And since it's the season for hosting out-of-town family and making the cross-Valley trek to see in-laws and other relatives you may or may not be avoiding during the non-holiday season, we've complied this one-stop list of best neighborhood restaurants around metro Phoenix.
Nobuo at Teeter House
Nobuo at Teeter House is a cozy but elegant spot tucked into a old home at Heritage Square. And though you might expect that a restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda would have steep prices, the lunch menu keeps things surprisingly affordable. For dinner, you'll want to explore the seasonal menu that showcases Fukuda's talent for elevating Japanese cuisine. If you call ahead you can request a multi-course omakase dinner, the chef's signature offering.
Though it's technically just outside of downtown proper, Welcome Diner is a favorite dining spot and meeting place for downtown residents and visitors alike. Housed in a 9-seat Valentine diner, this place is anything but short on charm, with a large patio complete with twinkly lights and large community tables. Spread out and enjoy anything off the Southern-inspired menu, which includes everything from fried chicken and biscuit sandwiches to the well-loved PB&B, a burger topped with peanut butter, pickles, and bacon.
You can hardly talk about dining downtown without mentioning Pizzeria Bianco, the world-famous restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Bianco. The legendary chef's dedication to using the very best ingredients accounts for part of the reason this place has become a veritable food pilgrimage destination. Take the Wiseguy pizza for example, made with house smoked mozzarella cheese, locally made fennel sausage, and wood-roasted onion. Of course, all the pizzas also come on Bianco's near-perfect crust — blistered in the wood-fired oven and yet perfectly chewy.
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
Though Bitter & Twisted is first and foremost a bar, chef Bob Tam has crafted an eclectic and exciting menu to complement the cocktails. With his experience in modern Asian eats, it should come as no surprise that Bitter & Twisted's menu skews to the east. Some of the playful creations include Seoul Fried Chicken served with watermelon kimchee and a mammoth Ramen "Momo" Burger that features a ramen noodle bun, soy marinated patty, Sriracha soba sauce, and a whole lot of napkins. It goes without saying that you'll also be wanting to order a drink — or two.
Matt's Big Breakfast
Dining at Matt's Big Breakfast is pretty much a rite of passage for Phoenicians. Not only because the food is great, but also because waiting for a table on a Sunday morning is pretty much expected. And there's good reason you'll find so many people hungrily standing around outside the spot. The breakfast classics served here are top-quality, whether you're looking for go-to combo like the Hog and Chick (a pork chop and eggs) or one of the restaurant's giant waffles. Whatever you do, don't skip the legendary hash browns.
The Stand Burgers & Tacos
When Arcadians are looking for a meal on the fly, there's probably only one option that satisfies both the desire to not have to get out of the car and not give your money to a giant corporate restaurant. That place is The Stand, a small burger spot equipped with a convenient drive-thru. The restaurant's menu isn't all that innovative (in fact, the burger is pretty much a rip-off of In-N-Out Burger), but the simple selection means everything The Stand serves is always well-executed. In addition to your Standard burger, you also can order from the small selection of tacos, which come in varieties including short rib, chicken, and vegetable. For dessert, don't skip the hand-spun shakes — the salted dulce de leche is an instant classic.
It should come as no surprise that the affluent Arcadia neighborhood has embraced Sam Fox's fast-casual health food restaurant with a special sort of zeal. And it's true that if you're looking for good-for-you food — and don't mind paying for the convenience — then Flower Child, located at the bustling intersection of 44th Street and Camelback, is a great option. Diners can build their own grain and vegetable plates, choosing from options such as simple steamed broccoli and organic smashed potatoes, or going for the most interesting options such as sesame soba noodles and Indian spiced cauliflower. There's kombucha on tap, whole-grain wraps, and plenty of kale on the menu. In short, everything a healthy diner on the go could ever want.
In the crowded dining scene of the Gaslight Square shopping center, Nook Kitchen easily could be overshadowed by the larger, higher-profile restaurant. But rather than fading into the shadows, this cozy little restaurant manages to stand out as a great option for those seeking a low-key dining atmosphere. With an easy-to-love selection of pizzas and other Italian fare (think chicken marsala and bruchetta, but also halibut tacos), Nook earns a spot as one of the neighborhood's most approachable restaurants. With a glass of wine and some good company, this is one of the best places to relax in Arcadia.
Just around the corner from that casual spot, you'll find Crudo, one of the Valley's top dining destinations for elevated cuisine and craft cocktails. Chef Cullen Campbell's signature Italian-inspired cuisine is always exciting; the menu includes a selection of housemade cheese, crudos (raw seafood dishes), and handmade pastas. But some of our favorite dishes come off the restaurant's grill, including the yellowtail collar and short rib with bone marrow. Over on the bar side of the restaurant, you'll find Micah Olsen and his crew of talented bartenders slinging some of the city's best boozy creations. The seasonal cocktail menu always feature fresh, innovative creations, but for classic drinks this is also one of the best spots in town.
