Although it's impossible to capture everything that's uniquely great about Phoenix food and drink on a list of this size, here are 50 dishes, drinks and experiences that we think everyone should try at least once.
50: Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore
As the legend goes, Arizona Biltmore barman Gene Sulit created the foundation for the now-classic American cocktail, the Tequila Sunrise, in the 1930s after a guest requested a tequila-based drink that was refreshing enough to drink poolside. The original formulation consists of a blend of tequila, soda water, crème de cassis, and fresh lime.
Over the years, the drink got a '70s makeover in northern California, with bartenders at the Trident Restaurant in Sausalito popularizing a version with three primary ingredients: tequila, orange juice, and grenadine. You can still find the "Original" Biltmore Tequila Sunrise at the Arizona Biltmore (both the Wright Bar and Frank & Albert's offer several versions). It still looks like a hazy desert sunrise in a tall glass, and it still tastes crisp and refreshing.
There may not be a more classic, and indulgent, way to experience Bitter & Twisted in downtown Phoenix than with a late-night supper consisting of executive chef Bob Tam's "Dragon" Dumpling burger.
The heart of the dish is the seared, juicy beef-pork patty adorned with ribbons of caramelized onions, draped in melted white American cheese, and delivered in a well-buttered, griddle-crisped English muffin. The smallish burger contains a world of meaty, pork-scented flavor, and tends to disappear shortly after initial contact.
There are more than 20 empanadas on the República Empanana menu, which includes a strong selection of dessert empanadas. We have a soft spot for the Dizzy Fig, though. It’s stuffed with Mesa-grown figs and mozzarella cheese, and touched with a dab of rich dulce de leche – an Arizona-inspired turnover by way of South America.
Avanti is a good place to rediscover classic Italian fine dining in the Valley. You probably can't get more classic than the restaurant's linguine carbonara. The recipe is as well-preserved and timeless as Avanti itself: just pancetta, egg yolk, onions, and peas, bound together to pleasing, extra-creamy effect. Not too eggy, not too salty, and not too rich, the linguine carbonara is a perennial favorite from one of the Valley's most enduring Italian restaurants.
Carne asada from La Cosinita. Pizza-shaped, Oaxacan tlayudas topped with shredded beef from Tacos y Burritos Mexico. Freshly whipped fruit licuados from La Carreta de Lily. Thick, sturdy Mexico City-style machetes sealed together with cheese and squash blossoms from Macheta Azteca.
Such are the gastronomical wonders of the food court at Mercado de los Cielos, the Latin American-inspired marketplace situated at the southern end of the Desert Sky Mall in west Phoenix.
One of the lunch specials at George's Kitchen, a family-owned, modern Greek eatery in uptown Phoenix, is the Chicken Feta Salad – and if you happen to develop a taste for it, you’ll often spend lunch in the sleek dining room (though delivery and takeout service is available).
The salad consists of organic mixed greens topped with tomato, onions, Kalamata olives, pepperoncini, cucumbers, and sliced bell peppers. The greens are served under a generous amount of free-range, grilled chicken breast, and enough imported French feta to satisfy even the biggest feta fiend.
Mi Patio Mexican Restaurant is an old-school Phoenix establishment that’s known for super-fast chip-and-salsa service, house-made margaritas, and some of the best smothered chimis this side of any major waterway.
A Mi Patio Especial, the Baja Spinach & Feta Cheese Chimi is one of those good-to-the-last-bite dishes. This is a deep-fried and oven-baked chimi containing and topped with the restaurant’s baja cream cheese sauce – a creamy, seafoam-green dressing that could go with just about anything on the menu.
Rustler's Rooste is the kind of place you take out-of-towners when they’re not the Scottsdale or hip, urban Phoenix type — or even if they are. It’s a cowboy restaurant with large sides, cooked-to-order steaks, and mason drinks. But there are several features unique to the Rooste, including live country music, a big shiny slide, and an incredible view of Phoenix from the restaurant's perch on South Mountain.
