Kabab Palace ∙ Tempe, AZ
Kabab Palace may sound like a generic name for a Middle Eastern restaurant, but don’t overlook this place–it’s currently home to the only Afghan cuisine in the Valley, and it is owned by the former operator of a well-regarded Afghan restaurant in San Francisco. I had never eaten Afghan food before, but thanks to a nice write-up by Geri Koeppel, I was familiar with many of the dishes before arriving at the restaurant.
I wanted to try an authentic Afghan beverage, so our server recommended Yogurt Soda ($3), which isn’t actually listed on the menu. It is a very hearty drink, but be warned it is extremely sour–much like buttermilk. If you’re like me, you may be curious why it’s called ”soda”. Interestingly, the carbonation is created naturally by allowing a diluted yogurt mixture to stand at room temperature for a couple days to ferment, or “ripen”. Then it is re-chilled and fresh cucumber slices, dried mint, and salt are added. In moderation, I appreciated the drink, but they served me an enormous glass, and about halfway through it just became too overpowering for me. It is meant to serve a more practical purpose than pleasing the taste buds though. From a nutritional standpoint, you could make a meal of this drink.
The appetizers at Kabab Palace were impressive. The Aushak ($5) was a carefully prepared dish consisting of delicately crafted leek-filled raviolis covered in two unique but complementary sauces. One was a creamy white sauce made of yogurt, mint and garlic, and the other was a red tomato-based sauce with fine bits of ground beef. Dried mint was sprinkled in a swirl over the top for good measure.
Shorwa ($5) is a hearty lamb and vegetable soup–Afghan comfort food. It had a wonderful, fresh aroma. My wife thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Qabelee ($13) was the most beautiful dish, with pallow rice and chunks of lamb shank covered with julienned carrots and raisins. My wife said this was flat out the best lamb dish she’s ever eaten.
I have an amorous relationship with curry dishes. When I saw they had one on the menu, I went right for it. The Mourgh Challow ($10) offers tender chicken breast chunks and split peas in a delicious sauce made of yogurt, cilantro, and curry. It is served with challow rice, which is basmati with a bit of oil and cumin. It would be tough to find better basmati.
Like the other dishes, the Koufta Challow ($10) was excellent. This is a good choice for those looking to experience something besides the typical kabab. These tasty, Afghan-spiced meatballs are sauteed with sun-dried tomatoes, hot peppers, and green peas and served over challow rice. My dad said it couldn’t have been better.
Like so many other cultures, Afghans have their own version of rice pudding; it’s called Sheerberaing ($4). The rice was thick and chewy. It was mildly sweet and topped with pistachio and cardamom, which gave it a great aroma. It wasn’t my favorite rice pudding, but it was good.
I found the interior at Kabab Palace to be tasteful, and the atmosphere relaxing. The service was attentive, but expect to wait a bit for your meal, as they make everything fresh and to order. The food speaks for itself. It’s a treat to have high quality ethnic cuisine such as this in the East Valley.
Kabab Palace Afghan Cuisine
710 W. Elliot Rd., Suite 108 (Map)
Tempe, AZ 85283
hours: lunch buffet M-F 11-2:30, dinner every day 5:30-10
Filed under: Cost, Location, ChowRating, Cuisine, $$$, 5 Star, East Valley, Asian, Tempe,
Red White and Brew ∙ Chandler, AZ
Red White & Brew was recommended to me by a co-worker a while back. I expected it to be a microbrewery, but once I arrived I realized they simply resell a variety of local microbrews, including Four Peaks and Thunder Canyon. It appeared to be a popular place. The restaurant was nearly full when we arrived just before six o’clock, but we were seated almost immediately.
My wife ordered a special seasonal drink, which had an interesting flavorful mixture of Toasted Almond Champagne and Chocolate Port ($6). She said it was pretty strong, but it was nice for a chilly winter evening.
