Mastro's Ocean Club
Courtesy of Mastro's Ocean Club

From sushi to ceviche, we'll devour most any seafood dish that lands in front of us. And it doesn't always have to be exotic. There's a certain old-school charm to a traditional seafood restaurant like Mastro's Ocean Club, where fish is simply prepared — perhaps pan-fried, perhaps mesquite-grilled — to emphasize its freshness. Give it just a squeeze of lemon juice, and we're good. Between Ocean Club's regular menu and the daily specials, there are easily 20 different kinds of seafood to choose from, including succulent sautéed sea scallops and moist red snapper. And be sure to check out the iced seafood tower, heaped with crab claws, oysters, caviar, or whatever else floats your boat. It all may sound totally decadent, but Ocean Club's ritzy atmosphere, live music, happening lounge scene, and well-crafted martinis will put you in the mood to go overboard. Ahoy!

Durant's

A whole lot of upscale, contemporary steakhouses have opened up in town over the past couple of years — especially from celebrity chefs looking to make an imprint on the Valley's dining scene — and we're not entirely sure that the trend has subsided. People love their meat, and they're always looking for new ways to enjoy it. But even though we're happy to get our steak fix at the newest trendy steakhouses, we're still loyal to Durant's after all these years. There are good reasons this place is such a time-honored Valley destination, after all. With flocked red wallpaper and those big, dark booths, the atmosphere is pure Rat Pack glam, perfect for knocking back a martini or two, chowing down on a classic Caesar salad done right, and reveling in the glory of red meat. Whether it's a perfectly medium-rare New York strip, a thick rib eye, or a Porterhouse that weighs in at a whopping 48 ounces, it always satisfied our most primal, carnivorous urges. For us, that's something that'll never go out of style.

J&G Steakhouse
Courtesy of J&G Steakhouse

Honestly, we figured we'd get tired of the upscale steakhouse trend, but then J&G Steakhouse came along and completely seduced us with outrageously good prime steaks and a sexy, inviting atmosphere. No wonder Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the celebrity chef behind the J&G concept, helms a lineup of Michelin-starred eateries around the world. When The Phoenician resort teamed up with Vongerichten to replace the aging Mary Elaine's with this new spot, they transformed the dining room into a sleek, sophisticated space that shows off a truly incredible view of the Valley through a wall of windows. It's just the right setting to dig into spectacular steaks, like perfectly cooked prime rib, or a remarkably juicy New York strip with a six-peppercorn crust. When we need to satisfy our lust for red meat, J&G sweeps us away every time.

Best Contemporary American Cuisine

NOCA

Noca
Evie Carpenter

Some restaurants take years to refine their food and service, but NOCA came sprinting out of the gates and hasn't looked back. In February, it was named one of the best new restaurants in the country by the James Beard Foundation. Now barely over a year old, it's still got strong buzz, thanks to the efforts of restaurateur Eliot Wexler and executive chef Chris Curtiss. While Wexler dotes on first-timers and regular customers alike, Curtiss dreams up dishes with the freshest ingredients he can get his hands on, whether it's seafood from the same purveyor that the French Laundry uses, or organic produce straight from local farms. The menu changes frequently, but it always balances classic (duck confit, handmade pasta) and cutting-edge (sea urchin panna cotta). It's a melting pot of influences, to be sure, but upscale takes on American favorites like the pastrami sandwich (here, made with wagyu) keep NOCA firmly planted on U.S. soil. Once you dine here, don't be surprised if you pledge allegiance.

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.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of