Best Dining as Theater 2009 | Binkley's Restaurant | Food & Drink | Phoenix

If you really want to appreciate chef Kevin Binkley's food, be sure to bring your sense of humor to dinner. Binkley, who worked for renowned chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, is undoubtedly serving some of the most creative, sophisticated cuisine that Arizona has to offer, incorporating classical French techniques into his seasonal American menu. But for all the precision and polish of the kitchen, the vibe in the dining room is surprisingly relaxed, brightened with moments of pure delight when guests get the next round of dishes. In between courses that look like artwork on a plate — potatoes adorned with fried sage and thick slices of black truffle, or maple-glazed pork tenderloin nestled with baby zucchini and butternut squash — the waitstaff delivers a flurry of playful amuses bouches that inevitably spark conversation. How about the fruity "lava lamp" shot, served on a color-changing LED coaster, or the tiniest baked potato you've ever seen? It's an experience you won't soon forget.

Robrt Pela

Seems like most hotel eateries fall into one of two categories — the generic, functional spot aimed at people staying there or the fancy fine-dining place geared toward big spenders of any stripe. Gallo Blanco Café, however, is remarkable in that it doesn't feel like it's in a hotel in the first place. In some other city, perhaps, you'd probably find a place like Gallo Blanco on a walkable street full of interesting shops and other indie restaurants, but because this is Phoenix, it sort of makes sense that it's located inside a quirky, locally owned boutique hotel. Chef-owner Doug Robson's menu is distinctive, too, full of the kinds of comforting dishes that recall his Mexico City upbringing, from irresistible street tacos to marinated pollo asado. Perhaps the only reminder that Gallo Blanco's in a hotel is the inclusion of a burger, the ultimate everyman food. And you know what? Even that's pretty darn tasty.

Local Breeze owner Sid Campbell pays homage to the now-defunct Pischke's (where he was a longtime cook) by bringing a laid-back touch of the tropics to the middle of this desert metropolis. Situated in the historic Cavness House, just beyond the heart of downtown, Local Breeze is the perfect antidote to a stressful day, especially if you sit on the sprawling patio. Here, you can while away a lunch hour or a balmy evening stretched out at a big table or lounging on a comfy couch, sipping an ice-cold "mojito" lemonade and feasting on casual American eats. Oversize salads, sandwiches, and burgers are just a few of the possibilities, along with weekend brunch. Sailing away to an island paradise may not be an option for most of us, but thankfully, we can always cruise over to Local Breeze.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

When did fried calamari become so ubiquitous? They're everywhere, practically threatening the dominance of the mighty French fry it seems, served at neighborhood grills and fancy restaurants alike. We're fans, of course, but only when they're done right — and that's the catch. Really fresh squid, gently fried in a delicate batter, is a sublime treat that few kitchens have perfected. Andreoli Italian Grocer is one of those rare finds, which comes as no surprise if you've ever tasted chef-owner Giovanni Scorzo's cooking. We're so squid-crazy, though, that we've moved on to his grilled calamari, lightly marinated, barely charred, and so tender. If you've ever been to the Mediterranean, one bite of this will transport you to a relaxing seaside tavern in a flash. Which is why we can eat the whole plate ourselves.

Classic throwback cocktails like the rum-drenched Mai Tai — invented by Trader Vic's founder Vic Bergeron in the 1940s — deserve to be teamed with retro snacks that are just as stylishly tasty. The Cosmo Tidbits appetizer platter for two is the way to go (unless you're flying solo), with wonton-wrapped crab Rangoon, barbecued pork spareribs, butterflied prawns in a panko coating, and cha siu pork. It's a lot of crispy fried goodness, with an extra helping of mouthwatering meat. A bonus: When you suddenly realize just how easily those fruity, potent tiki drinks go down, Trader Vic's snacks will help you hold your liquor a little longer.

Lauren Saria

When the night's just getting started, we like to fuel up at the new south Scottsdale outpost of Pure Sushi (the original location's up north, at Grayhawk), located in the Scottsdale Civic Plaza. From here, it's an easy walking distance to our favorite nightclubs and watering holes, and Pure's upbeat, ultra-sleek atmosphere gets us ready to get our groove on. (Well-crafted specialty cocktails don't hurt, either.) Creative makizushi like the creamy baked lobster roll and the shiromi lover's roll are fine ways to kick off a night of hedonism, but we're especially fond of the box sushi, with its appealing layers of tuna, salmon, crab mix, and rice speckled with smelt eggs. It's total eye candy, not unlike Pure's good-looking clientele — whom you might meet later on the dance floor.

Wait, we know what you're thinking: bar food? Who goes out for that? Um, we do — at least when that bar is The Roosevelt. Since they serve only stellar craft brews, imports, and interesting wines here, it makes sense that the eats would be equally top-notch. And considering the impeccable taste of the owners (Matt and Erenia Pool, of Matt's Big Breakfast fame), we wouldn't expect anything less.

For their menu of snacks and sandwiches, they've sourced the best of the best — artisanal cheeses, gourmet hot dogs, delicious soft pretzels from MJ Bread, organic local greens for the salad (yep, there's a salad on the menu). Even the humble-sounding grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup are perfection. The Roosevelt may not technically be a restaurant, but it's still one of our favorite places to eat downtown.

We knew Daily Dose was our kind of restaurant as soon as we saw something called the "Hangover Sandwich" on the menu. Because, honestly, we're usually too busy to indulge in a full breakfast during the workweek. But on our days off, we're all about the most important meal of the day, since it's the only thing that revives us after a wild night. And sure enough, the Hangover Sandwich always does the trick, thanks to applewood-smoked bacon, turkey sausage, a fried egg, caramelized jalapeño and onion, melted cheddar, and spicy harissa aioli on sourdough toast. So delish. We're also fond of Daily Dose's seven kinds of eggs Benedict, fluffy omelets, and the decadent banana split pancakes. The coffee's great, too — potent, flavorful, and generously refilled as much as we want. Indeed, this restaurant really lives up to its name.

Evie Carpenter

It's no wonder that the new Postino Central seems to be doing bang-up business every time we stop by. Just as the original Postino transformed the former Arcadia Post Office into a high-style wine bar, Postino Central breathes new life into the cool mid-century building that used to house Katz's Deli. The setting may be completely different, but the spirit is the same. Likewise, the food is just as good, a familiar, scrumptious menu of panini, salads, and the best bruschetta in town, with craveable toppings like white Tuscan bean with pancetta, and prosciutto with figs and mascarpone. We long suspected that the area around Camelback and Central would be the next hotspot for the Phoenix dining scene, and the instant success of Postino Central is all the confirmation we need.

Take our word for it, you won't want to rein yourself in at BLT Steak — nor should you. Glorious excess feels oh-so-right at this contemporary steakhouse, where the allure of sizzling prime beef and expertly prepared seafood is bolstered by French bistro touches, including chicken liver pâté and mouthwatering Gruyère popovers served gratis. It's the brainchild of acclaimed chef Laurent Tourondel (Bon Appetit's Restaurateur of the Year in '07), and it brings a relaxed urban energy to Camelback Inn's desert oasis. The view of Camelback Mountain from BLT's dining room is stunning, making this the perfect setting to celebrate an occasion. In our case, the occasion is usually just blowing our diet and our budget in one luxurious night of eating, drinking, and being merry. Over the top is the only way to go at BLT Steak.

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