In just a few short years, the reputation of chef-owner Kevin Binkley's eponymous fine dining establishment has risen to nearly legendary status, thanks to a combination of attentive, professional service, charming atmosphere, and above all, outstanding French-influenced contemporary cuisine that's both inspired and inspiring. Despite its far-flung location in Cave Creek — better known for biker bars and desert scenery — it's become a must-visit for foodies across the Valley, not to mention pleasure-seeking visitors from the area's high-end resorts. Chef Binkley's culinary brilliance reveals itself in obsessively sourced premium ingredients (with an emphasis on local and organic) and inventive flavor combinations, making every dish a mini-masterpiece. That's no surprise, given his resumé, which includes stints working under chef Patrick O'Connell at Virginia's The Inn at Little Washington, as well as chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Napa Valley. Meanwhile, his accomplished wife, Amy, the maitre d', runs the front of the house with grace.

Based on what's seasonally available, the menu here evolves daily. And while you certainly won't be disappointed ordering à la carte, the four-, five-, and six-course tasting menus are the best way to get the full Binkley's experience. (Expect a whirlwind of amuses-bouches between courses, each one more clever than the last.) If we had to put our money on the next big regional contender for a James Beard award, this is it.

Go now, before the spotlight on Binkley's shines even brighter.

T. Cook's
Royal Palms Resort and Spa
Just stepping foot on the grounds of the Royal Palms Resort & Spa is enough to make you swoon. With its stately Spanish colonial architecture and lush, manicured grounds, it's no wonder this elegant property is a popular wedding site. But even if you're barely past your first date, dinner at T. Cook's is sure to spark some romance. From its high ceilings to its luxurious appointments, the dining room is the best spot in Phoenix for an amorous tte-à-tte with someone special. Chef Lee Hillson's lust-inducing menu takes its cues from Mediterranean cuisine, with contemporary flourishes. A sumptuous combination of pan-roasted duck breast and foie gras is served with a confit dumpling, preserved apricots, and spiced yogurt, while tagliatelle is dressed up with chanterelles, squash blossoms, and puréed arugula. For dessert, pastry chef Pierino Jermonti's dreamy creations are sure to conjure naughty thoughts; go for "Double the Sin," a baked double chocolate torte draped in brie and white chocolate cream. And in case that's not enough to seal the deal, be sure to consult the resort's Director of Romance. That's right — at the Royal Palms, they'll do whatever it takes to ensure love is in the air.
It seems like Tom and Chrysa Kaufman opened their charming eatery just yesterday, but believe it or not, it's been almost 14 years since this New Times favorite was the buzziest new restaurant in town. Plenty of accolades have followed (including many "Best ofs"), lots of competitors have come and gone, and the Kaufmans are now divorced (chef Chrysa has returned to using her maiden name, Robertson), but their restaurant is just as good as ever, a low-key modern classic where we can still count on the finest ingredients from local farms and a fat wine list filled with primo vintages and a few funny cartoons, too. The menu changes with the seasons, although there are plenty of reliable old favorites that bring us back again and again: crispy stuffed squash blossoms with cherry tomato vinaigrette, succulent grilled lamb chops with flageolet beans, roasted garlic, and preserved lemon, and their famous Nonni's Sunday Chicken, braised with wine and mushrooms. Sometimes change is inevitable, but we're glad that Rancho Pinot is still the same place we've always known and loved.
Sierra Bonita Grill
Inspired by the pioneer ranches of the Old West — and named after southeastern Arizona's Sierra Bonita Ranch, founded by Henry Hooker in 1872 — charming, comfortable Sierra Bonita Grill puts a delicious gourmet spin on our state's culinary traditions. The menu is mostly creative comfort food, with Mexican accents and native Southwestern ingredients. The red chile pork tamale, a heap of melt-in-your-mouth smoked pork and salsa on top of sweet, moist masa, is an edible work of art, while the goat cheese gratin with piquillo-chipotle purée is an addicting contrast between soothing and spicy.

Entrees are just as exciting; try the succulent beef tenderloin with red wine-prickly pear reduction, pecan-crusted trout with tangy orange-maple vinaigrette, or the outstanding buttermilk chicken, spooned with creamy black pepper gravy and served with the best mashed sweet potatoes this side of the Mississippi. For dessert, the bread pudding, drizzled with a punchy sauce of lime and Jack Daniel's whiskey, is so warm and soothing, it'll make you doze off better than a campfire.

Wildfish Seafood Grille
It might sound like heresy to pick Wildfish over Eddie V's, but don't worry — they're related. Wildfish has all the ultra-fresh seafood you'd expect at its big brother restaurant, only it's housed in a sleek, sexy spot at the Scottsdale Waterfront. Reserve a table in the dining room when you're up for a full meal with all the bells and whistles, or grab a seat at the happening bar for a casual feast. (Nothing wrong with calling martinis and raw oysters dinner!)

