You will get hungry at Phoenix Comicon 2016! Trust us!

Phoenix Comicon 2016

Nothing builds an appetite like Phoenix Comicon! loves Phoenix Comicon, and we’ve been in attendance as fans for many years, but now we have awesome restaurant clients in the area who are making the downtown Phoenix scene truly special! If you understand the local movement, you know it’s more important than ever to keep Arizona dollars in Arizona, and one of the ways you can do that is by supporting locally-owned restaurants when you head downtown for the 2016 edition of Phoenix Comicon!

Don't call them dolls.

Don’t call them dolls! So much incredible craftsmanship on display!

Phoenix Comicon is set to run during the first week of June, 2016 (2nd through 5th). Our restaurant partners are the epitome of “local,” and many of them are no more than a mile or two away from the Phoenix Convention Center! You can support the local movement when you use a gift certificate at any of these great restaurants! Just print your certificates and bring them along to Phoenix Comicon 2016!

Mother Bunch Brewing ($$) A mere 1.5 miles from the Phoenix Convention Center, Mother Bunch Brewing has had a great year on! If you’ve been there, you’ve probably fallen in love with the huge wraparound bar and industrial interior, but the craft beers are probably high on your list too! Mother Bunch loves the attendees of Phoenix Comicon, and their seating is flexible enough for the serious cosplayer! Share a plate, share a salad, or chow down on their sandwiches and burgers!

These are the sabers you're looking for.

In the market for a new light saber but can’t afford tuition at the Jedi Academy? Look no further!

The_Vig_Fillmore_Logo_SmThe Vig (Fillmore) ($$) What can we possibly say about The Vig (Fillmore) that hasn’t already been said? Only 1.7 miles from the Phoenix Convention Center, this is the place to strut your cosplay stuff! Huge patio, great seating options, and multiple bars to keep the libations flowing! It’s housed in the historic 1914 Cavness House, and you’ll love the classic “Vig vibe,” hot wings, sliders, flatbreads, grilled fish tacos, and all sorts of incredible dinner entrees (including a truly heroic mac and cheese)! With a big group? Head to The Vig!


This was Gamora’s opportunity to get away from Thanos. So who’s this cop?

Nobuo_Logo_SmNobuo at Teeter House ($$$) This is a special restaurant, and while you may have to check your cosplay at the door (the seating is minimalist), this is the home of James Beard award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda. While Nobuo at Teeter House can be one of the more expensive restaurants in the area, head in with a gift certificate in hand, and everything will work out! This place is perfect for a serious but adventurous meal!

Comics everywhere!

Looking for these? Rare? Vintage? Head to Phoenix Comicon 2016! So many great comics vendors to choose from!

Province_Logo_SmProvince at the Westin Phoenix ($$$) This hotel is synonymous with “No Vacancy” during Phoenix Comicon, and for good reason! This is where many of the big names and bright lights of the convention stay (so we’ve heard!) and the restaurant called Province is amazing! Blending old world and new world culinary sensibilities, you’ll dig the surroundings, the multi-level outdoor patio, the lush landscaping and waterfalls, and you might even pull a few autographs! You never know!

Metro 13 T-Shirts

Locally-owned and operated Metro 13 offers stunning t-shirts at Phoenix Comicon! Need a t-shirt to wear to Phoenix Comicon? Try!

Giuseppe’s on 28th ($$) Though it’s a little further afield (4.8 miles from the Phoenix Convention Center), Giuseppe’s on 28th has been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” program! A favorite since 2010, it’s owned by Richard Bock, who studied cooking in Italy for 9 years while performing as Principal Cellist in Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra. Bock serves spectacular Italian meals, so if you happen to meet someone special at Phoenix Comicon, trek over to Giuseppe’s for an intimate “get to know you” meal!

Hats. People aren't wearing enough of them. Get your unique new lid at Phoenix Comicon 2016!

Hats. People aren’t wearing enough of them. Get your unique new lid at Phoenix Comicon 2016!

Ticoz Latin Kitchen ($$) Just outside the downtown Phoenix corridor (5.2 miles from the Phoenix Convention Center), Ticoz Latin Kitchen is all about Central America, South America, Mexico and the islands! Though located in uptown Phoenix, it’s quick to get to from Phoenix Comicon. Ticoz has been working with since 2010, serving up new twists and interpretations of classics like enchiladas, tacos, tamales, and even burgers. Their menu will surprise you!

Of course, there are other great locally-owned restaurants you can save some money on during Phoenix Comicon – just take a look at our website, create a free account, and prepare to “Discover Your Inner Geek” at Phoenix Comicon, June 2-5, 2016 at the Phoenix Convention Center! We plan to have some more Phoenix Comicon coverage here on Feed Me, in conjunction with several of these great restuarants, so stay tuned!

Photography by James Kracht.

Fresh Mint

My wife and I are vegetarians, so it can be tough in a place like the Phoenix Metro area to find truly extraordinary meat-free cuisine. One such destination, however, can be found in Scottsdale, Arizona: Fresh Mint [13802 N Scottsdale Rd #161, Scottsdale, AZ 85254, (480) 443-2556]. This small, unassuming restaurant makes everything fresh to order. It’s quiet, and nestled towards the back of a typical strip mall, but it faces away from busy roads. Painted with a soothing (and sometimes striking) palette of greens, the place excudes a sense of comfort from the moment you walk in the door.

We’ve been there so many times it is difficult to describe all of our experiences, so I’ll touch on some highlights; of course, if you’ve been there already, and this is one of your favorite restaurants, your highlights will likely be quite different than ours – since the entire menu is delicious, and we’ve yet to find anything we didn’t have a powerful response to.

