Best Sign of Urban Renewal 2011 | Vitamin T | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Local celebrity chef Aaron May thinks there's a lot to like about downtown Phoenix, and he's putting his money where his boca is by placing his latest restaurant concept, Vitamin T, smack dab in the middle of it. Located in the new CityScape complex along with neighbors Stand Up Live and Oakville Grocery Co., Vitamin T (T is for tacos, tortas, tamales, and tequila) serves up affordable and tasty Mexican street food (including breakfast, a recent addition) to hungry folks grabbing food to go or in need of a place to hang before or after an event. Try anything with the pibil (tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder) in it, and make sure to stop by for happy hour — Vitamin T's tequilas know how to celebrate a comeback. Or an arrival, depending on your position on downtown Phoenix.
News flash: Most restaurants in the Valley are trapped in aesthetically challenged strip malls. Many of these restaurants are very, very good. Still, they are in strip malls, which, by definition, are soul-sucking paeans to crass consumerism and ugly land development. Not House of Tricks, an excellent bistro in the heart of Tempe. Situated in two vintage bungalows just blocks away from busy Mill Avenue, House of Tricks is a welcome respite from so much of what defines the Valley architecturally. That alone would make it a romantic destination, but then there's the cozy, candlelit ambiance, the excellent service, and, of course, the food. The contemporary American menu changes with the season, but like any true classic, the quality never changes. Whether you're looking to impress a date, getting a long-overdue night alone with the spouse, celebrating an anniversary, or, hell, even getting ready to pop the proverbial question, House of Tricks knows how to set the mood for romance.
It's not until you're sitting on the cozy balcony of Cave & Ives Portico Grill watching the cars whiz by on Indian School Road that you realize how few second-story eateries there are in the Valley. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But a meal at the new restaurant from the owners of Sacks the Art of Sandwicherie reminds us of all the elevated streetside dining we enjoyed when we lived back east. An indoor-outdoor bar (stocked with numerous local beers) and balcony fireplace (complete with comfy couch and chairs from which to take in the fire) mean this place will be one of our favorite go-to places when the weather's pleasant. The Mediterranean and Italian influence shows up in the décor and tasty food, which includes charcuterie, an artisan cheese plate, several salads, flatbreads, pizzas, pasta dishes, and a wonderful bowl of steamed clams, garlic, and tomato in a white wine sauce. The way we see it, this place is destined to be an Arcadia favorite for years to come.
Courtesy of Chelsea's Kitchen
Not many restaurants boast a patio as inviting as the interior, but Chelsea's Kitchen, the Central Phoenix eatery of comfort foods and the occasional creative dish, manages to do so. On the bank of a canal, the cozy, foliage-heavy outdoor scene makes you forget that busy Camelback Road is just a block away. Spacious yet intimate, the patio nearly as large as the indoor dining area features a wood-burning fireplace, a bustling indoor-outdoor bar, cushion-topped benches, and clusters of tables and chairs. Enjoy an outdoor lunch with friends or, just before the bistro lights turn on, grab a cocktail and take in a swoon-worthy sunset while Sinatra croons an evening lullaby.
Patricia Escarcega
The Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs is perched on high, looking down on Phoenix below, and A Different Pointe of View lets you soak up the desert vibes in a fine-dining atmosphere. Although we recommend sunset for some of the most stunning vistas, there isn't a bad seat in the house any time of day. The outside patio also is a lovely option, provided you aren't afraid of heights, with a huge fire pit and fountain for a bit of extra ambiance. If you want to catch the unforgettable vistas without emptying your pockets — the five-star view comes with five-star prices — order a couple of glasses of wine and an appetizer and feel like a thrifty king.Readers' Choice:
Royal Palms Resort and Spa
Brunch, that magical pairing of breakfast and lunch, is an underrated meal often flippantly associated with the word "buffet." Eye-rollers may want to direct their attention to the Mediterranean Market Buffet at T. Cook's, the cozy restaurant located inside the Royal Palms Resort and Spa. Every Sunday, in an elegant room done up in colonial Spanish architecture — with palm trees literally growing through the roof — patrons pick up an empty plate and make their way to tables laden with fresh fare and custom creations. Breakfast types will enjoy housemade breads and tasty omelets (Hint: Let the chef surprise you with his own creation), while the lunch set will appreciate fresh seafood, grilled veggies, and marinated cheeses. But hey, at $33 a person, who says you need to pick a side? Just make sure you save room for a treat or two from Executive Pastry Chef Travis Watson's tempting dessert selection.
Katie Johnson
Late last year, Aaron May's happenin' breakfast place moved out of its old digs in a refurbed Taco Bell on 40th Street to a considerably bigger spot in a Safeway-anchored strip mall about a mile east on Indian School Road. Even with a bigger space, there still are lines out the door on the weekends. No wonder. Over Easy is one of the best breakfast joints in this part of town — or any part of town, for that matter. Whether you're with the family (the kids will dig the bright and whimsical interior, replete with framed pictures of old-school Disney characters) or nursing a hangover with your buddies, it's tough to go wrong with the cheese and jalapeño biscuits and gravy, housemade corned beef hash, outstanding breakfast sandwiches, gut-busting pancakes and waffles, and our personal favorite, the spicy (and filling) chilaquiles. You're going to pay a little more than you might at a mom 'n' pop bacon-and-egger, but for morning munchies this good, it's worth it.
If coffee's not enough to wake you up in the morning, try a pop of color — in the form of the hot-pink furniture and shocking green wall of moss at Province, the restaurant in the brand-new Downtown Westin. When the Sheraton opened down the block a couple of years ago, there was a lot of hoopla, but no one said much when the Westin quietly opened its doors a few months back. We'll say it: This place is way cool! And a great way to start your day. We love the airy lobby (and the airy rooms — we hear the place was originally designed as an office building, meaning higher ceilings) and the funky style, which begins with cool green glass tiles where we stop to valet (free, if you're there to eat) and continues on, particularly in the restaurant. We also love the breakfast menu at Province, which features a mix of old and new favorites, including whole wheat waffles, a Spanish tortilla scramble, and crispy turkey sausage. A friend swooned over housemade cherry scones with whipped butter. Best of all? The coffee kept on coming.
Tucked at the back of The Farm at South Mountain, Morning Glory is our favorite way to start the day when we're in this part of town. You can go with the light fruit and granola or pig out on anything from a down-home "cowboy" breakfast of chili and eggs (with griddled bread!) or white truffle scrambled eggs with fresh local veggies. Best of all (except maybe for mimosas with fresh-squeezed orange juice) is the casual, red-and-white-checked tablecloth atmosphere. Morning Glory bills itself as "Phoenix's only breakfast on a farm," and, come to think of it, they might be right. Just be sure not to visit in the summertime. These folks are civilized — they close for the hottest months of the year.
Sweet potato tots for breakfast? We must be at Tryst Café. We love this place. Everything is reasonably priced, there are plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options, and they offer organic mimosas and bloodies. We like the buttermilk flapjacks and Belgian waffles, and if it's a decadent kind of day, Tryst lets you smother them in bananas foster, strawberry cheesecake, or candied walnuts. The Hawaiian breakfast with smoked kalua pork is also a welcome twist on traditional breakfast. Just don't forget that side of tots!

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