There are so many good plates at Mel's Diner — the Spanish Skillet is wonderful, and the Chicken Fried Steak isn't half-bad. Might we suggest the Gyro Omelet, though? There aren't that many places doing a gyro omelet. But why not? The popular and delicious mystery meat (most gyro meat that isn't on a rotating spit comes packaged as a seasoned beef and lamb loaf) was made to be enjoyed with scrambled eggs. The provenance of this specific gyro meat is unclear, but there's something fitting about the idea that it might be sliced straight from a loaf. The savory, slightly fragrant meat is chopped into short strips, fried up, and blended with lots of buttery egg, tomatoes, and onions.
41: Zipps Wings
Some wings are too fleshy, some too petite, the hot isn’t all that hot – the list goes on and on. However, there is one place – well, one place with 12 Valley locations – providing one of the better servings of wings in town. We’re talking about Zipps Sports Grill, and we're talking about Zipps Wings.
Zipps Wings come in mild, medium, hot, extra hot, or as Golden Wings. The “golden” means there’s a touch of honey and sweet stickiness mixed in with your sauce, and the house wings are buffalo-flavored, meaning just that – the familiar buffalo hot sauce that we really don’t need to explain.
Organ Stop Pizza has been a local institution in Mesa for more than 40 years, and it's no ordinary pizza parlor. It offers what might be the most surreal backdrop for an evening of feasting on pizza and beer: The airy, two-story restaurant is home to the largest Wurlitzer theater organ in the world. Every evening, one of the restaurant's resident organists performs from a vast songbook of popular hits and classic movie theme songs, to an enthusiastic crowd of families and assorted music lovers.
If you’ve ever had trouble deciding between crab puffs and chips and salsa to start off your dining experience at whatever pan-Asian place you’ve been seated at, Moto makes this part easy. Choose the Asian Nachos.
This dish consists of fried wontons topped with warm cheese sauce, sour cream, salsa, and a bright green plop of fresh soybean and avocado guacamole.
There are much worse ways to spend an afternoon than sampling the olive oils at the Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill, tasting the various blends like fine wine, or simply dunking hunks of crusty white bread into small plastic cups filled with the season's latest offerings. It's crowded on the weekends, sure, and depending on where you live, getting there may involve a 40-minute drive. But it's still much easier than flying to Tuscany.
Barbecue ribs are not exactly a hard sell. Unless you're a vegetarian, or abstaining from meat, it's hard not to be seduced by a long rack of saucy, gently charred barbecue ribs. And it's hard to think of a more tantalizing plate of ribs in Scottsdale than the ones you'll get at Don & Charlie's, a reliable Old Town chophouse with a bit of a sports obsession.
Many restaurants in the Valley serve beverages that are made on-site, but the house-made limoncello at Cibo Urban Pizzeria puts the attempts of even the coolest celebrities (we’re referring to the now defunct Danny DeVito’s Premium Limoncello Original) to shame.
Chef Guido Saccone has been making limoncello at Cibo since it opened in 2005, using the same recipe from his family in Italy. The lemon rinds are removed carefully and cured in the grain alcohol for two weeks. The alcohol is then drained and filtered from the lemon, and added to a simple syrup made with sugar and water.
Though the entire menu at Asian Café Express is impressive, some of us need not look beyond the appetizer section. The Chili Salt Chicken Wings come as a plate of five little drums for $4, and yes, you’ll want to get your own order.
The drumettes are cooked in canola oil, and tossed in green onions, garlic, spices, and chili oil. They arrive extra crispy, while the chicken inside remains juicy. A spoon accompanies the arriving dish, designed to dole the plate’s excess green onion, garlic, and spices into the little dell created by your first bite. It’s love.
Despite any personal thoughts on country music, honky-tonk décor, or the Lone Star State in general, just having a seat anywhere in Texaz Grill is an essential part of visiting or residing in the Valley. And the quintessential menu item? The Smoked Prime Rib.
Found on the dinner menu (available daily from 4 to 10 p.m.), the Texaz rib roast is smoked over pecan, and cut to order on the premises from USDA Choice aged beef.
Most restaurant owners don’t give their incoming diners a hug just for showing up for lunch, but the people at Feeney's Restaurant & Bar do. Part of you might come to Feeney’s for the PDA, but the main reason is probably the menu – namely, the Feeney’s Steak Salad.
