Sure the economy blew this year, but several new Valley restaurants took a chance anyway and opened their doors in 2011. From Cambodian cuisine, to Texas barbecue, to "crazy cook" Italian, here are some of the new places we're most excited about.
Opened: March 2011 | Cuisine: Cambodian | Price: Under $10
It isn't just a new Cambodian restaurant in the Valley, it's the only Cambodian restaurant in the Valley. And lucky for us, it's a good one. Nearly hidden off Indian School Road in Central Phoenix, once inside, its cheery and colorful interior (plus '60s rock 'n' roll music in Khmer on its speakers) sets the scene for wallet-friendly, classic Khmer cuisine courtesy of chef and owner Lakhana In. Try a rice paper spring roll or the warm beef salad, then move on to sweet-and-sour beef sausages or amok, the national dish of Cambodia with curried fish or shrimp. Questions? In's son Yutheana, who runs the front-of-the-house, is always happy to help. Read the review here.
Opened: May 2011 | Cuisine: Texas Barbecue | Price: Under $10
If you're looking for Texas barbecue inspired by Lockhart, Texas, then this unassuming, cash-only joint in South Phoenix should get 'er done nicely. Armed with family dry rub recipes, Mike Pitt and his Texas expat crew serve up meat cooked low and slow, smoked over oak wood, and sold deli-style in a no-frills space where their signature sauce isn't necessary, but it's there if you want it. Start with the heavenly moist brisket, then move on to plump and peppery sausages, a sinfully good sandwich of chopped beef, or a turkey breast that, thanks to a rosemary rub, tastes like Thanksgiving Day. Plates? That would be the butcher paper. Trays? Those would be the Pepsi cartons. Utensils? Unless they're for side dish or dessert, they're your hands -- son. Read the review here.
Opened: October 2011 | Cuisine: Italian, New American | Price: $11-$30
This stylish but snug new restaurant from both the owner, Heinrich Stasiuk, and the chef, Mercer Mohr of Brick, the gourmet pizzeria in Downtown Phoenix, might just make Sunnyslope a regular go-to destination for wine and wood-fired fare. With a sprawling, flora-filled patio, retractable garage doors, and an interior of gray, brown and cream, the oven, the only means of cooking, kicks out fresh baked bread every morning. A fact you'll appreciate after consuming a loaf of it slathered in pesto or apple butter, or when it's used as a foundation for luscious bruschetta, flatbreads, and two-handed hoagies like the prosciutto, copa, and triple cream Brie, or for sopping up what's left of signature dishes like the heavenly short rib tajine.
Opened: September 2011 | Cuisine: Italian | Price: $11-$30
When chef Peter DeRuvoleft Prado in Paradise Valley after only nine months, the Valley food community barely had time to catch its collective breath before he announced his newest venture: Cuoco Pazzo, Italian for "crazy cook," in Old Town Scottsdale. As co-owner and executive chef, DeRuvo had the open and warm lunch and dinner establishment blessed by Tibetan monks. Along with a stellar wine list, DeRuvo's ambitious menu, inspired by the Roman feast, includes house-cured meats, hand-rolled fresh pastas, Mediterranean seafood specialties, and wood-fired pizzas. Don't miss the orecchietti or the delectable crispy half duck -- and don't be surprised if DeRuvo stops by your table to say hello.
Opened: January 2011 | Cuisine: American | Price: $11-$30
Former Cowboy Ciao culinary master chef Bernie Kantak opened his stylish yet relaxed restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale at the beginning of the year and the Valley still hasn't stopped buzzing about it. Featuring classic American fare with a delicious kick in the ass, the menu includes picture-perfect scallops, standout starters like the luscious pork belly pastrami the Original Chopped Salad (so popular it has its own Facebook page), and dreamy desserts courtesy of Tracy Dempsey. Partner and mixologist Richie Moe devotes as much attention to the libations as Kantak does to the food. And with the recent opening of Citizen R + D, the innovative cocktail lounge upstairs (co-owned by Moe), it's just one more reason to keep CPH on your favorite restaurant playlist. Read the review here.
Barrio Queen and Silvana BistroOpened: December 2011 | Cuisine: Mexican | Price: $11-$30
Like two extra gifts of goodness for the holidays, Valley legend and the chef and owner of Barrio Café, Silvana Salcido Esparza, opened Barrio Queen, her casual Mexican eatery, on December 26, and plans to open her second concept next door, the more elegant Silvana Bistro, on New Year's Eve. Barrio Queen will sit alongside Silvana Bistro in the SouthBridge space in Old Town Scottsdale and will offer an all-day breakfast, bakery, several weekend specials, over 350 kinds of tequila, and Mexican specialty dishes such as tlacoyos and red or green pork chile in addition to tamales, elotes, chiles rellenos, Mexican-style french fries, tortillas, blue and white corn masa quesadillas,cemitas, and tons of tacos.The second restaurant concept from Esparza, Silvana Bistro, does not yet have a menu, but Esparza tells me she intends to release it a few days before the opening after she shops the farmers markets to see what they have on hand.
What say you, Valley restaurant ravers? What was your favorite new place to eat this year?