January 31, 2011

Where to get the best Chinese food in Flagstaff

The Year of the Rabbit begins on Thursday, February 3. Celebrate Chinese New Year with foods considered to be lucky or that symbolize a prosperous new year, Chinese-style. Among the dishes to be on the look out for that are said to bring you luck:

Peking duck and chicken– Symbolizes family unity, togetherness and fidelity.
Noodles – Representing a long life, noodles should be eaten whole. So don’t cut those babies. Just slurp them in whole.
Spring rolls – These symbolize wealth. Why you ask – because their shape is similar to gold bars. At least that’s why they say.
Veggies and fruits – You should eat more of these anyway and they’re considered lucky. Particularly of interest for those seeking fortune – lettuce wraps, tangerines and oranges. Eat up.

Now that you know what you should consider ordering for extra good fortune, here’s a look at some of the places to go in northern Arizona for some of the best Chinese food around.

Golden Dragon
2730 East Lakin Dr (at Steves Blvd), Flagstaff
Flagstaff’s most upscale Chinese option, the Golden Dragon has recently been remodeled and revamped with a new owner (who used to own Hot Wok Express) and slightly new name. (It was Golden Dragon Bowl). Golden Dragon is a great place to get those lucky noodles! They have two delicious menus. One with classic American Chinese favorites. The other, which they call their “authentic Chinese Cuisine” menu, has more unique offerings. Among the dishes to try here: Hot Chili Oil beef, chicken or pork; beef Chow Fun; Steamed Veggie Dumplings; Szechuan Shrimp; Singapore Curry Noodles; and the House Special Pan-Fried Noodles. But then everything sweet and sour here is sure to please the taste buds too.

Hunan West
1302 Plaza Way, Flagstaff
A little family-run joint tucked between Planned Parenthood and a dollar store, Hunan West has a friendly staff and some of the best Chinese food in town. The Orange Peel Chicken (which gets in several lucky categories at once) is delicately fried and served in just the right amount of orange sauce. Nothing you’ll find anywhere else in town is quite like this one. Other things to try: Chun Pai Beef, Cashew Chicken, Mongolian Beef, Spicy Broccoli and War Won Ton Soup.

Hot Wok Express
1000 N Humphreys St, Flagstaff (at the far west end of the shopping center)
A fast food version of Chinese, Hot Wok serves up a quality product even though their eat-in ambience leaves something to be desired. But don’t let that stop you. The food is made fresh and quite tasty. Though the fried stuff can tend to be more greasy than desired there. The Chicken Lo Mein, Moo Goo Gai Pan and Broccoli Beef are can’t fail options. For ultimate convenience, call ahead and swing by the drive up window. Perfect for snowy days! Even if you don’t have a menu in front of you, the folks here will help you find what you want.

Szechuan Chinese Restaurant
1350 W Highway 89A, Ste 21, Sedona
Menu online: szechuansedona.net
Head down to Sedona’s Szechuan if you’re looking for the fancier side of Chinese dining in Northern Arizona. Szechuan is an ornate restaurant with a full menu for every desire. Everything on the menu is well prepared and full of flavor with a presentation and service of equal quality. I particularly recommend the Garlic Green Beans, Orange Chicken, Chicken with Broccoli and Yuan-Yang Flavors.

(This article first ran in Flagstaff Live, also written by me!)

For your little foodie: 'My Foodie ABC Placemats' make going out to eat more fun for everyone

Get this and keep it in your car for entertaining your little foodies when you're at restaurants: My Foodie ABC Placemats. These have food themed-lessons with writing/tracing and drawing/coloring activities. Plus, of course, little info bits about different foods by letter. But this isn't your typical ABC lesson. Here A is for alfajores (a South American treat), B is for bento box and C is for chanterelles. These are great for all kids of all ages and their parent foodies too!
Teachers could also laminate these to use over and over in their classrooms for snack time or parents could do the same. Each placemat tears off and can be tossed at the end of your meal, unless you laminate them. Then you can use them over and over.

