2015 was a very good year. And if you don't believe us, just take a look at the restaurants on this list. Ranging from noteworthy neighborhood pizzerias to restaurants that are bringing entirely new types of cuisines to Valley diners, these 10 new restaurants each make the metro Phoenix dining scene better.
With little more than a wood-fired oven and top-quality ingredients, chef Claudio Uricuoli creates simple, wholesome Italian fare that's both approachable and uniquely his own at the tiny Noble Eatery in Phoenix. Along with baker and business partner Jason Raducha, Uricuoli opened the lunch spot just days into 2015 but wasted no time winning over anyone who appreciates a chef who can take a pristine ingredient and, some how, make it even better. The restaurant, which comes after the duo have been baking together for several years, highlights heritage grains and breads ranging from classic country and 9-grain loaves to ones made with spent grain from a local brewery. You may have to wait for a parking space in the cramped lot off McDowell Road, but once inside, the smell of the freshly baked bread and the warmth from the glowing oven are likely to make you forget any of your woes.
Though it's only been open for about two months, Ocotillo has already established itself as one of the Valley's don't-miss dining destinations. And a destination it is. Comprised of a restaurant, coffee shop, and outdoor beer garden, this complex aims to be more than just your go-to mid-week lunch spot. It's designed to be both a neighborhood hangout and a stunning event venue — an ambitious vision that might be impossible were it not for the talented trio behind the food and drink. Co-chefs Walter Sterling and Sacha Levine and general manager/beverage expert Dave Johnson each bring years of experience to the project, not to mention a history as friends and co-workers. When it comes to the food, Sterling and Levine offer a menu that's delightfully and deceivingly simple. Dishes like roasted cauliflower surprise with contrasting flavors of spicy chiles and cooling mint, while salmon carpaccio — easily skipped on a menu that tempts with mesquite grilled shrimp and house pate — arrives looking like an edible mosaic of radishes and green apples sliced paper thin, artfully littered with fragrant fresh herbs.
We've got three words to say about Nocawich: Russ and Daughters. Oh, and pastrami. And Yonah Schimmel. All right, so we've got quite a few reasons why we love this breakfast and lunch spot enough to venture close to Arizona State University's busy Tempe campus to dine there. Of course, restaurateur Eliot Wexler is no stranger to the Phoenix dining scene having brought us Noca — the fine dining restaurant that was once recognized as one of the best new restaurants by the James Beard Foundation — and a couple iterations of nocawich at the airport before opening the first freestanding restaurant in July of this year. From the start he's been taking full-advantage of the extra space, offering decadent breakfasts like a pastrami and egg sandwich that's served on a real, imported New York bagel and brunch specials so sinful you shouldn't even be able to eat them on Sunday — think, an authentic Yonnah Schimmel knish that's blanketed in pastrami and then smothered in bordelaise sauce. From the pastries to the chop salad, there are no wrong turns on the nocawich menu. In fact, our only complaint is the irregular hours, which can vary from week to week according to football games and other Tempe events. To avoid disappointment, keep an eye on the nocawich Facebook or call ahead before grabbing your keys.
It's easy to get distracted by the high concept, hot, new restaurants that open their doors to a flurry of attention, but doing so makes it all too easy to overlook places like Forno 301, an unassuming Italian restaurant that opened in downtown Phoenix in early spring. And though it's not the most original or the fanciest of places to get a pizza and a beer in town, the combination of ever-friendly service and honest cuisine makes this one of the best new additions to the crowded pizza scene. Owner and pizzaiolo Luca Gagliano and manager Roberto Dadone come to the Valley by way of Sanremo and offer diners an authentically Italian dining experience — not because they want to be recognized as authentic, but simply because they are. You can count of a small but well-executed menu of wood-fired pizzas that's augmented with an even smaller list of salads, bruschetta, and desserts. Once you've eaten your way through pies like the namesake 301, topped with fresh mozzarella and strings of smoky onions, and Acciughe, which features anchovies and olives, we suggest you start exploring the daily specials. They can range from cheese-stuffed ravioli to a pizza loaded with creamy ricotta cheese and slices of prosciutto.
BP Street Cafe
The only thing you need to know about Malaysian food before venturing to BP Street Cafe in Tempe is that's it's delicious. Blending Chinese cooking techniques like wok frying noodles with Indian and Thai cuisines' spice, the food from the Southeast Asian country is actually surprisingly approachable and full of flavor. It helps that the folks who own and run BP Street Cafe are always willing to guide first-time diners to fail-safe dishes like roti canal, a stretchy Indian-style pancake that gets dragged through a spicy curry and chicken dipping sauce, and kway teow mee, a stir-fried noodle dish featuring rice and egg noodles tossed in a distinctive soy sauce and shrimp paste sauce. And when you're feeling for adventurous, ask about the specials, which might include dishes like rendang, a meat dish comprised of sweet and sour curry-soaked nuggets of chicken.