We were served some freshly baked bread as we waited for our meals. It was basted with butter and topped with herbs and cheese. They were so good, we ate two platefuls.
My wife’s Seafood Scampi ($19.50) was a sight to behold. The dish was huge. Sea scallops, mussels, littleneck clams, and jumbo shrimp sat atop an enormous mound of linguini. She loved the seafood, which was sauteed in a garlic butter wine sauce, but didn’t eat hardly any of the pasta. She said it lacked flavor, and had become soupy because so much moisture collected at the bottom of the dish. She would have preferred the pasta served on the side.
I was in the mood for steak, so I ordered the 10oz. Flat Iron Steak ($14). As it was served, one of the staff told me to let them know immediately if it wasn’t just as I’d requested it. I appreciated their concern with getting things right. It was a good cut of sirloin, and they did cook it to medium-well as I had asked, but for some reason it was rather dry. It was topped with two beer-battered onion rings, which were excellent. The mashed potatoes were also tasty. I wasn’t crazy about the texture of the steamed vegetables; it seemed unnatural as if the beans and carrots had been frozen and suffered some damage as a result.
The highlight of the meal was the Cinnamon-Apple Dumpling a la Mode ($5.50). They took a cored apple, stuffed it with cinnamon and caramel, and then wrapped it in pastry dough. This was an awesome dessert. The crust was glazed with additional caramel sauce, so every bite was delicious. Because the crust was so good, I actually preferred the dumpling to the typical apple pie.
Overall, the service was very good, and some aspects of the meal were exceptional, while others fell short of expectations considering the price. I’d say this restaurant is well worth a try. I’d like to try the original location at some point to see if it’s any different from this new location in Chandler.
Red White & Brew
4850 S. Gilbert Rd. (Map)
Chandler, AZ 85249
hours: need to confirm
Red White & Brew – Mesa: 6740 E. McDowell (Map)
Filed under: Location, ChowRating, Cuisine, 3.5 Star, East Valley, Chandler, American,
Phoenicia Cafe ∙ Tempe, AZ
Phoenicia Cafe is a Greek and Middle Eastern restaurant located a block north of University Dr. near ASU. It’s a favorite among locals, but it’s kind of tucked away and you’d probably never know it was there if you were just driving past the university.
The building has a decidedly Greek look, with white walls and blue tiles. There’s a modest dining area inside as well as a nice umbrella-covered patio outside. On a warm day, the patio makes for a great setting for a meal.
They use fresh fruit in their Mango Shake ($3) when possible, but since mangoes aren’t currently in season they used an imported juice instead. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference, it had a very natural flavor. I liked the added touch of topping it with chopped pistaccios and whipped cream. It was a truly delicious shake. My wife and I were fighting over every drop.
One of Phoenicia Cafe’s specialties is Falafel ($5 for small order, $7 for large), which is more of a Middle Eastern food. We got a small order, and we were all pleasantly surprised upon our first bites. I never knew falafel could taste so good. They were really crunchy and had a very hearty flavor. They were just a bit dry, but that’s where the dipping sauce came in. Let the falafel soak in the yogurt for a couple seconds and it moistens them up and adds another dimension to the flavor. Don’t miss out on these guys.
My dad got the Chicken Kabab ($10), which couldn’t have looked any better. The large, juicy chunks of marinated chicken breast were charred up nicely, with grill marks evenly distributed all along the kababs. It was served with a thick garlicky yogurt sauce that was as good as the chicken. The sauce had a powerful, fresh garlic flavor, and was very smooth. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to order this on a date.
I got the Gallabah ($10), which has chunks of chicken breast sauteed with onions, red and green sweet peppers, and tomatoes. The veggies were fresh and flavorful, but the sauce turned out to be a little too sweet for me. The chicken was tender and picked up a lot of flavor from the other ingredients. Saffron-infused basmati rice filled a good portion of the plate. It had a pleasant fragrance and fantastic color.