In the starter space, we love the Fresh Summer Rolls (thin sliced carrots, red and white cabbage, fresh mint, tofu, and vermicelli, rolled in rice paper) served with the house peanut sauce. The key here is the house peanut sauce. It’s just profoundly good. In fact, most of the time, we request this sauce on the side for the whole of our meal, since it seems to go great with everything Fresh Mint has to offer. The Fresh Cucumber Rolls (strips of fried tofu, marinated julienne white radish, carrot, and mint leaf rolled in thin slices of cucumber) are also served with house peanut sauce, and are quite extraordinary and refreshing. The Fresh Island Green Salad (organic spring mix greens, Granny Smith apple slices, golden pineapple slices, candied walnuts, shredded carrots, and dried cranberries) is tossed in a mesmerizing mint tangerine vinaigrette. It’s one of the finest salad dressings we’ve ever had. It’s addictive, fresh, light – and doesn’t weigh the salad down.

There are other great starters I could talk about (such as the soups, including a splendid vegetarian Pho), but I’d like to skip directly to the entrees. I tend to use Pad Thai as a “barometer dish” for a restaurant’s menu. Depending on how successful a restaurant is with their version of this staple-esque dish, I find myself led in various directions on the menu. I have to admit that Fresh Mint’s take on Pad Thai (mildly spicy rice noodles, stir-fried with vegetables, onions and tofu, topped with peanuts and fresh basil) is phenomenal! For a while it led me nowhere else on the menu – I just kept ordering the Pad Thai every time I visited Fresh Mint. Their version of Pad Thai is enhanced by the fact that it doesn’t involve meat or meat by-products of any kind. If you’re a vegetarian, this only adds to its impact. Eventually I found a way to extricate myself from my Pad Thai obsession, and looking back, I feel bad I got stuck in a rut. Other entrees are just as memorable! The Stir Fried Noodles (rice noodles topped with assorted vegetables) features a bewitching brown sauce that is quite remarkable. The Vegetable Fried Rice (seasoned rice with assorted fresh vegetables and veggie meat) is magnificent, and the Lemongrass Soy Beef Delight (soy beef with a touch of spicy seasoning, onion, carrot and vermicelli, served with fresh herbs, bean sprouts and lemon vinegar sauce, topped with peanuts) is a culinary delight – rich with complex flavors, and possessing an instant edibility that never ceases to amaze. I occasionally get the Spicy Ginger Soy Beef (Julienne carrots, onion, snow pea, ginger and soy beef in a touch of spicy garlic sauce). On a cold winter night in Scottsdale, Arizona (during that one week of the year where it gets “cold”), this is my go-to dish. The ginger brings the warmth, but the entire dish is a symphony of flavor.

Fresh Mint offers a few dessert items (banana fritters, carrot and chocolate cakes), but their speciality is a coconut Tapioca pudding that is simple and soothing, direct and delicious. My wife and I usually share one of these and it’s the perfect way to wrap up our meals.

The dining experience at Fresh Mint is exceptional. Featuring an array of flavorful sauces, fantastic beverages (tea pots, Thai iced tea, Vietnamese iced coffee, sodas, fruit smoothies) and excellent side dishes (roasted potatoes, brown or jasmine rice, steamed vegetables, tofu, garlic noodles), the menu at Fresh Mint is an astonishingly delicious thing to explore for both meat eaters looking for a dietary change and vegetarians looking for their new favorite restaurant. Reasonably priced, you’ll be going back – again and again.

Salt Cellar

I recently visited the Salt Cellar [550 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, AZ, 85257,, (480) 947-1963] and had an absolutely phenomenal meal. The Salt Cellar specializes in very fresh seafood, skillfully prepared (quite a feat in landlocked Arizona.) I will not mince words – this restaurant is rather expensive; but the pricing reflects the difficulty of obtaining fresh seafood on a daily basis, as well as the culinary expertise to bring it to the diner’s table. To the restaurant’s credit, and my expansive dining pleasure, I report that my recent dinner there was among the finest I have ever experienced.

My two dining companions and I arrived at about 6:30pm on a Saturday evening, sans reservation, as the timing of the visit to the restaurant was a bit impromptu. Fortunately, a cancellation by another diner for 7:00pm became available, and we were seated after a short wait in the well-stocked bar. Appetizers are served in the bar from 4pm until closing; Happy Hour is from 4-7pm and 10pm until closing; further, reservations are not required, but strongly recommended, especially on weekends or holidays.

Before discussing the details of the meal, I would like to mention a bit about the architectural layout of the restaurant. One enters through a very small building at ground level, serving as a sort of foyer and leading to an antique wooden staircase, which winds three levels below ground to the restaurant proper. The subterranean nature of the restaurant seems to enhance the nautical theme of the establishment by giving one the feeling of being below decks on a grand ship. The decor is one of rustic elegance, with a  tasteful amount of ornamentation.

As mentioned earlier, most or all of the seafood on offer is fresh, having never been frozen, and is quite skillfully prepared. All of the dishes that my dining companions and I enjoyed reflected the high quality of the ingredients, with just the right amount of embellishment by the kitchen – neither too simple, nor too complex, but very near perfect. The three of us began our meal with three shared appetizers. The first appetizer was one half-dozen oysters on the half shell ($14) which were served with lemon wedges and the expected tomato-horseradish cocktail sauce. I found the raw oysters to be so fresh and clean-tasting that I used only a very tiny amount of the aforementioned condiments – any more than that would have been an affront to the quality of these oysters, which were absolutely the best I have ever tasted. We also enjoyed a small “bucket” of steamed clams ($20) served with drawn butter and olive oil for dipping. (The only time I have ever eaten fresher clams was in coastal Massachusetts, directly off the tidal flat, but The Salt Cellar’s were outstanding in their own measure.) The butter and oil were a very welcome addition to the omnipresent basket of fresh bread which accompanies all meals. The final in our trio of appetizers was escargot en caps ($9.) Pungent with garlic, the snails were stuffed into succulent mushroom caps, broiled to a wonderful perfection, and not the slightest bit rubbery in the way some escargot can be. Tender and clean tasting, these snails were exemplary in their sauce of garlic butter.

