Best food at azcentral Wine & Food Experience during Saturday’s Grand Tasting

The 2018 azcentral Wine & Food Experience is underway!

This year’s event features creations from dozens of Arizona restaurants, and though we’ve only reached the midway point, some of the dishes from the Grand Tasting have already jumped out to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

Arizona’s culinary creativity is on display. Here are some of my favorites from Saturday’s event that stand out from among the new dishes offered this year.

Check back for Sunday’s favorites, along with a full rundown of the best dishes and honorable mentions.

Hatch chile “crepe-stada” from Crêpe Bar

Jeff Kraus has a habit of slinging some wild creations, and luckily for us, they’re usually pretty darn tasty, too. His “crepe-stada” was a standout, a crisp crepe chip laced with Hatch chile, topped with charred acorn squash and a butternut puree with a fragrant Somali spice blend. Add some crisp, peppery arugula dressed with mushroom jus and a dash of raisin-scented urfa biber and you have a complex, fragrant dish that’s both playful and thoughtful. And that’s Kraus in a nutshell.

PHOTOS: AARÓN SÁNCHEZ, MARCUS SAMUELSSON, BEST MOMENTS

Budae-jjigae from Obon Sushi + Bar + Ramen

Also known as “army stew,” budae-jjigae is a Korean-American mashup born in the wake of the Korean war. Chef Paulo Im shoved his version of the iconic kimchi stew a little to the West, piling on kielbasa and andouille sausage as well as the requisite Spam. This is just a fun and satisfying dish, spicy and tart with a meaty heft that sticks with you.

Blistered shishitos from Mowry & Cotton

Just when you think something is overplayed, somebody comes along to put a fun spin on it. Chef Tandy Peterson drizzled blistered shishito peppers with a lightly sweet malted caramel sauce, then dusted them with salty black pepper feta cheese and a tart pop of pickled red onion. Man, did this work.

Ahi tuna melt from Mowry & Cotton

I kinda hate not spreading the love around a little more, but if I’m being honest, Mowry & Cotton was tack sharp today. I loved this nibble, a tuna melt on rye, but made with gorgeous fresh ahi and a sultry smear of poblano-spiked hummus. It has that cheffy creative lift, but it still boasts the visceral satisfaction of a late-night diner tuna melt.

Chicken tinga quesadilla from Toro Latin Restaurant

It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but man, did Toro stick the landing with this one. They slipped chorizo-spiked chicken tinga into a pillowy soft dough and fried it to a light crisp. A little crema, salsa verde and a lightly tart cabbage escabeche for contrast, and this was just flat-out satisfying. A great little dish.

MORE WINE & FOOD EXPERIENCE:

PHOTOS: SCOTT CONANT & MARCUS SAMUELSSON DINNER AT MORA ITALIAN

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