The Feeney's Steak Salad comes as house salad-style greens under an abundance of julienne vegetables (thin strips of veggies like carrots and red onion), tomato, cucumber slices, and juicy, sliced beef tenderloin. The dish is topped with a generous amount of feta cheese and Greek dressing.
A big part of what makes a meal at Kai so memorable, apart from top-notch service, is its singular menu, which weaves elements of Pima and Maricopa culture and tradition into an uncommon offering of Native American-influenced fare.
The best overview of the menu is achieved through one of the restaurant's tasting menus. There are two available – the seven-course "Short Story," and the 13-course "The Journey."
What is one of the most photographed ice cream sundaes in metro Phoenix? The Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic.
The popular artisanal ice cream shop, with two locations in the Valley (plus a location at Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor), has been making this signature sundae for almost a decade. It was notably featured a few years ago on the Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate, where none other than Alton Brown named it one of his favorite all-time ice cream treats.
If you put together a master list of the most memorable sandwiches around town, surely the Big Jim at Welcome Diner would make the cut. It's probably the diner's standard-bearer sandwich, and one of the most breathtakingly indulgent dishes around downtown Phoenix.
It starts with a homemade biscuit, which gently flakes and melts across your palate. Squeezed inside the biscuit, there's a very tender piece of buttermilk fried chicken, topped with a thick, peppery gravy and a slice of melted cheddar cheese. A couple of strips of crisp bacon are squeezed in there, unabashedly adding another layer of texture, salt, and flavor to every bite.
If there is a patron saint of the Sonoran dog in metro Phoenix, it would probably be Aureliano Dominguez, who is credited with being one of the first Sonoran dog vendors in metro Phoenix, and also helping organize the fight to keep mobile hot dog carts legal on the streets of Phoenix.
Dominguez is the owner of El Caprichoso, which currently has four locations around the Valley, and which sells one of the most credible and consistently well-constructed Sonoran dogs in metro Phoenix.
There is much to love about dining at Nobuo at Teeter House.
For an indelible taste of chef Nobuo Fukuda's mastery of flavor, though, try some sashimi. The bite-sized servings of raw fish, which more typically feature ingredients like wasabi and soy, here become showpieces for the chef's creativity and deftness. Fukuda's sashimis often feature unconventional ingredients like vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and even cheese. They come artfully arranged on white ceramic spoons, designed to be eaten from the back, and experienced as a single, complex, and multi-sensory bite.
Sometimes you’re so used to calling it simply “Casey’s” you forget the whole Moore’s Oyster House part, but probably not the oysters themselves. Though a popular drinking spot for locals, the 1983-established, estate-like spot at Ninth Street and Ash Avenue has more to offer than cocktails and conversation.
Though located in Old Town Tempe in the middle of Arizona, Casey’s has a seafood section on the menu titled “Casey’s Favorites.” Here’s where you’ll find your oysters. The selections includes oyster shooters, fried oysters, and Oysters Rockefeller, which require diners to allow 30 to 35 minutes. They’re baked in Casey Moore’s own Mornay sauce, and come topped with spinach and bacon bits. This being a college bar, don’t be surprised to see an oyster get slurped out of some gal’s bellybutton. It happens.
The spring rolls at Da Vang are hefty, shaped like fat, oversized cigars, and an order constitutes a small meal unto itself. They have a bracing herbal freshness that comes from the leaves of fresh mint hugging the large shrimp and hunks of savory pork. The rice paper wrapper is neither rubbery or slippery, and some peanut sauce on the side draws out even more flavor. All that fresh flavor encased within dewy rice paper, and accessibly priced at about $3 for an order of two — it almost seems too good to be true.
Postino, the self-described “Valley's original neighborhood WineCafe,” is an Italian food and wine/beer joint with six Valley locations (plus one location in Denver's trendy LoHi neighborhood). Though a menu of starters, salads, and paninis is placed in front of you the moment you sit down, save yourself some time – go straight for the bruschetta and wine.
In metro Phoenix, you'll find some of the city's best fry bread at the Fry Bread House, located on Seventh Avenue between Camelback and Indian School roads in Phoenix's Melrose District.
