The Best Summer Barbecue You’re Missing

The Best Summer Barbecue You’re Missing

It’s one of the best times of year: summer. For most, this means: pool parties, road trips, ice cold watermelon, and a whole lot of sweating. (Or, if you live in Phoenix like me, this also means Haboobs, scorpion season, & asinine energy bills from your overworked air conditioner.)

Personally, my favorite part about summer (besides heat stroke) is barbecues. There’s just nothing like standing over an open flame with a bunch of meat to take you back to our ancient ancestors’ primeval state, bending over in an abandoned cave preparing some freshly hunted food. In my opinion, there’s not much better out there–burgers, hot dogs, carne asada, ribeyes, grilled fruits & vegetables, etc. The list goes on and on and on.

I recently had the opportunity to live in Salt Lake for a few weeks and work on some TBA projects. While I was in town, I had heard about an up-and-coming restaurant in Utah County from a few friends and that left me really intrigued by their take on the grill-it-your-way approach in Korean culture. I mean, it’s summertime and it’s Korean BBQ. How much better could it get? The thing is: I had no idea just what I was in for.

When we arrived, we were sat at our table and picked a few types of meat to start with. Once the raw, marinated meats were brought to us, we were given a number of sides to accompany our appetites while we waited for the meat to cook. Now keep this in mind as it shouldn’t be taken lightly: there was not a single side that I didn’t love. Oh, and did I mention this is ALL YOU CAN EAT? Because I definitely ate all. I. Could. Eat.

Here’s just a few of my favorite sides: Jeon (Korean Pancake), Japchae (Chilled Glass Noodle Salad), Cucumber Salad, Kimchi, & Potato Dish. My absolute favorite however was the Hurricane Rice.

Slightly sweet sticky rice is fried together with kimchi for an incredible flavor you never knew you’ve been dying to try. In all seriousness, this Hurricane Rice was one of the most memorable things I’ve had to eat in months. (I’m still going to bed every night dreaming about it!) Combine that together with the incredible Beef Short Ribs (again–as many as you can eat) and you’ve got yourself one of the best meals you’ve had in a long time. I could easily spend the rest of my days off a steady diet of E-Ga Short Ribs & Hurricane Rice. So come hungry and come ready to spend the rest of your day in the best post-meal zen you’ve ever had.

Opened in 2017 by Youngsun & Eric Murray in Springville, UT, you can count on E-Ga Korean BBQ as an excellent, unique experience for you and your friends to visit. Add this stop on your list of places to visit ASAP!

For more details, visit

Fly—Don’t Run—to Pretty Bird

Fly—Don’t Run—to Pretty Bird

After more than five years in the nest, Salt Lake City-based Pretty Bird by Chef Viet Pham has finally flown the coop.

This hot chicken restaurant off downtown’s Regent Street has only been open a little more than a month but it’s already home to some rave reviews in the industry. This week, I was fortunate enough with a free day to fly to SLC–specifically just to see how high this pretty bird could fly for Spoonthumbs.

Pretty Bird features their double-dredged chicken in two separate varieties: either on the bone breast, wings, legs & thighs with white bread and pickles or as a chicken sandwich topped with pickles, red cabbage slaw, & a bright and tangy house pretty bird sauce nestled in a buttered brioche bun. The customer can then choose the spice level of the chicken from mild to medium, hot, or hot “behind”.

Thanks to a certain white-suited military leader from the south, “Nashville Hot Chicken” has been brought to the national front–sadly, many who’ve experienced the sensation for the first time have gone home feeling disappointed. It’s unfortunate that so many cooks attempt their shot at Hot Chicken with a lazy bath of badly fried chicken in an overwhelming amount of cayenne–leaving people with way too much heat and not nearly enough flavor.

But not Pretty Bird.

We briefly sat down with owner Viet Pham–enjoying the debut of his second restaurant–who explained to us that the idea for Pretty Bird came to him more than five years ago: “I wanted to make sure that the flavor profiles were just right–not just chicken with cayenne pepper–but a balanced composition like a well-produced movie with cast, crew, supporting actors and actresses… not just a single player.”

I won’t put this lightly: Pretty Bird’s Hot “Behind” chicken is certainly Hollywood’s next summer blockbuster.

