Best Of :: Food & Drink
We've all met tortas that were all bun, no meat, dry as sawdust, or barely worth their weight in bolillo. These are not the type of tortas you'll find at Tortas El Rey, a midtown strip-mall gem where the classic Mexican sandwich is transmuted into a minor feast. The torta that achieves its fullest, grandest expression is the El Rey, a thick, meaty vessel layered with succulent pig (jamón and pork sirloin), milanesa steak, a crackly strip of bacon, and for good measure, a healthy serving of chorizo. It comes thoroughly lubricated with melted cheese and topped with a fried egg, just in case that's not enough protein for you in one sitting. The hardest thing about eating the El Rey is finding a way to fit it into your mouth. But once you figure that part out, the sandwich soon becomes another fond, delicious memory.
Located on the southeast corner of Third and Flower streets in central Phoenix, Ocotillo is much more than just a neighborhood eatery — though it certainly qualifies as that, too. With a full-service restaurant, coffee shop, and outdoor beer garden, this dining and drinking destination is a sort of catchall intended to meet all your needs. The restaurant, however, is the true centerpiece and an edible homage to the bounty of the Sonoran desert. Chefs Walter Sterling and Sacha Levine offer up an ever-changing, vegetable-focused menu highlighted by wood-fired roasted chicken, handmade pastas, and local produce often treated with globally inspired preparations. The sweet, earthy roasted cauliflower that's complemented with chiles and mint is not to be missed, nor is the signature Ocotillo chicken, which comes steeped in the flavors of local honey and herbs. General manager and sommelier Dave Johnson heads up the service team and has crafted a fun, approachable wine program with a list that offers a symbol-based tasting note key.
When it comes to badass women chefs in metro Phoenix, no one can hold a candle to Chrysa Robertson. For more than two decades, she's been serving simple, seasonal, Italian-influenced cuisine at her Rancho Pinot restaurant, now one of the Valley's longest-standing dining spots. But Robertson's career in the culinary arts goes back much further than that. She got her first job at 16, and has spent time working with some of the most legendary women chefs in Arizona, including Carol Steele of C. Steele and RoxSand Scocos of RoxSand, over her career. She founded the Phoenix chapter of the Slow Food Convivium in the '90s — long before "farm-to-table" became one of the food world's biggest buzz words — and continues to showcase the desert's bounty through her food, often using local produce, fresh eggs, and homegrown herbs in the Rancho Pinot kitchen.
"Serious Food, Extemporaneous Style" is the mantra at Scottsdale's Posh restaurant. And chef Josh Hebert truly means it. At this improvisational restaurant, chefs create specialized menus based on diners' preferences — imagine a Choose Your Own Adventure book translated into a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Here's how it works: Show up, select a number of courses, let the kitchen know what you'll eat (and what you won't), and wait for the magic to happen. Hebert and his team are known for creating thoughtful, modern fare, including "cheesecake" topped with raw uni and veal sweetbreads served over carrot puree with zucchini. Not a picky diner? Opt for the Chef's Omakase, which means the kitchen team gets the freedom to throw down whatever their hearts desire.
Most people who love good food can appreciate the subtle details that make great sandwiches stand out from merely good ones. And that's why a true food lover will surely appreciate Jason Raducha's simple-yet-elegant Noble Eatery, where rustic house-made breads serve as the foundation for excellent sandwiches loaded with imported Italian meats and cheeses and local vegetables. The menu at the lunch spot changes almost every day, but you can count on a concise selection of sandwiches, pizza, smorgas (open-faced sandwiches of Swedish descent), and the Ramon Navarro bowl. The last has become something of a Noble Eatery staple: a bowl of heritage grains like durum white wheat, lentils, and Khorasan wheat mixed with vegetables and seeds and dressed in oil. There's only a handful of seats, and they're nearly always full, but we like to think the wait just makes the experience seem all the more exclusive.
It isn't a hidden gem, per se — after all, chef Jeff Kraus' south Tempe breakfast and lunch spot has won awards from just about everyone in town, and it's right there in plain sight in the middle of a strip mall — but for some reason, Crepe Bar does seem to fly below the radar. Except, that is, with the Valley's food and drink devotees, who pack the restaurant's dining room each and every chance they get. And it's easy to understand why. The menu at Crepe Bar features sweet and savory crepes that show the chef's knack for creating food that's as fun as it is delicious. Kraus also offers a new expanded selection of sides that includes dishes ranging from tiny salads of local tomatoes, purslane, and tahini, to house-made "Rolos" for dessert. And it's not just the food. Crepe Bar is also one of the Valley's top spots for inventive coffee drinks. Always made with top-quality ingredients, Crepe Bar's caffeinated creations range from coffee brulee (as in, coffee covered in a layer of burnt sugar) to the singular Moroccan latte, which combines espresso, spices, and honey for a truly inspired pick-me-up.