Ingo's Tasty Food
Though this round, metal building crowded on the corner of 40th Street and Campbell might look just a little bit silly, there's absolutely nothing funny about the restaurant's kick-ass burgers. Ingo's Tasty Food, brought to the Arcadia neighborhood by the same folks behind La Grande Orange, serves a menu of sandwiches, salads, and grass-fed beef burgers, as well as appetizers including deviled eggs, shattered potato chips, and hummus and pumpkin seed dip. Most of the seating is on the outdoor patio, where you'll find families (and often their four-legged friends) digging into dishes such as the Farmer's Daughter burger. Topped with dijon sauce, fol epi cheese, and sauerkraut it's a take on a classic Reuben sandwich — and one of our favorite burgers in all of Phoenix.
Christopher's and Crush Lounge
James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross has been delivering a mix of traditional and modern French fare at this sleek restaurant and bar for years. But you can rest assured that nothing about the place — neither the food, nor the atmosphere — feels anything but fresh. Whether you're looking for a plate of traditional escargot en croute or a loaf of freshly-baked bread, Christopher's restaurant delivers, and in style. To appeal to more modern diners, there are also affordable wood-fired pizzas and a happy hour that's one of the best deals in town. Even the wine list, curated by Wine Director Paola Embry, is top-notch; the Crush Lounge offers hundreds of wines by the bottle, with more than 50 also available by the glass.
If you're familiar with chef Bernie Kantak's cuisine, then the food at The Gladly should come as no surprise. At this sister restaurant to Scottsdale's Citizen Public House, Kantak continues to serve American cuisine that simultaneously feels familiar and new. Comfort food classics including meatloaf and mac n' cheese get upscale upgrades with ingredients such as duck and smoked mozzarella. Of course, it's hard to resist the chef's signature The Original Chopped Salad, but The Gladly's Pistachio Chicken Liver Pate has quickly become a go-to starter. The creamy spread comes with buttery toast, capers, and pickled red onions to give the dish balance and texture.
We're just going to come right out and say it: We prefer the Town & Country location of Pizzeria Bianco to the original at Heritage Square. To be clear, we have nothing against the cozy brick restaurant, but the Town & Country restaurant has a larger menu and tends to be less crowded. For these reasons, it's become our go-to spot for the rustic, Italian cuisine for which chef Chris Bianco has become known. Naturally, the pizzas here are not to be missed, but once you've eaten your way through the selection (don't skip the Biancoverde or the deliciously smoky Wiseguy), venture on to options such as handmade pasta in the chef's own tomato sauce or incredibly tender pork shoulder served with pickled squash. And be sure to save room for dessert; they're made using Bianco's mother's recipes.
Tarbell's The Tavern
Chef Mark Tarbell's namesake restaurant has been a Biltmore neighborhood staple for years, and with the addition of The Tavern last year the chef has only widened his dining audience. Compared to the more upscale restaurant next door, The Tavern offers a comfortable vibe, and slightly less refined cuisine. You can still count on beautiful ingredients used with care, but The Tavern's menu also includes options such as tacos, chilaqueles, spaghetti and meatballs, and ceviche. With a bottle of wine from the adjacent The Wine Store, you'll want to kick back, relax, and indulge. The Lobster Roll is worth the $26 price tag, though you won't be disappointed with even more affordable dishes such as the lamb burger ($18) or the truffle bikini ($7), a small sandwich that tastes of pure luxury.
There's certainly no shortage of great pizza in Phoenix or the Biltmore neighborhood, but The Parlor is the whole package, and that's what keeps us coming back. In addition to affordable pizzas and handmade pastas, we can count on this restaurant to offer craft cocktails, spectacular specials, and friendly service. The standby pizzas are solid here, but we prefer to go for options such as the Salsiccia, topped with Schreiner's sausage, grilled radicchio, sage, and saba, or the Yukon Gold, topped with roasted potato, gorgonzola, pancetta, leeks, and rosemary. And we weren't kidding about the cocktials; they're top-notch. Bartender Michael Allmandinger has excellent technique and has earned a reputation as one of the top cocktail shakers in town.
El Riconcito del D.F.
With a seriously no-frills interior — we're talking fluorescent tube lighting and simple, family-style tables — El Rinconcito del D.F. is not a place everyone will enjoy. But if you're alright with the simplicity of the space, then you're in for a meal of excellent Mexican street eats. The restaurant serves street-style tacos filled with any of an array of meats ranging from suadero (slow-cooked beef brisket) to chicharron prensado (fried, pressed pork skin). And the giant huaraches, served on a crisp masa base, are a serious steal. For dessert, at least check out the visually-stunning gelatina de flor. These clear domes of jello encase fondant flowers for a treat that's much for your stomach as your eyes. Just don't forget to bring cash; this place doesn't accept credit or debit cards.
