2107 N. 24th St., Phoenix

Pa’La seems like a hidden gem in Phoenix – even though it has been around for two years. What’s happening at this place is wonderfully unique, and it’s a foodie paradise. The bungalow that houses the restaurant was built in 1922 and it has been restored with careful attention to detail. The kitchen, dining room and patio provide seating for maybe 50 people – which means getting there early is your best bet. Owned and operated by Italian transplant Claudio Urciuoli, a clever chef who has experience in places with names such as Taggia, Prado and Bianco. 

Pa’La is a Spanish/Italian word that translates to “for the people.” On one of their brochures Pa’La is described as a reflection of “the seafood, grains, and vegetable-driven coastal cultures of the Mediterranean and South America.” The meals are cooked in one of two places in the restaurant: a forged-steel grill or a hand-built wood-burning oven. Which means that during operating hours, two fires need to be maintained at all times in the kitchen. 

To watch Urciuoli in the kitchen is almost like watching a scientist in his lab – except this lab is a kitchen and the experiments are delicious. The base ingredients are kept simple – olive oil, vinegar, sea salt, smoke and fire, but things branch out – way out – when it comes to the fresh ingredients. 

Pa’La has their own bread called “skiaccia” – a crispy and delightfully chewy Italian flatbread almost like naan. The menu on our visit consisted of Tapas, Navarro Bowls with three seafood options and Skiaccia Sandwiches. The dishes can change frequently, depending on what fresh ingredients Urciuoli finds. 

Our starter of Bufala Mozzarella with Wild Arugula, Tomatoes and Skiaccia was well-received and didn’t last long. We almost fought over the homemade sausage in the Roasted Polenta with Spicy Sausage tapas – it carried a nice kick of heat that was perfect with the texture of the creamy polenta and the crushed tomatoes. 

The Navarro Bowl – named after Chilean surfer Ramon Navarro – is the signature dish here. Loaded with different grains, vegetables, beans, seeds, cabernet vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and smoked soy sauce, the bowl comes with a choice of seafood: skate fish, wild shrimp or roasted octopus were our options. 

Smoky flavored, firm, but still soft with the slightest bit of crisp, the octopus settled nicely with the grains; each forkful had a new flavor, it felt like eating a new dish every time I took a bite. Sweet, salty, bitter and crunchy textures combined to make this healthy dish feel like a guilty pleasure. 

The Skiaccia Sandwich was crafted with an Arizona grass-fed, thinly-sliced steak marinated in chimayo chile powder and served with roasted poblano peppers and crimini mushrooms. This sandwich was filling and had just enough heat to make my eyes water. As a massive fan of any and all sandwiches, this one makes my top five of all time. I found myself wishing I had ordered another to go so I could experience it all over again the next day. 

Pa’La offers a variety of beverages, including locally-curated wines and beers, mineral water and Mexican Coke. 

Claudio Urciuoli and his crew have created a nothing less than a total food experience at Pa’La and it’s an easy one to recommend to food lovers.