January 30, 2011

Pita Jungle in Flagstaff

Pita Jungle
320 S Regent St
Mediterranean influences bringing together Greek, Armenian, Middle Eastern flavors with an American flare at Pita Jungle. Sure they've got your gyro and falafel pitas but they also have options you wont find other places in town like my favorite Mediterranean Roasted Chicken (Shawarma) pita with grilled marinated chicken breast, mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, pickles, garlic sauce and tahini. Or try the Hummus & Taboule (Middle Eastern wheat salad) plate or the Lentil Fetoosh Salad (a mix of lentil and rice cooked with caramelized onions, over mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, pita chips topped with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. Do add a side of those garlic new potatoes too! On the unique Greek fusion pizza front, pita jungle has pita and lavosh pizzas that bring a unique taste in their crust and toppings that include feta cheese. Try the Glazed-Chicken Lavosh Pizza with crispy wood-fired lavosh bread topped with honey-mustard glazed chicken, wood-fired onions, cheddar, feta, mozzarella and herbs. For dessert go for the baklava or rice pudding (aka Rizogalo). Check out a full menu at pitajungle.com.

Greek Islands restaurant in Flagstaff

Greek Islands
109 E Phoenix Ave
This homey hole in the wall with a teeny tiny patio (but hey, at least they have one) seats maybe thirty people tops but is a great escape from traditional Flagstaff. You'll find the owners working here, serving up all sorts of authentic Greek specialties. The chicken chunks are boldly marinated in a lemon herb blend that brings a mouthful of flavor in each bite. The gyros are overstuffed and the thing to get if you can’t decide. Get something, anything (like the calamari) with the housemade marinara sauce. It is fantastic - unique and surprisingly different - a flavor that hints to anise, fennel or something similar that will bring you back bite after bite. Other things to try at Greek Islands: moussaka (which is basically an eggplant and lamb casserole), spinach pie and beef or chicken souvlaki. Note, Greek Islands is cash only, but not to fear there's an ATM right inside. They’ve got their full menu on Facebook

Taverna Greek Grill in Flagstaff

Taverna Greek Grill
2420 South Woodlands Village Boulevard
Taverna's Chicken Pita
A Gorgeous lodge like setting with big wooden timbers, Taverna feels like you're eating in a fine dining establishment (that’s laid back and casual). And fine it is, with the largest variety of Greek food in town. The menu features classic Greek foods like gyros, pitas and other authentically flavored fare, some with a modern interpretation. The ingredients are all fresh. The feta is creamy and generously served, as are the other pita ingredients from gyro meat to, thick sliced chicken breast. The sauces are light and flavorful and add the perfect touch. They also have a kid-sized gyro on the kids’ menu, which is an added bonus for families! Besides the pitas, check out the Keftedes (Greek meatballs wrapped in lettuce topped with tzatziki sauce), Loukaniko (grilled sausages and peppers), Spanakopita (a pastry filled with spinach, feta, egg and herbs), Souvlaki (skewers of beef, lamb, pork, shrimp or chicken), and so much more. Desserts include baklava, phyllo pastry layers filled with nuts and drenched in honey syrup, and loukoumades, which are a scrumptious Greek version of fancy donut holes. Check out a full menu at tavernagreekgrill.com.

January 27, 2011

Pasto: The best Italian restaurant in Flagstaff

Pasto Cucina Italiana
19 E. Aspen
(928) 779-1937
menu online at: http://www.pastorestaurant.com/

Flagstaff’s finest Italian dining is now serving quite a not to be missed lunch menu. In addition to their popular dinner menu, the lunch menu is full of variety and flavor. It's my new favorite spot for lunch.
Pasto is a small romantic spot with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. Seats at the window are great for people watching and add to the open and airy feeling of the restaurant. When the weather’s good opt for the inviting patio.
Pasto serves up everything from basics like the best spaghetti and meatballs (aka Spaghettini e Polpette) in town to more unique dishes like a meatloaf and eggplant sandwich. The menu changes seasonally and is set up so that you can order a bunch of small tasting courses starting with soup, salad, antipastas and cheeses working your way toward pastas and traditional main courses. For lunch - you have to try the egglplant and portobello fries with a delightful balsamic port reduction to dip them in. It's devine. I could just eat those and be happy.
Pasto is a member of Slow Food Alta Arizona and the Slow Food International Association serving up sustainable foods from local and regional suppliers when possible. All pastas, sausages, terrines and deserts are made from scratch in house. Pasto is open Monday through Saturday for both lunch and dinner.