At Shabu Fondue chef Johnny Chu, also of the adjacent restaurant Red Thai and downtown's Sochu House, delivers the best shabu shabu dining in Phoenix. Shabu shabu, which means "swish-swish," involves cooking vegetables and thinly-sliced meats in any of a number of broths. We recommend Chu's spicy lemon grass broth, or for a more basic option, the Chinese herbal, a floral soup base filled with a mild flavor. Diners also have their pick from a long list of vegetables and meats, ranging from grass-fed beef and head-on shrimp to Chinese pumpkin straw mushrooms. And don't let the concept be intimidating; the staff here will happily guide you through the process.
Karl's Quality Bakery
For more than 20 years, Karl's Quality Bakery resided at 15820 North 35th Avenue. And luckily for Sunnyslope residents it relocated to its current spot, less than a mile from the original location, after being forced to move in 2013. The well-loved bakery serves a wide selection of treats including breads, pastries, and some of the city's best doughnuts. So whether you're looking for something healthy — for instance a miniature bran muffin — or a decadent dessert — try the picture-perfect eclairs — this spot can meet your needs. What's more, the bakery also offers handmade chocolates, courtesy of owner Karl Boerner's daughter, Christine.
This Sunnyslope wine bar and restaurant uses exactly one method of cooking and it's a wood-fired oven located in plain view of the entire dining room. Timo's lounge-worthy atmosphere — achieved through grey and tan tones and complemented by a spacious patio — pairs perfectly with the menu of Italian-inspired comfort food. Understandably wine-friendly, the menu features a selection of tapas, bruschettas, sandwiches, and sharable plates such as the platter of roasted eggplant dip, tomatoes, kalamata olives, goat cheese, and warm crustini. Even the restaurant's fresh baked bread will make an impression; with a perfect golden crust and pleasing flavor, you'll want to have it a side with everything you eat.
La 15 Y Salsas
When it comes to tamales oaxaqueño, the best in town can easily be found at La 15 Y Salsas. Here, chef and owner Elizabeth Hernandez, who grew up and learned to cook in Oaxaca, serves the southern Mexican specialty filled with a fragrant black mole sauce made with herbs and spices some of which she grinds in a traditional mealing stone. The other memorable offerings include tlayudas, a crispy tortilla loaded with beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and meats, and quesadillas fritas, a cheese-filled tortilla that's then folded and fried. And don't skip the agua frescas. They're made daily and come in both common and unexpected flavors such as chilacayote, made with squash sweetened with honey, cinnamon, and unrefined whole cane sugar.
Diners looking to stick to the basics at Nee House will certainly enjoy the selection of Americanized dishes that appear on the restaurant's menu. But if you venture into more traditional Cantonese territory, then you're in for a real treat. Seafood is also a specialty of this strip mall spot, in part because much of what you eat gets plucked from the tanks in the dining room just after you order. Everything from a simple plate of fried rice to a dish of crispy salt and pepper squid to fried tofu served with a a dried scallop sauce can make for a satisfying meal.
Last year saw a lot of changes at Bootleggers — the departure of one chef, the arrival of another — but through it all the restaurant has continued to deliver upscale barbecue to the North Phoenix neighborhood. The PBLT ranks as one of our favorite sandwiches ever, thanks to the winning combination of 10 hour smoked pork belly, tomato, red onion, iceberg, and spiced aioli. Plus, there's always the housemade apple pie moonshine, a potent but delicious concoction. We bet you can't drink just one.
Chennai Chettinaad Palace
Not only does this spot offer hard-to-find cuisine from the Chettinad region of India, Chennai Chettinaad Palace also offers Indian-inspired cocktails loaded with flavors such as mango, rose, and coconut. The menu is quite expansive with hundreds of dishes from both northern and southern India, but the standout selections will be the fragrant, meat-centric plates from the remote Chettinad region. Be warned, however, that the food can be spicy even to an Indian palate — giving you another excuse to order one of the restaurant's unique cocktails.
Yasu Sushi Bistro
Though unassuming on the outside, this Japanese restaurant is the perfect neighborhood spot for a nice dinner out. Chef and owner Yasu Hashino brings in fresh fish and turns it into delicious rolls and dishes cooked on the restaurant's Japanese charcoal grill called a binchotan. We love everything at Yasu from the grilled tsukune (chicken meatballs) to the house-style salmon sashmi, though you should always look out for the daily specials. Usually there's a whole page of options that feature whatever fresh seafood Hashino could bring in.
Not surprisingly, pho is what this place does best, but that doesn't mean the rest of the Pho A.V.'s Veitnamese offerings aren't worth exploring. In addition to a bowl of noodles in a rich, beef broth, try plates of prawns sautéed with carrots, onions, and water chestnuts in tamarind sauce or bun thit nuong, a cold rice vermicelli noodle dish made with slices of sweet, garlicky pork. You can also look forward to chatting up the chef and owner and his wife, who run the restaurant as a two-person team.