It features three different types of peppers (cayenne, habanero, & bhut jolokia–ghost pepper), along with a blend of garlic powder, mustard, cinnamon, and a few other spices that leave you with an incredibly savory, subtly-sweet bite… as well as a heat that continues to build for minutes on end like a really well written narrative. This movie’s got action, adventure, and a fair share of that all-spicy Hollywood romance (that scandalous NC-17 kind). The Hot “Behind” is certainly hot, however “it’s not like I want customers expecting to participate in some kind of gimmicky heat challenge when they come here to eat”–Viet adds.

Much like the contemporary, minimalist decor and the square footage of the restaurant itself, Pretty Bird’s menu is limited (they also offer crinkle cut seasoned fries, slaw, & a seasonal daily side)–and they’ve mastered this limited menu VERY well. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday for lunch from 11 AM to 3:30 PM and dinner from 5 PM to 9 PM–or until they run out of chicken. (Only a few hundred are prepared daily!)

“We’ve sold out nearly every day so far since we’ve been open. There’s consistently been a line out of the door with tons of people waiting to experience this. It’s made the five year wait entirely worth it.”

So whether you live near Salt Lake City or not–don’t walk, don’t run, but FLY to Pretty Bird as quickly as possible. You won’t regret it.


— J



The 20 Best Restaurants We Visited in 2017

The 20 Best Restaurants We Visited in 2017

Before getting to brass tax, here are some honorable mentions that I feel slightly guilty for leaving off of this list:

  • Eggs in the City – Salt Lake City, UT (Breakfast)
  • Blue Star Donuts – Portland, OR (Doughnuts)
  • Myke’s Pizza – Phoenix AZ (Pizza)
  • MEAT Barbecue – Edmonton, AB (Barbecue)
  • Marukin Ramen – Portland, OR (Ramen)
  • Stoneground – Salt Lake City, UT (Italian)

They should be on this list, but it’s a dog eat dog world out there. Nonetheless, all of these restaurants should have plenty of your attention on your next visit to these cities.

Without further adieu, here’s the Top 20 for 2017 and some of the best dishes we had while we were there:


20) Melt – Phoenix, AZ

Food: Cookie Monster Ice Cream

A new addition to the Phoenix Ice Cream scene this year–what Melt lacks in size & aesthetics they certainly make up for with big flavor & creativity. Treats like warm donuts filled with your choice of ice cream or the “Leslie Knope” (essentially a waffle ice cream sandwich) are more than enough to make a stop to this quaint shop worth it.


19) Stumpy’s Pizza & Subs – Phoenix, AZ

Food: The Butcher, The Ranch House, & The Classic Italian (Hot)

Stumpy’s has been around for several years, but this was the first time Spoonthumbs had a chance to visit. Similar to Melt in terms in size & appearance, don’t let those factors distrat you from some incredible pizzas & sandwiches.


18) Escalante’s – Houston, TX

Food: Chicken Flautas

By total happenstance I stumbled upon this six-location Texas restaurant on a brief visit to the city following Hurricane Harvey. They chicken flautas are unlike anything I’ve ever had–light, fluffy, & full of flavor. They’re far from being anything like your discount store generic taquitos.


17) Alberto’s – Park City, UT

Food: Carne Asada Burrito & Strawberry Milkshake

Like Escalante’s in Houston, Alberto’s out of Park City is a favorite for any Phoenix natives loyal to the Filiberto’s brand. Alberto is essentially Filly B’s… but much, much better. Imagine a carne asada or California burrito, but with less grease and more flavor. Oh, you can also order milkshakes made with real ice cream. So yeah, Filiberto’s has some catching up to do.


16) The Big Bib BBQ – San Antonio, TX

Food: Rib Tips & Pulled Pork

You want great Texas BBQ? The Big Bib isn’t the best there is, but they definitely deserve a place on this list. I eat a LOT of BBQ and this is some of the best San Antonio has to offer. (I have to knock them a few spots on this list solely for being based out of San Antonio & the fact that I’m still bitter about the Spurs robbing the Suns of a championship ring in 2007. San Antonio, blame Robert Horry for this snub.)

