Desert at Lux
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux

This coffeehouse/bar long has been popular with the see-and-be-seen crowd, and why not? The place is consistently hoppin' with MacBook-wielding, dressed-to-impress, urbane 20-somethings. Whether you're there for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a craft cocktail, a bite from the ever-changing menu (we love the mac 'n' cheese), or just to chat with friends, you'll be rubbing shoulders with a clientele that is the very definition of "cool." Among the vintage typewriters, artfully placed burlap sacks, mismatched reclaimed furniture, and electronica music playing overhead, you'll find a crowd of young professionals, boho types, downtown students, and people who dig the joint's ability to be upscale without seeming nouveaux riche, esoteric without being pretentious, and tasteful without being bland. In other words, it's our kind of place. And, apparently, yours as well.

Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner

Kai

Kai
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Lots of restaurants boast star and diamond ratings, but only one in Arizona has five of each. This fact, in addition to its unique Native American cuisine, makes this one-of-a-kind restaurant located in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Chandler, the perfect go-to when you've got out-of-town guests in tow. From its beautiful interior and outdoor patio overlooking a dreamy, desert landscape, to exceptional service, to executive chef Michael O'Dowd's stunning fare mixing indigenous ingredients like heirloom squash, saguaro seeds, and nopalitos with gourmet components such as chanterelles, truffles, and foie gras, Kai is an indulgence worth the price. Plus (bonus!), your guests give you the credit for taking them there.

As the food-truck scene in the Valley evolves at a rapid pace, this mobile eatery continues to be one of the best. Joe Webb, a Scottsdale Culinary Institute graduate, and his wife, Margita, a native of the Philippines, cook up Filipino street food on a near-daily basis at various locations around the Valley, including Food Truck Fridays at the Phoenix Public Market and Luhrs Lunch, also in downtown Phoenix. They specialize in lumpia, the delicious fried spring rolls popular on the Southeast Asian islands. Also spectacular is the lechon kawali, or four pieces of pork belly braised for 15 hours and then deep-fried, and pancit, a stir-fried dish consisting of juicy chicken, vegetables, and rice noodles. Much of the meat is cooked on a Filipino-style robata grill and served to you with a mound of rice and sweet-and-sour sauce. The Webbs have a good thing going with their truck, already a mainstay of the Valley's burgeoning food-truck scene.

J&G Steakhouse
Courtesy of J&G Steakhouse

Steak dinner and a sunset? Yes, please. Celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's stylish steakhouse at The Phoenician resort serves up spectacular views of the Valley as well as a selection of premium meats. In an atmosphere more pleasant than posh, diners can enjoy a range of exceptional grilled beefy fare from juicy 18-ounce rib eyes to perfectly prepared 10-ounce, peppercorn-crusted New York steaks to surprisingly tender and wallet-friendly hanger steaks. The cocktails are as remarkable as the meat, so it's best to order both while kicking back and taking in the views from the dining area with its wall-to-ceiling windows or outside on the inviting patio. Okay, you can cue the sunset now.

Pink Pony
Jackie Mercandetti

"Above all, you have to honor the Pony," says Tim Smith, owner of the landmark restaurant in Scottsdale. How so? By keeping what's had folks coming to the baseball-themed-meets-renovated-cosmopolitan restaurant for more than 60 years: slabs of juicy steaks. There's the popular Pink Pony special — a top sirloin with a choice of soup or salad — but the traditional prime rib is still the restaurant's shining star. Available in three cuts, crusted with a pastrami-spice rub, and perfectly pink in the middle, it's a meat lover's dream. And the beef's side of creamy mashed potatoes is just as delectable.

The House at Secret Garden
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.

Citizen Public House

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.

Woodlands Vegetarian South Indian Kitchen
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?

Pomegranate Cafe
Jackie Mercandetti

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.

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Jackie+Mercandetti
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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.

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