisfying (get them smothered in lobster for $12), but the Japanese-seasoned togarashi tots are an intriguing variation.
Must try: Tearing apart the soft-shelled crab ($16), served on a King’s Hawaiian roll, and caught while the poor creature was most vulnerable, is a primal joy.
2371 E. Baseline Rd., Gilbert, 480-813-3845, tempuratakeover.com
Charlie Mae’s Soul Food
Opened: August 2019
The namesake of this assured soul emporium – the co-founder’s Oklahoman grandmother – clearly knew what she was doing in the kitchen. A meal could be made from the sides alone: sweet baked beans, black-eyed peas and especially creamy but tangy deviled egg potato salad. But you won’t want to miss the entrees, like fried chicken ($12.75 for a “small” order), with big muscular legs and breasts encased in a thick but not too greasy crust. The fried bologna sandwich ($6.95) was a success, if a peculiar one – the combo of thick, juicy tomato slices, lettuce, potato chips and mayo on two slabs of bread tasted fabulous, but the supposed star, the one little piece of fried bologna at the center, barely registered. The banana pudding ($6) was a little over-sweet for my taste, but…
Must try: The fried green tomatoes ($7) are a salty, crunchy pleasure.
6115 S. 51st Ave., Laveen, 602-675-0865, charliemaesoulfood.com
Opened: October 2019
Taking over the spot in The Churchill formerly occupied by Breadwinner, celebrity chef Bernie Kantak offers something truly unexpected: a short-menu burger joint. Dressed in Thousand Island-ish Commander Sauce, the flagship burger ($8; $1 more for cheese) comes with standard toppings and arrives on a bun from local artisan bakery Noble Bread. It’s messy but perfectly yummy, maybe just a buck or two more than it should cost. The crispy chicken sandwich ($8), also on a Noble bun with pickle, buttermilk sauce and coleslaw, had a thicker, more stubborn batter than it needed; meanwhile, to get the above-average french fries ($4), you’ll have to order them on the side. Dairy is the thing at CH, sourced from Danzeisen Dairy. The chocolate shake ($8) is terrific, even at three dollars more than the famously over-priced milkshake sucked down by Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction.
Must try: They’ll also make you a float ($8), with the ice cream and pop of your choice. I had Squirt and vanilla, and it was a masterpiece.
901 N. First St., Phoenix, 602-675-2202, commander-hamburger.com