Best Of :: Food & Drink
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.
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.
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.
As the food-truck scene in the Valley evolves at a rapid pace, this mobile eatery continues to be one of the best. Joe Webb, a Scottsdale Culinary Institute graduate, and his wife, Margita, a native of the Philippines, cook up Filipino street food on a near-daily basis at various locations around the Valley, including Food Truck Fridays at the Phoenix Public Market and Luhrs Lunch, also in downtown Phoenix. They specialize in lumpia, the delicious fried spring rolls popular on the Southeast Asian islands. Also spectacular is the lechon kawali, or four pieces of pork belly braised for 15 hours and then deep-fried, and pancit, a stir-fried dish consisting of juicy chicken, vegetables, and rice noodles. Much of the meat is cooked on a Filipino-style robata grill and served to you with a mound of rice and sweet-and-sour sauce. The Webbs have a good thing going with their truck, already a mainstay of the Valley's burgeoning food-truck scene.