Pho Tam - Whalley

We are finally back to our relentless pursuit of the restaurants listed on Scout Magazine's, "Never Heard Of It" list with Pho Tam.
Located in front of Surrey Central Station in a strip mall whose days are numbered owing to the coming redevelopment of everything within view. These folks have the additional challenge of being only 3 doors from another pho joint but they seem to be doing OK at the moment.
Following the advice of the Scout Magazine reviewer, we started with the Pho Dac Biet (house special) which included beef, tripe and tendon. This was perhaps the most generous serving of meats that I have ever seen in Pho and along with sprouts, basil, jalapenos and lime, a large at $11 could easily have fed Marie and me.
But what would be the fun in only ordering what we could eat? By making it a combo, they also served us a Spring Roll for an extra 1$. Crispy and with a flavouful pork filling, this was a very good spring roll served with vinegar on the side.
You'd think we were done there but we also wanted to try their Shredded Pork, Pork Skin and Meat Loaf on Rice. This again was a wonderful plate. The shredded pork and pork skin was cut as thin as noodles and included meaty and fatty strips. It is fried with toasted rice powder and garlic if they follow the traditional recipe and that is what I would guess. Wonderful! The meatloaf too, rivaling my Mother's was a lovely dish that we would order again. Porky, moist and not overcooked, but with a nice sear before serving, it included some kind of tasty dark colored mushroom in the mix. All of this came to just over $23 before tax and tips. 
Very casual and a little noisy, service was nonetheless very friendly and attentive. We were served tea within moments of siting down! When we lose this block to gentrification, I hope we don't forever lose Pho Tam as well.
For what it's worth, we give Pho Tam 4 out of 5.
Pho Tam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chick-fil-A - Ahwatukee, Arizona

I'm not keen on the mixing of religion and politics. It doesn't seem to work out well for anyone, anywhere. On the other hand, I've never given much thought to the mixing of church and making chicken sandwiches, as long as they're not self-righteous or exclusive about it. Upon Googling Chick-fil-A to try to figure out the weird spelling of their name, I came across a question form Christian Animal Ethics about whether buying their product from industrial chicken farms could be considered  "Christian". I like animal ethics groups (they don't have to be Christian) and it is stuff like this that will move me someday finally into the'vegan' zone. Whether its Christian or not, I don't know. I wonder whether it's human or not? Also, it's not just a question for Chick-fil-A.
In the meantime, we have never been to Chick-fil-A and were curious about this place which is either the largest or second largest fast food chicken place in America and number three in fast food overall.
There are a bunch around Phoenix (closed Sunday to observe the sabbath) and we found the one in Ahwatukee and had lunch there (albeit with a bit of tormented conscience over the ethics thing).
Of course, we had to have a Chicken Sandwich. This one is deluxe with cheese and stuff. It was ok but not great considering this is their thing. The chicken was moist enough and from a breast filet (not from a fil-A whatever that is).
As part of a combo it came with a drink and waffle fries. These were unimpressive. I was excited about the idea of them but they were a bit dry. 
We tried their Mac and Cheese and this was tasty enough with pleasant clumps of actual cheese.
Finally we had a Cobb Salad and this was actually pretty impressive. The chicken was obviously from tenders and was moist and crunchy.  As if to make us feel at home (I'm looking at you, Tim Horton's), they got our order wrong by delivering the wrong dressing. We didn't care much as their choice was good. Lots of greens, a few cherry tomatoes, some grilled corn and an egg. Pretty good!
Typical fast food joint. It was not uncomfortable and clean and so on.
So now, we've been to Chick-fil-A and I don't find myself moved to return. 
For what its worth, we give Chick-fil-A 2 1/2 out of 5 mostly for the Cobb Salad.
Chick-fil-A Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Phoenix Day Six...and Moku Hawaiian Grill

