La Piazza Al Forno

When we imagine the ideal neighborhood Italian joint, we picture a casual, convivial spot on a charming street, a place where locals gobble up great pizza, knock back a few glasses of wine over steaming bowls of pasta, and are generally treated like family by doting owners. And guess what? It's not just a figment of our imagination. We just described La Piazza al Forno, a gem of a place planted right in the midst of quaint downtown Glendale. Thanks to an open kitchen, customers can chat with owner Justin Piazza while he hand-tosses pizzas and works the roaring pecan- and oak-fired brick oven, which exudes such a heavenly aroma that you can smell it from outside. We're keen on the garlic-heavy La Piazza Blanco pie, but balsamic-kissed Mediterranean ravioli and velvety chicken pesto lasagna are equally enticing. And be sure to save room for the excellent New York cheesecake, further proof that La Piazza al Forno is a dream come true.

Marcellino Ristorante
Molly Smith

You've heard of a "feel-good" movie? Marcellino is a feel-good restaurant — dining here never fails to put a big grin on our face. The atmosphere is cozily elegant, a real jaw-dropper if you're here for the first time (alas, it's in a strip mall, so you really can't tell how cool this place is from the outside). Gracious staffers follow the lead of chef Marcellino Verzino and his wife Sima, who make customers feel like VIPs in an exclusive supper club where the wine keeps flowing and delicious smells waft from the kitchen. And the food? So, so delicious, from perfect carpaccio to luscious veal scaloppine, blanketed in Gorgonzola sauce. Handmade pastas are a big deal at Marcellino, with several on the regular menu and a few more offered as nightly specials, like porcini linguine with shiitake mushrooms and truffle oil. Deciding what to order might be torture, but don't worry — this is the kind of place where there are no wrong choices.

Greekfest Restaurant
Diana Martinez

In the middle of this parched desert metropolis, Greekfest is as refreshing as a balmy Mediterranean breeze gently wafting through a seaside taverna. With its pristine white walls and wood-beamed ceilings that remind us of the rustic charm of the Old Country, this friendly Greek eatery is where we go when we want to unwind with family and friends over a lavish, leisurely meal. While the gyro and other fast foods seem to be typical of many Greek restaurants in the Valley, Greekfest sticks to time-honored traditional dishes made with care, from dolmathes, neatly wrapped in grape leaves, to luscious moussaka. If you're hungry for lamb, this is the place to be — the menu includes marinated lamb souvlaki, roast rack of lamb, braised lamb in tomato sauce, and pastistio layered with ground lamb. And don't miss the wine list, with dozens of Greek imports. It all amounts to a heck of a fun eating and drinking excursion at Greekfest — with an emphasis on the "fest."

Haus Murphy's
Jennifer Goldberg

There's something about settling in at a good little German restaurant that always lifts our spirits. Maybe it's the oom-pah-pah music, the European tchotchkes here and there, or the friendly, old-fashioned hospitality. At Haus Murphy's, located right on downtown Glendale's main drag, it's all of the above. And, of course, it's the comfort food. This is the kind of hearty cooking we can really appreciate when we're not worrying about carbs or calories, when the only thing that'll satisfy is a golden sautéed schnitzel or some gravy-slathered sauerbraten with tangy red cabbage. Don't forget the sausages — in particular, the juicy bratwurst, served with a heap of sauerkraut — and the impressive selection of German beers on tap. With a mug full of brew, a tummy full of spaetzle, and a prime seat on Haus Murphy's biergarten patio, it's impossible to be in a bad mood.

Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge
Lauren Saria

We've long been fans of award-winning chef Christopher Gross, but we think he's outdone himself with his latest restaurant, a sleek, chic, and surprisingly fun spot that brings the French bistro into the 21st century. There's a lot to take in here — a vibrant, contemporary dining room packed with Phoenix movers and shakers, a glass-enclosed chef's table in the middle of the restaurant, bar seats around the bustling open kitchen, and a sultry adjoining lounge featuring sommelier Paola Embry's extensive wine list. It's all a stylish backdrop for good eating, whether you go casual with a cheese plate and ridiculously addicting truffle frites or indulge in classic French dishes such as foie gras terrine, duck confit, or hanger steak with sautéed shallots. Depending on which day of the week you visit, you can even order things like pied de cochon or rabbit. But if that's maybe a little too French for your tastes, rest assured — even the burger here is outstanding.

