3 Best Things We Ate This Week

Nikki BuchananAugust 27, 2021
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Photo by Nikki Buchanan


1. Pernil Empanada at Republica Empanada
I cannot explain such a lapse, but I shamefully admit to never having visited this small, winsome pan-Latin empanada emporium until this summer. Yes, I know, the place has been open for eight years now. I’m pathetic.

My buddy and I tried a half dozen empanadas just to get the lay of the land, and we pretty much loved them all. They’re small but perfect little packets of dough, golden brown, with neatly crimped edges and faintly blistered tops. The flour-based dough is tender and flaky yet sturdy enough to handle the heft and juices of various fillings.

My favorite? Pernil, garlicky Puerto Rican pork shoulder slow-roasted to melt-in-the-mouth tenderness, then pulled into shreds and stuffed into the dough to make a juicy meat pie. Fantastic — especially after a dunk in RE’s tart, chile-sparked tomatillo salsa. And just for the record, the banana cream pie empanada, topped with a tiny fluff of whipped cream, is excellent too, tasting of mashed banana, not fake-y, sugary banana pudding.
204 E. First Ave., Mesa, 480-969-1343, republicaempanada.com


Photo by Nikki Buchanan


2. Uni Shooter at Hana Japanese Eatery
To my mind, there’s no better way to start a meal at Hana than by downing this cold, bracing Japanese amuse bouche in one go. Creamy-textured uni (sweet but tasting ever so faintly of the ocean) and the tiny raw egg yolk of a quail (rich in its own right), float in a puddle of sharp, citrusy ponzu. Both uni and egg come adorned with briny black tobiko (tiny pearls of flying fish roe), curls of green onion and a red pop of garlic-laced Sriracha. It’s an umami-laden party in your mouth.
5524 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-973-1238, hanajapaneseeatery.com


Photo by Nikki Buchanan


3. Karaage at Vecina
Never mind that karaage is basically Japanese-style chicken nuggets, and Vecina is a Latin-inflected restaurant. Chef-owners Eric Stone and James Fox have never had any qualms about mixing things up, and in this case, using a soy-based carne asada marinade for the chicken doesn’t seem remotely far-fetched. Fried up feather-light and ultra-crunchy, the nuggets are stacked in a tottery little tower along with fresh lime, cilantro and pickled peppers, the whole precarious assemblage resting on a plate painted with a brilliantly yellow swath of spicy aji amarillo (Peru’s spicy yellow pepper) sauce. A generous sprinkle of togarashi (Japan’s assertive seven-spice mixture) adds another layer of heat. Sure, Vecina’s spin on karaage is a bit more in-your-face than its traditional Japanese counterpart, but that’s what makes it so memorable.
3433 N. 56th St., Phoenix, 602-675-2000, vecinaphx.com

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