Last day to laze around the pool reading a John Grisham novel (Hey. Last year I tried to read Heart of Darkness by the pool but it just required too much concentration).
One thing about the heat (Sorry. Weather again.) is that there is a certain amount of forced relaxation. No running up and down mountains and even wandering around the Desert Botanical Gardens is uncomfortable at these temperatures especially if you are not acclimatized. So we spent some time getting wrinkly in the water and enjoying the occasional nap. Back to reality tomorrow!
For our last meal (well not last meal ever), we went to Moku Hawaiian Grill.
I learned about this place from a workmate who also had stayed at the townhouse in Ahwatukee. Moku is in a strip mall not far away. It's a casual place that offers decent combinations starting with your choice of white or brown rice.
Each combo comes with 2 proteins and 2 sides. We ordered Katsu Chicken and Kalua Pork, with Kimchi Slaw and Macaroni Salad.  Everything was pretty decent here. The katsu was crispy and the proteins were both moist.
For the second combo with nicely cooked brown rice was we ordered Mochiko Wings and Pulehu Chicken with Sweet Corn and Garlic Edamame. The wings were tasty as was especially the edamame. We also helped ourselves to Katsu Sauce as well as regular and spicy Teriyaki. The coolest thing is that all of this came to under $20 and we did not leave hungry!
This is a casual convenient place run by some friendly people. 
For what it's worth we give Moku Hawaiian Grill 4 out of 5.
Moku Hawaiian Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Phoenix Day Five...and Biscuits Restaurant

Sorry to keep bringing up the weather. It has taken an interesting turn in the last couple of days with a significant change in the humidity. No one can currently say, "Yes, but it's a dry heat!" At home humidity is rarely an issue. It rains therefore its humid. Here, the 40 plus degrees have been tolerable because, wait for's a dry heat. Now suddenly, I'm sticky like I've just wolfed down a bowl of Dan Dan Noodles.
I've spoken to quite a few locals about how they feel about the heat and most of them do admit that the 40 plus is just a little much. They are aware of the humidity too. The extremes though are rare in comparison to the pleasant weather for most of the rest of the year and they are just prepared for this!
Today we intended to drive up South Mountain and enjoy the vistas but apparently the roads are closed on Silent Sundays and reserved for non-motorized traffic. So we just enjoyed the somewhat less spectacular vista from the bottom of the hill and some old stone buildings.
Then we went for lunch! I love biscuits but they seem like exotica in Metro Vancouver and are more common as an option here.
Biscuits is a breakfast and lunch joint that specializes in what I think I can call Southern American classics. This is the kind of food that would make every diet faddist in the land cry. In fact the biscuits and gravy alone would alienate all the low carb or low fat people forever!
Yes, there is a very good biscuit under there! We had to fish for it a bit but we certainly did not run out of gravy. I loved this but I would soon be 300 lbs. if they were easily available at  home.
The rest of this breakfast (that included the biscuit) is Chicken Fried Steak, grits and a couple of any style eggs. All of this was only $11.99 and could easily feed several people! The 'steak' is pounded thin, breaded and deep fried and covered in more of the excellent black pepper gravy. Tender and tasty but not on the Keto diet.We love the grits on the side as well.
We also had the Crispy Catfish with deep fried okra. This was not our favourite thing. The breading on the fish was a bit too crunchy (I can't believe that's a thing) while some of the fish seemed to be a little under cooked. By contrast the okra was excellent and crunchy and obviously a fresh vegetable. Not visible in the photo is a side of coleslaw with a sweet flavour that we could not put our finger on. It turned out to be pineapple juice and part of a family recipe according to our server who is part of the family! That's when we learned that this is all a family run business now about 10 years on with three restaurants. 
The restaurant doesn't seem to be air conditioned but they keep it comfortable just the same. Things are a little thread bare but comfortable, slightly country tacky but in a good way. Above all this is a welcoming friendly place run by a very nice family.
For what its worth, we give Biscuits Restaurant 3 1/2 out of 5.
Biscuits Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Phoenix Day Four... a Pledge of Civility ...and Sweet Magnolia Smokehouse

