Monthly dining reviews from all over the Valley.
Campo Italian Bistro and Bar
Opened: June 2021
Last spring, James Beard Award winner Alex Stratta pulled the plug on his short-lived fast-casual restaurant Stratta Kitchen, retaining the space to create a rustic Italian restaurant with restaurateur Tucker Woodbury of Genuine Concepts (The Vig). Dimly lit and just shy of elegant, it’s a comfortable place to linger over cocktails or graze from a casual menu offering a short list of apps, salads, pastas, pizzas, panini and entrées. Everything but the prices reads upscale, including lush salmon rillettes, strewn with oranges and dill, served with grilled bread ($7) and a salad-y antipasto of grilled wild Mexican shrimp, arugula, marinated fennel, local citrus and radish, tossed in creamy citrus vinaigrette ($15). Bucatini, bolstered with crisp, smoky pancetta, local Pecorino, caramelized onions and confit cherry tomatoes that burst sweet juices in the mouth is simple perfection ($21), while Bosco pizza, spread with mushroom duxelles, then topped with caramelized onion, mushrooms and truffle mascarpone, offers earthy, perfumed richness ($16). Too bad the otherwise exemplary pizza dough is oily this day, but it doesn’t change my verdict a whit: Campo is wonderful.
Wild card: Don’t miss Campo’s limoncello margarita, a sprightly one-up on the Mexican classic, with house-made limoncello from Stratta’s grandmother’s recipe ($6 at happy hour).
8260 N. Hayden Rd., 480-597-9195, campoitalian.com
Sue’s Soul Food Heaven
Opened: December 2020
Few of us long-hauler Arizonans can claim to be soul food experts. We see lots of at-bats when it comes to chimichangas and grilled ribeye. Collard greens, not so much. But even to the soul food novice, it will be instantly clear this ramshackle counter-service eatery in West Phoenix is slinging some quality vittles. Transformed in chef-owner Malika Murphy’s pit-barrel smoker, chicken thigh-leg quarters (available as a “Rollin in My 64” two-piece combo with two sides and a sticky cornbread muffin, $10) arrive simultaneously juicy, smoky and spicy, with a faintly crispy skin salted with Caribbean jerk seasoning. Clearly a magician with the smoker, Murphy also uses it for smoked-to-order salmon ($20 combo) and swai ($15), but we opt instead for deep-fried swai and aren’t disappointed: flaky, creatively seasoned and altogether terrific.
Only the pork ribs ($15 combo) fail to fully impress – the meat tastes fine in a light red pepper dredge, but requires a little too much rough action to liberate it from the bone. Oh, and the greens? Available as a side dish, they’re a symphony of salt and bitterness, with big hunks of tender pork hiding in the sheets of braised collard. Delicious and excellent, unmistakably, even to an Arizonan.
Wild Card: Let Murphy unleash her smoky ministrations on a massive turkey leg ($20 combo). Huzzah!
4537 W. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-281-2093, suesoulfood.com
– Craig Outhier
Opened: April 2021
From their homey storefront near downtown Chandler, Lee and Thai Kambar (he’s Iraqi, she’s Cambodian) dispense “Khmer/Arab finger foods,” the gyros, hummus and flatbreads of his homeland and the spring rolls, curries and cold vermicelli salads of hers. The menu skews more heavily Cambodian than Middle Eastern, but Thai works both sides of the fence like a pro, turning out a garlic naan platter composed of voluptuous green onion-flecked yogurt, thick, fresh hummus, olives and pickled veggies ($5.50); and herbaceous beef and lamb gyros, offered as a diminutive gyro bites plate ($6.50) or a messy, heaping gyro sandwich ($8.50).
Her pistachio baklava? Far better than most. More firm and flaky, less syrupy-sweet ($3.50). Thai creates her own fusion cuisine, blending turmeric and curry powder with lemongrass and fish sauce to make a grilled curry chicken thigh (mildly spicy and packed with nuanced flavor), sided with jasmine rice, a lacy fried egg and a cool, tangy salad of carrot, cucumber and papaya ($8.50). But habanero-cured ground pork (imagine a firm, cylindrical tartare), studded with peppercorns and topped with mint, is strictly for thrill-seekers ($3).
Wild Card: Go classic Cambodian for dessert: toasted banana enveloped in sweet rice and steamed in a banana leaf tamale-style ($3).
444 E. Chandler Blvd., Chandler, 480-927-3865
– Nikki Buchanan
Opened: June 2021
“Middle elevator, button marked B,” the security person in the lobby tiredly intones, answering a question that hadn’t been asked yet. It’s become my new favorite Valley catchphrase – replacing “I’m Dale Earnhardt, and that’s no bull,” I suppose – after one terrific visit to this speakeasy-ish bar-restaurant in the basement of Roosevelt Row’s Ten-O-One building. Brought to life by Pigtails Cocktail Concepts, the folks behind the Whining Pig beer-and-wine chain, and named after Teddy Roosevelt, whose bespectacled likeness graces the building, Rough Rider comes on like a mixology lounge, with its fin de siècle mansion-library décor and baroque pre-Prohibition cocktail list, but the food is what really stuck with me.
Specifically, chef Jose Morales’ crispy porchetta ($27) – that famously time-intensive pinwheel of pork belly and loin, here served over a gloriously salty lima bean succotash, the porchetta’s candied bacon-like epidermis perfectly paired to the fork-tender pork loin beneath. It’s a brain-scrambling festival of flavor, and instantly one of my favorite dishes in the Valley. Also excellent: thoughtfully sourced oysters with a quartet of condiments and mignonettes (MKT); lissome tempura cauliflower with blistered shishitos ($12); and ethereal brown butter scallops over sweet corn risotto (MKT). Pardon the Rooseveltian superlative, but it’s all so gosh-darn bully. I’ll be pushing that B button again soon.
Wild Card: Rumor has it, Morales puts beef Wellington on the specials menu from time to time, to complete the lovely Victorian fantasy.
1001 N. Central Ave., 602-675-0439, roughrideraz.com
– Craig Outhier