Monthly dining reviews from all over the Valley.
El Heroico Guaymas
Opened: December 2020
When it comes to Mexican seafood, Sonora may not be the first place that comes to mind, but this cattle-raising, wheat-growing state (counterpart to America’s Midwest) has miles of coast and plenty of great seafood dishes to prove it. Case in point: this tidy spot – part restaurant, part seafood market – brought to you by Guaymas expats Horacio Lomeli and Fidel Rocha. The menu features the usual mariscos – fish and seafood appetizers, tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, ceviches, cocktails and entrées – as well as a few specialties exclusive to their hometown. You could be happy with basics like Taco Miramar, a soft corn tortilla filled with fried shrimp and tart, mayonnaise-y slaw ($2.99) or a fish ceviche tostada, strewn with avocado and drizzled with gutsy, glistening salsa negra ($2.49). Then again, it’s fun to stray a bit farther afield, maybe shrimp- and cream cheese-filled empanadas ($12.99) or the Guaymas specialty called momias (mummies) – butterflied shrimp and melting cream cheese wrapped in crispy bacon ($13.99). If you’re serious, spring for the Pescado Sarandeado, slathered in condiments and charred on the grill.
Wild Card: Skip the seafood and snag another Guaymas original – the two-pound Burro Percheron stuffed with grilled, chopped steak, tomato and avocado ($10.99).
6750 W. Peoria Ave., Peoria, 623-248-1734, heroicoguaymasrestaurant.com
Opened: March 2021
Age-old culinary question: What would Humble Pie be like without the pie? Well, here’s your answer, in the guise of a casual pan-Italian bistro in the High Street area fronted by well-traveled chef Jorge Gomez (Chelsea’s Kitchen, Postino, The Vig) and underwritten by the aforementioned Valley pizza chain. Point in fact: Gomez gamely offers a few pies on the menu, but we boldly charted new territory by ordering the charcuterie-style Bistroboard ($27) which proved to be the star of the meal, anchored by a creamy muddle of jalapeño hummus and festooned with several stars of the starters menu, including roasted Brussels with candied bacon and oil-poached wild mushrooms.
Delicious, and long gone by the time our pasta rosa and meatballs ($16), fall-apart braised short rib pappardelle ($21) and moules et frites ($19) arrived. Only the mussels were a minor downer – ordered “cioppino”-style, the broth was uneventful and un-cioppino-like. More like a starter.
Wild Card: Take a vacation from Italy with the Old School burger ($12), served on brioche with more of that tasty candied bacon.
5415 E. High St., Phoenix, 480-502-2121, humblebistro.com
Opened: May 2020
In a town crammed with high-energy eating-drinking playgrounds, this one might be the best. Located about a mile south of campus in no-man’s-land Tempe, this hip tiki tavern is an oddly perfect fit for the nondescript, ’60s-era stucco bunker of a building it occupies – one that friends tell me housed a middlebrow Italian restaurant for many years. It’s burlesque, you see, a wink, and you find more of that on the menu with Gramma’s Tacos, a tasty modernized update of that midweek family dinner staple of yore – ground beef, hard shells, the whole bit ($13). But there’s more on the wily menu besides nostalgia: the grain bowl ($12) is legit next-level, buttressed with a fistful of roasted squash and slivers of fire-roasted Anaheim chile;
the mole dry-rub chicken wings ($10) are as lip-smacking as they sound, a bit sweet and utterly original; and the Sonoran dog on Noble Bread is so generously smothered in guac, it could well double for avocado toast ($12). Add to that an Imperial-centric beer list and an inventive, amaro-focused cocktail menu, and you have a sort of Fiesta Village for new jack food-and-booze nerds.
Wild Card: Finish the party with a rum-roasted pineapple churro ($10).
2700 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, 480-590-5703, thegoldenpineappleaz.com
Opened: March 2021
“True level.” It’s a hypothetical surface so geometrically precise, so absolute, to stand on it is to experience intense psychic rapture. In a culinary sense, I think Rene Andrade’s pollo asado might be the true level of grilled chicken. Fired to a cripsy golden-brown on the chef’s ranch-style Santa Maria grill, yet supple and savory beneath that fabulous, salty bark, the chicken – served whole ($28) with organic flour tortillas – doesn’t obviously announce itself as a difficult or rigorously conceived dish, but anyone who tastes it knows better.
Andrade, formerly of Ghost Ranch, does for Sonoran cuisine what Chris Bianco did for Venetian-style pizza at this classic, flatiron-shaped dining space on Grand Avenue, stripping away culinary pretense and revealing breathtaking essence. Also terrific from the scant menu: whole pinto beans in a bacon-y broth with cotija and sprigs of cilantro ($5); ceviche-like aguachile (market price); and rotating specials like grilled shrimp in a brooding chiltepin pepper sauce. The only downside: Andrade’s brilliant micro-diner is only open four days a week, and there always seems to be a line.
Wild Card: Whet your whistle with a bacanorita ($11) – essentially a margarita made with the herbal agave spirit that gives the restaurant its name.
1301 N.W. Grand Ave., Phoenix, 602-612-4018
Pan-Fried branzino at Fat Ox
Like an aquatic Lady Gaga, branzino went from obscurity to superstardom seemingly overnight, becoming the poisson du moment on countless fine-dining menus. And few have mastered the breed (alternately known as Mediterranean sea bass) quite like chef Matt Carter and his squad at Fat Ox, where its supple white flesh and crispy skin will truly make you go gaga.
(Serves 2-4 people)
3 whole branzino, 8 oz each
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp fennel pollen
1 tsp fresh chives, chopped
1 tsp parsley, chopped
Method: Heat a large sauté pan over high heat, preferably a nonstick pan. Season the branzino with salt and pepper on both sides. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan, then add the branzino. Cook, undisturbed, until the skin starts to brown, about 4 minutes. Turn the fish over and cook another 4 minutes or until the skin is crispy and fish is cooked through.
Anchovy chimichurri ingredients
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 Calabrian chile or red jalapeno, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or finely chopped
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup finely chopped oregano
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 finely chopped basil leaves
2-3 finely chopped anchovies
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon juice to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste
Method: Combine shallot, chile, garlic, vinegar and pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Let sit 10 minutes. Stir in anchovy, basil, parsley and oregano. Using a fork, whisk in oil. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper if needed.
2 cups baby kale, remove stems from kale if large
½ cup basil
½ cup flat leaf parsley, just the leaves
2 cups grapeseed oil
3 oz Castelvetrano olives, or green olives, sliced thin
3 oz dried cranberries
2 oz bread crumb, mix with ½ oz olive oil and zest from ½ lemon
Method: Place oil into a small fry pan or pot and heat over medium heat. Make sure the branzino herbs (fennel pollen, chives, parsley) are clean and thoroughly dry. Once the oil is between 275 to 300 degrees F, fry the herbs by using a slotted spoon to lower them into the oil, careful to avoid any splattering oil. Fry for 5 to 10 seconds, just until they become even in color. Transfer to a plate lined with paper to drain.
Assemble: Place branzino on a plate (optional: remove head and debone before serving), spoon chimichurri over the top of the skin and garnish with cranberries, olives, bread crumb. Finish with fried herbs and serve.