Best Middle Eastern/Mediterranean Restaurant

Tasty Kabob

Tasty Kabob

The Persian Empire may be ancient history, but Persian cuisine still rules. And what better place to sample its seductive array of flavors than Tasty Kabob? There's a reason why this spot has been a favorite for more than 20 years, serving up exotic specialties in a cozy, casual atmosphere that attracts ASU students, folks from the neighborhood, and ethnic food enthusiasts from across the Valley. True to the restaurant name, scrumptious kabobs reign supreme on the menu, whether you're hungry for marinated filet mignon, top sirloin, ground beef, lamb, chicken, or rainbow trout. They're all expertly grilled and teamed with fragrant, saffron-accented basmati rice. But there's plenty more to feast on — tangy, lemony shirazi salad and creamy eggplant borani, tadig (crispy rice that tastes great with hearty homemade stews), and lip-smacking Persian vanilla ice cream, kissed with rosewater and saffron. Expanding our horizons never tasted so good.

The Dhaba
Courtesy of Dhaba

Biggest clue that The Dhaba's gonna serve up a tasty Punjabi feast? Just look around — this stylish place is almost always packed with young Indian families, who order so many dishes that there's barely room on the tables for their dinner plates. Don't be surprised if you find yourself doing the same thing, especially once you experience the craveworthy chaat, savory northern Indian street snacks that overwhelm your taste buds with hot and cool, sweet and spicy, crunchy and soft. Marinated meats and various flatbreads fresh from the tandoor are equally appealing, along with rich curries and stews simmered in complex, aromatic spices. You won't find some of these unique dishes anywhere else in town, so The Dhaba is a must-try.

Sala Thai Restaurant

Thai food is all the rage in Phoenix — seems new spots are cropping up in every neighborhood these days. From fancy to no-frills, there's something to suit just about any taste and budget, but truth be told, we're fans of a humble hole in the wall called Sala Thai. It's laid-back and affordable, and better yet, the menu is packed with mouthwatering dishes that you won't just find anywhere. How about sliced duck in a coconut-milk-based red curry sauce, or juicy barbecued Thai sausages with sweet chile sauce? The flavors are amazing, and the kitchen is happy to go as "Thai hot" as you dare. Tangy, chile-spiked chicken larb, citrus-y papaya salad, noodle dishes, complex soups, whole fried catfish, and several vegetarian entrees comprise the 100-plus selections. It's a lot to explore, but until we can actually pull off a trip to Thailand, we're happy to eat our way through Sala Thai's stellar menu.

Asian Cafe Express
Heather Hoch

Don't be fooled by the nondescript name — Asian Café Express is all about authentic Hong Kong cuisine, masterfully created by chef-owner Michael Leung. The atmosphere feels a lot like Chinatown, too, from handwritten signs listing specials in English and Chinese to tables full of Chinese customers who make the restaurant bustle at dinner. They're here for chilled five-spice beef, plump pan-fried noodles kissed with heady black bean sauce, whole fish prepared a half-dozen ways, and all sorts of different hot pots, stir-fries, soups, and dumplings. Portions are generous, and prices are a bargain, too. In fact, there's so much to love about Asian Café Express that we routinely bypass our neighborhood Chinese joint to come here for the good stuff.

Yasu Sushi Bistro

Yasu Sushi Bistro may look like a humble neighborhood spot, but fans come from across the Valley for a taste of authentic Japanese cuisine. Exquisite ingredients are chef Yasu Hashino's forte, from pristine seafood to buttery wagyu beef. As the restaurant name suggests, sushi is a big deal at this bistro, and if you snag a seat at the counter, you can't go wrong in Hashino's hands. Cold, briny Kumamoto oysters, silky kampachi, and beautiful ama-ebi (fried heads and all) are just a few of the treats we've sampled here. Beyond the raw fish, though, this place specializes in succulent sumibiyaki grilled dishes, including the best tsukune (chicken meatballs) we've had in the States. And don't miss the list of daily specials, particularly the melt-in-your mouth braised Kurobuta pork belly kakuni. Yep, this hip, laid-back izakaya is truly a delectable little taste of Japan — and to think, it's just a stone's throw from Paradise Valley Mall.

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