The two most popular meats are the spicy red chili and the hot green chili, and you can't really go wrong with either option. Might we suggest the hot green chili, though? It's a smoky, slow-cooked, thick chili, beautifully seasoned with onions and secret spices. The "hot" is not just in name, either: This chili is spicy enough to clear a stuffy nose in the space of a few seconds.
First things first: The Chuckbox is cash only. It’s common knowledge around Arizona State University, but that fact may be less known in other parts of the Valley.
Now that you’ve hit the ATM, look forward to The Chuckbox’s proven formula. Mesquite broiled burger patties are cooked to order over an open flame, and you dress your burger yourself at the fixings bar in the Western-themed dining room. The go-to here is a 1/3-pound burger simply called “The Big One,” but also known as “our pride and joy.”
Cahuamanta El Yaqui specializes in the beachy dishes of southern Sonora, and its hallmark dish is its caldo de cahuamanta, the salty, flavorful manta ray and shrimp stew enjoyed around northern Mexico.
At Cahuamanta El Yaqui, you will sometimes see men alone, sitting at tables, sipping the bichi de cahuamanta — the briny broth — all on its own out of Styrofoam cups. It is nourishment and warmth in a cup.
Great Wall Cuisine is home to one of the oldest and most popular weekend dim sum services in metro Phoenix.
You point at everything you want to eat, and it quickly materializes on your plate. Chasing down a cart filled with your favorite dumplings is probably not polite, but it does happen. Like almost everything else in life, your dim sum experience is greatly enhanced by an open mind and a sense of adventure.
While the rest of Cave Creek seems to roar with passing motorcyclists and Black Sabbath cover bands, one historic eatery in this Old West town chimes with classic country favorites, festive chattering, and if you listen extra close, the sizzling of another fresh batch of fried chicken.
This place would be The Horny Toad, and the dish is found on the lunch and dinner menu under “Our Famous Fried Chicken” – followed by the annotation, “Plucked & Fresh NOT Frozen.” This order – either a half chicken for $12.95 or a whole chicken for $18.95 – comes with the house fries or mashed potatoes and (brown) gravy, and a generous cup of coleslaw.
George & Dragon's (or G&D, if you prefer) has been serving traditional British food since 1995, and it's one of the most popular neighborhood watering holes in north central Phoenix. It’s a hot spot for weeknight gatherings like karaoke, trivia, and poker, and keeps the kitchen open late for well-known plates of Our Famous Wing Drummettes, and of course, George & Dragon’s Famous Fish & Chips.
This dish is listed on the menu as George & Dragon’s Famous Fish & Chips under the entrees section. The entrée comes with tartar sauce and a choice of peas, corn, or coleslaw – all at market price.
The macaron ice cream sandwiches at Pho 43 Express (also known as 43rd Express) in Phoenix are another reminder — a very sweet reminder — that some of the most memorable finds in our great and sprawling metropolis often pop up in unexpected places.
The sandwiches are assembled to order, and they are generous in size, featuring an extra-thick slab of ice cream cemented between two oversize caps of very fresh, chewy, nutty macaron cookies. The pandan is vaguely reminiscent of coconut, and pairs well with the taro-flavored macaron. But pretty much every combination you can fathom will most likely lean toward the delicious side of the flavor spectrum.
From the moment you swing open one of those big double doors to this historic building in downtown Glendale, you know it's going to be a silly morning or afternoon – depending on whether you selected the 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. free tour of Cerreta Candy Co.
The tour starts with an employee, probably Esther, giving you a Cerreta Candy Co. sea cap and a breakdown of the candy company's storied past over a microphone. A small crowd may or may not build up, depending on the time of year. You’ll hear about how Jim Cerreta Sr. founded the company on Halloween night 1968, and how he passed on the building and candy-making skills to his family, which now spans four generations.
The signature steak at The Stockyards in Phoenix is probably the 24-ounce, beautifully seasoned, bone-in rib eye, known here as The Arizona Cut, which comes with all the classic steakhouse sides.
The Stockyards is also a good source for harder-to-find wild game steaks like elk and boar. And if you've ever wanted to try Rocky Mountain Oysters, or Calf Fries — i.e., calf bull testicles — The Stockyards will provide. It's worth noting that, even with its fairly casual ambiance, The Stockyards is still a higher-end steakhouse, so you can expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 for one of the restaurant's signature cuts.