Before I begin a description of our outstanding main dishes, I would like to describe a little about the four house-made dressings that accompanied our salads of crisp, cold micro-greens, which deserve a few words of their own. The three of us tried one each, with the fourth on the side so that we could taste all of them. I underscore that all four salad dressings are made fresh on premises, excellently prepared along with everything else. The first dressing (the one I opted for) was a blue cheese vinaigrette – olive oil simply seasoned, and studded with delicate pieces of a high quality blue cheese. The Thousand Island dressing was a lovely coral color and a perfect balance of tart and creamy richness. A smooth and lusciously pungent Roquefort was a delicious counterpoint to the aforementioned micro-greens. It was a pleasant surprise to find Roquefort at all – I have seldom seen it in a restaurant in a long time (for those unfamiliar, Roquefort cheese is a tangy, creamy type of blue, sheep’s milk cheese.) Tarragon Franconia was the final dressing choice – a creative fresh tarragon herb affair that I had not seen before, consisting of a mosaic of fresh herbs in a light oil and vinegar emulsion.

Our main dish choices were among the best lobster and king crab I have ever eaten. To wit: entrée #1 (my personal choice) was a phenomenal platter of Alaskan king crab legs ($57) broiled over a mesquite fire, and possessing a flavor that was somehow both bold and delicate. That special sweet smoky flavor that comes from mesquite broiling (which I love most dearly after a lifetime of living in the Sonoran Desert, and gathering mesquite wood with my own hands) was employed by the chef in some form of arcane alchemy that did not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the crab – quite the contrary. I have seldom in my entire life tasted anything so perfect. Entrée #2 was a three-pound Maine lobster ($80) simply and eloquently steamed with light herbs and spices, and served with drawn butter. It was tender, flavorsome, and perfectly steamed (I am told that a monster five pound lobster is occasionally available!) Entrée #3 was a one-and-one-quarter pound Maine lobster (a smaller version of the one above) and mesquite broiled Filet Mignon ($50) seasoned lightly with sea salt and spices, and emphatically fork-tender. All entrées came with a delicious selection of seasonal fresh vegetables, and a choice of baked potato or a couscous and wild rice mix, both of which were very good. In addition to the large selection of fresh seafood, several varieties of steak are available, as is beef Wellington, and teriyaki chicken. It is also worth noting that the staff will gladly assist in cracking lobster or crab legs if the diner is unfamiliar, or simply if preferred. The service was efficient and professional, with all needs met in a timely manner.

The aforementioned seafood feast  was among the best meals I have ever experienced. The emphasis of the selections at The Salt Cellar is on the seafood (and assorted meats) itself, rather than on sauces or other easy embellishments – and care is taken to ensure freshness and skillful preparation. This restaurant, as should be clear by now, is somewhat expensive (expect a minimum of about $45 per person, not including drinks, dessert, or tip) but it is of immense quality, and in my opinion, worth every cent.

Dim Sum at C-Fu Gourmet Restaurant

I am pleased to state that every meal I have ever eaten at C-Fu Gourmet [2051 W. Warner Rd., #13, Chandler, 85224, (480) 899-3888] whether at lunch, dinner, or dim sum, has been excellent. For those unfamiliar with the concept, “dim sum” translates approximately as “drink tea” in Mandarin Chinese, and the social conviviality around the tea table has evolved into an opportunity for a very enjoyable meal. In keeping with the idea of a meal with tea at its center, I have found that no other beverage melds so well with the essence of dim sum. When I say “tea” I refer not to American-style iced tea, but to hot tea of superior quality, and served in Chinese teapots of eponymous type. I always enjoy many cups of this fine tea at C-Fu Gourmet during dim sum, copiously sweetened (I developed my taste for drinking great quantities of sweetened hot tea in a Moroccan restaurant as a young man – but that is another story). Like Spanish tapas or sushi, dim sum is served on an assortment of small plates, each having a few pieces of a given item. As is typical for dim sum, the servers at C-Fu Gourmet push carts around the spacious dining room, each of which offer a few of the many dishes available. Also, as is typical for dim sum, there is no printed menu describing the items available. I am not sure why this is the case, as that can be a concern for anyone who is either unfamiliar with dim sum dishes, or who may be hesitant to try new foods, but the quality of the dishes at C-Fu Gourmet is very much worth a leap of erstwhile faith. The vast majority of dishes served during dim sum do not closely resemble common Americanized Chinese food, with its starchy, overly sweet sauces; these are, I am told, closer to the dishes found in much of “mainland” China, a small sampling of which I am pleased to describe.

One dish that I found especially enjoyable, but saw only once during several visits, was Rice Congee. This dish consists of velvety smooth rice porridge, to which has been added bits of tenderly braised pork and small pieces of preserved egg. Preserved eggs (also known by such colorful names as hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, etc.) are first hard boiled, and then stored in a mixture of salt, wood ash, and lime (the alkaline mineral, not the fruit) for several weeks, which changes the color of the egg to darker earth tones, and develops textures and complex flavors somewhat analogous to stronger aged cheeses. Small pieces of preserved egg, added to the Rice Congee during the latter stages of preparation, create a subtle, slightly pungent complexity. At the time the dish is served, chopped green onions and cilantro are added, creating a tart freshness; bite sized pieces of Chinese cruller, also added tableside, complete the presentation. Taken together, the variety of flavors and textures create an outstanding dish of warm comfort that I would request again and again whenever available.