My wife loves lamb, so she ordered the Shish Kabab ($10). It was grilled nicely, but she said it was a little dry. The lemon wedge and yogurt sauce cured that though. The dish was a winner for her.
The Hazelnut Baklava ($2) stole the show. This was the best baklava I’ve ever had. The owner, who I understand is of Greek and Macedonian descent, prepares it herself. It had three distinct layers of finely ground, syrup-soaked hazelnuts between delicate layers of Greek phyllo dough. The texture and flavor was unbeatable. Drizzling chocolate sauce on top made the presentation and flavor even that much better. If you ever go to Phoenicia Cafe, don’t leave without trying the baklava.
We also tried the traditional Pistachio Baklava ($2). It was excellent, but the hazelnut was my favorite, even though the pistaccio version is more authentic.
Phoenicia Cafe is an excellent choice for Greek/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisine. Vegetarians will find they have plenty of tasty and healthful options, and meat-lovers will salivate over the beauty of Phoenicia’s flavorful grilled meats.
Note: the owners have a second restaurant in Gilbert called Phoenicia Grill (address below).
616 Forest Ave. (Map)
Tempe, AZ 85281
hours: need to confirm
1150 S. Gilbert Rd. #104 (Map)
Gilbert, AZ 85296
Filed under: Cost, Location, ChowRating, Cuisine,Asian, Middle Eastern, Cuisine – Descriptors, Tempe, ChowAuthor, Jason, Mediterranean,
Mint Thai Cafe ∙ Gilbert, AZ 12
It had been about five years since I last visited Mint Thai Cafe in Gilbert. It’s one of the closer Thai restaurants to our house, so I decided it was about time I review it.
The restaurant doesn’t really grab your attention from the street. It’s located in a quiet strip mall, and is one of the few restaurants in the vicinity. I immediately noticed they had done some major renovations to the dining area, namely knocking out one of the walls to make it more open. They used a pastel green on the walls, obviously going for the mint tone. It was calming but not overly appealing to me. Still, the improvements managed to enhanced the atmosphere substantially.
It’s nearly impossible for me to visit a Thai restaurant without getting one of their creamy drinks. I ordered my standard Thai Iced Tea ($2), while my wife got a Thai Iced Coffee ($2). Both were quite good, but not quite as wonderful as the ones we had at Thai Basil.
We started with an order of Fried Wontons ($4) with pork filling. They looked appealing and tasted fine, but I was disappointed that the filling was nearly non-existent. This dish was not worth the price.
My wife got the Thai BBQ Chicken ($9.25). It was a half chicken grilled to perfection, and it looked amazing. The special marinade they used gave the chicken a nice color and flavor. It must have been marinated for a long time, because she said every bite was flavorful. A sweet and spicy dipping sauce was served on the side. She absolutely loved the dish.
I seem to get coconut curry dishes whenever I eat Thai food. There are typically four classes of coconut curries to choose from–yellow, green, red, and brown. I ordered the Mussaman Curry ($10), which is prepared with brown curry. At Mint Thai, they rate the heat of the curry dishes from one to four stars, which gives you a lot of options. I went with two-stars, and it was a true medium heat (I can’t imagine how hot the four star must be). This version was a little different than I’ve had before. They used tomato in the sauce, which added a new dimension to the flavor and color. I liked this recipe; the addition of the tomato gave it an extremely rich flavor. There were a lot of thinly-sliced, tender pieces of chicken in the dish. All the ingredients were tasty and the portion was generous, making this a solid option.
They seem to have a small staff at Mint Thai Cafe, so the service doesn’t exactly move at warp speed, but they do their best to keep up. Other than the weak appetizer we ordered, our experience was very good. Mint Thai Cafe is yet another solid Thai option in the valley.
Note: we didn’t try it, but Mint Thai claims to have an amazing homemade coconut ice cream.
