December 26, 2004
Are we spoiled or what? A new restaurant opens every 48 hours in the East Valley, providing us with endless opportunities to take our tongues on culinary crusades into untasted territory.
Since Jan. 1, a Turkish place (Efes) opened in Tempe, an Indonesian cafe (Lotus) landed in Chandler, enough wine bars were uncorked to keep us rosy-cheeked through 2005 and a handful of barbecue joints — both familiar and not — fired up their smokers in our cities for the first time.
It’s a lot to digest, but I stretched my stomach and expense account as far as I could without bodily harm to come up with the East Valley’s 10 best new restaurants. Bon appetit!
1. Binkley’s Restaurant
It’s a looooong drive from everywhere, and the daring menu, which changes daily, lists challenging foodie favorites such as calf brains, lamb’s tongue and foie gras. But the Binkleys (chef Kevin and maitre d’ Amy) boast plenty of accessible dishes as well, such as the awe-inspiring baconwrapped quail, black bass and sweet potato soup. 6920 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek, (480) 437-1072.
I fell hard for this palatial faux Italian villa elegantly spread across six of the most prime acres in the Valley. Southern Italian specialties such as polpettini antipasti (small meatballs braised and served with white wine, lemon and bay leaves), polla alla spiedini (rotisserie-cooked half chicken) and orecchiette con salsiccia (homemade pasta and sweet-spicy sausage with broccoli) offer simple, fresh flavors at reasonable prices. Top-notch service and a sprawling, fire-lit patio make Sassi the perfect place to spend a special evening. 10455 E. Pinnacle Peak Parkway, Scottsdale, (480) 502-9095.
3. Famous Dave’s Barbecue
Glossy, sticky, fall-off-thebone St. Louis-style ribs. Tender, juicy beef brisket. Shiny, butter-infused corn bread muffins. Yum, yum and yum. This Midwest import has smoked the competition to win more than 100 barbecue awards, including Get Out’s "Best Barbecue in the East Valley" contest. Yes, it’s that good. 3250 W. Frye Road, Chandler, (480) 782-1212.
4. Arrivederci Trattoria
An authentic, kiss-you-onboth-cheeks Italian restaurant with scrumptious sauces, fantastic fresh-from-the-oven focaccia bread and a cozy atmosphere — what’s not to love? The cannelloni de carne (beef and veal stuffed into three homemade pasta tubes, covered with melted cheese and a sensational tomato cream sauce), chocomisu and cannoli are killer. 4221 E. Chandler Blvd., Phoenix, (480) 759-9292.
5. Tapino Kitchen & Wine Bar
Stellar service, a playful yet educational take on wine and 20-plus tasty tapas make Tapino a fun, exciting place for the palate. I could make a meal of the beautiful bruschettas (choose from five tempting toppings) and the delicate, divine piquillo pepper relleno with chorizo and saffron rice. 7000 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, (480) 991-6887.
6. Humphrey’s Pacific Rim
Chef-owned restaurants are to be treasured, and this creative north Scottsdale strip mall find is no exception. Duck confit quesadillas, mango pot stickers and beef randang — all artfully presented across long banana leaves — are some of the highlights of Humphrey’s Europe-meets-Indonesia menu. 11144 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale, (480) 551-3222.
7. Cantina Laredo
Mmmmm, this slightly upscale Mexican place produced my most memorable dish of the year — the camaron poblano asada (shrimp, mushrooms, onions and Monterey jack stuffed into a poblano pepper wrapped in a tender, thin 10-ounce carne asada steak). The kitchen has the basics down pat as well — chips, salsas, tacos, etc., are all better than most. Great bar area, too. 7361 E. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale, (480) 951-3807.
8. 98 South Wine Bar & Kitchen
This chill downtown Chandler wine bar is doing so well the owners have already sprung for a second location (56 East Bar & Kitchen) sans the retail wine. Try the roasted chicken breast with garlic mashed potatoes, pork tenderloin with red potatoes in a heavenly bleu cheese sauce or halibut with a marvelous mustard sauce. The made-inhouse desserts impress as well, especially the lemon tart with its refreshing sweet-andsour punch and thin shortbread crust. 98 S. San Marcos Place, Chandler, (480) 814-9800.
9. Big City BBQ
Opened by an odd but effective threesome (a Boston business guy, a friendly young Englishman and a barbecue guru from Iowa), this small Tempe eatery is big on pecansmoked flavor. The St. Louisstyle spareribs, brisket sandwich and sugar-baked beans with bacon are all lipsmackers. Save room for the sugar biscuits. 5118 S. Rural Road, Tempe, (480) 756-5703.
10. Bada Boom! Pasta Room
Opened by the man who brought us Dos Gringos and Sugar Daddy’s, this kitschy but cool Sopranos-meets-Scottsdale pizza and pasta place uses homemade mozzarella, imports tomatoes from Italy and makes its pizza dough daily. Sautéed calamari with spicy marinara sauce and tasty tiramisu are the perfect bookends to a meal at this patio-centric bistro. 4151 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale, (480) 214-2666.
3 restaurants we’ll miss
Sugo Pastaria Wine Bar:
We named this Scottsdale spot our favorite new restaurant of 2003. Roughly six months later, it was bought by the man behind Sugar Daddy’s and Dos Gringos and turned into Bada Boom! Pasta Room.
Suroeste Grill: This Ahwatukee Foothills strip mall gem must have gotten lost in the shadow of the neighboring Safeway. It transformed into the slightly more upscale and 100 percent Italian Venice Ristorante Italiano.
Sanguigni Pasta: Closed its popular Italian deli and pizzeria at McKellips and Power roads and reopened a temporary carry-out location (the owner is working on financing to finish building his dream restaurant) off Greenfield Road at 4722 E. Ivy St. in Mesa.
... and 2 we won’t
Gonzo’s All American Grill: A Diamondback’s name does not a restaurant make. High prices with little to no return will strike out anywhere — don’t blame Gilbert.
Mexi-Kenny’s: How do you fail in an area as starved for restaurants as far northeast Mesa? Serve mediocre Mexican dishes at 8 or 9 bucks a pop.