Another interesting dish, and one that looked like nothing else with which I am familiar, is Lotus-wrapped Rice. Like its name suggests, steamed rice with small morsels of pork or chicken are wrapped in an aromatic lotus leaf, sliced open table-side, enabling the contents to be spooned out by the diner. The large, leathery lotus leaf itself is not meant to be eaten, but used to create a unique flavor, and to form a convenient parcel that is quite aesthetically appealing. The flavor yielded by this unique leaf is something like that of roasted acorn squash, slightly tannic and a bit herbal, but not bitter. On the whole, I find  this dish appealing based on the novelty factor alone, but its delightfully subtle flavor in particular makes it a must-try for anyone.

Conversely, one dish that may not appeal to everyone (but one that I nevertheless enjoyed) is the Stuffed Bitter Melon. For those unfamiliar, a bitter “melon” is about the size and shape of a zucchini with small numerous bumps (in a point of trivia, there is apparently some difficulty in the translation from the Chinese, as “melon” and “squash” come under the heading of the same word. As squash is botanically a fruit, melons and squashes are relatively closely related plants). This “vegetable,” then, is prepped by being peeled, sliced into pieces about an inch long, hollowed out to make a cavity, and soaked in salt water to draw out the harshest of the bitter taste (eating it raw is not an option, due to extreme bitterness.) The prepped pieces of this vegetable are stuffed with a ground meat filling and broiled until the squash is tender and the filling is cooked through. The resulting flavor reveals no strong seasonings or spices, but has an enjoyable, slightly charred character, reminiscent of roasted green peppers. The flavor at the finish is still rather bitter by standards of Western tastes, and is best enjoyed as a sort of palate cleanser between bites of a separate item, such as a rich dish with sweet or tangy sauces, something perhaps a bit oily, or, conversely, something completely bland. Although over the years I have developed an appreciation of bitter flavors, it seems that Stuffed Bitter Melon is best eaten as counterpoint or contrast to another dish as elucidated above. Bearing all that in mind, I would order this item again for the reasons indicated.

One of the most popular items available at C-Fu Gourmet (or at any) dim sum meal are Pork Buns. These come in a variety of different types. Two of the most popular preparations include either pork braised with delicate seasonings, and pork roasted with a barbecue type sauce. The barbecue variety is different than American barbecue sauce, in that it is less sweet, and has less emphasis on smoke flavoring. The buns themselves are either steamed, which has a clean, mild flavor, and another type which is finished in an oven under a broiler, which creates a nicely golden brown top with a little more of a Westernized, dry-cooked bread flavor. In both combinations, the pork is tender, and the buns feature a slight yeasty richness. I imagine either one would be easily accessible to anyone who might be trying dim sum for the first time. In short, a good first taste for a beginner to this Chinese meal tradition.

It seems that the concept of “dessert,” as understood in the West, is relatively new to Chinese food culture, and is, therefore, not strongly represented during dim sum. However, I have tried two items at C-Fu Gourmet that are on the sweet side, and both were delicious. One of which is Sesame Balls with Lotus Seed Paste. This dish features a paste made from the seeds of the lotus plant wrapped with a thin layer of dough, very quickly deep-fried, and coated with sesame seeds. The lotus seed filling has the texture of thin fudge (but with no chocolate flavor, of course). I have not been able to draw any comparison between lotus seed paste and any other flavor found in Western cooking traditions, and so I find it completely indescribable, being something analogous to Japanese mochi, only not nearly so chewy. It is, however, quite mild, and slightly sweet. The batter attains the texture of the best part of crusty French bread, and the flavor mostly comes from the coating of toasted sesame seeds. If I were to offer any criticism of this dish, it would be that it is a little awkward to eat – one piece is too big for one bite, and it does not cut or break into smaller pieces. It is tasty in its own way, however. The Egg Custard Tart is made with a wonderfully yolk-y custard, and is pleasantly sweet. I found the custard to be equal to, or better than, any custard I have eaten in any French restaurant, very flavorsome, and a perfect finish to an excellent dim sum meal.

As I mentioned previously, dim sum is served on small, numerous plates; each is priced in the $2.50 – $5.00 range, depending on the type. C-Fu Gourmet serves dim sum from 10:30AM – 2:30PM most days (though it is best on weekends). There is, again, no printed menu that I have ever seen, so it is best to go with an open mind and willingness to try new dishes. Also, I have found that a party of three to five people is the perfect number for this type of meal, both for the practical capacity to try a wide number of dishes, and to create an atmosphere of conviviality conducive to maximum enjoyment of all the wonderful flavors available. Dim sum at C-Fu Gourmet is, in my humble opinion, worth every cent.

“Dining local” during Phoenix Comicon 2015

You'll probably be ravenous after "discovering your inner geek!"

You’ll probably be ravenous after “discovering your inner geek!” attended the 2014 edition of Phoenix Comicon last year, and we asked a lot of amazing cosplayers about their favorite restaurants and food obsessions. We weren’t surprised to learn that some of their heart-felt recommendations have been favorites for years now!

In that spirt, we thought we’d lay the groundwork for a few dining excursions during Phoenix Comincon 2015, which is set to run at the end of May, 2015 (28th through 31st). Obviously, there are a ton of great places to eat in downtown Phoenix, but some of them will let you save some money in the process (and support the Local movement) when you use a gift certificate! We recommend you stock up, print your certificates, and bring them with you to the Phoenix Convention Center!

A lot of hungry Phoenix Comicon 2014 attendees...

A lot of hungry Phoenix Comicon 2014 attendees…

Fuego_City_Scape_Logo_SmFuego Cityscape ($) Quite close to the Phoenix Convention Center, you’ll find this stellar Mexican eatery with great vegetarian options! Leveraging the distinct flavors of Oaxaca, Cuba, and the Yucatan, Fuego Cityscape is great for either quick meals or for when you need to rest for a while, and it has a great patio area where you can show off your costume, or simply soak up the lively street scene around Phoenix Comicon 2015.

