Ocean Trail at Talking Stick Resort
Courtesy of Orange Sky

We wouldn't have thought the path to great seafood was lined with slot machines, but this 19-seat seafood bar serving New Orleans-style cuisine inside Talking Stick, the resort and casino in Scottsdale, has us feeling lucky. Kicking up the seafood scene with offerings such as seafood Creole, Louisiana gumbo, and Cajun-style boils, this sleek ocean oasis offers an as-you-like-it spiciness level between one and 10, as well as a front-row seat to its open cooking station. Belly up to the bar and order a giant iced seafood platter filled with delectable shrimp, crab, oysters, mussels, and clams or a steaming, hot bowl of crawfish in a rich lobster-citrus broth topped with a scoop of dirty rice. Get there for a Fat Tuesday event, and you can wash your ocean fare down with a $4 Hurricane, the signature drink of New Orleans.

Plenty of Valley restaurants are BYOB, but we can't think of too many that are BYOS (bring your own seafood). That's right. At this Mesa eatery, you can bring in your own seafood, and the restaurant does all the heavy lifting for you. There seemingly is no limit to what can be done with your very own catch of the day. For a mere $5, the cooks will take no more than two pounds of fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, even sea cucumber, then clean and prep it, and cook it via stir-fry, deep-fry, steaming, or boiling with your choice of more than two dozen different sauces, from curry to satay to black bean. And for an extra $2, they'll add veggies, other meat, rice, lo mein, or egg fried rice. The best part? Your kitchen won't smell like fish and, of course, they'll do the dishes, too.

Hiro Sushi
Jamie Peachey

No flash and trendiness-free, this cozy, easy-to-love mom-and-pop restaurant in North Scottsdale with a loyal following of regulars specializes in sushi. Order up top-notch selections like mild striped bass, aji nigiri (Spanish mackerel) drizzled with ponzu, uni (sea urchin), or specialty rolls such as the Negi Toro made with fatty tuna and scallions. Better yet, try anything on the get-it-while-you-can specials board behind the sushi bar. There, you might find exotic delights such as geso (squid tentacles), jellyfish, and wasabi octopus, or even the playful Sammy Roll (named for Takashi Saito of the Arizona Diamondbacks) featuring sliced avocado over a lobster and mango roll and topped with a special homemade eel sauce. Don't forget to break up the sushi bites with sips of sake — there's no hurry here.

Hana Japanese Eatery
Lauren Saria

At some sushi restaurants, you wouldn't dare utter the words "I don't eat fish." But at Lori Hashimoto's Hana, you can feel free to let your non-fish flag fly — you'll even be rewarded. On a recent trip, we happily sampled Hana's veggie rolls while our dining companion scarfed down everything from halibut to octopus, munched on a salad called tori kara age (mixed greens with crispy chicken, topped with Hana's tangy house dressing), and already were feeling stuffed when an off-menu item hit the table. The gyuniku tempura roll was so good we had to ask Hashimoto just what the heck was in it.

Her reply: "It is a thinly sliced rib eye marinated with sake, soy sauce and ginger. It is tempura-battered and deep-fried, then rolled with daikon, red cabbage, carrots, and shiso inside, then topped with sautéed garlic, green onions and tataki sauce."Now this, folks, is Japanese eating at its finest. Our biggest problem: The guy across the table suddenly lost interest in his fishy pursuits, stuck his chopsticks across the table and dug right into our steak roll.
Over Easy
Katie Johnson

Chef Aaron May is known around town for over-the-top dishes, like the fried quail and PB&J Foie Gras at his new restaurant Praying Monk, but our very favorite May creation is still the Bananas Foster French Toast served at Over Easy. As seen on the Food Network, this decadent French toast takes soft MJ brioche, bathes it in eggs, cream, and cinnamon, grills it to a golden brown, and then smothers the decadent slices of bread in housemade salted caramel, ripe bananas, and toasted pecans. There's always a weekend wait, but it's worth it for a bite of this famous dish.

Pane Bianco
Heather Hoch

Phoenix is full of great places to grab a sandwich, but there is only one Pane Bianco. This CenPho sandwich shop has a minimal menu of just three mainstay sandwiches, three salads, and a rotating market sandwich. We've tried them all and never left disappointed. What sets these sandwiches apart from the competition is Bianco's famous bread, made with flour milled on the premises by Hayden Flour Mill (and grown in Arizona — talk about local). The chewy, wood-fired slices always arrive just slightly charred on the edges and make the perfect vehicle for fresh sandwich ingredients. Try Pane's version of a Caprese sandwich, with fresh pulled mozzarella, thick ripe tomatoes, and fresh basil, or the Sopressata, filled with layers of spicy salami and roasted red peppers. And if you happen to be in the area on a Tuesday, stop by for the delicious market combination of Crow's Dairy goat cheese with roasted ripe tomatoes and peppery arugula.

O.H.S.O. Eatery & NanoBrewery
Heather Hoch

Arcadia's number-one neighborhood spot for craft beer drinking also serves up a damn good grilled cheese. No, there aren't massive amounts of exotic cheeses or 10 slices of artisan bread imported from France, and it doesn't have any sort of specialty mustard from a cave in Germany — but it does have two perfectly grilled slices of fresh Italian bread, two types of melty cheese, applewood smoked bacon, and two thick slices of juicy tomatoes. Order it with a side of rich tomato basil soup and a refreshing pint of one of the eatery's 36 craft beers on tap.

Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
Timur Guseynov

The secret to amazing fried chicken is big, juicy, meaty chicken pieces, a coating that fries up nice and crispy, a secret recipe from your grandmother who's been making awesome fried chicken for more than half a century, and a whole lot of soul. It doesn't hurt to pair your chicken with a couple crazy-good waffles either. Larry "Lo-Lo" White (grandson of Mrs. White, whose own restaurant gets this year's nod for soul food) has been getting this combination right for the last decade with his addictively good "Southern-style" fried chicken and cinnamon-spiced waffles. Each plate of chicken is cooked to order and always comes out golden brown and crispy, and the waffles are the perfect vehicle for moving the sweet maple syrup into your mouth between crunchy chicken bites. It's about as perfect as fried chicken can get. Plus, Lo-Lo's serves Kool-aid — the essential beverage for your chicken and waffle experience.

New York Flavor

How does one pick the best hamburger? With so many good ones in the Valley, it's like choosing a favorite child. But once in a while, a dark horse enters the race and pleasantly jolts you as you consider the possibilities of the Scottsdale/Central Phoenix/Tempe axis. This year, the honor takes us alllll the way up to Surprise (yes, Surprise), where we fell in love with New York Flavor's basil mascarpone burger. With its nicely seasoned and well-prepared handmade beef patty between a grilled soft bun from Tempe's Jonathan Robins Bakery topped with luscious mascarpone, caramelized onions, moist strips of grilled portobello mushrooms, and long, vibrantly flavored ribbons of basil, we were satisfyingly stunned. Sure, there are a lot of other good items on the restaurant's menu, but it's the burger we're thinking about on the long drive home.

Pittsburgh Willy's

For a taste of Pittsburgh by way of the Merchant Square Antique Mall in Chandler, we present the Wild Willy, a glorious gut-buster of a dog courtesy of ex-Pittsburgher Randy Walters. Starting with a quarter-pound, all-beef dog from Nathan's tucked into a sesame bun, chipped ham (a Steel City staple) sautéed in butter is piled on next, with mounds of fresh-grated cheddar cheese to follow for a marvelous mess of deliciousness you'll need a fork to eat.

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