Mint Thai Cafe
1111 N. Gilbert Rd. #102 (Map)
Gilbert, AZ 85234
hours: 11-9 M-Sat, 11-8 Sun
Filed under: Cost, Location, ChowRating, Cuisine, $$, 4 Star, East Valley, Gilbert, Asian,
La Roca Mexican-Peruvian Grill ∙ Mesa, AZ
There’s no identity crisis here, La Roca is a Peruvian restaurant at heart. Adding Mexican fare to the menu was done in an effort to attract more risk-averse patrons and introduce them to Peru’s culinary treasures. The owners likely found this move necessary due to a failed attempt at offering an entirely Peruvian menu at their former restaurant in Chandler called Peruanitos. My wife and I loved the food at Peruanitos, as did several of our friends. Unfortunately, the East Valley isn’t always an easy place to offer ethnic cuisine. I believe La Roca’s new approach and location gives the Arriola family a solid chance at a highly successful restaurant. I was extremely impressed on my first visit.
Something you’ll never see in a Peruvian restaurant is tortilla chips and salsa, but at La Roca, they start you off with a basket like any other Mexican restaurant would. I was shocked at how good their Mexican salsa was. It was right up there with some of the best I’ve had in Phoenix. Later I learned that although it is a family run operation, they did hire a Mexican cook to take care of that side of the menu. I didn’t try any of the Mexican food, but based on the salsa it would appear she knows what she’s doing.
My wife and I both ordered a glass of Chicha Morada ($1.29), which is made from boiling Peruvian purple corn with pineapple rind, cloves and cinnamon. Sugar, lemon juice and pineapple bits are added at the end to complete the harmony of flavors. This is the authentic method of preparation that my wife’s family uses in Peru, and this is exactly how they make it at La Roca. It tasted just like I remember it in Lima, very refreshing and flavorful. Paying less than $2 for this drink was a steal.
To start, my wife had to sample the Anticuchos ($4.59), which is a signature dish from Lima. It is beef heart marinated for many hours in Peruvian spices and then grilled on skewers. It is served with papas doradas, which are boiled potatoes that are grilled briefly for additional flavor. It also came with a special creamy sauce that had a cilantro and jalapeno base. This was not a typical Peruvian sauce, but it was very tasty and went well with the anticuchos. The anticuchos themselves were extremely tasty. I don’t even like the thought of eating heart, but I tried a bite and was pleasantly surprised. My wife was impressed with how tender they were, which is a complement to the manner in which the meat was trimmed. Heart can be a tough cut of meat if not properly prepared.
My wife had a hard time choosing between all her favorite dishes from her homeland, but she settled on Adobo de Chancho ($9), which she said was delicious. This is slow cooked boneless pork marinated with Peruvian spices. The tender and flavorful bites reminded my wife of Arequipa, a large city in southern Peru, where it is a popular dish for Sunday brunch. The sweet potato and rice are good complements for the pork, although in Peru, you’d typically serve bread in place of the rice.
I ordered one of my favorite Peruvian dishes–Aji de Gallina ($8.79). It is shredded chicken breast simmered in a yellow aji pepper sauce served over boiled potatoes and garnished with hard boiled egg. Aji peppers are the basis for many Peruvian dishes. They can be extemely hot, but they are generally used for flavoring in Peruvian cuisine, and the dishes end up being only mildly spicy. My mother-in-law makes an excellent version of this dish, so it was going to have to be really good for me to truly enjoy it. I was immediately impressed upon the first bite, as it tasted just like an authentic home cooked meal in Peru. It was right on par with Mama’s version. I know it looks a little out of the ordinary, but I highly recommend giving this dish a try.
To cap off this wonderful experience, we ordered Arroz con Leche ($2.79), which is Peruvian rice pudding. This is one of my favorite Peruvian desserts. It was topped with shredded coconut and cinammon. They will serve it either warm or chilled for you. We ordered it warm, and it seemed to be all the more soothing for our stomachs.