15) Cafe Bicyclette – Edmonton, AB

Food: Poutine

This is by far the best, most authentic poutine you can find in all of Canada. Cafe Bicyclette is an authentic french restaurant (with nearly all staff being native French speakers) in a quaint part south of downtown Edmonton. They offer some really great French dishes & pastries and the poutine is absolutely next level.


14)  Little Man Ice Cream – Denver, CO

Food: Salted Oreo Ice Cream

On my way out of a weekend stop in Denver, I HAD to swing by Little Man Ice Cream. I had no clue what I was in store for. It’s an outdoor shop out of what’s basically a giant milk jug. It’s not uncommon for there to be a line lasting more than an hour and half–and honestly, it was worth nearly missing my flight for.

(Shoutout to homegirl Taylor for letting me and my buddy Mickayeen cut to the front of the line with her in exchange for buying her ice cream. Hopefully some day you find this. Denver needs more people like you.)


13) Afghan Kitchen – South Salt Lake City, UT

Food: Mantu, Garlic Naan, Chicken Tikka Kabob

It was my first time trying Afghan cuisine and it was everything I could have imagined and then some. The best way to describe this fare is an amalgamation of Indian & Meditteranean food. There’s spicy and savory yet light and refreshing. I really loved the four different types of sauces I could try with my plate. Definitely one of my new favorite Utah spots.


12) Tres Carnales Taqueria – Edmonton, AB

Food: Carne Asada Torta

Mexican food is First Class for your body. So when I stumbled upon this place in the far north Canadian tundra, my expectations were set very low. (I mean, how often do you expect Canada to know Mexican food?) I quickly repented. Tres Carnales is some of the best Mexican food anywhere and I was raised in Arizona, the heartland of authentic Mexican cuisine.

11) Screen Door – Portland, OR

Food: Huevos Rancheros with Brisket, Fried Chicken and Waffles with Praline Bacon

Portland is a Spoonthumbs paradise. For people who love food, this city is both a dream and a nightmare. (You’ll easily need to double your workout regimen if you’re here an extended period of time. The food is just that good.)

Screen Door is near the top of this city’s list. Serving both breakfast and lunch, these guys do it right. Served with brisket, their take on Huevos Rancheros (with a cilantro avocado crema) is one of the best I’ve had. You’ve gotta try the praline bacon while you’re here too.


10) Doughbird – Phoenix, AZ

Food: Cast Iron Shishito Peppers & Umami, Free Range Chicken, Barbecue Chicken Pizza (with Jalapeño Pesto)

The newest brainchild of Sam Fox & Fox Restaurant Concepts, Doughbird takes two seemingly different foods and pairs them together in a way that’s both new and somehow familiar. The aesthetic is clean & contemporary–a top spot for a date night. You can order a rotisserie chicken and pair it with a variety of flavorful sauces (jalapeño pesto, jamaican jerk, lemon and roasted garlic, etc.) as well as some fantastic thin artisan pizza. It’s the best of both worlds, really.

9) Terry Black’s BBQ – Austin, TX

Food: Brisket & Sausage

If I haven’t made it clear enough yet, I’m a sucker for classic, quality barbecue.

Apparently, so is the rest of the population of Austin because the entire city lines up outside on a nightly basis for this order by weight, side-self-service restaurant. They go until sellout, so it’s best to go there early and expect a wait. I waited over an hour to get to the cashier counter and it was more than worth the time.

I’ll make it quick: when I tried Terry Black’s, it was 100% without a doubt the best brisket I had eaten. Little did I know, 2017 had bigger plans for me. (Continue reading for more details.)

8) Baked & Wired – Washington DC

Food: Any & All Cupcake You Can Imagine

Aside from my full-time obsession with sourdough & all things bread, I’m not all too crazy for baked goods. Cakes just don’t do it for me.

Well, Baked & Wired does it for me.

The cupcakes aren’t cheap (I paid upwards of $50 for a dozen cupcakes), but they are certainly top notch and worth every penny. You can usually expect a line out the door before getting a chance to place your order. And the cupcakes are everything you want in a cupcake, moist, dense, & full of flavor. If every cupcake I had were as good as this, I would absolutely change my opinions on baked goods no doubt.