Not only does this South Phoenix restaurant win big points for atmosphere thanks to its location at the Farm at South Mountain, it also scores for serving genuine farm-to-table cuisine that's both beautiful and delicious. Last year chef Dustin Christofolo (formerly of The House at Secret Garden) took over at Quiessence, and he's done an excellent job maintaining the restaurant's reputation as one of the best spots in town. From delicate edible flowers plucked from the restaurant's own garden, to the ever-changing lineup of produce grown nearby at Maya's Farm, this restaurant takes no shortcuts when it comes to sourcing the freshest ingredients. And it shows. The farm-inspired menu includes dishes like bright green sugar snap pea soup and chicken served with lentils, frisee, and braised greens.
Los Dos Molinos
There are other locations of this well-loved Mexican restaurant, but true fans know that the South Phoenix iteration is, hands down, the best. The spicy eats at Los Dos Molinos are nothing short of legendary — made with New Mexican red chiles and Hatch Valley green chiles, the food packs a serious punch. Some of the favorite dishes include the carne adovada, or tender hunks of pork marinated in red chile, and machaca platter, which features a beef-filled burrito smothered in sauce and melted cheese. The restaurant itself is also worth a visit. Housed in a white cantina building, it boasts bright neon signage, and an outdoor patio that's decked out with tons of kitsch (including a a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty).
Amano Pizza Bistro
Since 2004, owners Eric and Kathy Bower have been serving satisfying Italian cuisine at the unassuming Amano Bistro in locale, but nevertheless delivers a cozy, neighborhood vibe that's the perfect backdrop for the restaurant's menu of pizzas, pastas, and daily specialties. With a crisp, chewy crusts, the hand-tossed pizzas are a sure bet — but for something different try the semolina crust margherita pizza that features a thin, crunchy crust topped with sauce, cheese, and tomatoes. Handmade pastas, salads, and heartier entrees round out the menu selection, ensuring there's something for everyone at the table. As a bonus, the restaurant's wine list includes plenty of options by the glass, as well as a selection of bottles sourced mainly from around California.
Little Miss BBQ
Ask anyone in the know about where to get barbecue in Phoenix, and you can bet they're going to mention this south Phoenix restaurant. Owners Scott and Bekke Holmes got started as a competition barbecue team, and opened up the brick-and-mortar restaurant Little Miss BBQ in 2014. It's been an almost immediate hit, serving pounds of brisket and pork to lines of customers who wait in the restaurant's parking lot for their turn to squeeze into the tiny spot and place their order at the counter. Everything at Little Miss BBQ is good, and it all comes meat market style — as in, ordered by the pound, served on butcher paper, and accompanied by white bread and pickles. We recommend trying the Two Meat Plate, giving you the chance to explore more of the menu.
Though everything on the menu at Pomegranate Cafe is vegan or vegetarian, there's plenty for omnivores to enjoy at the Ahwahtukee restaurant. Mother and daughter team Marlene and Cassie Tolman ensure that everything on the menu is a good to eat as it is good for you, meaning the breakfast and lunch options have wide appeal. To start the day the restaurant serves everything from French toast to tofu scrambles, with granola, parfaits, and porridge mixed in for good measure. Lunch options include a selection of salads, sandwiches, bowls, and more, all of which feature seasonal and local produce. On the drinks side try one of Pomegranate Cafe's smoothies, a wheatgrass shot, or a latte topped with housemade coconut whip.
It's been a few years since Jeff Kraus set up shop in Tempe, but time only seems to have made the chef even more creative with his cuisine. At Crepe Bar you'll find playful dishes such as crepes made with coffee-infused batter and candied bacon. Kraus stresses the use of local ingredients — he even dedicates a whole dish to locally-sourced produce — but also aims to incorporate new flavors to his food from all over the world. The restaurant has also become a coffee destination of sorts, serving Heart Roasters coffee and offering seasonal drinks and infused cold brews.
There's no shortage of Indian food in Tempe but our go-to spot continues to be Curry Corner, where owner and chef Farah Khalid's homestyle Indo-Pak cuisine offers instant comfort in curry form. The restaurant's causal vibe makes this a popular spot with students and we can hardly resist the plates of rich chicken korma or the popular Mix Grill Sizzler, a fragrant plate of tandoori grilled meats.
Hong Kong Asian Diner
Hong Kong Asian Diner's dated decor and quiet strip mall location don't make it look like much of a dining destination, but the truth is that this family owned and operated restaurant is a haven for those who seek excellent Cantonese cuisine. Order a whole steam fish and it arrives at your table just minutes after being extracted from the tank in the back of the dining room and whatever you do, don't skip the Peking duck. The order comes with a plate of crisp duck skin served with fluffy, white buns and pungent hoisin sauce.
