With half of 2017 already in the books, now seems like a good time to highlight some of our favorite spots that have opened in metro Phoenix so far this year. From a high-profile chef’s buzzy new osteria to a 37-seat neighborhood gem, here are 10 restaurants that are making the Valley a more delicious place to eat and drink.
702 West Montecito Avenue
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Monday
With the debut of Restaurant Progress back in February, the Melrose district finally got the neighborhood restaurant it deserves. This intimate 37-seat spot brings seasonally inspired fine dining airs to a commercial district known mostly for casual diners and bars. TJ Culp, the restaurant’s chef-owner, is one of the city’s most impressive young culinary talents, and nearly everything about his first restaurant already feels well-honed. The modern American menu, which changes monthly, offers around a dozen dishes that include cold appetizers, hot and cold small plates, and entrees. There is also a five-course chef’s tasting menu available for $75. Dinner might begin with something like a crudo of yellowtail, a sophisticated dish featuring meaty hunks of hamachi paired beautifully with a bright, creamy scoop of avocado puree. Octopus and pork belly, a mid-course plate on a recent visit, featured a lovely muddle of white beans flecked with herbs. No matter what’s on the menu, though, chances are you’ll be regaled with smart, confident cooking.
5651 North Seventh Street
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.
A chic, high-energy modern osteria from celebrity chef Scott Conant and restaurateur Stefano Fabbri, Mora Italian was the most high-profile opening of the spring. The dining room is spacious and lively, but the real attraction is the menu, which is steeped in the approachable, modern Italian cooking that has become the hallmark of Conant-brand restaurants. The shareable antipasti most closely associated with Mora Italian is the grilled octopus ceci. You’ve had a decent octopus salad before, maybe, but this one is extra-tender, yet also pleasantly chewy. Pork Milanese, a popular house entree, yields an extra-succulent, skillfully cooked pan-fried chop served with gravy-like brown butter on the side. The restaurant offers bread cart service, and the homemade focaccia di recco is reason enough to stop in for dinner.
Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen
6114 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to midnight; Sunday and Monday, 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Hotel restaurants are not usually associated with culinary ingenuity, but Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen delivers surprisingly refined and creative Sonoran-inspired flavors at the new Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa. The menu, developed by chef Adam Sheff, plays with desert ingredients and flavors in a way that rarely feels contrived. You’ll find simple but refined small-plates like Arizona-grown Medjool dates, sliced and served with fresh cream and pistachio crumbles, and Crow’s Dairy goat cheese dumplings, rolled in dark onion ash and served on a buttery tangle of spaghetti squash. Highlights from the small, well-composed dinner menu include a whole roasted chicken paired with a dark, earthy adobo sauce. The Sonoran “risotto,” made with local wheat berries, wild rice, and quinoa, is inventive, richly textured, and surprisingly indulgent.
The Smith Cafe
3701 East Indian School Road
Hours: Daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Acacia Café is gone, but in its place, we have The Smith Café, a sweet little breakfast and lunch spot that opened this spring in Arcadia. The café comes to us from the same folks behind Base Pizzeria, which explains the laid-back Aussie slang on the menu. “Brekie” dishes are available all day, including The Queen Mother, a deliciously hearty take on a traditional English breakfast. The oversize platter comes with a couple of eggs done your way, a juicy, herb-scented link of Schreiner’s sausage, gorgeously crisped-up cubes of potato, and some roasted mushrooms and withered tomatoes on the side. For flavors that run more local, the green chile bowl is wonderful. The slow-cooked pork is gorgeously savory and spicy, and so tender and soft that you can eat it with a spoon. Local ingredients, cheerful service, and a great breakfast menu are already turning The Smith Café into one of Arcadia’s most indispensable brunch spots.