7) Pine State Biscuits – Portland, OR

Food: The Reggie Deluxe

The beautifully weird city of Portland is no stranger to this list. And Pine State Biscuits is one of the top, most-try destinations. Their take on biscuits and gravy will gladly put your grandmother’s recipe to shame. Fried chicken topped with gravy, cheese, crumbled bacon, & a fried egg–come VERY hungry and without much to do the rest of your day. A nap is legally required after eating here.

6) Lovely’s Fifty Fifty – Portland, OR

Food: Yukon Gold Potato Pie with Fenugreek, Pancetta, & Fried Egg

Lovely’s is home to some of the best hand-crafted artisan pizza I’ve had in the world and is certainly #1 in the Portland area. The crust, the daily menu, everything about this place is pizza perfection. The focus is on quality ingredients & quality cooking.

5) Volare Wine & Bistro – Atlanta, GA

Food: Grilled Australian Lamb Chops, Parmesan Crusted Prosciutto Cordon Bleu with Boursin Cheese & Grain Mustard Beurre Blanc

Ever mistakenly stumble into a restaurant that ended up being amazing? That’s Volare. I was driving near downtown Atlanta but unfortunately most of the places were already closed/full for the night. I stumbled into Volare with low expectations that got blown out of the water.

I don’t know if Australian Lamb naturally tastes better than American Lamb, but I’d put money on it after this dish.

4) Georgia Brown’s – Washington, DC

FoodCatfish Fingers, Heirloom Tomato Stack, Fried Chicken

Georgia Brown’s is an experience unlike any other. One of Michelle Obama’s favorite spots during her tenancy as the First Lady, Georgia Brown’s is best described as a fancy take on the ultimate southern comfort food.


3) The Elephant Shack (formerly The Elephant Truck) – Haleiwa, HI

Food: Pad Thai, Panang Curry

World-renowned food genius Alton Brown once described The Elephant Truck (now the Elephant Shack) as his favorite food truck in the world, hands down.

I love thai food and the Elephant Shack is next level. They recently moved to their own brick & mortar in Haleiwa, HI (North Shore Oahu) but the food has taken no shortcuts as a result. I can second Alton Brown’s voice and agree that the Elephant Shack is the best thai food I have ever had.


2) Filomena Ristorante – Washington, DC

FoodArancini, Buratta di Mozzarella alla Caprese, Calamari Fritti, La Familia (Sunday Sauce with Meatballs, Italian Sausage, & Short Ribs over Fusilli pasta), Oreo Cheesecake, Filomena Cannoli, Spumoni-Cannoli Cake

Classic Italian is always a favorite for pretty much any breathing human that has ever existed. I mean, it’s basically the perfect food. So what happens when you get the perfect version of the perfect food? Easy: Filomena in Washington, DC.

All of their pasta can be seen handmade through a window on your entry into this basement restaurant that typically sees reservations months in advance. There was not a single dish that I tried at Filomena that I didn’t fall in love with.

Even their classic family spaghetti–a pretty basic dish by most standards–blew me away entirely. The worst part about Filomena is eating all of this amazing Italian only to remember all of the homemade cheesecakes and cannolis you walked by on your way to the table.

Don’t worry, you’ll find a way to fit in the dessert.

1) Little Miss BBQ – Phoenix, AZ

Food: Brisket, Brisket, Brisket, Sausage, Jalapeño Cheddar Grits, Brisket, & Brisket

I’ve heard about Little Miss from friends and family for years but never went. “The lines are crazy.” “You only have a few hours in a day to catch it and then you’re outta luck.” Well, that’s all true. But having finally eaten there, I can declare LITTLE MISS IS EVERYTHING YOU’VE EVER WANTED.

Have you ever been to an American BBQ restaurant where the sauce was an afterthought? That’s Little Miss. You’ll try the sauce because it’s there and you’re curious, but you won’t even care if it’s gone.

While you’re waiting, prepare yourself to eat the best brisket of your life. (Remember how I thought Terry Black’s in Austin was the best brisket I had eaten? Well, it was. Then Little Miss showed up to my door and nothing else mattered.)