This isn't run-of-the-mill seafood with lemon and butter, but an exciting menu with Asian touches that enhance the freshness of the day's catch without overwhelming it. Reel in some crisp calamari with cashews and red chile, or a killer crab cake served with spicy remoulade. Entree highlights include steamed Hong Kong-style Chilean sea bass; sea scallops sautéed with macadamia nuts, fresh citrus, and brown butter; and salmon with black bean vinaigrette. If you think there's no such thing as great seafood in the middle of the desert, you clearly haven't been here yet.

Donovan's Steak and Chop House
Who ever thought that steak could be trendy? From the looks of all the high-end steakhouses cropping up around town, sizzling slabs of beef are, ahem, hotter than ever. But they've always been in style at Donovan's, where all the steaks — the juicy New York strip, buttery filet mignon, and monster 20-ounce porterhouse, among others — are aged, USDA Prime cuts.

Ever wonder why you can't make a steak at home that tastes like this? Well, there's something about a good, 1,800-degree searing that takes the meat from delicious to divine, and Donovan's really knows how to bring the heat. The classy atmosphere, with tuxedo-clad waiters, dark mahogany walls, and elegant artwork everywhere, makes eating here a special occasion, and the hefty wine list and expertly made cocktails make drinking here enjoyable, too. When we're jonesing for the best — and money's no object — Donovan's is at the top of our list.

Marcellino Ristorante
Molly Smith
Marcellino Ristorante is a romantic fine-dining spot that transcends its inconspicuous location so well that you'll not only forget you're in a strip mall, you'll wonder whether you've stumbled through a magic portal straight to Italy. The authentic cuisine will suspend your disbelief, too. Sima Verzino will greet you warmly when you arrive, while her husband, chef Marcellino, works his culinary magic in the kitchen. Best known for his exquisite homemade pastas and vibrant sauces — such as light, pillowy gnocchi with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella, and tender fettuccine with asparagus, tomato, scallions, arugula and ricotta — Marcellino also does an excellent job with fresh seafood and meats. Try the luscious scaloppine al gorgonzola, sautéed veal with creamy gorgonzola sauce, or gamberi affogati, plump, garlicky shrimp sautéed in white wine. And don't forget to order a good Italian wine, if only to toast la dolce vita in Phoenix.
Tesoro Ristorante Italiano
Jamie Peachey
There's nothing wrong with a little downsizing. Filomena and Anthony Di Franco, former owners of the popular but defunct Molise, sold their original restaurant and opened this charming nook two years ago. It seats fewer than half the guests that Molise once did, but that only means you'll get more attention from Filomena herself, along with daughter Ania and son Maurizio, who work in the cozy, rustic dining room.

Back in the kitchen, Anthony and daughter Sonia are cooking up a storm, using recipes from all over Italy, including the Di Francos' native region of Abruzzi. Look for simple, flavorful preparations, perfectly cooked pastas, and light sauces. None of the dishes will hit you over the head with richness — the Pernod cream sauce on the escargot ravioli tastes delicate, and even prosciutto and melted mozzarella don't overwhelm the succulent, sage-kissed saltimbocca. Spinach and ricotta-filled crespelle, and lasagna made with thin, homemade noodles, are also memorable.

You may finish your plate and feel perfectly content, but make way for dessert. After one bite of the luscious tiramisu, you'll thank us.

Zinc Bistro
David Holden
Zinc Bistro is as seductive as any restaurant you'd find in the City of Lights. Bright and airy by day, with abundant windows, high tin ceilings, crisp white tablecloths, and ample patio seating fit for an afternoon of people-watching, this stylish boîte transforms into an intimate, candlelit dinner destination come sundown. Grab a stool at the restaurant's namesake, a sleek, 25-foot zinc bar, for raw oysters on the half shell, Gruyre fondue, or a cheese platter, or shimmy onto a lipstick-red banquette and get a look at the full menu. Chef Matt Carter's creations successfully walk the fine line between traditional bistro fare and innovative French-inspired dishes — everything from classic moules frites and steak au poivre to spinach-goat cheese ravioli with oxtail and black truffles. When you're ready for your second wind, go for some French press coffee and chocolate soufflé, made with premium Callebaut chocolate. You'll leave feeling giddily satisfied, but sooner or later, don't be surprised to find yourself wanting more. At Zinc Bistro, infatuation is a given.
GreekTown Restaurant
Lauren Cusimano
Okay, so it's perched on North Seventh Street instead of a rocky cliff by the Mediterranean, but this white-washed taverna is still a great place to find homestyle dishes just like gia gia used to make. We're not sure if there really is a staff of busy Greek grandmothers in the kitchen at GreekTown, although the food sure tastes like it was made from time-honored recipes. Traditional favorites like saganaki (flaming cheese), stuffed grape leaves, and marinated octopus make up the appetizer menu, while entrees run the gamut from Old Country staples like souvlaki and moussaka to more contemporary Greek-style dishes like veal sautéed with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and white wine sauce. Add that to a friendly, festive atmosphere where wine flows at a Dionysian pace, and you'll be shouting "Opa!" before dessert rolls around. Just don't try throwing any plates.

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