La Bocca Urban Pizzeria and Wine Bar

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Here is a throwback post. I suppose I’ll post this on Thursday to be in proper internet form. #tbt

La Bocca was one of my favorite spots to eat and chill in Tempe. It was on the trendy part of Mill, just North of campus, accesible and fun. It had a wonderful half priced happy hour from around noon to about 4pm.

After class I’d meet up with friends for some wine and apps. The bruschetta choices are to die for. There is both savory and sweet options. My friends and I would often choose three savory and one of the two dessert choices (you pick four per plank). The smoked salmon is our favorite, but is seasonal – if you see it, get it! But I can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed by the options, so feel free to pick as you please!

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The sandwich combos are quite delicious as well. Pictured above is the fig and turkey sandwich. It is absolutely delightful and bursting with flavour. And come with house fried potato chips seasoned with fresh herbs and sea salt. I think I enjoyed them more than the sandwich itself!

 

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Carlota’s on Lambert

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Carlota’s is a local Mexican place right in the heart of Oro Valley. The location has a long history of Mexican food. Ever since I can remember we would go to the Mexican restuarant -El Burrito Patio- and I would order a hot dog wrapped in tortilla. Very latino, I know. Since then, my tastes have expanded and the restaurant has changed.

The decor is pretty much the same – Mexican turquoise, coral, yellow – and there are pictures of old vaqueros on the walls. It’s cozy and fun. The menu offers all the yummy type meats in burros, enchiladas, tacos, and combo plates! And, like any good Mexican restaurant, complimentary chips and salsa (at least the first bowl and refill.)

I ordered the carne asada tacos lunch special. The meat was tender and flavorful, the toppings – cabbage and cilantro and onion and tomatoes – were fresh and crunchy. Add some of the house salsa and you got perfect tacos. The rice was moist and not bland. And the beans… were your ordinary run of the mill refried beans. Overall a great lunch for about $8.

Cupz n Crepes

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Cupz n Crepes is an adorable little local restaurant in ‘Tukee just a few blocks West from the I10 on Ray. I went to  meet a friend here for breakfast while visiting The Valley and am I in love! It is the best crèpe place I’ve been to in the states.

It is a seat-yourself diner, and the wait staff were pretty friendly when we went. Our order even got lost but they were quick to fix that once we brought their attention to the wait. The decor is classy cutesy with mirrors and shelves full of porcelain vases and flowers. And on the walk to the bathroom hallway you can see the cook making the crèpes the traditional way – on a giant circular grill with the little wooden spreader.

The crèpe selection is widely varied – veggies, cheese, meats, and the dessert options are plentiful!! And the price is oh so right. Most of the crèpes run in the 5-7 dollar range. A SUPER AFFORDABLE BREAKFAST OR LUNCH, non? I ordered the above pictured strawberry, honey and almond dessert crèpe.

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The crèpe itself was slightly crispy but still retained it’s chewiness. The strawberries were fresh, the honey was not overly sweet and the almonds added a great crunch and nuttiness. My friend ordered a make your own with avocado and jack cheese. It was delicious as well. The cheese was some of the freshest and creamiest I’ve ever tasted.

I was so pleased with this restaurant. I highly highly recommend it. Go and support this local place. Order a crèpe, order a café. Sit and chill for a bit à la vie française!

Phoenix Adventures

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So I went up to Phoenix this last weekend. Again. Can’t resist the delicious food…erm I mean amazing friends that are in the city just North of me. While up there I got to see some friends who have gone off to the East Coast for grad school, hike South Mountain and try new restaurants!

This was actually my first time hiking in Phoenix. Though I’ve meant to explore the trails for the last several years it just never worked out timing wise. XP But I have done it now! And it was… interesting. Much different from the hiking trails I’m used to in Tucson.  First of all, South Mountain is more of a large hill than an actual mountain. I could easily reach the peak of this “mountain” whereas I’ve never been able to scale to the top of any mountain in Tucson (without the aid of a car.) The first third of the path was paved. Which is abominable. If you want somewhere paved go to a PARK not a hiking trail, jeesh. After that it starts to get rather steep and rocky, but the trail is so short it isn’t terribly exhausting. I only needed one rest and then just some breathers.