I ended up showing an hour prior to the day’s opening and waited another 30 minutes or so before getting inside to the counter to order (just over an hour and a half total before that buttery brisket melted in my mouth) and I can honestly say every minute waiting is worth it. Bring your family and make a feast out of it. Take pictures. Then spend the next few years reminiscing on the best barbecue experience of your life.

All around, Little Miss was the best barbecue experience I have had in the US. It’s home to the second best ribs I’ve eaten (only to Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis) and BY FAR the greatest brisket I’ve ever had the privilege of eating.

So as far as your 2018 Resolutions are concerned, be sure to make this list–and especially Little Miss BBQ–your number one priority.

The Best Food on the North Shore of Oahu

The Best Food on the North Shore of Oahu

First thing’s first: this is by no means a complete list of the best foods and restaurants on the North Shore of Oahu. (But let’s face it, Hawaii is perfect and, therefore, all of its food is equally perfect.) After a few visits in recent years, I felt the need to document some of my favorite stops.

Note: These foods are best consumed while cruising the coastline with your windows down blasting some J Boog & Common Kings.


Here’s a few stops that will fuel your lazy beach days on your next visit:

7) Garlic Chicken – Tita’s Grill Food Truck (Laie, HI)

Tita’s has long been a North Shore staple–and home to some of my favorite Teriyaki Beef (or teri beef, as the locals call it) on the island. Tita’s Grill Food Truck also serves some great garlic chicken (which is served with rice and mac salad). And this chicken is definitely the star of this plate: sweet, sticky, lightly fried, and full of some great garlic flavor. 

Keep note as Tita’s has recently relocated from their location in Kahuku to two separate food trucks on the property of the Polynesian Cultural Center. One truck serves their classic foods while the other is targeted more towards seafood, including poké bowls.

6) Island Delight – Polynesian Cultural Center (Laie, HI)

While we’re on the subject of the Polynesian Cultural Center, be sure to stop by and visit the Disneyland of the Islands (my own personal tagline). It’s a great place to learn about Pacific island cultures and traditions as you’re taught by natives from Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, and many others.

At night, these performers join the stage together in a giant luau. At intermission the PCC serves Island Delights: think neapolitan-style sorbet–sweet, fruity ice cream with a mix of coconut, pineapple, & guava flavors.


4) Garlic Shrimp – Giovanni’s Aloha Shrimp (Kahuku, HI)

Whether it’s your first time or your 80th time to Oahu, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed: an infinite amount of food trucks with signs claiming to offer the best garlic shrimp on the island.

Here’s the thing: Giovanni’s doesn’t need a sign. The giant line in front of the truck should speak for itself. I personally recommend the Shrimp Scampi: a dozen shell-on shrimp marinated in olive oil, fresh chopped garlic, and lemon butter with two scoops of jasmine rice which is then drizzled in garlic lemon butter and caramelized garlic chunks.

Yeah, bring extra napkins. And some mouthwash for later.

3) Baja BBQ Corn – Uncle Woody’s BBQ Corn (Kahuku, HI) 

Located in the same food truck circle as Giovanni’s is a phenomenal BBQ Corn stand. For the longest time, its hours were all over the place and it was a complete mystery as to if you would actually be able to buy corn that day. Fortunately, Uncle Woody’s has new owners–and with it, consistent hours and some amazing, savory, grilled corn.

Uncle Woody’s offers three separate variations of their corn: Island (butter, sea salt, garlic salt, & black pepper), Baja (butter, mayo, lemon juice, lime juice, baja seasoning, parmesan cheese), or Shoyu (butter & soy sauce). You can’t go wrong with any of the options, really.

When we stopped by, we ordered their Baja grilled corn and took it to drive to nearby Keiki beach. On our way back, we stopped by again and ordered two more corns (corn? cornses?). But THAT’S how great this corn is. So order some while you wait on your order of garlic shrimp from Giovanni’s or get some grilled corn for dessert–it’s okay, we’ll allow it.

2) Pad See Ew – The Elephant Shack/The Elephant Truck (Haleiwa, HI)

This would be number one on our list if it weren’t for one thing–and it makes this a bit of a tease on our list–the Elephant Truck is currently closed. But don’t be mad! The owners are preparing to open in historic Haleiwa for its latest iteration: The Elephant Shack.