"There are mysteries to the universe we were never meant to solve. But where to eat lunch is not one of them." -Optimus Prime

“There are mysteries to the universe we were never meant to solve. But where to eat lunch is not one of them.” -Optimus Prime

Mother Bunch Brewing ($$) Brand new to is Mother Bunch Brewing! A mere mile or so away from the Phoenix Convention Center, this is the perfect place to unwind after discovering your inner geek! The airy, industrial interior is a visual feast, and the craft beers are second to none! The menu is complete, featuring breakfast, lunch, and dinner! The shared plates, salads, incredible sandwiches and burgers, and an assortment of specialties are a diner’s dream-come-true!

The_Vig_Fillmore_Logo_SmThe Vig (Fillmore) ($$) While a bit farther away from the Phoenix Convention Center than most restaurants in this list, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t make the extra effort to try any of the four Vig locations throughout the Valley! The Vig restaurants have been overwhelming favorites on for years, and The Vig (Fillmore) is no different. It’s housed in the historic 1914 Cavness House, and you’ll love the classic “Vig vibe,” hot wings, sliders, daily flatbreads, grilled fish tacos, and an assortment of incredible dinner entrees! And the bar is unparalleled when it comes to local and national brews, as well as cocktails! Want to impress your out-of-town Comicon attendee friends? Take them to The Vig!

A Twi'lek sniper from Star Wars and some bad, bad clowns from the Fear Farm...

A Twi’lek sniper from Star Wars and some bad, bad clowns from the Fear Farm.

Big_Fat_Greek_Phoenix_Logo_SmMy Big Fat Greek Restaurant ($$) This is your standby, when you need something delicious, comforting, and healthy! My Big Fat Greek Restaurant has been serving fine Greek cuisine to Arizona residents since 2002, and this is another standout location in the Arizona Center, perfect if you need a brief rest or you happen to be celebrating a special occasion during Phoenix Comicon 2015!

The Sons of Fenris they are, hardened in the forge of their harsh world, eager for battle, honour... and great craft beer!

The Sons of Fenris they are, hardened in the forge of their harsh world, eager for battle, honour… and great craft beer!

Nobuo_Logo_SmNobuo at Teeter House ($$$) A mere 1.1 miles from the Phoenix Convention Center, this place features the James Beard award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda’s stunning culinary creations! Go here if you’re looking for adventure, or if you’re combining your Phoenix Comicon experience with a special occasion, like an anniversary or birthday. While Nobuo at Teeter House can be one of the more expensive restaurants in the area, it’s quite manageable if you’ve got a gift certificate in hand!

BUMBLEBEE! And the Penguin, with... Tinkerbell?

BUMBLEBEE! And the Penguin, with… Tinkerbell?

Province_Logo_SmProvince at the Westin Phoenix ($$$) Are you staying at the Westin Phoenix while attending Phoenix Comicon 2015? Grab yourself one of these gift certificates and enjoy a spectacular meal at Province! A true blending of old world and new world culinary sensibilities, the surroundings are amazing, and the multi-level outdoor patio is an urban oasis with lush landscaping and waterfalls! Plus, you never know whose autograph you might score while hanging out here (it’s a truly spectacular hotel, especially at night)!

Want to drink during Phoenix Comicon? ID is required! Leeloo Dallas mul-ti-pass!

Want to grab some drinks during Phoenix Comicon? ID is required! Leeloo Dallas mul-ti-pass!

So there you have it –’s downtown dining recommendations – all at a great discount! Hit our website, create your free account, and get ready to “Discover Your Inner Geek” with Phoenix Comicon! May 28-31, 2015 at the Phoenix Convention Center!

Photography by James Kracht.

Sushi Station

Note: In this overview of the Sushi Station, Garrett and I are going to “tag-team” our experience of this place with alternating paragraphs, because this essentially replicates the experience of multiple diners seated at a single table.

(Jim) As a vegetarian (eggs and cheese included), sushi is one of those pure “fast pleasures” I sometimes feel a profoundly deep need for. There are a lot of options for vegetarians in the world of sushi, and Garrett Holway recently introduced me to one of his favorite purveyors of the art: Sushi Station [20910 N Tatum Blvd #150, Phoenix, AZ 85050] at Desert Ridge in north Phoenix, noted for its serpentine conveyor belt. Each and every diner is eyeing that conveyor belt, which brings such delicious joy – and sometimes disappointment when the table right before yours grabs the last plate. Of course, the chefs are always making more to feed the conveyor belt, so disappointment is in fact a form of anticipation, and is thus well worth enjoying.

(Garrett) I discovered this interesting restaurant by word of mouth from a coworker, and it is, in fact, only a few miles from my place of business, which makes my occasional lunch-break splurges more interesting. It is easy to have a light lunch for between five and ten dollars, as each little plate is between $1.50 and $5.00, well below the cost of sushi at most other restaurants of comparable quality. I usually spend about twenty dollars including beverage and tip, however, as I tend to have a difficult time deciding between the various dishes and settle the matter by having many. Like Jim, I appreciate anticipation as aesthetic – it adds something elusively pleasant to an already delicious dining experience. Also, as I was a strict vegetarian for a number of years, I am glad that various dietary choices may be met in a mutually enjoyable way.

(Jim) I never know what will come first at Sushi Station, and that’s how I like it. You have the option to order directly off the menu (and in the case of certain plates, you should), but I prefer to wait – to see what the conveyor belt brings at random. There’s a sort of metaphor for life itself in this place. Each meal, like life, is what you make of it. The readiness is all. You might find yourself collecting plates out of “sequence” (if you prefer to consume salad items first, for instance), but personally, I eat what I take the moment it hits the table. I can’t stop myself.