The interesting bit about the South Mountain trails is that there is actually one trail that is 14 miles long!!! It goes around the range in a mostly flat and even trail. That just happens to be on the very outside middle part of a small mountain.
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After hiking we went to SUSHI. Our usual place is Teharu the revolving sushi bar but we decided to mix it up and try someplace new. Mido Sushi on Ray and Kyrene. We got there for happy hour and BOY was it DELICIOUS.  We all got full on under $10. On fresh and good quality sushi! Elizabeth and I split four rolls – to have the greatest variety of flavours. There was a spicy tuna, a gyoza roll (a sushi roll with gyoza inside. BRILLIANT!), jalapeño tuna, and the pancho roll (which has shrimp tempura and avocado). They were all delicious. I don’t even care much for shrimp and I loved the pancho roll. Since then one of us has gone back 3 times. I am incredibly jealous and can’t wait to go back up and enjoy the happy hour again.

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Then we had BOBA TEA. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH. I don’t actually care much for traditional boba balls. But I love milk tea, I love mini boba and I love popping boba/fruit caviar. I try a different combination almost everytime I enjoy a tea. This time it was a coconut taro tea (the purple one in the back) with mini bobas (yay Boba Tea House for having mini boba). Taro is such an interesting flavor and I am obsessed with the beautiful color it creates. If you have been wary to try something so exotic, don’t be. It’s a mild flavour, slightly sweet and it tastes… opaque? or ever so slightly chalky? It’s extremely unique. Please, give it a try!

 

 

IMG_2696 (2)And then for dinner one night we tried a local Italian place – Floridino’s. I split a steak sandwich and was pleased at the dinner. The steak was not dry, the peppers were still crisp and not overcooked, the bread was nice and toasty… but it lacked something. It was dry (and even marinara sauce wouldn’t have added much to it) and not very flavourful. It tasted like something I would throw together from  leftovers, honestly. The pasta salad was rather nice… again extremely simple to the point of being bland. It was pasta and oil and vinegar and some herbs. I won’t be going back there again. The price just does not reflect the quality of the food. If it were 5 dollars for one of their sandwiches I’d be game, but even 7.50 seemed excessive for something so terribly bland. I also have to admit that I was thoroughly let down by the lack of veggie dishes. I just was not in the mood for something entirely bread and sauce and cheese. I have come to expect something more layered. Is it really so much to add some broccoli or zucchini to the pasta at least? GIMME VARIETY and nutrients.

However their calzones did look promising. They are ginormous and worth two meals. If I do ever end up there again, that is what I’ll try.

And so we have our third post of the new year. I’ll try to add some more life anecdotes with my recipes and reviews. If you have any comments on what you’d like me to make, bake or suggestions of restaurants in Tucson or Phoenix areas, lemme know!

Hope your new year is going splendidly!

 

Chino Bandido

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Confused by the meal pictured above? You have every right to be. It’s a mix of Chinese and Mexican food! There are a couple locations throughout the “Greater Phoenix Area” (put in quotations because everyone not born in Phoenix knows that Chandler, Scottsdale, Tempe, etc don’t really matter. It’s all Phoenix to us!) and it is quite an interesting experience.

Chino Bandido’s most popular plate option is the combo: you get two meats (burrito or quesadilla style), rice, and beans for about $7. On top of that you can choose refried beans, spicy black beans (what I had, try them. They are delicious), rice, or a variety of fried rices.

What I ordered was suggested by the delightful and knowledgable waitress Fizz (at the Tempe location. GO VISIT AND SAY HI!). She recommended the Emerald Chicken quesadilla with the Jade Red Chicken, white rice (because fried was a dollar extra and I’m cheap) and the spicy black beans. It was delicious. The Emerald chicken is a ginger and scallion seasoned chicken and it was delicious covered in cheese and sandwiched in between crispy quesadillas. I also suggest you spread some black beans on with every bite, it gives it a lovely kick. The Jade Red Chicken is sort of a Sweet and Sour style chicken and it was tender and reminiscent of classic American style Chinese food. All in all I enjoyed the meal, and I had leftovers, too!

The best part, however, may be the fresh daily baked Snickerdoodle cookie that comes with the meal. It’s soft and chewy and honestly one of the best snickerdoodles I have tried. Doesn’t happen often at quick service restaurants, but here it is amazing. They make the dough and bake the cookies on site so it’s fresh and tasty!

If you need more reason to go check out this unusual food combo here is a picture of their mascot. He is adorable (if a bit racist):

 

Now go! Enjoy and marvel at the taste sensation! And again, if you go to the Tempe location say Hi to Fizz!

Noble Hops

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I hope everyone is having a wonderful December full of holidays or at least friends and family. The New Year is fast approaching, so make sure to live up the last days of 2013 to their utmost enjoyment factor. For me that has meant staying at home in my pjs for days on end with the occasional social outing. Which also, in turn, means that I don’t really have any more holiday-themed posts. So it’s the normal restaurant and recipe reviews!

