Best Of :: Food & Drink
There are plenty of reasons to adore downtown Gilbert. Liberty Market, Joe's Real BBQ, and The Farmhouse are just a few of the staples that put the town on the Valley's culinary map. Maybe that's because right on their back doorstep, there's access to the Saturday morning Gilbert Farmers Market. One of the main reasons to drop by this market is that Gilbert has quite a few area-specific farmers and growers that sell here only. Agritopia is one such farm, selling produce that's grown right down the road. Some other wares we adore at this weekly market are Muñeca Mexicana's mole poblano (made by Chow Bella's own Minerva Orduño Rincón) and Seize the Fork's greens-boosted Chew This granola bars. Though the Gilbert Farmer's Market is not as big as some of the others in the area, the vendors all seem to be putting out quality goods.
Chef Kevin Binkley's first restaurant in Phoenix is a place where vegetables and fruits meet the future. Decidedly different from the upscale Binkley's Restaurant in Cave Creek and the more contemporary Cafe Bink in Carefree, the James Beard Award finalist's newest spot specializes in small plates of local produce re-imagined by a culinary powerhouse who just as easily could be pictured in a lab coat as an apron. From a menu that changes with the seasons, there might be roasted cauliflower with almonds, dried currants, and curry foam; juicy melon lit up with pepitas, chile piquin, ricotta salatta, and sangria granité; or sharp and peppery I'itoi onion and black-eyed peas interspersed with barbecued octopus. Fresh fruits find their way into inventive desserts like layered push-up pops and sorbet "soup" frozen with liquid nitrogen, and a well-crafted cocktail list reads like a kind of liquid science farmers market. The setting, a cozy neighborhood spot of wood floors, wainscoting, and white linen, makes Binkley's modernist take on cuisine feel right at home. (And good news: A second branch of Bink's Midtown is planned to open in Scottsdale by the end of the year.)
Thanks to Charleen Badman, there's never been a better time to eat our vegetables. At FnB, the venerated Scottsdale restaurant she co-owns with partner Pavle Milic, Badman celebrates produce like cellist Yo-Yo Ma celebrates classical music: with a reverence for the classics but with an eclectic repertoire. Turning what were once considered side dishes into centerpieces, you might find her rustic, seasonal, and locally focused creations in the form of grilled butternut squash with yogurt, marinated beluga lentils, and spiced seeds; heirloom tomatoes with crispy polenta croutons and oregano from Badman's own garden; or as her Food & Wine award-winning braised leeks topped with mozzarella, a fried egg, and mustardy bread crumbs. No matter which you choose, you'll never look at an eggplant or a broccoli floret the same way again.
Are you a diner of the adventurous sort? If so, you may want to remember the words "Chef's Special" when visiting this tidy home of satisfying Cantonese cooking in Glendale. More or less an off-the-cuff version of omakase (the Japanese term that leaves your meal up to the chef) and invented by Lucky's owners, Kitty and Kwok Pat, the Chef's Special is not so much a menu item as it is a passionate parade of very good dishes the Pats will pick for you. There may be crispy Shanghai chicken, ginger-spiked lamb and bean curd stew, or, for intrepid diners of the offal sort, pig's stomach mixed with crunchy, sour vegetables. The fun's in the not knowing. The flavors speak for themselves.
We should thank our lucky stars that James Beard Award nominee chef Shinji Kurita is in the Valley and not some other major city, where he certainly could hold his own in the area of foodie fanaticism. At his refined restaurant in Scottsdale, which accepts only a few reservations per night, Kurita prepares exquisite Japanese cuisine with a fervent dedication to top-notch ingredients. His omakase, or chef's choice dinners, are nothing short of spectacular. Then there's the luscious bluefin tuna tartare, a giant Madagascar prawn in black bean sauce, and a stellar carpaccio of seared halibut drizzled with ponzu. Nearly impressive as the fare is the selection of wines, sakes, and Japanese craft beers.
Leave it to Hong Kong-born chef Johnny Chu (Lucky Dragon, Fate, Sens) to bring flavor, fashion, and a house-party vibe to the heart of the Central Avenue business corridor. You'll find his fans, the city's young and chic, regularly dropping by to sip on sake-based martinis and nibble on small plates of Chu's top-notch Asian fusion fare, including five-spice quail, BLT spring rolls, and spicy basil tofu. The spacious white room, alive with purple lights and thumping beats, makes it easy to play it low-key while still staying "seen."