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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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!

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.

Haji Baba

Flaky, slightly crunchy layers of sweetened dough coated in a gooey syrup with a dense slightly chewy layer of ground nuts and more sugar baked and sliced into the perfect snack sized desserts.

The glories of baklava. My favorite Greek/Middle Eastern dessert.

But it gets better. It’s true! You just need to add an order of Arabic coffee.

Like espresso, but sweeter, this concoction is twice boiled with ground coffee and sugar.

This is the perfect combination for a coffee date or a study break.

Or, in my case, the perfect ending to a meal!

Haji Baba is a small restaurant attached to the like-named Middle Eastern grocery store where you can browse through an endless variety of candies, coffees, cups, candles, cookies, and other customer favorites (Oh accidental alliteration, how you make it so difficult to properly describe the contents of a store!)

Off to the right side of this store is a small café area with the paintings of ancient ruins in the midst of a desert as background.

It’s open and bright, though not the most comfortable or cozy of dining areas.

The food has the usual Middle Eastern schawarmas, kebabs, gyros and falafils, as well as some that I never heard of before.

I’ll be honest, I have never much cared for the savory dishes of Middle Eastern food, it never tastes quite like how I imagine it should and it never sits that well after ingestion, either.

But, I’m determined to enjoy it, so I picked something new to try.

I went with the Kibbeh plate. The kibbeh is a patty made from mixing ground meat with bulgar wheat. The plate came with two portions of two patties sandwiching another layer of ground meat. I have never tried anything like it before, but I actually really enjoyed the meal. The texture was crumbly, but still tender and it was flavorful and VERY filling.

I don’t know how one is supposed to eat this, but I would take a forkful, dip it in the “yogurt salad” (read bowl full of yogurt with a dash of herbs and a few chunks of cucumber) and some Sriracha. It was quite good!

My favorite part, I’ll admit, was the hummus and pita bread. It was just so good – perfectly creamy and tangy.

Overall, I really enjoyed this place. It has good food at great prices. And if you don’t mind a bit of a cafeteria feel, it’s a nice place to hang out for a couple hours.

Solo Café

Cleverly camouflaged amongst a strip of run of the mill restaurants and spas, is this cute alternative coffee shop on Southern and Mill.

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This mug was literally the size as my face. Just letting you know, it’s worth the trip!

The walls are covered in artwork with cute and odd monsters and skulls, what I would call alternative punk/psychedelic. There is a cozy sofa and old fashioned arm chair (as glimpsed in the picture) in the middle of the main room facing a wall-sized book shelf (with books you can actually pick off the shelves and read!), and a wooden bench that stretches the length of the back wall covered in cushions.

It is cozy if you want or a little bit stiffer for when you need to work. But you can find an outlet at any seat (cleverly hidden underneath the bench lip or on the ground) and the music is just the right volume. If you like a song, it’s loud enough to hear every word, but if you just want background then it’s soft enough to not disrupt your concentration.

Their drinks are pretty good, too. I’ve been getting their chais – they have three different flavours, and have enjoyed everyone. So far the Ginger Chai (pictured in the mug) is my favorite – it gives the tea an extra spicy kick. I’ve also tasted their hot coco (house blend) and a white mocha. I’ve yet to be disappointed!

All in all, this is one of my top picks. Perfect for meeting with friends, or for finishing some work, or simply reading a good book.

Thai Basil (Rural and Apache)

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This Thai restaurant has been the meet-up-with-the-gang spot since my Freshman year of college 4 very distant years ago. My (extremely boisterous and nerdy) group of friends would frequent this place for two reasons. A) It was literally across the street from our dorms – convenient, non? B) Everyone was able to find something to eat here. Even the pickiest of us(*ahem* only chicken and rice, no spice, kind of picky *ahem-cough*) could enjoy a filling and delicious meal. And i guess I should mention that it is reasonably priced, but that’s a given for a college student go-to!

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Thai Basil (named after the herb of the sweet name, which is sweeter than normal basil and has a much stronger flavor) features a laid back traditional kitchy asian theme. What I mean by this is, you walk in and immediately notice the many representations of Buddha (including a seductive lounging young Buddha next to a wine cooler), the simplistic and rectangular dark and red decor and the all Asian staff. It also has a back section with low bench-type-booths covered in red pillows.

Now to the food! I’d rate it an average on the Asian food scale. It’s good, nothing special. It’s not even very Thai tasting. Of course there are the peanut dishes, curries and lighter cream sauces, but it tastes like all other Asian food. You know? Not that it’s a bad thing, it just…is. It takes a remarkable restaurant/chef to produce a strong Asian dish while catering to American tastes. In fact, the best Asian food I’ve had has been abroad where the customer is NOT alway right!

(If you are ever in Lyon, France and want some Thai, hit me up. I know JUST the place. I dream of their Pad Thai lunch specials…)

This visit was during their lunch specials, so I was able to try something different from what I normally get. (I always like to think of myself as someone who tries a different dish every time, but I’m coming to realize that I have my few favorites and rarely stray from them. I’m going to work on it for your guys’ sake though!)

I ordered the Pad Thai with beef. Spicy, please! And since it was lunch it came with a small bowl of veggie soup. I’m going to guess that it was leek or cabbage in a clear broth (pork? chicken?) but it was light and refreshing. Perfect for both sustaining us through the wait and prepping our digestive systems for the starch heavy onslaught.

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Salut Kitchn Bar – A heavenly experience

I’ve been enchanted by the gourmet food scene – local produce, seasonal ingredients, inspired and unique recipes – for as long as I’ve been watching Foodnetwork (which has been a bonding channel for my mom and I for as long as I can remember.) It makes sense to adapt menus to the ingredients’ unique properties rather than forcing ingredients to make the normal expected platters of the masses.

So of course I fell in love with the new Salut Kitchen Bar in Tempe. It’s got an upscale recycle kitsch feel to it that seemed very classy yet casual, perfect for the University environment. The one page menu offered a mouth-watering selection of appetizers, salads, burgers and entrées at a decent price. The back of the menu listed their extensive selection of wines and beers. And then they had yet another menu for their creative and unusual cocktails (they range on the more expensive side, but believe me they are worth the splurge!)

My friends and I decided to share several of the tapas: the Chef’s plate (smoked gouda, honey white cheddar, brie, 3 meats, home brined black, green and purple olives, goat cheese stuffed papadew peppers, chipotle sauce, figs, and seasoned nuts with 4 slices of toast), the Grilled Halloumi Cheese with microgreens and capers, and the Hummus Nachos (fried pita with hummus, balsamic reduction, and the pièce de la résistance – pomegranate seeds.)

Needless to say it was a religious experience. The meats were exactly what sliced beef and cured pork should taste and chew like, the cheeses complimented the olives, figs and meats. The olives were so juicy and perfectly salty. The papadew peppers had a delightful tang and bite to them that the creamy goat cheese smoothed out.

The Hummus Nachos were so divinely created that I ate most of them with my eyes closed, slowly chewing the crispy and doughy pita, savoring the complex combination of tangy hummus and sweet balsamic. The bright burst of pomegranate juice was the epitome of harmony (I was so disappointed that there was only one seed per pita nacho.)

Top off this amazing meal with an unending supply of mimosas (a Sunday special,) and it was one of the best food experiences I have enjoyed here in the states.