Metro Phoenix in 2017 was a city awash in poke bowls, new wave Italian cooking, and an impressive amount of Korean barbecue. So, what can we expect from the metro Phoenix food and drink scene in 2018? We’re taking the city’s temperature and boldly making food predictions for the coming year.
1. More Regional (Rather than National) Cuisines
Something cool is happening in forward-looking cities across the country. New eateries that cook food born in a specific country — whether Indian, Italian, or whatever — are honing in on regional cuisine. Glai Baan in Phoenix has a menu rooted in the cooking of northeastern Thailand, not Thailand as a whole. The Sicilian Butcher in north Scottsdale serves some Sicilian specialties, breaking from Italian or Italian-American. A new restaurant in Mesa, Shaanxi Chinese, cooks Shaanxi-style meals rather than the broadly “Chinese” of kung pao and General Tso’s cooked in America. This narrowing is overdue. Much of what we are led to believe is being cooked afar, like those Chinese-American staples, have been cherry-picked and diluted with a 20th-century American palate in mind, a palate that today's Phoenicians no longer have. The movement toward regional cuisines will bring us new dishes and closer to what’s truly being eaten overseas. Chris Malloy
2. More Badass Seafood Options
Chula Seafood in Scottsdale now sources fish for more than two dozen Valley restaurants. Much of that fish comes right off docks on the Pacific Coast, and some is even harpooned from the supplier's boat off the coast of San Diego. Nelson’s Meat + Fish, new to Phoenix in fall 2017, flies in pristine fish from all over the country and beyond, some of freshest, sleekest, and best seafood you'll ever taste (and in the desert!). Like Chula, Chris Nelson sources for Valley restaurants. Now that these two suppliers have been spoiling Phoenicians with heavenly fish, expectations are going to mount. And restaurants without premier fish guys are going to have to catch up. Chris Malloy
3. Health-Conscious Restaurants – Including More Vegan Spots
Restaurants aimed at health-conscious diners are already popular, and we suspect we’ll see many more healthy options in 2018. We predict more juice bars, even more poke parlors, more vegan restaurants, and more locations of fast-casual restaurants like Phoenix-based Salad and Go, and Las Vegas’ ProteinHouse. Whether your version of healthy eating involves not eating meat, or a keto-inspired reboot with zero tolerance for bread and pasta, there will probably be a health-centric new option for you in 2018. Patricia Escárcega
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4. More Quirky Mexican Food Trucks & Pop-Ups
In the long-running taxonomy of Mexican restaurants in metro Phoenix, there are a few well-established categories: ‘Bertos-type joints that stay open late; beloved mom and pop hole-in-the-walls; and sit-down restaurants where you go for combo platters and table-side guacamole. In 2018, buoyed by the success of casual-yet-refined indie restaurants like Tacos Chiwas, we predict more Mexican restaurants that break the mold. That means more quirky, genre-bending Mexican food trucks and pop-ups that offer regionally specific Mexican cooking and more Mexivegan and vegetarian options. Patricia Escárcega
5. More Wood-Burning Ovens
As 2017 closes, we’ve reached a curious point in restaurant gastronomy: It’s almost weird to see a restaurant open without a wood-burning oven. So many things about wood-burning ovens are gravy: the sight of the fire, the warmth, the connection to more ancient forms of cooking, and the browned and blistered food that comes from the flames. Heat sources that use wood have become huge in the Valley. Whether used to fire smokers, pizza ovens, non-pizza ovens, or grills, wood is a heat source on the rise. Sure, we have spots like St. Francis that have been cooking in wood-burning ovens for years, raising the question of whether this is a trend. With places like the Covenant (which cooks 90 percent of entrees in its oven) and Pa’La (all cooking done via wood-fired heat), the second half of 2017 supplied a resounding answer: Wood-fired ovens will be huge in 2018. Chris Malloy