Monthly dining reviews from all over the Valley.
Photography by Angelina Aragon
By Nikki Buchanan and Craig Outhier
Opened: October 2021
Analilia Carreto Rodriguez developed a cult following by selling birria (shredded beef stew) from her house. Now she and her family have opened a small birrieria, selling all things birria – and more. A steady stream of customers lines up for her fresh, outrageously good food, especially an earthy birria that can be ordered countless ways, including birria ramen and birria en caldo (in broth). I plan to try them all. For now, I recommend her quesabirria tacos, dipped in consommé and fried until the corn tortillas are crisp and slightly blackened, the taco oozing cheese ($2.99). They’re the best of their kind I’ve ever had. A shrimp queso taco is made the same way, excellent with sprinkles of minced onion and cilantro, a squirt of lime and a dip in that fabulous consommé ($3.50). Grilled cheese, built on Texas toast, is filled with the meat of your choice and mozzarella, the sandwich sided with grilled onions and jalapeño ($7.49). Cheesy pastor fries (yes, birria is available) come topped with tiny chunks of pineapple, avocado and crema ($11.99), all accompanied by fiery green chile salsa loaded with avocado and cilantro.
Wild Card: Try a 12-inch birria pizzadilla, layered with three tortillas, mozzarella and birria, and browned to a flaky, pastry-like crunch ($24.99). It’s insanely good.
8520 W. Peoria Ave., Peoria, 623-738-2930, facebook.com/analiliasriquezas
– Nikki Buchanan
Opened: January 2021
At long last, the Valley has evolved to the point where most neighborhoods have a solid Vietnamese place nearby. But Vietnamese seafood? Less common, maybe nonexistent, until this south Tempe mom-and-pop came along, which is why I skip past the menu’s expected phos and búns (which look first-rate, by the way) and go straight to the copious selection of snails and grilled clams. And I do mean copious: two full pages of snail dishes alone, from meaty, squash-ball-size whelk to escargot-like periwinkles. I opt for the stir-fried whelk with spicy butter ($14), and while I enjoy wresting the calamari-like meat out of its conch and dredging it both in the smooth butter sauce and an herbal green pepper condiment called muoi ot xanh, all that gastropod flesh is a bit much – best split as an appetizer, I would say.
(For snail newbies, I recommend starting with the periwinkles.) Grilled queen clams ($13) make for a spectacular presentation, served open with toasted shallots, scallions and peanuts on an iron hot plate sizzling so furiously it steams my glasses. Dunked in nuoc cham, the ubiquitous sweetened fish sauce condiment, they’re quite an experience, tasting of spice, fire and ocean spray all at once. And that just scratches the surface of the seafood menu, which also includes abalone, lobster and more. Can’t wait to dive in again.
Wild Card: Not ready to take the snail plunge? Try mì khô ($12), thin egg noodles in a dry yellow curry with shrimp and a lively side of tamarind-chile sauce.
4435 S. Rural Rd. Tempe, 480-699-2539, vinas-kitchen-restaurant.business.site
– Craig Outhier
Opened: September 2021
In 2018, chef-owner Dom Ruggiero opened Hush Public House on a stretch of Scottsdale Road that had long been a restaurant wasteland. Now he and his wife Holly are giving the neighborhood a more casual eating and drinking option with this spacious, light-filled taproom and bottle shop adjacent to Hush. Half of the 24 taps feature artisanal Arizona beers; the other half focus on exceptional craft beers from around the country, all curated by brew guru Todd Oltmann. Snacks, six in all, are made at Hush and packaged in plastic grab-and-go containers, but don’t let the humble presentation fool you. These are seriously good noshes – especially the creamy, cayenne-spiked French onion dip (served with Ruffles potato chips), which is as sweet and oniony as French onion soup ($12). Smoked fish dip, jacked up with horseradish and Cutino Verde hot sauce, is a little more in-your-face but no less addictive with a tiny bag of Saltines ($16). A mix of interesting olives, soppressata and mozzarella serves as a mini charcuterie bowl ($10), and, of course, there’s a hot dog with snap from Fripper’s in Atlanta ($9).
Wild Card: Eat Hush takeout at VG and check Instagram for food truck visits.
14202 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-597-6526, vanillagorillaaz.com
– Nikki Buchanan
Nanaya Japanese Kitchen
Opened: July 2020
Conceived as a test kitchen of sorts for a future project in Old Town, Nanaya roared out of the gate two summers ago in the old Crudo spot in West Phoenix with revelatory renditions of Japanese izakaya standards, including flat-out the thickest, juiciest, most artfully composed katsu-style tri-tip sando I’ve ever tasted. Then it went into hiatus for a bit, reawakening in September with a larger, more entrée-focused menu and new chef. While the sandos aren’t quite as transcendent as they used to be – cut into quarters like a club sandwich, the Wagyu beef katsu ($25) lacks the original’s pillowy milk bread – everything else I tried at the new Nanaya was pretty damn good. Miso cod ($25), served on a mattress of fragrant forbidden rice with a melting toupee of ginger butter, was silky and breathtaking.
Drizzled with black truffle oil and delicate white soy sauce, tuna sashimi ($16) is one of the Valley’s more inventive iterations of that sushi standby, and the tempura set ($16) – with crisp long beans and kabocha (winter squash) along with the usual veggies – was on point. Less on point: the service, which can be poky. Suggestion: 50 percent less live jazz, 50 percent more alacrity on the drink orders and we’ll be goruden (golden).
Wild Card: In retrospect, my ethereal Snail Mail cocktail – Nikka gin with Asian pear nectar and lemon ($15) – was worth the wait.
3603 E. Indian School Rd., 602-354-3532, nanayajapanesekitchen.com
– Craig Outhier