(Garrett) One of the best things about the kaiten-zushi form of service and presentation (the “conveyor belt” concept) is the ease of setting one’s own pace with respect to time taken with the meal. As I stated above, I often come in for lunch and have a finite amount of time. Most conventional sushi bars tend to take much longer with preparation, as one or two sushi chefs have to serve the entire bar. Comparatively, at Sushi Station, there are always at least three or four chefs up front (and more in the back) preparing many items continually – thus the ease of taking as much or as little time as desired.

(Jim) At the start of the meal, I spotted one of my favorite plates in the distance – inari, or bean curd sushi. There were two plates on the conveyor, and it was difficult for me to grab only one, but there’s some etiquette in play at Sushi Station, I think. I decided to see what would happen. If the second plate of inari made its way back to me, so be it. Inari is a pouch of fried tofu, filled with sushi rice alone, and they’re simply amazing with soy sauce and wasabi. Cool, refreshing, with a sweetness that combines well with the unique heat of the wasabi. As I had hoped, in a few minutes, the second plate of inari returned, unclaimed on its long journey. This was a good sign for me. It meant I was likely the only vegetarian in the place at the time, and I felt lucky, because we were there on a Saturday night, and the place was packed with people.

(Garrett) I tend to begin with the nice little seaweed salad that is always available – it is a lovely shade of green and seems to be seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil, and perhaps a bit of ginger and a touch of red pepper. The mildly slippery texture is not to everyone’s taste, but I find it quite delicious. Plates of crisp and refreshing edamame soybeans are always going by as well, if one likes to nibble something slowly as a starter (or at any other time).

(Jim) Beside the inari, Sushi Station nails many other vegetarian-friendly nigirizushi (“hand formed”) and makizushi (“rolled”) options, including tamago (small slab of egg omelette over a mound of sushi rice), a tempura sweet potato roll with eel sauce and rice (no eels in the sauce, Garrett assures me; it’s basically soy sauce, white sugar, and Japanese sweet wine; it gets its name primarily because it is often served with eel), an asparagus roll that blew my mind, a wonderful cucumber roll, and two excellent salad options – the first being the seaweed salad which I found incredibly addictive, and the garden salad with an excellent ginger dressing.

(Garrett) One of my favorite dishes at Sushi Station (and which I have never seen elsewhere) is the baked scallop roll. A type of nigirzushi, it is quite flavorsome. Small scallops are simmered in a mayonnaise-based sauce redolent with shredded crab and just enough onions and Sriracha to yield a most savory delight. Very satisfying. Many soups, such as Miso, are available upon request, and are especially delicious in the cooler months.

(Jim) The tamago is basically scrambled egg cooked in a special pan that gives it a unique slab-like shape – perfect for resting atop a small, hand-formed mound of sushi rice. The texture is smooth and firm, and the flavor works so well with soy sauce and wasabi. The tempura sweet potato roll with eel sauce was spectacular, and this was the one vegetarian option which did not make it back around to me when several were available on the conveyor. That’s a sign. I special ordered a cucumber roll, which isn’t the sexiest form of makizushi, but it’s delightful to me nonetheless.

(Garrett) Sushi Station makes excellent  tempura, served with a dashi and mirin-based dipping sauce. One of my frequent taste treats is the soft-shelled crab – each piece is one half of a crab, tempura fried, served with tempura vegetables, with the same dipping sauce and are always welcome. The shrimp tempura, an old standby, is also quite good.

(Jim) At Garrett’s urging, we ordered two additional vegetarian options: a vegetable roll (known as “temaki” – a large cone-shaped piece of black seaweed with the ingredients spilling out from the wide end), and the fried tempura vegetables (green beans, sweet potato shards, and onion rings) with a soy-based dipping sauce. Both were superb, and we immediately had to order an additional plate of tempura vegetables. The vegetable roll was a good size, and since I ate this last, it truly finished off the meal for me. It was a perfect end, to be honest.

(Garrett) Sushi Station serves excellent fresh-brewed iced tea (both green and black) which I tend to find very refreshing as accompaniment to sushi. Also, a selection of Japanese beer and sake is on offer. A comprehensive list of all the dishes on offer would be space prohibitive, and unnecessary in any case, as I, for one, have enjoyed every item I have ever eaten there. Besides, part of the fun, especially if one is a new customer, is the delight of the seemingly endless parade of good things to eat, attractively presented in the special way of sushi, and at a very good value for the price. If you like sushi, do yourself a favor and experience it firsthand. It is definitely worth every moment.


We’re Back!

In May of 2013, we entered a partnership with AZ Weekly Magazine and our blog articles were queued up for their DINE! section (which helps explain the rather huge gap in our timeline). As of this week, however, our articles will once again be appearing here on the Feed Me blog! We have some fun things planned for the months ahead, including more dining experiences (I can’t wait to tell you about the stellar meals I’ve been having at Fresh Mint in Scottsdale, and Garrett has some great experiences to convey as well). We also have a Phoenix Comicon 2015 “food odyssey” in the works that will hopefully be a lot of fun (some of’s restaurant partners downtown will be teeming with brilliant cosplayers, and we hope to capture it all – from the surrounding eateries and the food truck scene to the convention floor itself)!

Saigon Nites

One of the things that I find most appealing about Saigon Nites [15111 N. Hayden Rd. #110, Scottsdale 85260; (480) 609-1116] is that it is a small place and seems to be independent and “non-corporate.” Although I must admit that I do eat at chain restaurants (it is, at times, an effort to avoid doing so) I tend to enjoy smaller, locally-owned places that do things their own way, rather than following a pre-programmed corporate strategy. In addition, patronizing independent businesses, especially those locally-owned, seems preferable for economic and cultural reasons (just look to local entrepreneur Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds Records; she and her Local First Arizona initiative are all about supporting local businesses; but I digress).

