North Valley Dining Review: Cafe Balkan

Nikki BuchananSeptember 2, 2022
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Café Balkan
Opened: June 2022

Don’t let your possibly shaky understanding of the Balkan Peninsula keep you away from this immaculate café. You’ll get delicious lessons in the region’s diversity – and familiar presentations – right there on the spot. Cases in point: Lepinja is a lighter, fluffier version of pita and sarma is simply stuffed cabbage (in this instance, stuffed with ground beef and rice, $13.50). Can’t pronounce “pljeskavica?” Me either. Just ask for the “Balkan burger” and specify the “Gurman” iteration ($16.50) – a spicy grilled beef patty topped with bacon, cheese and chile flakes tucked inside a split, house-made lepinja. Hard to beat, as are other grilled meat and lepinja combos such as classic cevapi (the finger-size, charcoal-grilled beef sausages of Serbia, $9) and suvlaki (yogurt-marinated pork tenderloin skewers, sided with tzatziki, $13). All grilled items come with ajvar (chunky roasted red bell pepper sauce), kajmak (Balkan cream cheese) and chopped onions.

Suvlaki at Cafe Balkan. Photo by Angelina Aragon
Suvlaki at Cafe Balkan. Photo by Angelina Aragon

Tender lamb shank, smothered in spice-perfumed gravy and set atop creamy mashed potatoes, is pure comfort ($17.50), and you’ll want a whole pie ($29) not a slice ($8) of burek – ground beef, spinach and feta sheathed in flaky phyllo.

Wild Card: Crempita, Serbia’s fabulous take on the Napoleon, but less puff pastry, more custard.

21043 N. Cave Creek Rd., Phoenix, 602-283-5360, cafebalkanaz.com

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