If you like colorful food and buildings, the next few minutes are going to be enjoyable. We’re grabbing a table inside the elegant yet folksy Barrio Café, set amid the street-art-heavy walls of Calle 16 in Phoenix.
Be sure to start your order here with a serving of the Guacamole del Barrio, paired perhaps with the Flor de Jamaica Margarita. Now, pairing margaritas with chips and guacamole is not an unfamiliar concept in the Valley, or the Southwest for that matter, but what will soon arrive is bound to make an impression.
Joe's Real BBQ is a modern-day classic. The most popular order is probably the BBQ Sampler Plate, which is loaded up with almost a pound of meat. Like a snowflake, no two plates are ever exactly alike, but yours may include glistening slices of chicken breast, bundles of pulled pork and beef brisket, or maybe some St. Louis-style ribs, plus your choice of side.
Not many restaurants in town can say they've been in business since the Johnson administration. Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe, located just east of downtown Phoenix, certainly can, though. The restaurant has been feeding Phoenix home-style, deep-fried Southern eats for more than 50 years. It opened in 1964, making it one of the first restaurants to bring soul food to metro Phoenix, and it's still one of the best.
Fried chicken is the main attraction at Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe, but it certainly isn't the only great dish. You'll find the kitchen makes a mean chicken-fried steak, too, and meaty, flavorful oxtails are often available. But don't overlook the pork chop platter. One order gets you a couple of deep-fried chops, which are exceptionally juicy and succulent.
At certain times when sitting within the wood-paneled walls of the Yucca Tap Room, you can’t tell if it’s 12 noon or 12 midnight. That is, unless your bartender lets you order a breakfast burrito.
A little basket will arrive lined with a piece of blue-and-white checkered wax paper – weighed down by your new favorite breakfast burrito. A warm tortilla is packed with hot scrambled eggs stuck to crispy hash browns with melted cheddar cheese. One of the biggest decisions you’ll make that morning: whether to have that tortilla stuffed with bacon or sausage.
The mesquite chocolate chip cookie at Super Chunk is beautifully chunky and gritty, with an earthy sweetness that you just can't get from conventional white flour. The Super Chunk chocolate chip cookie is made using Arizona mesquite flour, and if you've ever chewed on a late-summer mesquite pod, or enjoyed some mesquite flour pancakes, you know that sunburnt sweetness well.
For the chocolate, the shop uses couverture, which is regarded as one of the highest-grade chocolates available. Altogether, it makes for a dense, vaguely crunchy, halfway chewy, gorgeously sweet chocolate chip cookie that more than likely you'll only find in Arizona.
Café Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant has been serving the residents and students of central Tempe for roughly 20 years. The family-owned restaurant is known for Ethiopian coffee, the traditional décor of the restaurant (complete with blush pink painted walls), and authentic dishes like the doro wat.
The doro wat (said like “what”) entrée is found under the Meat Dishes section of the menu. The dish happens to be a type of spicy, stew-like sauce with chicken. The meat is simmered in spicy berbere, or a mixture of red chili powder and spices, onion, various spices, and kibbeh, or spiced clarified butter. The aroma of the dark-colored stew is extra-killer if you’re extra hungry.
Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli is a justifiably popular central Phoenix lunch spot, and the typical spread might include the Lebanese chicken, a grilled chicken breast perfumed with garlic and lemon. There's the falafel sandwich, which features one of the calling cards of Middle Eastern Bakery: beautifully soft, ultra-fresh pita bread. The tabbouleh is fresh and chunky, and the homemade hummus has an earthy, mellow coolness that makes it the perfect appetizer for warm-weather days, of which we tend to have many here in metro Phoenix.
If you are indecisive, there is always the sampler, a greatest hits platter furnished with falafel, dolmas, gyro meat, hummus, baba ganoush, and kibbeh.
What does it mean to dine "extemporaneously?" It means that you're probably sitting at the sleek chef's counter at Posh Improvisational Cuisine, the Scottsdale restaurant where chef Josh Hebert and his culinary team devise multicourse menus on the fly before your eyes, featuring dishes tailored to your particular food preferences.
