Even before it opened its doors on Labor Day weekend 2009, St. Francis was the talk of Central Phoenix.
People driving past the early-'50s Harold Ekman building couldn't help noticing the high-style renovation that Wendell Burnett Architects gave the place — the striking structure's painted chalk-white — and foodies were eager to try chef-owner Aaron Chamberlin's wood-fired American comfort food.
Now, the buzz is stronger than ever, as St. Francis' stunning vintage-meets-ultramodern dining room has become an instant hotspot for the city's movers and shakers. Linger at the bar over a Dark & Stormy cocktail (dark rum with ginger beer and spices), and you never know whom you might run into.
Chamberlin's luscious sticky toffee pudding with sweet cream gelato is our current dessert obsession, the perfect happy ending to a cozy night out. Every time we sink our spoon into that pudding, it's as thrilling as the first time.
But we're also intrigued by how St. Francis is engaging with the community. To make business lunches a breeze, the restaurant's introduced a three-course deal that gets you "in and out in 30 minutes," and in February, it hosted a couple of local priests for a blessing of the restaurant and farm-fresh tasting menu.
Amen to good food in the 'hood.
111 E. Camelback Rd., 602-200-8111, stfrancisaz.com
The Main Ingredient Ale House & Cafe
Owners Matt and Courtney Diamond opened their vibrant Coronado restaurant/watering hole to instant acclaim earlier this year, serving up affordable, beer- and wine-friendly snacks, sandwiches, and salads to a young, casual crowd. In the way of suds, the emphasis is on local and regional craft brews, with eight on tap and 20 more by the bottle or can (yes, we said "can," as in $2 Schlitz).
2337 N. 7th St., 602-843-6246
America's Taco Shop
It must've been manifest destiny for America's Taco Shop. This tiny, colorful eatery on Seventh Street was barely open a year before owners America Corrales Bortin and her husband, Terry, pounced on the opportunity to bring their craveable carne asada tacos and burritos to the Melrose District. Nowadays, their Seventh Ave. location is just as swinging as the original.
2041 N. 7th St., 602-682-5627, and 4447 N. 7th Ave., 602-515-0856, americastacoshop.net
Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe
Order all you want at Mrs. White's, but take a mental note. Here, the soul food menu is scribbled on the walls, the servers don't bring you a check, and you'll have to give the cashier a rundown of what you ate. How in the world does the honor system work here? We think it's because the fried catfish is so good. Why would anyone ever dine and dash when they know they'll be back for more?
808 E. Jefferson St., 602-262-9256
Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli
Who doesn't love a chance to multi-task? Stop by Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli for some shawarma or a kebab platter (and maybe some creamy rice pudding for dessert), and be prepared to squeeze in a little shopping. The aisles of this pint-size market are packed with a surprising selection of groceries, including spices, olive oil, coffee, nuts, and canned goods. The friendliness of the staff is impressive, too.
3052 N. 16th St., 602-277-4927
If it were up to us, there'd be too many good Chinese restaurants to choose from. Unfortunately, that's not the case in the Central Corridor, so we rely on this bustling place that serves a lip-smacking variety of Sichuan, Cantonese, and Hong Kong-style specialties. From spicy garlic eggplant to sizzling black pepper beef, there's enough here to satisfy carnivores and vegetarians alike.
302 E. Flower St., 602-266-4463, chinachilirestaurant.com
Hula's Modern Tiki
When it opened in 1965, this quirky building on Central Avenue, distinguished by its huge hexagonal front window, was a restaurant called Heap's Big Beef. Now lovingly updated, with the addition of garage doors that open the dining area to the patio, it's a contemporary take on Hawaiian kitsch, keeping locals happy with fish tacos, potent tiki cocktails, and a vibrant nighttime scene. Grass skirts not required.
4700 N. Central Ave., 602-265-8454, hulasmoderntiki.com
Nine 05 Modern Asian
A cheerfully pop remodel has turned this old house into a fun setting for a casual pan-Asian feast. With housemade kimchee, ramen noodle soups, red curry mussels, and char siu pork, it's a truly globetrotting mix of flavors, teamed with don't-miss desserts. The front patio is one of CenPho's best, especially at happy hour. Nothing like cold sake to take the edge off.
905 N. 4th St., 602-254-6424, nine-05.com
5202 N. Central Ave.
2814 N. 16th St.
108 E. Pierce St.
128 E. Roosevelt St.
603 N. 5th Ave.
320 N. 3rd St. (at the Sheraton)
Duck & Decanter
1 N. Central
2611 N. Central
3815 N. Central
40 N. 1st St.
606 N. 4th Ave.
Los Dos Molinos
1010 E. Washington St.
Maizie's Café & Bistro
4750 N. Central Ave.
Matt's Big Breakfast
801 N. 1st St.
Moira Sushi Bar & Kitchen
215 E. McKinley St.
1044 E. Camelback Rd.
4404 N. Central Ave.
1916 E. Camelback Rd.
705 N. 1st St., Ste. 110
623 E. Adams St.
105 W. Portland St.
5144 N. Central Ave.
Sens Asian Tapas & Sake Bar
705 N. 1st St., Ste. 120
2603 N. Central Ave.
2327 N. 7th St.
2631 N. Central Ave.
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