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Best Of :: Food & Drink

BEST RESTAURANT THAT LIVES UP TO THE HYPE
Binkley's Restaurant
Sarah Whitmire

In just a few short years, the reputation of chef-owner Kevin Binkley's eponymous fine dining establishment has risen to nearly legendary status, thanks to a combination of attentive, professional service, charming atmosphere, and above all, outstanding French-influenced contemporary cuisine that's both inspired and inspiring. Despite its far-flung location in Cave Creek — better known for biker bars and desert scenery — it's become a must-visit for foodies across the Valley, not to mention pleasure-seeking visitors from the area's high-end resorts. Chef Binkley's culinary brilliance reveals itself in obsessively sourced premium ingredients (with an emphasis on local and organic) and inventive flavor combinations, making every dish a mini-masterpiece. That's no surprise, given his resumé, which includes stints working under chef Patrick O'Connell at Virginia's The Inn at Little Washington, as well as chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Napa Valley. Meanwhile, his accomplished wife, Amy, the maitre d', runs the front of the house with grace.

Based on what's seasonally available, the menu here evolves daily. And while you certainly won't be disappointed ordering à la carte, the four-, five-, and six-course tasting menus are the best way to get the full Binkley's experience. (Expect a whirlwind of amuses-bouches between courses, each one more clever than the last.) If we had to put our money on the next big regional contender for a James Beard award, this is it.

Go now, before the spotlight on Binkley's shines even brighter.

6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, 85331
MAP
480-437-1072
BEST PLACE TO SPOIL YOUR DINNER

Don't get us wrong — we adore the savory dinner options at Sweet O Wine & Chocolate Lounge. From cheeses and dips, served with excellent grilled bread from Simply Bread, to fresh salads and creative panini, there's plenty on the menu that we're happy to fill up on. But why try to save room for dessert when that's the star attraction of this sleek little eatery? Better to start off with exactly what you came for — exotic chocolate pastries, chocolate fondue, chocolate hazelnut panini with crme fraîche and crispy hazelnuts, and petits fours galore. Once you get a glimpse of the chocolate treats in the display case, you won't be able to wait 'til after dinner to indulge. From macadamia toffee and milk chocolate caramel to fleur de sel truffles and butter ganache pralines, Sweet O can deliver your chocolate fix in just about any form you like. Even the eclectic wine selection is geared toward cacao consumption, with a generous selection of dessert wines and fortified wines. And if you'd rather let the experts guide your palate, pick one of the chocolate flights, where three different bonbons are paired with an appropriately decadent drink. Sweet O's proprietors say the "O" stands for "origine" (French for "origin," sort of the terroir of chocolate). But after flooding our brains with blissful endorphins and alcohol, all we feel is sweet oblivion.

BEST SIGNATURE DESSERT
Cuppa Red Hot Chocolate at Cowboy Ciao
Heather Hoch

We sure love hot chocolate, although in the warmer months (when we'll only drink iced lattes) we can hardly stand the thought of it — unless it's Cowboy Ciao's unforgettable take on the classic cold weather treat, the Cuppa Red Hot Chocolate. Here, pastry chef Tracey Dempsey interprets it as a cool, utterly decadent dessert: a rich chocolate-cinnamon pot de crme that's almost as thick as fudge, served in an oversized cup fit for cocoa. The only thing "hot" about it is a froth of oozy chipotle cream on top — perfect to scoop up with the spicy ginger cookie that comes with it. We'd happily splurge on a cuppa that any day, no matter the season.

7133 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, 85251
MAP
480-946-3111
BEST CHEESECAKE
Bertha's Café

We usually order dessert when we're out somewhere fancy, when the conclusion of a multicourse meal calls for something sweet to go with our after-dinner cup o' joe. But after lunch at a sandwich shop? Hardly ever — unless we're at Bertha's Café, where it's a given. At this friendly, inconspicuous little eatery, desserts are impossible to resist, appealingly displayed in a big case right next to the front counter. From cookies and muffins to malted brownies, it's all good, but we're particularly fond of their rich, creamy, homemade cheesecakes. Sometimes it's actually hard to choose from the daily assortment of just-made mini-cakes, with creative concoctions like s'mores, baklava, and banana cream. Bertha's flavors are anything but plain Jane.

3134 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 85018
MAP
602-955-1022
BEST RED VELVET CAKE
Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles

Check your guilt at the door. From buttery grits and mac 'n' cheese to the famous fried chicken served with a hot stack of waffles, everything at Lo-Lo's is stick-to-your-ribs delicious. So it only makes sense that dessert here would be a luscious affair, worth every calorie-laden bite. And, boy, does the red velvet cake deliver. One slice of this sweet, red-tinted chocolate cake — slathered in buttery cream-cheese icing that we could just eat with a spoon — is thick enough to feed two people. Still, we'd rather get one all for ourselves. We figure, if we're gonna blow our diet, we might as well do it with gusto.

10 W. Yuma St., Phoenix, 85003
MAP
602-340-1304
BEST OLIVE OIL CAKE
radioMILANO

We love olive oil drizzled on salads or soaked up with a soft piece of bread, but in dessert? Admittedly, the sound of olive oil cake turned us off at first. But we were very pleasantly surprised when curiosity got the better of us at radioMILANO, and now it's our favorite choice for sweet satisfaction at the end of the meal. Here, the thick slice of cake is so moist and velvety that it's hard to eat just a bite or two. It's served with a huge, smooth dollop of thickened cream (you'll never be able to eat Cool Whip again after tasting it) and a nice blob of blackberry jam, although we'd gladly eat it plain. And here's a word to the wise: Get your own piece. The rest of the menu might be full of shareable small plates, but when it comes to olive oil cake, we gotta look after ourselves.

3950 E. Campbell Ave., Phoenix, 85018
MAP
602-956-6600
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BEST RESTAURANT THAT LIVES UP TO THE HYPE: Binkley's Restaurant

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