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April 26, 2010

The Quarterly Report - Q1 2010

Carne Asada Tacos @ Sonora Mesquite Grill Dominic Armato

One of the things that always drives me nuts is the volume of places I never get around to posting about. Maybe I only tried one thing, maybe it wasn't particularly notable for good or bad reasons, maybe I wanted to go back before writing but never quite got around to it and probably never will, or maybe I just feel funny writing up a whole big thing about a place where I had a pretty decent lunch once. So less because I think this is all that useful and more because I'm obsessive about cataloguing this stuff, I figure I'll take inventory every few months of places that I don't think are going to find their way into a larger post at some point, and chunk them together into one frankenpost instead. So with that, in alphabetical order, the quarterly report for Q1 2010:

BBQ Pork SoupDominic Armato

Best Hong Kong Dining
1116 South Dobson Road, Mesa AZ 85202

I was headed to Hodori for Korean, and kind of got sidetracked. For some reason BBQ pork soup just seemed suddenly compelling (why I went Chinese over Korean when craving soup, who knows), so I popped in here instead. It's a huge menu that's a mix of traditional and Americanized Cantonese, and may be worth a little exploration in the future. On this particular day, though, I just got a simple noodle soup with cabbage and sliced char siu. The soup and noodles weren't anything special, but they did kind of have that no frills hole-in-the-wall corner joint in Hong Kong vibe, and they hit the spot on an afternoon when I was really craving them. The char siu was really nice, though, which makes me wonder if anything else on the menu is worthwhile.

Italian BeefDominic Armato

Chicago Hamburger Co.
3749 East Indian School Road, Phoenix AZ 85018

Chicago-style hot dog stand within a mile of home? Day one stop. Though they serve all of the Chicago standards, the specialty of the house is the "Chicago Slider," which I mostly find puzzling. Do people associate sliders with Chicago? White Castle was founded in Wichita and has its corporate HQ in Ohio. Anyway, the sliders are, indeed, the best thing I've had there, a little larger than the WC and appropriately steamy. The Vienna Beef dogs (Vienna/Royko standard) are solid, if they don't quite have the steamy magic of the better places, and the fries are standard-issue frozen fare, if done as well as can be expected. Steer clear of the Italian Beef, though. It was really awful for a lot of reasons that aren't worth enumerating. Just don't bother.

Tostada de CevicheDominic Armato

Mariscos Acapulco
3226 East Thomas Road, Phoenix AZ 85018

I got here a few times, and actually rather enjoyed it. It's straight-up, no-frills Mexican mariscos and everything is solid, if unremarkable in its consistency. I had some pretty good crab enchiladas in potent tomatillo sauce, inexpensive whole fried fish in a tasty garlic sauce, clean and fresh ceviche tostadas, and a worthy version of one of my favorites. I have a weakness for a good coctel de camarones, and Acapulco's makes me happy, fresh shrimp, plenty of avocado and a very light sauce that would be problematic if the table weren't covered with all of the ketchup, hot sauces, saltines and limes you need to doctor it to your preference. As long as you aren't looking for anything too fancy, Acapulco should hit the spot.

Fish and ChipsDominic Armato

Ricky's Big Philly
3538 East Indian School Road, Phoenix AZ 85018

Don't get too excited. They just closed down a couple of weeks ago after losing their lease. Which is too bad. Ricky's Big Philly was a burger and dog joint, and I don't want to oversell it, but what they did they did with an unusual amount of care. Good burgers, chicken sandwiches, and an especially good fish and chips special. Fresh cod, battered and fried to order with housemade slaw and good fries absolutely destroyed the better-known Pete's just a few blocks to the east. I'm not generally one for seasoned fries, but here they were lightly dusted with a house blend rather than being saturated with overspiced gunk. And their onion rings are absolutely killer, thick rings that are soaked overnight and freshly battered and fried. Ironically, the only thing that wasn't any good was the cheesesteak, dry and shredded into oblivion. But as long as you steer clear of the place's namesake, it's an unusually good burger joint. Hope they manage to reopen somewhere.

Curry Chicken Salad SandwichDominic Armato

Sacks Art of Sandwicherie
4730 East Indian School Road, Phoenix AZ 85018

Though I'm admittedly doing my best to set aside what may be the second-worst restaurant name I've ever seen (Winner: You-A-Carry-Out-A... no joke), Sacks is the kind of place I really want to like but just can't. A huge selection of creative sandwiches -- it's right up my alley. But everything I've had has ranged from okay to terrible. The curry chicken salad shown here is one of the better ones I tried, but it's muddy and poorly-balanced and plays more like a heavily curried chicken paste. I don't believe for a second that the "prime" beef sandwiches actually contain prime beef. It isn't a deli, so I blame myself for not liking the "Reuben," which had weak corned beef, cole slaw instead of sauerkraut and a sickly sweet Russian that tasted like it used Miracle Whip for a base. But the most telling item was a simple turkey sandwich, which featured typical cheap deli counter fused lunchmeat swimming in saline. When you're flogging your sandwich prowess, you really ought to be roasting your own turkey -- or at least sourcing something that doesn't look like whatever was on special at the Safeway next door. It's a $6 sandwich. Charge me two dollars more and make it good, please.

Matzo Ball SoupDominic Armato

Scott's Generations
5555 North 7th Street, Phoenix AZ 85014

A good Jewish deli is always on our short list of restaurants to locate when moving to a new town. Scott's Generations is scratching the itch for the moment, but the search goes on. Matzo ball soup was muddy and the matzo was leaden. Chilled beet borscht was passable, but the flavor was a little weak and in need of more sourness. Scott's will satisfy a Reuben craving, though. The corned beef is passable, and it's griddled up nice and crisp and plenty gooey on the inside. I've heard the pastrami is worthwhile, but I can't speak to for it personally. So, I guess the summation is that it's hit and miss so far and nothing's knocking me over. Anybody who's found a better deli, I'm all ears.

Carne Asada TacosDominic Armato

Sonora Mesquite Grill
4613 E Thomas Road, Phoenix AZ 85018

Tipped off by fellow foodnik Joel over at One For Dinner, I popped into Sonora Mesquite Grill for what he's billing as "the best carne asada tacos you've never heard of." And I have to say, they're very good for what they are. It's a tiny joint, they serve only carne asada, barbacoa and chicken, and everything is exceptionally fresh. Ordering a couple of carne asada tacos netted me the two beauties you see here, along with a selection of salsas. The meat's heavily marinated, with great flavor that includes the mesquite that it's picked up off the grill. Really, I think the only reason I'm not quite as enamored of the place as others is a matter of personal preference. Sonora Mesquite Grill's is very tender and moist, and I actually tend to dig slightly drier, more charred meat when I go looking for carne asada. But it's clear that a lot of care is going into the food, I suspect most will prefer this to what I typically seek, and the woman running the place is one of the sweetest you'll ever meet. They deserve to stick around and I hope they do.


For a good deli give Chompie's a try if you haven't yet, it was my favorite when I lived in Phoenix.

You can't speak to the pastrami personally? Did you introduce yourself first?

Is there an emoticon for bad jokes?

I can empathize with the search for a good deli. I grew up in a suburb of NYC where great deli is prevalent. Now, I live upstate in Rochester . . .and it is slim pickins'. Good for my waist line, but depressing. The only upside is I've learned to make truly outstanding latkes at home. My sons demand them as reward for good report cards. But I miss pastrami!

Try the Rueben at the Four Peaks Brewery

I used to work at a place that was near Ladybug (sandwiches). There was one sandwich with ham, pineapple and bacon I think and it was really really really good.

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