Whether you're looking for a savory meal or to satisfy your sweet tooth, Essence Bakery and Cafe in Tempe continues to be a favorite option. Owned by chef Eugenia Theodosopoulous and husband Gilles Combes, Essence Bakery offers perfectly buttery croissants, delicate fruit macarons, and a menu of light, French fare that will make you forget you're not at a cafe in Paris. The original location is always busy but we're always willing to wait for an order of French scrambled eggs.
Princess Market and Deli
This family-owned and operated market and restaurant might not look like much from the outside (it's nestled in a corner of what looks like a commercial strip mall) but step inside Princess Market and Deli and you'll find a haven for fans of authentic Mediterranean fare. After browsing the aisles of olive oils, spices, and pita bread, take a seat and explore the menu of top-notch kebabs, falafel, and fresh tabouli. Whatever you do, don't skip an order of the house-made hummus, which is as fresh and flavorful as any we've ever tried.
Thanks to a trio of Indian-born chefs who share the kitchen at this Scottsdale restaurant, there's no shortage of flavor in the food at Karaikudi Palace. During lunchtime the restaurant serves a simple but satisfying buffet, while the evening hours mean extensive menu of South Indian cuisine. There's plenty to try including crispy dosas, or Indian-style crepes, and even Indo-Chinese fried rice — but be warned, they aren't shy when it comes to adding spice.
Chef Matt Carter's north Scottsdale Zinc Bistro serves French fare that appeals to Francophiles and Americans alike. At this chic eatery located at Kierland Commons, you'll find classic dishes such as crepes and croque monsieur, as well as a well-loved burger and filet mignon. For the full experience, be sure to start with the onion soup gratinee, a rich soup covered in a melted layer of cheese.
Andreoli Italian Grocer
Part grocery and part restaurant, this Scottsdale spot is a real haven for diners looking for a real Italian experience. Andreoli Italian Grocer's chef Giovanni Scorzo knows his strengths and plays to them well with a daily menu of specialties such as luscious seafood risotto and fried potatoes and leeks that come served with a creamy dipping sauce. Perhaps most famous are the chef's pizzas, which come out of the oven in under two minutes and have a perfect, pillowy texture. Don't forget to save room for dessert; the selection of pastries, such as house-made canoli and tiramusi, is not to be skipped.
Looking for great sushi? Then you'll want to head to Hiro, a small family-owned and operated Japanese restaurant. There's not much style inside the space, but there are large boards filled with special menu items that range from savory hamachi kama (yellowtail collar) and conch dressed in a sweet miso sauce. The regular menu is also worth exploring; it's filled with pretty much every kind of sushi you could want, and some excellent cooked dishes including ginger pork and shrimp tempura.
Sure, there's no shortage of places serving upscale comfort food, but Proof at the Four Seasons Resort and Scottsdale does it in style. Some dishes carry a hefty price tag ($24 for Chicken and Waffles, anyone?), but for the price you get excellent comfort food with an elegant twist. For the best experience you'll want to plan your visit around sunset, when the views from the patio and simply stunning.
Shinji Kurita's James Beard Award-nominated restaurant, ShinBay, is a temple to elegant Japanese cuisine. Located a few miles north of Old Town, this sleek restaurant blends natural decor with modern sensibility with the focal point of the space being the 12-seat sushi bar behind which Kurita works. Diners can choose from a five-course omakase Chef's Course or go for a preset multicourse meal such as the three-course ShinBay Course ($60) or the Chef's Course, which starts at $100 a person. No matter which you choose, you're guaranteed a stunning parade of dishes that can include delicate deep-fried soft shell crab, a rainbow of nigiri sushi, or the chef's signature Tsukuri Six, or seafood bites.
Virtu Honest Craft
Since opening in 2013, chef Gio Osso's Virtu has wasted no time become a local and national dining destination. It popped up on Esquire's Best New Restaurants list just months after opening and then snagged a James Beard Award nomination in 2014 for Best New Restaurant. The food is simple but inspired, with the menu generally taking a Mediterranean slant. Osso turns pristine ingredients such as Spanish octopus and locally-grown produce into plates that feel truly elegant. For brunch, which the restaurant serves everyday, count on delicate crepes, cast iron frittatas, and benedicts made with luxurious ingredients such as duck confit and mortadella.
Original ChopShop Co.
In an area saturated with upscale restaurants, Original ChopShop Co. gives diners an affordable option for a healthy lunch. Located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Scottsdale Road, this fast-casual restaurant draws a diverse crowd of hungry shoppers, post-workout diners, and college students all of whom appreciate the restaurant's fresh and approachable selection of salads, wraps, and bowls. In addition to these protein bowls and leafy salads, you can count on this place for freshly pressed juices, iced teas, and coffee, as well as a breakfast menu that includes sandwiches, partfaits, and egg-loaded wraps.