The Dressing Room
220 East Roosevelt Street
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Don’t be fooled by The Dressing Room’s tiny menu and limited square footage. This “micro-restaurant” on Roosevelt Row happens to be one of the most satisfying new restaurants around downtown Phoenix. The menu is described as “food from streets, beaches, carts, and trucks,” which essentially translates to casual and creative globally inspired fare that includes burgers, tacos, and salads. The house RoRo Burger, a saucy, well-cooked burger squeezed into an English muffin, brilliantly dressed in a sweet-spicy Russian sauce, already seems to be destined to become a local classic. Try it with the restaurant’s heavenly, ultra-fresh miso slaw. The Peruvian ceviche salad, meanwhile, is a crisp, texture-rich, delicious antidote to warm weather. Don’t leave without trying the house dessert: a churro ice cream sandwich featuring a thick slab of vanilla ice cream cemented between two sugar-encrusted, freshly fried churros.
5149 South Inspirian Way, Mesa
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Monday
Chef Adam Allison brings food truck ingenuity and a flair for Southern-tinged cuisine to his latest effort, the Handlebar Diner at Mesa’s Eastmark community. The candy cane-colored vintage diner is a charmer, but the main attraction is the expansive breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. House-made pastries, bagels, breakfast burritos, salads, burgers, and sandwiches are more refined and creative than what you’ll find at most neighborhood spots. Don’t miss the loaded, house-made tater tots. For dinner, the menu gets a little more Southern, with entrees like buttermilk fried chicken and smoked ribs. The Handlebar Burger, a half-pound Angus beef beauty smothered in melted white American cheese, grilled onions, and deliciously sluiced in the diner’s tangy Comeback sauce, is wholly satisfying.
Taste of Thai
4855 East Warner Road, #16
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.
Taste of Thai distinguishes itself from the glut of good-not-great Thai joints around town with a menu that encompasses both Thai standards and harder-to-find specialties. The small family-owned strip mall restaurant in Ahwatukee is a good place to sample Thai beef jerky, a flavor-packed and spicy beef appetizer that pairs great with sticky rice. There’s also sai oua, a wonderfully fragrant northern Thai pork sausage accented with turmeric and herbs. You’ll also find an excellent crispy duck salad dressed in a lovely, bright citrus dressing. Along with deep Thai cuts, Taste of Thai also delivers excellent renditions of takeout staples like pad thai, tom yum soup, and a strong selection of homemade curries.
655 West Warner Road, #114, Tempe
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; closed Monday
The Valley has a solid new spot for ramen, courtesy of Hachi Ramen in Tempe. This friendly neighborhood ramen shop offers four basic bowls — tonkotsu, shoyu, miso, and a house bowl called the Hachi Special — along with delicious sides like homemade karaage chicken, which is beautifully battered, juicy, and tender. Tonkotsu broth, the baseline test for many ramen connoisseurs, is rich, creamy, and porky, without being too salty. Hachi Ramen also delivers a highly flavorful miso broth, which beautifully complements the kitchen’s wonderfully melty slices of chashu pork belly. Don’t leave without trying the sesame balls, which are kindly dispensed as a complimentary treat by the chef.
Nonna Urban Eatery
7240 East Main Street, Scottsdale
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday
Nonna Urban Eatery opened this spring in a tiny, elegant space in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, bringing with it a welcome dose of artful, eclectic, globally inspired cuisine. The restaurant’s lunch and dinner menu shifts with the seasons and seems to change frequently, often incorporating local ingredients. On any given visit, you are as likely to encounter smolderingly rich chicken mole tamales as you are homemade pasta served with a Genovese pesto. But no matter what chef Gian Franco Brugaletta is cooking up in the kitchen, chances are your meal will be refined and delicious. Desserts are a highlight at Nonna Urban Eatery, so make sure to leave room for the chef’s assortment of seasonal sweets.
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Ladera Taverna y Cocina
8729 North Central Avenue
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, 10 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Monday
Ladera Taverna y Cocina is the latest effort from Genuine Concepts, the team behind stylish neighborhood outposts like The Vig and Linger Longer Lounge. For its first foray into Mexican food, the group has tapped executive chef Jorge Gomez, who riffs on regional Mexican cooking with considerable panache. Don’t skip over the drink menu, which has fun with traditional Mexican cocktails. The Margarita en la Casa, for instance, is paired with a full-size fruit paleta that you can suck down, or simply let melt right into your drink. Highlights include the savory green chile and cochinita pibil tacos. The pork on the latter is slightly sweet and full of deep, earthy garlic notes.