But let me just say this: the Alton Brown (via Instagram AMA) has unequivocally stated that this is his favorite food truck of all time. But if even THAT doesn’t convince you, then the food certainly will.

As fate would have it, when we went to visit the Elephant Truck it just so happened to be the final night before their closure of the Truck in preparation for the Shack. So we didn’t hold back. We ordered the Pad Thai, Panang Curry, and their Pad See Ew. (I like to tell myself it was only 20 calories.) As a big fan of Thai food, the entire meal blew me away. But that Pad See Ew, man…. That plate changes you.

1) Chocolate Haupia Pie – Ted’s Bakery (Haleiwa, HI)

Now that I’ve recovered from my Pad See Ew fantasy, let me tell you about Ted’s.

Ted’s is on the drive from Giovanni’s down to Shark’s Cove, Keiki Beach, & Haleiwa. They also serve all your Hawaiian lunch staples, but when I go to Ted’s, I go for one thing: pie. (And with dozens of flavors to boot, sometimes it’s hard to choose just one.)

Their Chocolate Haupia pie is a masterpiece. (And you can’t spell masterpiece without ‘pie’.) The textures of the chocolate and haupia blend perfectly with over the flaky, buttery crust. It’s decadent, it’s rich, and it’s exactly what you deserve to eat when you’re on the North Shore.

You can either order by the slice or you can order the whole pie. On my most recent trip, I realized that slices are just under $4 each while a whole pie is $14 a pop. Knowing my love affair for the Chocolate Haupia… I walked out of there with an entire pie for myself. #noragrets

Let me tell you about my favorite Italian Sub.

Let me tell you about my favorite Italian Sub.

There are a lot of subs like it–but this one’s mine.

I just finished Season Two of Master of None. All spoilers aside–the first two episodes of this beautiful work of art from Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang will leave you wanting to pack your bags tonight and fly out on a short trip to the Italian countryside for a few years.

Side note: I don’t know of another show out there right now that presents life and food in such a hilarious, all-too-real perspective better than Master of None.

Needless to say, the last few days I’ve caught myself daydreaming of riding bikes through Northern Italy where an angry old lady smacks me around to teach me the ancient, subtle arts of tagliatelle, tortellini, and raviolo. Unfortunately, life isn’t always a Netflix episode–so I make due with what I’ve got.

Niccoli’s Italian Grocery & Deli is one of those hidden gems here in Phoenix. It isn’t quite a one-way ticket to Modena, but it’s pretty freaking close.

Owned by Joe & Peppy Niccoli since 1970, this half-market/half-eatery offers freshly-imported pastas, sauces, oils, vinegar, meat and cheese–just about everything you could possibly desire from the motherland. On top of it all, they’ve got fantastic lunch and catering menus to boast. It’s a quaint little shop with some of the best customer service you can find in the valley. You can’t get much closer to authentic Italian than this place. (All it’s missing now is pasta-making classes from a verbally-abusive Italian woman.)

Which brings me to this: I’m a sucker for a good sandwich. I could honestly start a club for some of my favorite sandwich shops and delicatessens in the valley. Quite frankly, you can’t beat Niccoli’s classic Italian Sub.


I hate to admit it, but with me living in walking distance of Niccoli’s, it took me nearly two years to finally stumble upon this place. Fortunately, the night I initially stopped by, I was greeted by Peppy herself who filled me in on the company’s story and quickly helped me realize the huge mistake I had been making by not visiting them yet. Being a first timer to Niccoli’s, she also pointed me in the direction of their best seller and, well… I’ve never looked back since.

The Italian sub features a generous helping of Genoa salami, capicolla, mortadella, ham, provolone cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato, red onion, pepperoncini, oregano, and oil & vinegar dressing on a homemade roll. It’s the perfect sized portion served hometown style; everything sliced fresh and prepared right in front of you. The sandwich itself has a slightly spicy kick due to the pepperoncini and dressing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve had plenty of Italian subs in my day, but frankly, Niccoli’s take is hard to beat. I’m not sure I’ll ever find one to beat this out, save the slightest chance it’s being fed to me by that angry Italian woman. It’s molto bene–buonissimo!



For more information on Niccoli’s Italian Grocery & Deli, visit their website here.