It doesn't cool off much in the evening even after the sun has gone down.
7:00 am is the coolest time of day. This morning it was 30 degrees Celsius and will purportedly only reach 39 degrees by 4 or 5 pm (the coolest day of our week). So I am not the only one out walking, running or riding in the morning.
One thing I notice is that almost every interaction with these morning athletes is genuinely friendly with mutual greetings. There is civility. In fact Marie and I have noticed everywhere on this trip, that people are friendly, decent and kind! Now this is not an observation that is the result of a study done by the scientific method. We are on vacation so we are feeling a little friendlier than usual ourselves. On the other hand, some of the people down here drive like dicks, just like at home. And given the number of TV commercials for lawyers, I expect that someone will always be willing to sue your ass for something. So its kind of hard to generalize about people's behaviour.
John McCain died one year ago tomorrow. He was,by all accounts, a civil man and a reasonable unselfish politician and human being. Others could agree or disagree with him and he would act like an adult without resorting to name calling or questioning their humanity. That seems to be missing from politics currently and behavior from the top is often imitated by folks all the way down to food bloggers. This week Cindy McCain (the senator's widow) called on Americans to take a pledge of civility. She asked the Arizona government representatives to set the example by bringing civility back to politics. Hopefully it will trickle all the way down along with the closely related qualities of empathy, unselfishness and humaneness.I feel like we could afford to take that pledge of civility in Canada also. Let's make humanity civil again!
And let's get something to eat because its more difficult to be civil when your blood sugar is low. Each time we come south of the 49th, Marie and I seek out Mexican food and Barbeque. I'm not going to say that we don't do this well in Metro Vancouver but we are a little newer at it than our southern neighbors.
Today we tried Sweet Magnolia Smokehouse.
This restaurant has only been open for a couple of months but their truck has been serving up barbeque since 2011 if I have my facts correct. Located towards the back of a local strip mall, we would not have known of it without Goggle maps.
We started with the Trifecta. Brisket, pulled pork a hot link with sauce and a bun on the side. For $15 it is a good way to get a taste of some of their proteins. The sauce was a smokey, sweet and slightly spicy tomato based concoction and went well with everything including the puled pork and link, both of which were tasty made us happy. As for the brisket, I have slightly mixed feelings. While the brisket was moist (often a challenge with brisket) and had some nice bark, it was a bit on the chewy side. Maybe the answer is as simple as slicing it thinner. I don't know as I've never barbequed. I have however, eaten a lot of barbeque.
We also had a Meat 'n Mac Bowl. This was a treat. The smoked chicken is probably the best of the proteins here (although we did not try their ribs) and the mac and cheese was cheesy and substantial.All served with baked beans and sauce. Very nice!
We rounded things out with a couple of sides including some nice collard greens.
The folks working here were welcoming and helpful. We are sure that they will do well in this small but comfortable and convenient location.
For what its worth, we give Sweet Magnolia Smokehouse 3 1/2 out of 5.
Sweet Magnolia Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Phoenix Day Three...and Pizzeria Bianco

One of the things that I enjoy on my morning long walks here is the amount of color. I mean, I know it is green and lush in the Fraser Valley but we have earned that by living in a near rain forest. The Phoenix area is a desert and yet still the flora and fauna have adapted and much of it seems to thrive.
Cacti living in the desert is no surprise but other plants survive as well. I read that the creosote bush is the most drought tolerant perennial in North America using strategies such as leaves that taste bitter (don't get chewed on often), waxy (preserving the rare rain water) and that fall off during extreme drought (uses less energy). Some are thought to be as much as 11,000 years old (not a typo!).
Of course the plants in the medians and along the road allowance are a little more pampered but are chosen for their climate appropriateness.
But let's eat! Today we drove downtown to Pizzeria Bianco, the flagship restaurant of a guy who started making pizzas in the back of a local grocery store in 1988.
We have no business reviewing anything Chris Bianco does. He has won a James Beard award and his creations have been rated as the best pizza in America by more impressive food people than I can list. All we can do is describe our wonderful experience and confirm what the experts have already declared. 
They started us with complimentary crusty wonderful bread and rich fruity olive oil. I would have left here delighted if this was all that we ate!
The menu here is very limited. There are two starters, three salads and six pizzas. We started with Spiedini which is Fontina wrapped in Prosciutto and served over Arugula. We were instructed to slide the whole affair off of the skewer and eats bites of everything together including the arugula. It was salty, creamy, rich and offset by the slightly peppery green that was lightly dressed. A wonderful delicious experience.
Next up was the house made Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Salad.Its not the first time that we have had fresh mozzarella but it was equal to any other being rich and slightly squeaky in texture! Also, where can we get tomatoes like this? And more of their exquisite olive oil!
Next was a near life changing pizza. Start with house made dough that has fermented 18 hours. Add more fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiana Reggiano and Ricotta and more arugula and olive oil and bake it for 90 seconds (I'm guessing) in their wood burning oven and you have the Biancoverde. Now I know why I came to Phoenix in August. We devoured this crispy crusted creamy cheesy wonderful thing like we had been starving. If this is not on your bucket list, it should be.
People have been known to line up for 4 hours for this pizza. Marie and I and our usual slightly weird schedule arrived at 11:40 on Friday morning and were seated immediately. All tables were occupied by 11:55. 
There is seating at the bar also which is listed as Bar Bianco. Our servers where wonderfully friendly and efficient. Another amazing thing is that this was an affordable experience. The best pizza in America doesn't seem to cost any more than any other brick oven pizza restaurant. They are choosing not to cash in on their name and reputation by charging a fortune.
And OMG, I almost forgot house made Nutmeg Italian Ice!
Not that anyone is asking but we give Pizzeria Bianco 5 out of 5.
Pizzeria Bianco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Phoenix Day Two...and Los Taquitos