Though "seasonal" and "local" have become culinary buzz words for many restaurants, Scottsdale's FnB restaurant embodies the spirit of these movements. Chef Charleen Badman turns simple, local produce into rustic American fare that's at once comforting and novel. Drawing inspiration from international cuisine, she creates a menu that changes almost constantly, but often includes dishes such as perfectly roasted locally-raised chicken, swiss chard falafel, and Badman's well-loved braised leeks, topped with mozzarella, fried egg, and mustard bread crumbs. The service is always friendly, and the restaurant's Arizona-focused wine list gives diners an opportunity to explore the state's offerings.
Chef Josh Hebert brought improvisational dining to Scottsdale with Posh, located just north of Old Town Scottsdale. At the restaurant Hebert and his team of talented chefs craft menus based on diners preferences, using top-quality ingredients to stun their guests with plates that look and taste like perfection. And though the improvisational dining experience is certainly worthwhile, you can also experience Hebert's talent on the cheap thanks to the restaurant's Tuesday ramen nights. On these weekly occasions, the chef gives diners a concise but excellent menu of Japanese street foods including several styles of ramen and okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake.
When it comes to top-notch Chinese cuisine around town, most people agree that Chandler's Chou's Kitchen stands in a class of its own. That's largely because this restaurant specializes in d?ngb?i cài, or the food of northeastern China. Unlike the Cantonese food with which you're probably familiar, the specialties of this region include the use of dough — which means dishes such as xaio long bao (soup dumplings) and delicious scallion pancakes. There can sometimes be a language barrier at this strip mall restaurant, but a little effort is well-worth the one-of-a-kind dining adventure.
Tumi Fine Peruvian Cuisine
There aren't too many options around town for Peruvian cuisine, but one of the best is certainly Tumi Fine Peruvian Cuisine in Chandler. The restaurant comes courtesy of chef Oscar Graham, who was born and raised in Lima. Though the restaurant is far from Peru, Graham delivers bright, flavorful cuisine including excellent ceviche; giant platters of arroz con mariscos, the Peruvian version of paella; and pollo a la brasa, or Peruvian grilled chicken that's marinated for a full 24 hours. Recently the restaurant relocated to slightly bigger digs and can now be found at 961 W. Ray Road, on the southeast corner of Alma School and Ray roads.
This cute downtown Chandler restaurant gets its name from owner Randy Walters' father's original Wimpy's Paradise, which was located in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. The Chandler restaurant serves burgers, sandwiches, and ice cream, as well as a selection of old school candies. It's all about simple food like the restaurant's satisfying fried bologna sandwich at this little destination — but be sure not to skip the selection of hot dogs, which come from Wimpy's sister restaurant, Pittsburgh Willy's. The most famous of the bunch is the Pittsburgher, formerly the Wild Willy, which features a quarter pound all beef hot dog topped with butter-soaked chipped ham and cheddar cheese.
If you're looking for more traditional sushi in this town, then you'll want to head to Shimogamo in Chandler. Located on the southwest corner of the intersection of Warner and Dobson in Chandler — a veritable Asian cuisine destination — this sleek restaurant offers a whole spread of sashimi, nigiri, and maki including sometimes hard-to-find options such as escolar, sweet shrimp, and sea urchin. Crazy, modern rolls aren't really the name of the game here, through you can get delicious and sometimes unexpected sushi rolls such as the Zen Roll made with spicy yellowtail, shishito peppers, and yamagobo and topped with white fish and jalapeño.
Woodlands Vegetarian South Indian Kitchen
Vegetarian food has never looked so good as at Chandler's Woodlands Vegetarian South Indian Kitchen. The fast-casual spot serves affordable South Indian eats including dosa, the popular crepe-like street food made with rice and lentil and stuffed with vegetables and curries. Other specialties include rasam, a tamarind, lentil, and tomato soup, and vadai, or deep-fried patties with lentil and ginger — but be warned that just about everything on the menu comes with a little spice. It's usually not so much that it overpowers all the subtler flavors, but sensitive diners will still appreciate the restaurant's chutney bar with plenty of options to punch up or cool down your dinner.
Angry Crab Shack
If you like seafood — in particular, Cajun seafood — then there's absolutely no chance you won't like Angry Crab Shack in Mesa. This locally owned spot keeps things simple when it comes to ordering: Select a type of seafood from options such as crawfish, crab, and clams and then choose seasoning and level of heat. Your food arrives in a plastic bag and more likely than not, you'll enjoy it with your hands while wearing a bib. Things can get messy, but there's no greater reward for the work that bites of sweet crab in the restaurant's signature Trifecta sauce.