 

Noble Hops is usually one of my favorite hangouts on the Northwest side of town. It is a fancy trendy gastropub that is all to rare in this ritzy and retiree-inhabited desert city of mine. I could have sworn I already did a post on it, but having checked my archives I must admit it never happened. Here’s to fixing that problem before the end of the year!

They have delicious beers and pretty darn good appetizers (their entree fare is just a little too pricey for me to have tried without a special occasion.) I have a new and delightful beer everytime I go in and I usually order the Cavatappi Pasta (basically a super decadent and fancy mac and cheese served in a little skillet) and the Pretzel Bread served with a tangy beer sauce. The Greek Fries are delicious too, covered in feta and garlic.

As far as the trendy I was talking about, it has a very minimalistic decoration on the inside, one of the alcoves is lined with shelves of bottles – one row red, another green, another blue, and another yellow. At night there are a bunch of lights strung up around the patio area and a GORGEOUS fire pit in the middle in front of the bar. It is also open up quite late which is another unusual find on this side of town.

This visit, however, I have to say I was less than impressed with what I ordered. It was the Grilled Artichokes “small plate.” I love artichoke hearts and have always been curious to try artichoke leaves. What better place than to try it here at my favorite gastropub? I knew it was fate when I saw the table next to us had ordered the same thing. It looked amazing!

I was so excited (and starving to boot) when it came out. But after the joy of having my plate served I was immediately overwhelmed by confusion. How did I even go about eating this thing? I started picking at it and stabbing it with my fork and knife. I managed to get some leaves of and eagerly lifted them to my mouth only to encounter a tough and chewy husk. Where was the delicious and tender artichoke meat?

I was in the middle of expressing my confusion and frustration only to realize my friend who had ordered the same was already half way through her artichoke half, having no problems.

Unacceptable. I attempted to eat this thin any way I could, but it was unsatisfying and a huge tease. Even the little bit of heart at the bottom wasn’t enough to quell my hunger or anger.

Eventually I gave up. I’m not proud of it, but I couldn’t figure the damn artichoke out and the little bit of sustenance I was scraping (literally, with my teeth) off the leaves was not at all what I hoped. In a fit of despair I kindly told the waitress my problems and she amicably took it off my check and offered to get me something else. I was too frustrated and just wanted to focus on the plate of fries we were sharing and my beer (which kind I can’t remember. Our waitress was awesome and brought me three samples to choose from. All I know is that it was a red ale.)

The evening was still enjoyable. My friends and I laughed and chatted and drank. And I stuffed my face as soon as I got back home. This bad experience will by no means keep me from trying the other delicious sounding options on their menu (I WILL be back) but it will temper my adventures in ordering anything other than artichoke hearts in the future.

Kabuki

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Kabuki is a ritzy sushi restaurant located on the West Wing of the Tempe Marketplace. Well, ritzy for a college student hangout. It is very Asian Chic inside, with red and black color scheme and minimalist kabuki mask and flower decorations.

Inside the lights are low and the red lampshades cast an aura of Feudal Japan and the Kabuki theater across everyone’s face.

It’s quite fun for a group outing and can equally be a nice place for a date!

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The food selection is pretty diverse. There is a large offering  of appetizers and most any kind of sushi your heart could desire. I also discovered a page that lists some soups and rice dishes.

In my personal experience here, the food is alright. It looks and sounds better than it actually is. I once ordered the dragon roll and it came out with seaweed shaping a dragon head! It was so much fun. But the flavors were mellow and it just didn’t leave a tasty memory.

This time I decided to try something besides sushi and ordered the Spicy Miso Ramen. It came with a side of soup or salad. Having my main course be soup I opted for the salad. As is common at Asian themed restaurants the dressing on the salad was a delightfully pungent ginger dressing. It always amazes me how it can transform a simple bowl of lettuce leaves into a delicious salad.

After the appetizer, my ramen came out. It smelled great and was a decent size (though I’ve had more for a lesser price). The seaweed was nice and tender, the bean sprouts crisp, there was some corn but it mostly sank to the bottom, and the noodles were a nice chewy texture. The broth itself, however, failed to impress. It was alright. Spicy, a hint of miso. But it simply failed to wow. I honestly enjoyed the salad dressing more than the soup.

I think this is going to be one of my last visits to Kabuki. For the price range (a check on the low end usually being $15-20 per person), the quality of food does not match. I can get a much more flavorful bowl of ramen at Republic Ramen (big enough to split with two people) for less than $8.

If you are in the area and have the money to spend, it is a decent restaurant. But I am going to start exploring the other options at Tempe Marketplace from now on.