January 19, 2011

Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant in Flagstaff, AZ (includes menus)

Golden Dragon
2730 East Lakin Dr (at Steves Blvd), Flagstaff

Flagstaff’s most upscale Chinese option, the Golden Dragon has recently been remodeled and revamped with a new owner (who used to own Hot Wok Express but recently sold it to Hot Wok's cook) and slightly new name. (It was Golden Dragon Bowl).
The building is ornate and colorful both inside and out. The staff here is friendly and eager to make recommendations if you're not sure what you want to get after browsing the menus. There are so many choices because Golden Dragon has two menus - both are scanned in below, as they don't have a website anywhere. One with classic American Chinese favorites, including lunch specials. The other, which they call their “authentic Chinese Cuisine” menu, has more unique offerings.
Among the dishes to try here: Hot Chili Oil beef, chicken or pork; beef Chow Fun; Steamed Veggie Dumplings; Szechuan Shrimp; Singapore Curry Noodles; and the House Special Pan-Fried Noodles. But then everything sweet and sour here is sure to please the taste buds too.
Portions can be on the smaller side, especially on the lunch combos. But the quality of food and service more than make up for that. We find it a delight to eat here.

January 15, 2011

Chipotle comes to Flagstaff

Steak burrito
Chipotle Mexican Grill
111 S Plaza Way, Flagstaff
928-774-4254 (for call ahead orders)
928-774-4162 (for fax orders)
Menu online at chipotle.com
11am-10pm daily

I'm normally not one for chains, nor do I usually cover them on this food blog, but the grand opening of the new Flagstaff Chipotle is the exception. Chipotle's exceptional quality and value makes them transcend the typical right onto my restaurant radar. Plus despite being a big national chain they have a local-based philosophy and the opening of this restaurant in big news in this mountain town.
Chipotle started as a single restaurant in Denver (near the Denver University campus on Evans) in 1993. The founder and CEO is a classically trained chef who found inspiration in mom and pop taco stands he enjoyed in California. He took that idea, mixed in his formal culinary training and turned it into that first Chipotle, of which now there are over a thousand. (No they were never owned by McDonalds as is the urban myth, though McDonalds did heavily invest in the company and help them expand.)
Chips and guac are both house-made
Today I got the unique opportunity to go on a pre-opening tasting buffet of goodness at the newest Chipotle location. (It's the 43rd in Arizona. The chain has been in the state since 1999.) On this tasting fun fest I learned more than I ever knew I wanted to know about Chipotle and found a new level of respect for the restaurant I already adored. (For instance - did you know there's over 60,000 possible flavor combinations of burritos available?) I've been dining at Chipotles across the country since 2002, pining for a Chipotle to come to Flagstaff all these years. (I'm told they were waiting to find the perfect location, and that they did - on Milton near Riordan Rd, basically across from the heart of the NAU campus.)
The atmosphere here, like all other Chipotle locations, is open, bright and modern. The music plays into that and is part of the planned ambiance. The locations may not all play the exact same songs but they all do fill the air with small music label songs and other works you won't hear in other restaurants. The idea is to be relaxing and atypical from other fast food and sit down restaurant experiences. They've accomplished that from the minute you walk in until you wipe that dripping last bite of salsa from your lips.
Chipotle's food is pretty simple. Pick your meat, your toppings and how you want that served. You can get it dished out in crisy tacos, hard tacos, a giant burrito, a burritto bowl, or as a salad.
Chipotle's meats range from the mild pork carnitas to the spicy steak.
There are four meat choices. The Carnitas are lowest on the spice rung. They’re seasoned with thyme, juniper berries, bay leaves and freshly cracked black pepper. The pork is then seared and braised until it falls off the bone. These are full of flavor sans any heat. Perfect for kids and those with sensitive stomachs or those who just love pork. These aren’t made in house. But are made fresh and delivered. There’s no freezers, microwaves or can openers here. So know that everything is fresh! Next up is the chicken. It’s marinated in adobo for 24 hours, grilled on site and sprinkled with kosher salt. Barbacoa is third up the spicy meat rung. I’d never tried this one here until today. Boy, is it a delish choice. I can see a barbacoa burrito in my near future! To prepare this one, the beef is marinated in adobo, cumin, chipotle, garlic, cloves, and oregano then seared and braised until super tender. These aren’t done on site. It's delivered and heated like the carnitas. Still, the barbacoa is quite amazing and not greasy in the slightest. Steak is the spiciest meat Chipotle serves. Like the barbacoa, it’s naturally raised. The beef is marinated in adobo on site for 12 hours then grilled to medium rare and sprinkled with kosher salt.
Vegetarian black beans, cilantro lime rice, pinto beans and fajita veggies