Asian Cafe Express
It's small and it's certainly no-frills, but Asian Cafe Express is nevertheless one of the best-loved Chinese restaurants in town. Opened by chef Michael Leung and his wife in 2005, this Mesa restaurant has become notorious for its BYOS (bring your own seafood) policy and for its impressive menu with more than 300 items. Leung prides himself of offering customers authentic Hong Kong-style cuisine including favorites such as clams in black bean sauce, preserved pickle and pork noodle soup, and preserved salted fish and chicken fried rice. And did we mention the incredibly affordable price point? Many of the dishes will set you back $10 or less.
Dolce Vita Italian Grocer
Located next door to Gelato Dolce Vita and owned by the same couple, this small but seriously satisfying market and deli brings a taste of Italy to east Mesa. Walter and Marti Bergamaschi import hard-to-find products from Italy to both sell them in the grocery side of the operation and use them in their food. At Dolce Vita Italian Grocer you can look forward to a small selection of pastas, sandwiches, salads, and antipasto offerings including dishes such as classic bruschetta, housemade ricotta and spinach ravioli, and the piatto formaggi, a plate of six top-notch Italian cheeses paired with marmalades and honeys from the Italian Alps.
If you're looking for a taste of the Hawaiian Islands but can't afford to jet set across the Pacific Ocean, then Aloha Kitchen in Mesa might just do the trick. This spot brings Hawaiian-style eats such as chicken katsu, manapua, and even fried saimin to the Valley of the Sun, and on Saturdays, you can even find some authentic island eats. The Laulau Plate makes for a good introduction; it features pork laulau, lomi salmon, and chicken long rice.
Indecisive diners will love this family-owned and -operated restaurant that specializes in Latin American comfort foods. The star of the show is the selection of savory and sweet empanadas, each of which comes encased in golden, flaky fried wheat flour dough. Some of our favorites from the Republica Empanada menu include the Boricua empanada, which features fragarant pernil with arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas, hamhock, and cooked in sofrito sauce and the achiote potato, made with potato and annatto seed seasoning. Don't forget to wash down the meal with a cold craft beer; the restaurant has a tempting fridge stocked with bottles.
For first-time visitors the dark windows and straightforward signage of Simi's Cafe can be a bit scary, but step inside the strip mall restaurant and you'll find a neat, dark dining room filled with patrons. Simi's Cafe serves a somewhat comprehensive menu of Vietnamese and Asian-American dishes including pho and spring rolls, as well as pad thai and kung pao beef. Expect the service to be friendly and prompt, and know that the prices won't leave your wallet too empty. We like to start with an order of Summer Spring Rolls, and end with a glass of sweetened Vietnamese coffee.
Joe's Farm Grill
Located just steps from the Farm at Agritopia, this retro-futuristic diner serves "common food done uncommonly well." The menu of salads, burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs gives Joe's Farm Grill mass appeal, and the high-quality ingredients mean you'll often be surprised by the attention to detail in each dish. Some of our favorite dishes include the Fontina Burger topped with pecan pesto and the Carolina Dog, decked out with pulled pork, cole slaw, and barbecue sauce. Whatever you do, don't skip the hand-breaded onion rings; The rosemary dill panko makes the batter something special.
When you consider that Flancer's Cafe founder Jeff Flancer graduated from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, one of the country's top institutions, it should come as no surprise that his namesake restaurant serves exceptionally good food. In the menu of neighborhood restaurant staples — think sandwiches, burgers, and pizzas — Flancer delivers some unexpected surprises. They include dishes such as Chile Verde Birdie Turkey sandwich, loaded with real off the bone turkey breast and house made New Mexican green chile mayonnaise, and the Walk on the Wild Side pizza, which combines wild roasted mushrooms and local fennel sausage.
Romeo's Euro Cafe
Whether you're looking for baked feta cheese or a stuffed gyro, Romeo's Euro Cafe can satisfy your Mediterranean cuisine craving like few other places in town. The restaurant's lengthy menu covers everything from an array of appetizers such as sauteed hearts of artichokes and open faced foccacia bread to entrees ranging from burgers and subs to pastas and seafood platters. If the sheer number of options has got you overwhelmed, go with a fan favorite like the Chicken Omega, which features strips of grilled chicken with spinach, pine nuts, garlic, and feta in a white wine cream sauce.
Lulu's Taco Shop
We've got three words for you: Arizona Super Taco. It's what you should order when you hit up this longstanding Gilbert taco spot. Specializing in Guadalajara-style soft tacos, Lulu's Tacos Shop serves excellent tortillas stuffed with anything from flavorful steak and pork to grilled shrimp and fried fish. Not in the mood for a taco? No problem. You can also get filled up on a breakfast burrito (served all day), quesadilla, or tostada. There's really no wrong way to go here considering that it's all scratch made and can be spiced up with something from the salsa bar.
