Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant 2012 | House at Secret Garden | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti

Don't blame us if this historical, Spanish-style South Mountain mansion built in 1929 is one you never want to leave. Outside, the tucked-away gem surrounded by stately trees and lush vegetation boasts a barn turned wine bar, perfect for al fresco dining by a roaring fireplace under a star-studded sky. Inside, the cozy, wood-floored dining area, with a stately wooden bar, coved ceiling, and subdued lighting, is sit-back-and-relax perfect. And thankfully, its contemporary American cuisine, made with local and organic ingredients courtesy of chef Dustin Christofolo (who owns the restaurant with mom Pat, who operates the Farm at South Mountain), is impressive enough to justify frequent visits.

Tirion Boan

From former Cowboy Ciao chef Bernie Kantak, this stylish yet relaxed Scottsdale establishment serving classic American fare — with a twist of the unexpected — is pure culinary bliss. From standout starters like the luscious pork belly pastrami and the Original Chopped Salad (so popular it has its own Facebook page) to perfectly plated entrees like pan-seared scallops and coffee-rubbed short ribs in cherry barbecue sauce to dreamy desserts courtesy of Tracy Dempsey, few dishes fall short of exceptional. And with its late-night hours, pairing dinners, and the new Citizen R&D (the restaurant's upstairs speakeasy, where partner and mixologist Richie Moe carries on his reputation of making some of the most inventive and supremely satisfying cocktails in the Valley), there are even more reasons to make Citizen Public House one of your favorite go-tos.

Heather Hoch

If you'd rather bite into a hunk of raw meat than pick away at another dish of tofu pudding, perhaps it's time to beat the vegetarian blues with a spicy little trip to this quick-serve and crazy-cheap vegetarian South Indian eatery in Chandler. If the fact that the clientele is mostly Indian doesn't sell you on the place, the dishes will. From the familiar to the give-it-a-whirl strange, choose from a selection of items like vadas (deep-fried patties), curries, dosas (gigantic rice and lentil crepes), rice specialties, and uthappam (rice and lentil pancakes) — or go sample-style with a combo special at lunchtime. There's even a chutney bar to have a little fun with. Most everything's got heat to it, but not so much that the flavors are sacrificed — or that a few sips from a glass of the yogurt-based drink mango lassi won't extinguish. Ahh, now isn't that better?

The best thing about this cute little eatery in Ahwatukee, owned and operated by mother-daughter team Marlene and Cassie Tolman, is the emphasis on tasty, healthy food. The fact that everything is vegan just happens to be a bonus for those who eat that way. Sure, the Tolmans source locally from surrounding farms and Valley businesses, ensure their fruits and vegetables are organic, offer gluten-free options, and make their vegan pastries and raw treats from scratch using natural sweeteners, but it's the deliciousness of the dishes that keeps us coming back for more. Open for breakfast and lunch, vegans and non-vegans alike can fill up on a.m. eats plus stellar sandwiches, soups, salads, and bowls washed down with primo smoothies in jars. We're especially partial to the wrap made of collard leaves called the Rainbow; the Grilled Cheese Napoleon with a lovely macadamia basil pesto; and the Super Green Kale Salad topped with crispy flax crackers. What, no meat or cheese? We hadn't even noticed.


Whether it was by slim chance or sheer accident that chef Walter Salazar came to Tempe from Tucson last year to take over ownership of Villa Peru just as the world's obsession with Peruvian cuisine was peaking, the Valley's lucky to have him. Along with members of his family, all originally from Lima, Salazar serves up a menu based on traditional Peruvian cuisine in a cozy, carpeted room with the occasional travel video of Peru running on a flatscreen TV. The restaurant's absence of liquor means an absence of pisco, the grape brandy and national drink of Peru, to accompany the fare, but dishes of Salazar's popular ceviche, the cold potato appetizer causa de langostinos, the Peruvian-style comfort food known as chili chicken or ají de gallina, and the exotic taste of lucuma ice cream frequently make their way out of the kitchen and onto tables anyway, keeping the obsession alive and our taste buds tingling.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

