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March 05, 2012

The McDowell Project - 52nd to 44th

McDowell Dominic Armato

I didn't give up on this!

Quite the contrary, I've been trying to tackle it whenever possible. The holidays, trip to Asia and subsequent 30,000 word epic got me a little sidetracked. But while I've gotten past 44th, I figured it's time to start posting some findings. Still, it's slower going than I'd hoped, so I'm going to officially extend my initial pledge to two years or Central, whichever comes first. But for now, here's the first chunk:

Mixed GrillDominic Armato

Indian Delhi Palace
5104 East - www.indiandelhipalace.com

A friend's mother, upon hearing that I was headed to Indian Delhi Palace, is reported to have said, "Why would he want to go there? Does he not know it tastes like feet?" And while I can't say my assessment is quite so dire (though it is undoubtedly less informed - Indian is not my strong point), I confess that I'm unsure why this seems to be a popular darling. Too many dishes, like palak paneer and lamb vindaloo, had a certain indistinct, muddy quality that I'm not quite ready to dub footlike, but lacked a certain necessary brightness. And a mixed grill plate was dangerously low on sizzle. On the other hand, tandoori chicken had beautiful color, tender texture, vibrant flavor and a nice, smoky bite, so I can't say the dozen or so dishes I tried across three visits were all lacking. Still, on balance, Indian Delhi Palace strikes me as serviceable rather than exceptional, and I'll have to try a lot of other flops before I feel compelled to return again.

QutulaashDominic Armato

5050 East - www.jubarestaurant.com

If what I know about Indian is somewhat limited, then what I know about Somali is less than nothing, which is why I find Juba compelling, if somewhat less than excellent. Juba's menu is an odd mix of catchall Mediterranean and Somali dishes, which seems less of a mystery when poking around the intertubes suggests the Somali angle may have been added with a change of ownership a number of years back (don't bank on that -- couldn't nail it down). Since Hummus/Shawarma/Falafel places are a dime a dozen, I opted to focus on the Somali dishes, and had a few that were more than a little interesting. Hillib, oven roasted goat, was long on gristle, even for goat and even for my tastes, and somewhat short on flavor, though it warms my heart to see goat on a menu period. Soor, a dense and slightly creamy polenta analogue, comes in a massive brick accompanied by stewed greens and beans, and has a certain humble charm even if it isn't something I'm going to hurry back for. Whether or not the sambusas are being made in house, they're flaky with a well-seasoned ground meat filling, and are entirely enjoyable. But the dish I find myself thinking about is one called Qutulaash, ribbons of chapati (a thin, dense pita-like bread) sautéed with onions, tomatoes and beef, formed into a sort of caked and drizzled with a light, creamy sauce. Served like this, it's really good. Served at 3:00 AM after a night of heavy drinking, it would be amazing. I also dug the Somali iced tea, which was so sweet, so intense and so heavily spiced that I almost felt like it should have been served in a shot glass. In general, the food, though interesting, is rather rough around the edges, and I'll be curious to see if a second location opening in Tempe steps it up a bit.

Suqaar and FuulDominic Armato

Bisharo Coffee House
5040 East

Bisharo Coffee House has recently undergone an ownership and name change, so while the menu remains the same as of press, so to speak, my impressions of the food may already be outdated. Hopefully they're outdated, because they're not that positive. It was previously run by a lovely and friendly woman who lamented that her customers were only interested in greater quantities of meat. Still, as far as I can tell, the kitchen is little more than a hotplate in the corner, and while there are those who can work magic with the same, this is not what I'd call a food destination. Sambusas, undoubtedly made elsewhere, were tasty enough, toasted up hot, filled with ground chicken, a touch of curry and more sugar than I expected. Suqaar, sautéed beef, and Fuul, a sort of vegetable mash, were not at all good, the beef reheated and dry and the vegetables exclusively of the canned variety. As I say, this is (was) not a place to eat. The proprietor even suggested at one point that I go next door to Juba instead. Still, the change to Bisharo may bring something new. Perhaps a follow-up will be in order.

General Tso's ChickenDominic Armato

Asia Lee
5030 East - www.asialeeaz.com

Asia Lee is the epitome of divey, Americanized Chinese takeout and delivery, and if they have anything more back there, they're not sharing. The menu is packed with the usual suspects, and I tried a few of them with inconsistent results. General Tso's Chicken was refreshingly less than awful, fairly crisp and not too bready and doused with a sauce that wasn't 97% sugar, even if the accompanying fried rice and egg roll didn't reach such lofty heights. Lo Mein, however, was an overcooked mess, shrimp had been vulcanized, and the couple other dishes I tried didn't leave a much better impression. If everything were as okay as the General Tso's, I could consider it for a guilty, greasy Americanized Chinese fix every once in a blue moon. But enough of them were total washouts that I'm not anxious to roll those dice again.

Buffalo WingsDominic Armato

Johnny's Eastside Tap & Grill
4729 East - 602-267-1010

Johnny's was one of the spots I got hung up on because I kept trying to return when they kept revamping the kitchen. It's a dive bar run by amiable folks, and a fine place to park and have a cheap beer. The first time I went to check it out, there was a standard if extensive bar menu that hit all of the usual suspects. Upon checking back a month later, the menu had been replaced by a BBQ truck parked out front. These ribs, I suspect, might have actually been pretty good had they not been smoked four days prior and reheated (not enough traffic, the pitmaster told me). So it was probably a good call to hand the kitchen over to Wise Guys Pizza, which apparently operates four locations around Phoenix metro even if their web presence is oddly absent (witness relocation?). Wings came hot out of the oven, and even if it makes me sad to see them any way other than fried, you could do a whole lot worse, particularly at a dive bar. The pizza was kind of a doughy, goopy booze sponge, which I suppose makes it appropriate even if I really don't need to have it again. But hey, it came hot out of the oven and I even watched through the pass as the dough was tossed and topped, which somehow seems like it's going the extra mile in this context. It's not someplace you're going to want to go to eat. But if dive bars are your thing, it's a friendly place and there's no reason to be scared of the kitchen once you've had a few.


I was wondering what happened to this project but thought there was still hope given your upcoming "foot soldier" Ignite speech. Regarding the history of Juba, it has been a Somali restaurant for at least five years.Before then, the space was the original location of Indian Delhi Palace, which then built its current two-story structure just a block to the east. Maybe something else came in between. I can't recall.

As for Indian Delhi Palace, the new building is impressive and houses an upstairs banquet room; I agree, however, that the food is average. We like to stop there for the lunch buffet on the way back from the zoo or the botanical garden with the kids, but I would not make it a special destination. If you like goat, by the way, you might want to try Curry Corner in Tempe.

Eesh, the Suqaar and Fuul looks absolutely terrifying! You are a better man than I, because that's a lot more terrible-to-mediocre food than I'd be willing to put up with for this kind of project!

So, Dom, are you going to these places more than once, are you going with a group of other victims, or are you just ordering a ton of food? You seem to have a lot of dishes at each of the places, which admittedly makes a better review, but seems like overkill for some of them vis a vis the quality potential.

Anon Man... D) All of the above :-)

If I could bring myself to just try one dish and move on, I could plow through three of these in one long lunch hour. I should probably be a little more cursory... this is kind of a scouting survey, after all. But I keep hoping to find something awesome, and I'm trying to at least poke around a little bit.

Bisharo is the only one where I was in and out by myself. One stop, app and entree... yeah, moving on.

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