A Touch of European Cafe
After an exhausting day of wandering through downtown Glendale's many antique shops, there's nothing quite as comforting as a big bowl of soup. For that, you'll want A Touch of European Cafe, a small and welcoming restaurant located just off the main downtown drag. Here, Waldemar Okula and his wife serve up Polish eats the likes of which you'd never expect to find in the state. Look forward to a selection of daily soups (cross your fingers for pickle soup), as well as fresh perogies, homemade kielbasa, and more.
La Piazza Al Forno
This west side family-owned and operated pizzeria is famous city-wide for its real-deal Neopolian style pizzas. It's also been endorsed by the Food Network's own Guy Fieri, who featured the restaurant on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. One of several excellent and authentic pizza spots in town, La Piazza Al Forno stands out for offering reasonable prices and a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. As far as ordering goes, try the classic Regina Margherita D.O.C. or the Salvatore, made with tomatoes, house made mozzarella, olive oil, and prosciutto di parma.
La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop
Most people with a serious affinity for Mexican eats will know the name La Santisima, and if not, it may only be because you're still calling this spot by its former name, La Condessa. But what you might not realize is than in addition to a location in central Phoenix, this restaurant has a second location not far from the heart of downtown Glendale. As with the original location look forward to a simple but satisfying selection of tacos, corn quesadillas, and burros complemented by the restaurant's impressive salsa bar. Each of the traditional and modern salsas is made fresh, in-house every day.
The Wing Counter
This recently opened fast-casual restaurant specializes in — you guess it — hot wings. At The Wing Counter diners can pick from 14 signature sauces including options such as classics like barbecue, honey barbecue, and, of course, original hot. But there are also some more unexpected choices including mango habanero, sriracha honey, and sweet Thai chili. A seleciton of salads, sides, and desserts (including house-made beignets) rounds out the selection.
La Purisima Pasteleria
No, you don't have to drive out to Glendale to find an excellent Mexican bakery. But one visit to La Purisima Pasteleria will tell you why some people do. This longstanding bakery offers a wide variety of freshly-made pastries and breads including molasses-flavored cochinitos, pan dulce, or freshly made tortillas. Be warned: you'll probably have to wait in a line before you can place your order, but the wait will give you a change to take it all in and make your final selections. Also, the bakery only accepts cash so make sure to stop by the ATM on your way.
Peoria and Surprise
There's something seriously satisfying about good quiche. Light and fluffy, but also rich with eggs and cream, a good quiche can be a perfect meal almost anytime of day. One of the best places in town for this French specialty is Amuse Bouche in Surprise, where husband and wife team Snir and Kiersten Mor, both of whom are French-trained chefs, craft quality bistro fare. Though it's a fairly casual spot, the menu includes everything from duck breast and pate du foie to meatloaf sandwiches and tuna nicoise salad. On Sunday, the restaurant serves one of the best breakfasts in town with dishes such as crepes, eggs Benedicts, and beignets.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
New York Flavor
Whether you're looking for something simple, like an excellent burger, or something more elusive, like an New York-style egg sandwich, this Surprise restaurant can deliver. New York Flavor comes from ex-New Yorker Bill Olear and brings a taste of the Big Apple to the Valley of the Sun. For Olear, that doesn't mean nostalgic black and white photos of NYC, but rather bringing quality food to diners at a fair price. The menu includes breakfast and lunch favorites, many of which are named after Big Apple locales. There's the Tribeca, made with roast beef, caramelized onion, tomato, and lettuce, or the Staten Island, with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato, and roasted peppers.
You'll find the original Rito's location in Central Phoenix, but this spot still knows how to make a kick-ass burrito. It's owned by Richie Muñoz, the brother of Rito's founder Rosemary Salinas, and uses many of the same recipes that fans have come to love. The most popular items are the green chili and red chili burros, which feature tender beef in just-spicy-enough chile sauces. Unlike Rito's in Phoenix, this strip-mall restaurant takes credit cards and has indoor seating.
Not only is Vogue Bistro chef Aurore de Beauduy one of the most interesting people we know, she also knows her way around a kitchen. The French-born and French-trained chef moved to the Valley in 2004 and opened her Surprise restaurant four years later. The menu includes both classic French and more common American fare, so diners can choose from escargot and croque monsieur or opt for one of the restaurant's burgers and sandwiches. The menu even includes lasagna. For drinks, the house specialty is a martini — Vogue serves more than a dozen variations all named after classic clothing designers.
Leo's Island BBQ
When you open your plastic foam container from Peoria's Leo's Island BBQ, you might be shocked to see how much food you've scored for under $10. The restaurant specializes in Hawaiian plate lunch, which traditionally include two scoops of white rice, a heap of macaroni salad, and a generous portion of a meat of your choice. Leo's gives diners dozens of options that run the gamut from barbecue beef and garlic shrimp to the local favorite, loco moco, a hamburger patty that's smothered in fried egg and gravy. Smaller appetites may like the Hawaiian bowls, which include just rice and meat and will set you back about $6.