Best Of :: Food & Drink
What makes Kai such a standout? Let us count the ways. First, there's the beautiful resort setting, with dining-room views overlooking both the pool and a vast stretch of desert. Servers address you by name, bring you chilled or warmed flatware depending on the course, deliver dishes in unison, and are well-schooled on the finer points of sophisticated cuisine. It's a good thing they're so knowledgeable and attentive, because even the most obsessive gourmet will find something unusual here to talk about, whether it's the provenance of the extra virgin olive oil (Kai's signature blend from Queen Creek), or the use of exquisite desert delicacies such as cholla buds, scarlet runner beans, and saguaro seeds. Executive chef Michael O'Dowd creates unique, regionally inspired dishes that are unlike anything else in the state; poached arctic char with fennel pesto, and grilled tenderloin of buffalo with smoked corn puree are two specialties that should put Kai on everyone's epicurean map.
This is the little restaurant that could.Amid a sour economy — and even in the middle of the summer slowdown — this is the place that had locals buzzing on Twitter, Facebook, and good old-fashioned word of mouth in 2010.The excitement started with a trifecta: rustic, comforting American eats by chef-owner Charleen Badman; cozy, bustling atmosphere; and rock star treatment for regulars and newbies alike, courtesy of co-owners Pavle Milic and his wife Emily Pullen. Soon, the Stetson Drive gin joint became the Valley's go-to place for top-notch Arizona wines (still a rarity — but not for long, we predict, thanks to Milic's pioneering efforts) and affordable late-night eats as well. Comforting dishes like braised leeks with mozzarella and fried egg, and perfectly crispy jidori chicken have come and gone with the seasons, but Badman has only continued to delight us with new dishes along the way. Cheers to a new classic in the middle of Old Town.
It's hard to imagine that the area near this stretch of East Phoenix used to be the country's biggest cattle feedlot, but a visit to The Stockyards — situated in what was once the Tovrea Land and Cattle Company's administrative offices — can take you back in time to an era when ranching was still a big part of the local culture, and the city's movers and shakers did business over hefty steaks and stiff cocktails. Meat and potatoes is still the name of the game here, with exotica like elk and demurely named "calf fries" supplementing steaks, burgers, salads, and seafood dishes. Settle into a big booth, ogle the cowboy-themed paintings and branding iron chandelier, and enjoy a reminder of when the West was still Western.
Sometimes, you just need a little steak. Other times, you just need a lot of steak. When heaps of beef are what you're after — and you've got the cash — there's no better meal than Durant's 48-ounce porterhouse. Plain on the outside, fancy-pants on the inside, Durant's is a Phoenix institution that's hosted powerful politicos, celebrities, and mobsters alike. Nestled menacingly amidst the sparse yet solid menu of savory steaks and classic cocktails, this massive meal waits to take on all challengers. A slab of meat that would be appropriate to serve your pet velociraptor, this steak's part filet mignon, part New York strip, and all delicious. Order the steak however you want — from blue to well done — and the kitchen magicians will cook it to perfection. That's no small task with a cut that's a good three inches thick. Finish it and you'll be inducted into the illustrious Porterhouse Club, your name engraved on a brass plate affixed to one of several polished wooden plaques that adorn the restaurant's walls. The storied restaurant began offering the 48-ounce Porterhouse Challenge in 1996 and has since racked up a pantheon of more than 1,200 victorious eaters. At $83.25, the 48-ounce Porterhouse isn't for the faint-hearted. But if you've got the money — and the stomach — Durant's won't disappoint.
San Felipe's Cantina is known for many things: decent guacamole, dangerously cheap shots of liquor and draft beer, obnoxious clientele. What it should be known for, however, is the El Gordito Burrito. Also known as "the Fat One," the El Gordito is a big-ass taco de harina made with chicken or steak, rice, beans, and cheese, all wrapped in a tortilla the size of a manhole cover and covered with spicy sauce and melted cheese. If you eat it all in one sitting, San Felipe's will throw you a party and give you a T-shirt — size XXL, of course.Tipping the scales at close to seven pounds, this burrito's a scary bastard. But at only $19.95, you can't afford not to buy it — that's less than $3 per pound! Whether you attempt to eat it all at once or take it home and feed yourself for a week, there's no place around where you're going to find a burrito that gives you more bang for your buck.
When Matt and Courtney Diamond opened their bangin' little "ale house" in a Seventh Street bungalow, it wasn't enough to have a great list of regional craft beers and quaffable, affordable wines. They came up with some scrumptious eats, too, the most beer-friendly of them all being the Coronado Coney, named after the historic district where the restaurant is situated. This is one top dog, a plump, juicy all-beef frank from Schreiner's Sausage, a local institution right up the street. It's tucked into a soft, dense sourdough bun that's lightly toasted, slathered with Humboldt Brown Ale mustard, and sprinkled with red onion. Which really makes the dish — the wiener or the bun? Who knows. It's a good conundrum to ponder over another pint of IPA.