Best Of :: Food & Drink
Despite what we may have learned in human anatomy, we consider the stomach and heart to be directly connected, which would explain why we're so enamored with Kevin Binkley. Executive chef and owner of the award-winning Binkley's Restaurant and Café Bink in Cave Creek, Kevin Binkley delivers food at its finest — and its most creative.Admittedly always playing with his food, Binkley constantly is conducting culinary experiments, whether it's turning olive oil into a solid, using transglutaminase to create two-sided surf and turf, or freezing blackberries to shatter them into powder. Many of his deliciously deviant dishes are created with the help of liquid nitrogen, which Binkley stores in a large tank in the back of his kitchen and refills weekly. It's something you'll find in only a handful of kitchens in the Southwest. To Binkley, its potential is limitless. To challenge himself and his team, Binkley changes his menu daily. At least three times a week, Binkley and his chefs visit Two Wash Ranch to collect fresh farm produce so that, ultimately, what they take out of the ground each morning is sitting on your plate at night (albeit in a different form or texture than you would normally expect). It's his use of fresh ingredients fashioned into fresh concepts that's been giving our taste buds goose bumps since 2004 and getting him James Beard Award nominations since 2005. Now if only he could ease our long-distance love affair by opening up a location closer to Phoenix. Ah, well, we can dream. See a slideshow here.
Sure, chef Shinji Kurita's exquisite Japanese restaurant may have opened last June, but its discreet location, low-profile stance, and a nod as a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in the 2012 James Beard Awards makes it seem as recent as ever. Kurita's omakase, or chef's choice dinners, are nothing short of spectacular, elegant works of art, meticulously prepared, and made with fresh, seasonal delicacies. The offerings may include a luscious whole blue crab, delectable pieces of wagyu beef you grill yourself, or several small gems of seafood — like kumamoto oyster topped with sea urchin, seared scallops drizzled with truffle oil, and Santa Barbara prawn with dots of caviar. Kurita's sushi selection is especially impressive, with wild-caught fish hailing mostly from Japan and ranging from the most delicate flavor to the breathtakingly decadent bluefin otoro. The small yet sophisticated space, a tranquil setting of wood, stone, and classical music, along with exceptional service and an equally impressive list of sakes and Japanese craft beers (like the sweet-potato brew, Coedo Beniaka) add to the indulgence. It all makes ShinBay a restaurant that could hold its own in any major city, but one the Valley is lucky enough to call its own.
Fry bread and finally. For those in the know about this tiny, bustling spot nearly tucked away on North Seventh Avenue near Indian School Road, this year's James Beard Foundation award was a long time coming. As one of five winners of its 2012 America's Classics award, which honors legendary family-owned restaurants across the country, the restaurant, which got its start in 1992 courtesy of Cecelia Miller of the Tohono O'odham Nation, serves up its specialty in golden pillowy goodness the size of a dinner plate. Topped with a variety of flavorful ingredients such as chorizo, chiles, and, in its dessert version, butter and chocolate, it's satisfying in nearly any variation. In fact, we'd say we couldn't agree with the award more — if our mouths weren't so full of fry bread.
At the recently rehabbed Saguaro Hotel, celebrity chef Jose Garces, a former Iron Chef America contestant and James Beard Award winner, has created a vibrant, colorful, and tasty paean to Mexico City street food that has caught not only the attention of local diners but the national media, including Food + Wine magazine. Despite a few misses, the "modern Mexican" small plates at Garces' restaurant are spectacular. Start with the rich gourmet version of green pozole, featuring pieces of crispy pork belly, smoky chorizo, and littleneck clams, or the citrusy yellowtail tuna ceviche, a sashimi-like twist on the beloved Mexican seafood cocktail. For a main course, dig into outstanding mahi mahi and pulled pork tacos or a tender piece of rotisserie chicken topped with a tantalizingly complex brown mole. It's nearly as good as just about anything on the barbacoa portion of the menu, especially the slow-roasted pork dish cochinita a la pibil, served in a small pool of achiote and pineapple barbecue sauce. There certainly is no shortage of local star power and top-notch culinary geniuses in Scottsdale, which makes it all the more special that someone of Jose Garces' stature chooses to bring his distinct vision to this thriving culinary scene.
This coffeehouse/bar long has been popular with the see-and-be-seen crowd, and why not? The place is consistently hoppin' with MacBook-wielding, dressed-to-impress, urbane 20-somethings. Whether you're there for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a craft cocktail, a bite from the ever-changing menu (we love the mac 'n' cheese), or just to chat with friends, you'll be rubbing shoulders with a clientele that is the very definition of "cool." Among the vintage typewriters, artfully placed burlap sacks, mismatched reclaimed furniture, and electronica music playing overhead, you'll find a crowd of young professionals, boho types, downtown students, and people who dig the joint's ability to be upscale without seeming nouveaux riche, esoteric without being pretentious, and tasteful without being bland. In other words, it's our kind of place. And, apparently, yours as well.
Lots of restaurants boast star and diamond ratings, but only one in Arizona has five of each. This fact, in addition to its unique Native American cuisine, makes this one-of-a-kind restaurant located in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Chandler, the perfect go-to when you've got out-of-town guests in tow. From its beautiful interior and outdoor patio overlooking a dreamy, desert landscape, to exceptional service, to executive chef Michael O'Dowd's stunning fare mixing indigenous ingredients like heirloom squash, saguaro seeds, and nopalitos with gourmet components such as chanterelles, truffles, and foie gras, Kai is an indulgence worth the price. Plus (bonus!), your guests give you the credit for taking them there.