"Serious Food, Extemporaneous Style" is the restaurant's tagline, and it pretty much sums up a good night at Posh. This is fine dining, often crafted with equal parts virtuosity and playfulness.
Everyone has their own Carolina's favorite, but it's worth giving the breakfast burritos a shout-out. The machaca and egg burrito, upgraded with refried beans and potatoes, will keep you going until early afternoon. But might we recommend the machaca plate? It's Number 5 on the combo menu, and you can pick the red or green sauce. There is something quintessential about the red sauce. It's a thick, creamy, oniony red sauce, and it nearly smothers the life out of the soft beefy, shredded bundles of meat. It's so saucy, in fact, it gives you the perfect excuse to tear into one of those hot flour tortillas, which is kind of the Carolina's version of a napkin.
FnB's influence on the local food and drink scene has been so great, it's easy to forget sometimes that the restaurant has not yet been open a full decade. From its early years, operating out of a small space on Stetson Drive in Scottsdale, the restaurant felt purposeful in its mission to expand the possibilities of what you might expect from a bowl of locally grown vegetables, and to turn the focus on Arizona terroir in a way that has helped nurture and bring national attention to locavore culture in metro Phoenix.
Lee Lee International Supermarkets have been around for more than 25 years, and started when Meng Truong moved to Arizona from Cambodia. He and his wife, Paulina, noticed the lack of a diverse food market where they could pick up some of their favorite items from back home. Truong would frequently drive his van to California to pick up any ethnic ingredients, until – we assume – that became obviously tiresome. Now Lee Lee totals more than 200,000 square feet of grocery space across three massive stores.
It's hard to resist ordering a cocktail at Durant's, Phoenix's most storied steakhouse, particularly something Mad Men-ish like a martini or an Old Fashioned. The martinis at Durant's are so stiff, it's like drinking morphine in a glass. You probably want to take it slow, especially if you plan to get anything done after lunch.
Durant's opened in 1950, and it's famously wrapped up in the mystique of local Phoenix legend, stories of power brokers and mafiosos working over crooked local politicians from the comfort of one of the restaurant's rounded leather booths. Durant's longevity, thankfully, isn't based on legend alone. It's still one of the best spots in town for an old-fashioned power lunch, and the steaks are consistently good.
You sort of know what you're getting into when you go to Little Miss BBQ on a weekend morning: a long wait in a long line. And most people don't bother to complain, because the reward at the end of the line is commensurate with the long wait times: goose-bump-inducing, mouth-watering, soul-warming, damn good barbecue.
The thing to try at least once is the beef brisket, which many will argue is the best brisket in the state, and depending on what cut you get, it might be gorgeously fatty and melty, or more lean and juicy. It's by far the most popular thing on the menu, so you have to be an early bird if your heart is set on a plate of lush, sliced brisket, or a chopped brisket sandwich.
What's the big deal about the French fries at Cafe Bink? It's not so much that they are the best thing you'll eat during the course of lunch or dinner at the restaurant. It's more like the French fries made at chef Kevin Binkley's Carefree restaurant represent what's possible when simple dishes are made well, and with a little panache.
They come wrapped in paper, with a sprig of crisped up rosemary tucked into the bouquet of hot, herb-perfumed fries. They are thick-cut, blanched, and fried at least twice, a process that renders them extra-crispy. The soft, tender-inside texture of each fry is left nicely intact. They come with a trio of very good dipping sauces: a dill-infused sauce vert, a creamy garlic aioli, and a truffle-laced ketchup that easily puts a packet of Heinz to shame.
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The pie that feels the most unique to Pizzeria Bianco, and to Phoenix in general, is the Rosa, which brings together the old forno al legna pizza-making traditions with the sun-deluged flavors of Arizona. The Rosa looks a little muted and yellowish on the plate, but don't be thrown off by the fact that it's not brightly mosaicked with toppings. There is something elegant about it, especially the dough, which is thin and airy and artfully misshapen.
It's sneakily subtle, with an ingenious combo of red onion, Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary, and Arizona-grown pistachios. Every bite crackles a little mysteriously with flavor and texture, and it might take a few bites before you fully surrender to everything that makes it great.