The Larder + The Delta
It's been nearly a year and a half since chef Stephen Jones left Blue Hound Kitchen at the Hotel Palomar, the restaurant where he first gained the attention of Valley food lovers with a menu of Southern-inflected contemporary fare. And in the passing months, Jones has taken his talents to an unlikely spot: an upscale food court inside the historic DeSoto Central Market in downtown Phoenix. From within the tiny, three-sided kitchen of The Larder + The Delta (formerly Yard Bird + The Larder), Jones manages not only to elevate humble ingredients like pig ears and grits, but also to translate Southern classics like fried chicken skins into a near-perfect po boy that rewards diners with sweet, fatty, crispy bites. Even amid the playful, modern offerings, there are dishes like Jones' Hoppin' John that do little more than pay homage to one of the South's simplest culinary traditions. For the best experience, you'll want to be there for dinner, not lunch, when the menu skews more toward sandwiches with mass appeal and less toward the inventive Southern fare we really crave.
Abdul Charra, owner (and usually the only employee) of Couscous Express in Phoenix, might be the most generous guy we know. Sit down for a meal at his Moroccan restaurant on McDowell Road and you'll almost always be greeted with a complimentary cup of tea and not long after ordering, with a plate or two of complimentary appetizers. The menu itself is really quite simple; choose either vegetables or meat couscous, bastilla (a Moroccan meat pie), tagine, or soup. Considering the restaurant's name, it's not surprising that you don't want to dine without some couscous, which Charra somehow manages to make fluffy as if whipped with air and both nutty and sweet at once. Plates of marinated olives, spiced carrots and peas, or hummus also make excellent choices, though we recommend letting Charra lead the way when it comes or ordering. Whatever you do, don't leave without trying one of the date shakes. Charra tells us that they're made without any added sugar. Instead, he uses peanut butter and a healthy dose of cinnamon to deliver a cool, thick treat that's never too sweet.
We're not sure what's more charming, the fact that Base Pizzeria is dedicated to using local, organic ingredients, or the fact that it's owned by a trio of Australians who treat every customer like a lifelong friend. Located in a strip mall off Lincoln Drive, Base Pizzeria provides diners with a menu of starters, salads, and pizzas that features local ingredients whenever possible. Look for pizza made with organic flour and topped with McClendon's Select produce and Queen Creek Olive Mill olive oil. Options range from the namesake Base, a classic margherita featuring organic tomato and basil and foir di latte, to the decadent White Truffle that's showered with wood-fired mushrooms and just enough truffle oil to add earthy flavor without overpowering everything else. Mostly, you'll just want to be sure to sit back, relax, and let the staff take care of you. They're always willing to answer questions about the source of the ingredients, make recommendations, or just chat.
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This Chandler eatery is family-owned and operated, specializing in home-style Puerto Rican cuisine served in the most unpretentious of settings. If you're unsure of what to select from options like bistec encebollado, or onion-smothered beef, and chuleta frita, or seasoned fried pork chop, just ask to peek underneath the lids of the warming pans behind the counter. There you'll find heaping piles of pernil, succulent slow roasted pork shoulder, and pollo guisado, an excellent strew of braised bone-in chicken flavored with tomato and adobo seasoning and served with tender cubes of potato. For under $10, your meal also includes heaping piles of yellow rice with pigeon pies and ham and habichuelas guisada, red beans punched up with garlic, onions, and potato, making this one of the best deals on value and flavor. And in case you haven't already gotten your fix of carbs, take an order of the tostones, too. These deep fried slices of plantain arrive hot and crispy on the exterior. Though they're well-seasoned enough to eat on their own, you'll be grateful for a side of mojo de ajo, or oil with sweet roasted garlic, provided for dipping.
This second restaurant from the crew behind the already-successful Crudo in Phoenix brings Southern and Italian cuisines together — with a side of top-quality cocktails, too. Chef Cullen Campbell's menu uses ingredients as diverse as okra and pork rinds, bone marrow and broccolini in preparations that can be at once familiar and exhillarating. There are a few straightforward versions of dishes from the Mississippi Delta (where Campbell's family has a cotton plantation) including Tennessee hot chicken that will have you licking your fingers despite the spice, but most of menu blends techniques from both traditions. Small plates like deep fried dilly beans (or pickled green beans) served with comeback sauce (an all-purpose dipping sauce related to remoulade) and mussels swimming in the leftover broth from cooking collard greens (called "potlikker"), also pair excellently with mixologist Micah Olson's menu of inventive libations. House creations include the Dog Will Hunt, which mixes bourbon and mezcal with robust orange liqueur and housemade pecan fallernum. Or for a more traditionally Southern drink, look no further than the restaurant's list of juleps, which may be some of the best — and frostiest — in town.