With the weather wondrously rainy last weekend, I ended up enjoying some heartier meals. I ate my way through plates of beans and rice at many of the city’s Cuban restaurants. I enjoyed a massive Korean barbecue feast and experienced a show-stopping meal of new Arizonan cuisine at Valentine, where the cucumber and squash salad was a good omen for what can be done with the wild world of Arizona produce. And then, I figuratively flew to Colombia for a platter of bandeja paisa, the country’s national dish.
As always, the dishes that follow were simply too good not to share.
Squash and cucumber salad with queso fresco at Valentine
Operating from the front of vintage furniture showroom Modern Manor, Valentine presents a modern take on Arizona cuisine. The light cucumber salad, $14, effortlessly combined local squash and cucumbers with Middle Eastern and Mexican ingredients, like a sweet wolfberry harissa and a sprinkle of queso fresco. The creativity of the seemingly simple appetizer got me really excited for the stunning meal to come, and it turned out to be one of my favorite bites of the evening.
Details: 4130 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix. 602-612-2961, valentinephx.com.
Oden pot at Jin BBQ
As the evening progresses, this popping Korean barbecue restaurant in Mesa takes on more of a bar vibe with late-night snacks like bulgogi nachos, silkworm soup and Korean fried chicken. Since I rarely find oden pot, $12.99, a traditional Japanese soup that’s also called eomuk in Korea, that’s what I ordered. The bowl arrived layered with various balls, cones and bubbles of fish cakes swimming in a yellow dashi-based broth. After ordering a table full of smoky fire Korean barbecued meats, I kept coming back to the soup, which was a light, clean contrast to our heavy meal.
Details: 111 S. Dobson Road, suite 104, Mesa. 480-687-2124, jinbbqaz.com.
A few more perfect bites:Broccolini, Tratto chicken liver and tropical raspados
Bandeja paisa at La Tiendita Colombian Restaurant
Colombia’s national dish, bandeja paisa, $12.95, is a hearty platter of meats, beans and rice, often layered with an avocado and a corn cake called an arepa. At La Tiendita Colombian Restaurant, I began digging into the mountainous dish, starting with the chicharron pork belly that’s presented as cubes of fatty meat with the crispy skin still attached. After a few bites of the creamy beans, I ate my way down to the next level: dried ground beef powder, which mixed into the rice and the runny egg yolk to create a savory, salty bite. Eating this dish is a marathon of different flavors and textures, but all the elements and textures play into each other, urging you towards the finish line. Colombian restaurants will often suggest you split this entree, but this beauty is too good to share.
Details: 456 W. Main St., Mesa. 480-898-5546, latienditacolombianrestaurant.com.