Before going on to talk about the many delicious Vietnamese dishes to be had at Saigon Nites, I will get one gripe over with. To wit: hours of operation (M, T, W, S, 11am – 6pm, Th, F, 11am – 8pm, closed Sunday). This is likely due to Saigon Nites’ location in the Scottsdale Airpark; most diners are likely to arrive during the workday or early evening. However, this is my only complaint, such as it is, and readily forgivable considering the quality of the food served.

My dining companion and I almost always order one or more appetizers, often the Sugarcane Shrimp, a flavorsome mixture of ground shrimp, ginger, garlic, and wrapped around a stick of sugarcane, which not only provides a convenient handle, but yields the impression of gnawing meat off a bone – a sensation generally welcomed by a carnivorous diner. The sugarcane also imparts a mellow sweetness to the fragrant shrimp mixture, an appealing blend of flavors and texture. Another frequent choice is the Appetizer Sampler, consisting of two each of fried egg rolls, cool spring rolls, and shrimp wontons. The egg rolls contain a boldly flavored mix of meat and vegetables, while the spring rolls are the cool/raw type with leafy vegetables and rice vermicelli, folded in rice wrappers. The shrimp wontons contain a similar mixture of savory ground shrimp found in the aforementioned Sugarcane Shrimp. The assortment comes with a variety of dipping sauces: a garlic and peanut sauce, Vietnamese style sweet and sour, and teriyaki. The sampler has nice mix of flavors, and is just the right size for two persons to share.

The dish that I really look forward to when dining at Saigon Nites, and one which I order on every single visit, is the Special Pho. I have tried this mainstay of Vietnamese cooking at many other restaurants, but none have been as good as this one. The beefy broth is flavorsome with an addictively subtle richness, seasoned by a variety of spices, such as ginger, garlic, star anise, fennel, coriander, and cardamom, to name but a few. In particular, the star anise is used at just the right level, being mostly absent in the recipes of other establishments. Perhaps that is one reason the Pho at Saigon Nites is so appealing. This soup noodle dish features a variety of beef items, such as sliced flank, soft tendon, tripe, meatballs, etc. with a side plate of bean sprouts, sliced jalapenos, fresh basil leaves, lime wedges, and cilantro, which the diner can add to suit individual taste. A bottle of Sriracha hot sauce is, of course, always present, as is the Vietnamese fish sauce called Nuoc Mam, a rather strong and pungent tasting condiment, but one which is essential to Vietnamese cuisine (on one visit, an older employee seemed surprised that I liked it). As Pho is the de facto national dish of Vietnam, the ability to make a good (or great) one is a matter of no small importance and pride. Saigon Nites serves the very best one I have ever tried.

My dining companion usually selects one of the other fine entrees, most recently, Orange Chicken. This item is somewhat similar to the sweet and sour family of dishes served in most Asian restaurants, with a tart, citrusy and/or fruit-based sauce. Tender pieces of battered and fried chicken are served with sliced carrot and pickled cucumber, with white rice on the side. On another visit, my companion selected the Pad Thai. Although, as suggested by its name, this is a Thai dish rather than Vietnamese, Saigon Nites makes a good version, featuring either fried shrimp or chicken in a peanut-based sauce, served with snow peas, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, and onions, all tossed with Thai-style noodles. This dish could easily be made with fried tofu for those preferring a meatless option.

Generally, after appetizers and a filling main dish, neither my dining companion nor I can manage anything in the way of dessert, so I have never ordered any at Saigon Nites. However, I almost always order Vietnamese coffee at the beginning of the meal so that it is ready to drink at the end. For those unfamiliar, Vietnamese-style coffee is brewed with a dark roast variety of coffee beans, and served in a small French drip filter into a cup containing sweetened condensed milk, slowly dripping through the filter during the course of the meal. A glass of ice is often provided on the side if iced coffee is desired. The resulting brew is sweet enough to satisfy my sweet tooth at the end of the meal, while providing an ample jolt of caffeine, just right after a filling two courses.

The service at Saigon Nites is generally courteous and efficient, all the more so, considering that my dining companion and I tend to arrive toward the end of their operating hours; the staff has always been helpful and polite, despite our late arrival. If Saigon Nites remains as enjoyable a place as it always has, I shall continue to return to this rather hidden gem of a restaurant.


To put it succinctly, I have never visited another restaurant that has borne out as consistently excellent as Charleston’s. It is a chain restaurant, so consistency comes as no surprise; the simple superiority of the food and service are what make dining there exceptional. As I have visited only one location (I-10 and Ray) on many occasions (20-30 meals) in the last ten years or so, I cannot comment on the performance of other outlets, merely the one aforementioned, the unrelenting quality of which I resoundingly attest.

For those unfamiliar, Charleston’s is a type of casual but “up-market” (my words) steakhouse, although it is, for the most part, within the price point of those of us who actually work for a living (about $30 per person for dinner not including liquor). I confess that I tend toward the more expensive items: Center-Cut Filet, Roasted Prime Rib, or the day’s Fresh Fish (all around the low to mid $20’s) plus the various savory side items, which I will say more about shortly. The only improvement on the meltingly fork-tender beef filet that I can imagine is that if it were bison (my favorite red meat), rather than beef. I usually order it bloody as hell – not only because they are actually willing to serve it that way (increasingly rare these days – pun intended) but because it is of a quality that warrants. The Top Sirloin and Prime Rib are almost as good as the Filet – equally tender and bursting with flavor, seasoned just enough without overdoing.