I have been to Peru on five occasions and spent nearly half a year there in total. I can say that this is truly authentic cuisine like you’d find in the home of any Peruvian. What makes this restaurant even more special is the combination of value prices and excellent service. We are fortunate to have La Roca in the East Valley, but even if you live in Central Phoenix or beyond, it’s worth the drive.
Notes: Lunch specials are offered Tuesday through Friday (~$6 to $7). Salsa dancing on Saturday nights from 10pm-2am. They are also planning to have live Peruvian music occasionally (call for details).
La Roca Mexican-Peruvian Grill
1440 S. Country Club Dr. #3 (Map)
Mesa, AZ 85210
hours: T-Th 10:30-9, F-Sa 10:30-10, Su 11-7 (closed Mondays)
Filed under: Cost, Location, ChowRating, Cuisine, $$, 5 Star, East Valley, Mesa – Central, Latin American, Mexican, Homestyle,
Khai Hoan ∙ Tempe, AZ
Khai Hoan Vietnamese Restaurant in Tempe is a perfect example of a no-frills place that focuses on preparing exceptional food at the lowest possible price. To me, that makes it a great choice for lunch when I don’t typically have ample time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere anyway. David (of phxrailfood.com) and I planned to meet up for lunch. He loves Khai Hoan, so it made for a perfect lunch destination.
We split an order of Veggie Spring Rolls ($3). I absolutely loved the chewy texture of the wrap and the rice vermicelli inside. The lettuce and herbs were extremely fresh, as is all the produce at Khai Hoan. The peanut sauce gave the rolls most of their flavor, and there was just enough of it to use a generous amount with each bite of the spring roll.
I ordered Che Ba Mau ($2.50), which I thought was a drink but was actually a dessert of sorts (no wonder the waiter looked at me funny when I requested it at the beginning of the meal). The menu describes it as “tapioca with sweet bean and coconut milk.” I love tapioca and coconut milk, and “sweet bean” didn’t sound too intimidating, so I figured I’d give it a go. When they brought it out, I was surprised to see that it was almost completely solid. The bottom layer tasted like mung bean paste, then there was a layer of sweet red beans (probably azuki beans), a bit of coconut milk, some green gelatinous…stuff, and finally crushed ice on top. It’s served with a spoon. Getting it out of the cup was slightly easier than trying to eat spaghetti with a spoon. This is one of the more exotic drinks/desserts I’ve had. It wasn’t bad, but I think it needed more coconut milk so it could be mixed up into more of a liquid.
They have nearly 90 dishes to choose from, about two-thirds of which are Vietnamese and the other third being Chinese. I decided to try the Bun Cha Hanoi ($7), which is a rice vermicelli dish with grilled pork served in fish sauce with pickled papaya and a side of fresh red leaf lettuce, basil, and cilantro. The herbs smelled, looked and tasted amazing. They really made the dish special. The mixture of flavors and textures between the sweet charred pork, light and chewy noodles, and cool, crisp produce was amazing. If you’re afraid of pho, I’d recommend trying one of these vermicelli dishes.
David ordered Veggie Pho ($6). Again, the color of the vegetables amazed me. Everything looked so fresh and healthy. You could tell the vegetables were cooked to perfection, because they were crisp and hadn’t lost any color.
Khai Hoan gets pretty busy during lunch. Service is generally efficient, but can get a little slow at times since they have a lean staff. They offer fresh, authentic Vietnamese cuisine at value prices in a clean setting. I’d put it at the top of my list of Vietnamese restaurants in the East Valley.
Read David’s review of Khai Hoan Vietnamese Restaurant
Note: Khai Hoan is the sister restaurant to Cyclo Vietnamese Cuisine in Chandler, which is also excellent.
Khai Hoan Vietnamese Restaurant
1537 E. Apache Blvd. (Map)
Tempe, AZ 85281
hours: M-Sa 10-9, closed Sundays