One of the challenges of being in this hot place is getting my 'steps'. My exercise program consists in large part of walking 10 km a day, religiously. On a work day, I set my alarm for 5 am and walk 30 minutes before getting ready and starting work at 6:30. The rest of the kms come in 20 to 30 minute jaunts throughout the rest of the day. Being that only the early morning is cool enough for exercise here, I overcame the challenge by walking an hour and a quarter yesterday between 6:30 (hey, I'm on vacation) and 8. After that, only leisurely strolls were necessary to get my 13,800 steps.
Its hard to convey 46 degrees in a photograph. You'll have to take my word for it. Google says that we keep our saunas at 78 degrees and up so that's really not a good comparison but you don't stay long in a sauna either. The hottest temperature ever recorded was 56.7 degrees in Death Valley so I guess 46 degrees is refreshingly cool by comparison. But enough about the weather already!
Today we again followed in the pioneering steps of Mr Guy Fieri this time finding ourselves at Los Taquitos. 
Located in a strip mall in Ahwatukee (close to where we are staying), this branch of Los Taquitos is modern and comfortable not too mention busy. We arrived at 11:45 on Thursday and got in the line up to order.The place was already near capacity and remained so all the while we were there. The folks running the counter are apparently used to this condition and know what they are doing. We placed our order, grabbed a seat and some salsa and waited. The wait was just long enough that I was sure that our food was being prepared and not sitting under heat lamps.
We started with some tacos, of course. Two fish, one lengua and one asado. They all came with two corn tortillas and a decent amount of the protein as well as good trimmings. At $1.75 to $2.25 each, this were a decent deal and tasty. 
A Beef Enchilada on the side just to try. Thats a lot of tangy green tamatillo sauce. It was a very good enchilada.
In our continuing search for the perfect Chile Rellenos, I wonder why they are always drenched in sauce. This was a very tasty rellenos with a stuffing of potato and cheese inside a dark green rich pepper. It had been fried with an egg coating and probably started its life in that lovely crispy state. Once drenched in an admittedly tasty sauce and cheese, it lost that crispy potential. Still, they can serve it any way they want and it was still delicious.
We also tried a Pastor Torta. The nicely toasted bun provides a bit of a change from the typical arrangement of tortilla with protein, cheese and salsa. All the proteins at Los Taquitos were very good.The pinto beans served on the side had some texture to them and were rich and tasty. Likewise, we enjoyed the rice. All of this food came to $27 so it was more than affordable.
There are so many Mexican style restaurants around here and a lot of them are pretty good. We liked Los Taquitos and would definitely come back but I'm not really sure what makes it Triple D worthy. That being said, I don't have my own TV show.
For what its worth, we give Los Taquitos 3 1/2 out of 5.
Los Taquitos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Are you guys eating again? At some point Marie and I became the kind of people who take pictures of everything we eat, whether in a restaura...