Nikki Buchanan, Author at PHOENIX magazine

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I fell in love with the Hawaiian plate lunch back in the ’80s. Not in Hawaii, where I somehow missed it, but at Aloha Kitchen in Mesa, the first Hawaiian fast-casual in town, if memory serves. Of course, nowadays, island cuisine can be found all over the Valley, and one of the newest places for an excellent Hawaiian plate lunch is Maui Hawaiian Grill in Tempe.   It’s a clean, well-lit place, but I can’t help noticing that men outnumber women here by something like 10-to-1, and I’m pretty...

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Photo by Nikki Buchanan   I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but somewhere along the line, “namaste,” considered nothing more than a respectful greeting of “hello” in India, evolved into something much more profound here in the States. Routinely repeated in yoga classes across the land, it’s come to represent spirituality and deep reservoirs of calmness and peace . . . and then SNL and social media got ahold of it. Here’s a typical...

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Photo by Debby Wolvos   I love Flagstaff. Love the weather, love NAU, love the funky stores and, most of all, love the growing food scene. Obviously, executive chef/partner Rochelle Daniel of Fat Ox in Scottsdale sees the potential there, too. She’s opening a Modern American restaurant called Atria in downtown Flag late this summer (August, if we’re lucky), moving into the intimate, airy space that most recently housed La Vetta Ristorante Italiano. Daniel says...

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Got a dream of opening your own restaurant? Start with a pop-up. That’s the savvy direction budding restaurateurs are taking these days, given that pop-ups offer an inexpensive way to test locations, menu items and concepts, generate buzz, build an audience, and gain credibility. Cassie Shortino is following that very path, having recently left her position as the executive chef at Tratto to start Shorty’s Charpit, a pop-up she will hold once or twice a...

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When Tony Andiario left Tratto four-ish years ago, I worried that the place would not be the same without him. Then Cassie Shortino, who had been working for Cullen Campbell at Crudo before it closed, stepped in and filled those shoes like a boss. I remember arguing back then with a food-loving pal of mine about the virtues of Andiario’s elegant chicken liver mousse versus Shortino’s far more rustic seared chicken livers with strawberry jam...

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Que Chevere — the brick-and-mortar Venezuelan restaurant in downtown Mesa that evolved from a popular food truck of the same name — has been around almost a year, and I marvel that I never found it before. Maybe I’ll just blame that little lapse on the pandemic. Owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Orvid Cutler and Maria Fernanda (he manages, she cooks), it’s a plainly furnished but charming little spot whose good vibes come from...

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There was a day when Mexican food here in Phoenix meant just one thing — an Americanized hybrid cuisine that generally involved globs of yellow melted cheese. I’m not complaining. I grew up on the stuff, and I still love it to this day. But it’s pretty cool that over the past 20 years or so, we’ve been introduced to more and more regional specialties that demonstrate the vastness and nuance of Mexican cooking —...

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Kaw | Photo by Nikki Buchanan    Thai and Lee Kambar (she’s Cambodian, he’s Iranian) describe their menu as “Khmer and Arab finger foods,” which isn’t, perhaps, as accurate or enlightening as it could be. For starters, Thai makes lots of daily specials that require a knife and fork. Meanwhile, “Arab” seems a misleading tag for dishes like gyros and naan, which make provincial Americans (me, in particular) think of Greece and India respectively. (Side...

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Por Vida, which inhabits an adorably decorated, prominently placed corner of Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, isn’t your typical bakery at all. You won’t find rows and rows of pastry cases or the commercial ovens that turn out dozens of baked goods at a time. Although there’s a small kitchen outfitted with an oven on the bookstore’s premises, baker and budding entrepreneur Eileen Payan actually does much of her baking at home, hauling in her cookies, puff...

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Photo by Nikki Buchanan    Sugar Jam, The Southern Kitchen is the inevitable next step for pretty Dana Dumas, who began baking sugar cookies with jam for friends and co-workers when she worked for NASCAR back in the early aughts. Their effusive praise encouraged her to start selling her cookies at farmers markets when she moved to the Valley with her husband over a decade ago, opening her own bake shop near Scottsdale Airpark in...

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