For more than 40 years, this unassuming stand-alone spot a few blocks east of Chase Field has remained one of downtown Phoenix's best restaurants for comfort food. And in recent years, it's caught the attention of various TV food shows, giving the humble little eatery some much-deserved props. You'd be hard-pressed to find better fried chicken — golden and crispy with juicy, delectable meat — in Phoenix. Of course, there's other excellent, stick-to-your-ribs Southern food as well, like fried catfish, grits and greens, pork chops, and chicken-fried steak. With plenty of homespun charm to complement the delicious grub, here's hoping Mrs. White (yes, there really is a Mrs. White running this place) sticks around for another four decades doing what she and her family do best: whipping up soul-satisfying food.

Lauren Cusimano

Unlike the One Percenters, the majority of us can't jet-set off to Hawaii for a swanky luau when we're having a case of the Mondays. For our money, and there's not a lot of it, we get our tropical taste on at this little gem in Mesa that's been serving up fast-casual Hawaiian eats for over 25 years. We love the island-style favorites like luscious kalua pork, tasty saimin (an Asian-style noodle soup served with Japanese fish cakes), and savory, fist-sized filled dough balls called manapua. And if your aloha spirit needs some super-sizing, specials, in the form of loaded plates of Hawaiian eats for under 10 bucks, are served up throughout the week. Many thanks, Aloha Kitchen — or should we say, mahalo nui.


When it comes to Dongbei cai, the food of northeastern China, this humble eatery in Chandler may be the only one of its kind in the Valley. Originally from the province of Liaoning, owners Tong Rizzo and Ping Chou serve a menu of unique and comforting dishes from a selection-packed, near-descriptionless menu. Given the language barrier here, the menu may be tough to navigate, but the welcoming service and wallet-friendly prices make it a culinary journey worth taking. Like dough? It's homemade here, from behind a glass window, and comes in the form of plump filled dumplings, fried buns, and tasty meat pies, which Rizzo calls "Chinese hamburgers." Don't miss cold items like spicy noodles and the cryptic "green bean jelly with vegetables" (the northeastern Chinese version of a Cobb salad), and warm and rustic creations like the eggplant, potato, and pepper stir-fry and chicken, wild mushroom, and potato warm pot.

It's late and you're hungry. Do you really want another gut bomb like pizza and burgers at 11 p.m.? No, you want something a tad more healthful, like, say the Korean food at this late-night gem in the West Vally. By day, the restaurant is a quiet nook — complete with three enclosed privacy-friendly booths — serving fresh, delicious, and affordable traditional Korean cuisine (and a few Chinese-based dishes with a Korean twist). But after 10 p.m., the restaurant feels more like a Koreatown bar, serving karaoke and soju along with the eats until 2 a.m. every night but Sunday. We love the housemade noodles and signature dishes, as well as such Korean favorites as duk boki (seafood pancakes), Korean fried chicken, the stir-fry dish jap chae, or a variety of soups and stews, like the spicy and seafood-heavy cham pong, a boiling pot of Korean stew with tofu called haemul soon du bu, or the cold noodle dish naeng myun. This place truly is one of our favorites in the West Valley, no matter if it's the sun or moon you see in the sky.

What's better than dinner and a movie? Thai food at Yupha's and a cheap flick at Pollack Tempe Cinemas. Thanks to owner and Bangkok native Yupha Dequenne, we can score tasty Thai dishes pre- or post-show time at her easygoing restaurant right next door to the cinema. We're partial to the kanom jeeb (potstickers), drunken noodles served up Thai hot, and Yupha's stellar red curry made with bamboo shoots, eggplant, bell pepper, string beans, and Thai basil. Plus, there's fried bananas with ice cream for dessert. Our one regret: We still haven't found a way to sneak our Thai iced tea into the theater.

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