One visit several years ago stands out (writ large in my sensory memory) as I had the distinct pleasure of eating one of the most delicious fish I have ever tasted. On that evening, the fish of the day was Ono, also called Wahoo (which also means “delicious”) in Hawaii, where it is a popular sport fish. I have eaten a great deal of seafood over the years, both raw as sushi and cooked in more traditional ways. But this was different. To put a further point on it, this was the most fabulous piece of fish I have ever eaten. I do not exaggerate when I state that this was the first time I have ever been moved to tears by food – it was that good. The texture of this simply seasoned and lightly broiled fish was rich and meaty, like very good grouper, but with an even finer flavor; subtle, but at the same time, delicately rich. Astonishing. Though time and again I have returned to Charleston’s, hoping to find this fish, I have not. Perhaps if the management reads this, and cares to contact me via this website, I would be grateful to know if and when Ono once more graces their tables.

My frequent dining companion most often enjoys slightly less glamorous, but no less quality, menu choices such as Chicken Fried Steak (battered and fried crisp, with creamy and peppery gravy) or a house specialty: Parmesan Crusted Chicken. This dish is coated with a mixture of Parmesan Cheese, crushed pecans and walnuts, and served with a nicely seasoned tomato marinara type sauce. For lunch options and/or smaller appetites, Charleston’s offers an assortment of burgers and sandwiches, like the Famous French Dip, which is filled with their excellent Prime Rib, thinly sliced.

As an addition to any meal, Charleston’s serves an outstanding Caesar Salad, the most savory and redolent-with-fresh-garlic I have ever tasted. Accompanying the Caesar, or any other salad, is an absolutely stellar flaky croissant, very lightly drizzled with honey. The fine croissants seem not merely to melt in ones mouth, but to actually evaporate, leaving behind a rich buttery flavor in their baked wake. Additional vegetable side orders include a good Fried Okra (always welcome to me) and Burgundy Mushrooms, whole braised, with a buttery burgundy wine sauce.

Charleston’s serves ample and flavorsome desserts, such as a hearty Bread Pudding, and a Cheesecake with chocolate sauce and whole fresh raspberries. My only complaint, aside from the rarity of the availability of their outstanding Pineapple Upside-down cake (one of my favorite desserts) is the seemingly excessive quantity of chopped nuts in the Bread Pudding. I have always had an aversion to hard nut pieces in an otherwise soft food (it ruins the texture for me; a personal quirk, I suppose).

I have frequently complimented the management of my local Charleston’s on the excellent training of the employees. In ten years, I have, with no exceptions, been served by a great waitstaff; knowledgeable, polite, and generally quite pleasant. I believe this to be a noteworthy accomplishment in a restaurant of any type, much less one that is not in the ultra-high-end price range; I have been served at much more expensive restaurants in resorts that have less quality with their staff and food. In summary, I would have say that I would choose Charleston’s as a go-to “definite” at any time, as it is just so dependably excellent. Always a good thing.

Lee’s Sandwiches

The first thing I always notice upon entering Lee’s Sandwiches ( is the spotlessness of the interior, which gives a pleasant semblance of efficiency. The aroma of freshly-baked bread is a most pleasant olfactory enticement for the panoply of flavors to come. This sandwich shop serves an outstanding blend of crackly crusted bread, with a soft interior, and just the exact amount of “crumb.” The bread, in addition to having many intrinsic values, is perfectly suited to the fillings. You order at the cashier, and sit down at a nearby table until your number is called. Many delicious things are to be had.

The most interesting sandwiches are listed as “Asian,” which are, of course, the specialty. On recent visits, my dining companion and I had ample opportunity to sample several. The #11 Special Combination, featuring sliced Jambon (a variation of ham, loosely), pork roll, pate and head cheese, was my first choice. The aforementioned cold cuts are a bit different from those more familiar with Euro-American flavors. They are a little fattier, but still retain a resistance to the bite. This is common in banh mi-type sandwiches. The slightly oily flavor of the cold cuts contrasted nicely with the round of fillings: “house pickle” – (carrot and daikon), sliced onion, cilantro, house mayonnaise, salt, pepper, soy sauce, and sliced jalapeño. It was quite an extraordinary mix of ingredients, rich and fresh, crisp and yielding, and made for a complex but subtle symphony of flavors. There are many combinations of cold cuts, and one or two sandwiches with large, tomato-seasoned sardines. In all of the Asian sandwiches, the large bread-to-filling ratio is different than what one is probably used to, but which works well upon subsequent reflection. It is a cultural truism to regard bread as a replacement for rice, which provides the base for the other flavors. All Asian sandwiches are in the $3.00 range – a good price for the quality.

Lee’s also serves an even assortment of “European” sandwiches, which are served either on the aforementioned superb baguette, or on a respectable croissant. There is a variety of cold cuts, tuna, and a good vegetarian sandwich. The latter, served on a croissant, was filled with avocado slices, and the combination of buttery croissant and creamy avocado yielded a wonderfully smooth taste sensation. The European sandwiches, regardless of bread choice, are served with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, cheese (American, Swiss, or Provolone,) with pickle, red onion, pepperocini, and mustard on the side. Most are in the $5.00 range, and though flavorful in their own right, do not possess the same subtle interplay of flavors and textures as do the Asian sandwiches.

There are a variety of tasty sweets (French-influenced creme croissants) and beverages on offer as well. Take my advice and get a smoothie – dessert and beverage in one. Many fruit flavors are available (watermelon, peach, mango, soursop, and even avocado – it works, try it) and non-fruit flavors, such green tea, and red bean (try it, revisited). I opted for the infamous durian fruit in mine. For those unfamiliar, the durian is a large, spiky tropical fruit from southeast Asia. I will not expound on the description of this fruit as of yet, as it is to be the topic of a future post of its own. I will say that the durian has an extremely strong odor, but does not taste like it smells. The initial taste-impression is custardy, with a broad palette of bright, tart, tropical sub-flavors underneath (almost like fruit salad with butterscotch dressing, if I may venture). There are also a number of conventional soft drinks.

The winning combination of crackly French baguettes with the pleasantly fatty cold cuts, and completed by the contrast of tangibly refreshing tropical fruits, keeps me returning to Lee’s again and again.