A super popular feature of Chipotle is the cilantro lime rice. It’s white rice combined with fresh cilantro, lemon and lime juice and kosher salt. It’s ab fab but if you want plain rice, just ask. They’ve always got some on hand for those who don’t like cilantro. High volume Chipotles go through 200 pounds of rice per day!
Beans and Veggies
Chipotle gets its beans and veggies from six thousand family farms across the country. They try to use as local, natural and organic as they can get. The black beans are vegetarian. The pinto beans are cooked with bacon but not lard. The fajitas veggies are cooked in a little soy oil with oregano and kosher salt.
The guacamole is made in house several times a day.  Cilantro, jalepenos and red onion are hand mashed together with lemon and lime juice and salt.
Salsas range from mild to flaming
Chipotle has four types of salsas – you can ask for a combo of as many as you’d like on your order. The mild is basically a pico de gallo salsa with big chunks of tomatoes. The Tomatillo Green Chile Salsa is made with tomatillos, tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro. It’s a bit warm on the taste buds and smoky tasting. The Roasted Chile Corn Salsa is made with sweet corn and provides a spicy and sweet taste to your entree. The hottest salsa here is the Tomatillo Red Chile Salsa. It’s made with pureed chiles do arbol.
Chips are made in house at every Chipotle. And boy do they taste it! They're cooked in soy oil then seasoned with fresh lime juice and kosher salt.
Flagstaff exterior
All dairy here is hormone-free. The cheese is a combo of jack and white cheddars with no colors added. Its grated fresh daily. The sour crème is made in Arizona for this location. The kids milk is also hormone-free.
Chiptole makes fresh margaritas on the rocks or blended with high-end tequila and triple sec. You can also get Dos Equis, Negro Modella, Corona and Coors Light beers.
Insider Info
Now that you know all that about the foods, here's some insider info about when to go and how to get freebies or discounts:
  • 12-1pm is generally the most busy time of day at Chipotles.
  • You can beat those long lines at lunch time by ordering ahead either online, by fax or even by iPhone app.
  • You can order a few things not on the menu - including quesadillas and nachos.
  • Follow Chipotle on Twitter and Facebook. You never know when you might hear about a special deal like a freebie burrito day or happy hour special.
  • Drop your business card in that fishbowl by the register. Every week each location treats two or three offices of people to a free lunch!
    Lines can get long, especially at key eating times.

On the line

January 14, 2011

Hunan West in Flagstaff, AZ (includes look at menu)

Hunan West
1302 Plaza Way, Flagstaff

On the hunt for Chinese food in Flagstaff, which is not known as the place for this variety despite the variety of other good Asian restaurants here, we tried Hunan West on the recommendation of a few Twitter friends.
This typical Chinese restaurant in tucked into a shopping center between Planned Parenthood and The Dollar Store. Yet inside it's homey with several booths and tables packed in and a giant mural of on the wall. We were greeted by a sweet little girl who sat us then returned to pretend feeding her doll at her table. All the servers were friendly and attentive.
Lunch special here are bargain priced in the $5-$6 range, including soup, fried won ton chips, rice and the entree. You can also find what they call their "Super Meal" deal all day for $8.95, which is the same as above plus a soft drink and egg roll and a large selection of entree choices. (See Super Meal menu below).
Chicken Chow Mein lunch special
Among the entrees recommended: Chun Pai Beef, Cashew Chicken, Mongolian Beef, and War Won Ton Soup. I tried the Chicken Chow Mein - a basic dish with nice chunks of breast of chicken and lo mein noodles, though it didn't knock my socks off, it was quality and filling. My husband tried the Orange Peel Chicken, a house specialty - this one is quite tasty with delicately fried chunks of chicken in a flavorful but not over-powering orange sauce. The won ton soup that comes with the entree as an appetizer is excellent. (Though the menu says no soups included on lunch specials on to go orders.) I'm already planning a trip back to try the Spicy Broccoli entree and Moo Goo Gai Pan, two Chinese food favorite of mine.
Hunan West doesn't have to go menus or a website, so below are a few pics (better than nothing) of their lunch menu as well as a scan of their super meal menu:

January 5, 2011

First look at Flagstaff's newest restaurant: El Tomato Cafe & Bakery

El Tomato Cafe & Bakery
1490 S Riordan Ranch Rd

Now open in the shopping center near Michael's and Bookmans in Malone's old location is the new El Tomato Cafe & Bakery. It features sandwiches and breakfast items - and YES, donuts! Here's a look at the menu:

Where to celebrate January Food Holidays in Flagstaff

January is the month of celebrating everything from hot tea (the whole month is National Hot Tea month) to hot toddys (January 11th is Hot Toddy Day) and pastrami sandwiches (January 14th is National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day) to chips (January 29th is National Corn Chip Day). Here’s a look at some other fun food days of January and where might be a good place to celebrate around town…

January 4: National Spaghetti Day
Head to Pasto (19 E. Aspen) for some of the finest spaghetti in town. Sure they have a menu full of inspired Italian dishes, but sometimes you just can’t beat a bowl of classic spaghetti and with their delish sauce, and why would you want to…

January 7: National Tempura Day
Enjoy the battered and fried yet still delicate Japanese goodness of tempura at Karma (6 E Route 66). Start your meal off with shrimp, sweet potato, broccoli or onion tempura served with a soy tempura sauce.

January 12: Curried Chicken Day
Head to the Himalayan Grill (801 S. Milton) for celebrating chicken curry. You’ll enjoy the boneless chicken, onion and house herbs and spices in their tomato-based sauce.

January 15: Strawberry Ice Cream Day
The new Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers (2675 S Beulah) makes a great strawberry shake or concrete using their vanilla frozen custard (basically a rich, creamy ice cream) and strawberries.

January 16: International Hot & Spicy Food Day
A day dedicated to hot and spicy – and Flagstaff has so many great choices to celebrate. From Thai spiciness at Dara Thai (14 South San Francisco) which makes some fantastic Pad Thai (go level three at least to feel some burn) amongst many other great dishes to Mexican hotness in the tasty salsas galore of Salsa Brava (2220 E. Rte. 66) and Las Gorditas (2900 N West St).

January 20: National Cheese Lover’s Day
Enjoy the art of cheese with Brix (413 N. San Francisco) Artisanal Cheese Plate. Pick three or five of their fine selections with poached natural apricots and house-made lavosh. Brix’s cheese menu ranges from French to Swiss to America selections of cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheeses.

January 27: Chocolate Cake Day
Criollo Latin Kitchen (16 N San Francisco) may not the first place that comes to mind when you think cake, but you’ve got to try their spiced Venezuelan chocolate cake. It’s spiced with three types of chilis combined with Venezuelan chocolate. Heavenly!

January 28: National Blueberry Pancake Day
La Bellavia (18 S. Beaver) is the place to go for this celebratory breakfast feasting day. Their blueberry pancakes have the right amount of morning sweetness to bring a smile to your mouth. Plus studies have found blueberries (though not the pancake part) may help you get rid of belly fat and have the highest antioxidant capacity of all fresh fruits. So blueberry up!

January 30: National Croissant Day
Celebrate this fine day with a breakfast croissant sandwich from the Dog Haus (1302 E Route 66). These big delicious sandwiches are made fresh to order with your choice of bacon or sausage plus egg and cheese if you want. Fine way to start the day.

This article was originally written (by me) for Flagstaff Live!

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