Karaikudi Palace
Jackie Mercandetti

What's better than an exceptional Indian restaurant with one chef? An exceptional Indian restaurant with three of them. Thanks to a trio of culinary school chums from India, this pleasant little spot in Scottsdale serves up vibrant South Indian dishes like a smoky and spicy curry of baby eggplants stuffed with onions and spices; fish cooked in coconut sauce with red onions and green chilies; and thin and crispy stuffed dosas, the crispy-hot Indian-style crepes. Packed with handfuls of ingredients like chiles, tamarind, ginger, cumin, and cardamom, Karaikudi is one palace that doesn't pull back when it comes to the spice.

GreekTown Restaurant
Lauren Cusimano

For a lesson in restaurant longevity, consider Greektown in Sunnyslope. After five decades, George Vassilou's welcoming and often boisterous eatery may not have changed much in décor, but the classic Greek dishes, hailing from recipes passed down by Vassilou's grandmother, are as fresh and flavorful as ever. There are the dolmades and spanakopita, of course, as well as loaded plates of lasagna-esque pastitsio, char-grilled lamb chops, and the shrimp Grigori, which includes prawns stuffed with rock crab. And if you want to spike your meal Greek-style with one of nearly two dozen kinds of ouzo — including a devilish moonshine version — Greektown is the place to do it.

Hummus Xpress
Laura Hahnefeld

Mediterranean eats served up Subway style is the tasty idea behind this excellent, fast-casual, and wallet-friendly spot in Tempe. Helmed by Lebanese-born chef-owner Ahmed "Eddie" Hantas, Hummus Xpress lets Med fans pick their food vehicle (pita, bowl, or plate) before moving on to top-notch choices of signature sauces such as the Yemeni hot sauce called shug, seasoned grilled meats, and veggie delights like sauteéd broccoli with the wild thyme called za'atar. Have Hantas run the gamut for you for a more unique creation and don't dare miss his outstanding falafels — crunchy on the outside with a hint of Southwestern flair from Mexican chili powder, they're made from a recipe Hantas says took months to perfect.

Imperial Market & Deli
Allison Trebacz

This nearly 10-year-old family-owned spot of cured meats and comfort foods makes sure you don't sit shiva when it comes to finding outstanding Jewish delicatessen favorites. Stop by for stacked sandwiches like pastrami, salami, and corned beef tongue served up with cole slaw or chunky potato salad (pickle included, of course); a steaming bowl of matzo ball soup; or the Imperial Burger bulked out with grilled pastrami. Since you're also in a full-service kosher market with products from New York City, California, and Israel, chances are you'll browse the aisles of kosher wines, meats, and baked goods for a few take-home treats.

A penchant for premium ingredients is what makes Dolce Vita Italian Grocer so distinctive.
Jackie Mercandetti
A penchant for premium ingredients is what makes Dolce Vita Italian Grocer so distinctive.

What makes Walter and Marti Bergamaschi's tiny, unassuming grocery and Northern Italian-based eatery in east Mesa so exceptional is the same penchant for premium ingredients that makes the gelato sold in their space next door so first-rate. The bruschetta is as simple and fresh as classic bruschetta can get, the sandwiches are made with items like parmacotto ham and smoked prosciutto exemplary, and the housemade ravioli is lusciously filled with delights such as fresh vegetables, herbs, and savory beef. Take the tastes home by picking up a boutique olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or one of several rare cheeses and cured meats.

Crudo
Crudo

Crudo is an Italian restaurant speakeasy of sorts: a welcoming escape hidden in the back of a shopping plaza in Arcadia where notable chef Cullen Campbell, who cooked at the James Beard House this year, transforms first-rate ingredients into expertly crafted modern Italian dishes. The ever-changing menu may include raw ahi tuna with smoked olives, lemon, and egg; caramelized onion and bacon relish served with fresh mozzarella; and Campbell's luscious squid-ink risotto. Pair the meal with a cocktail or glass of wine from Crudo bar owner Micah Olson and you'll see why this hidden haven of Italian fare feels like the secret that's hard to keep.

Andreoli Italian Grocer
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

At some point, perhaps over an afternoon sandwich of top-notch porchetta seasoned with garlic, fennel, and black pepper, or an evening meal of luscious seafood risotto followed by a homemade cannoli, you're going to ask yourself if there is anything chef Giovanni Scorzo doesn't do exceptionally well at his well-heeled Italian market and restaurant in North Scottsdale. There are the pizzas, soft and pillowy and topped with things like lobster, artichoke, and truffle oil; the delicious offal and Florentine-style tripe served occasionally; and fried potatoes and leeks with a creamy and tangy dipping sauce that seem to vanish from the plate. Thankfully, you'll have to keep eating for the answer.

Pizzeria Bianco

Let's face it — the wait at the original Pizzeria Bianco location downtown is as legendary as its gourmet pies (okay, the added lunch hours helped a little). So this year, the pizzeria's celebrated pie master Chris Bianco decided to do something about it. By reconfiguring the space for his Italian restaurant, Trattoria Bianco, at Town & Country Shopping Center, Bianco launched a second location of his venerated pizzeria. The menu offers the same six primo pizzas as the downtown location plus antipasti, a market salad, and a special or two. And since Bianco debuted the original Pizzeria Bianco in the same plaza in 1994, ordering up a Wiseguy or a Sonny Boy seems like a delectable slice of history.

No neighborhood's complete without a decent spot to score a slice — and North Phoenix residents have Joe and Myrah Aiello to thank for theirs. Pizza fans can choose from signature creations like the garlicky Nana and the creamy spinach Alfredo or customize their own with toppings like Joe's famous meatballs, eggplant, and hot Fresno peppers, served up Neopolitan-style (thin with a crispy crust) or Sicilian-style (thick with a bread-y crust). And because Isa's connects to Aiello's Salumeria next door, pairing your slice with an antipasto or Caprese salad is as easy as pizza pie.

Best Neighborhood Pizza, Central Phoenix

Federal Pizza

Federal's food is not so much reinvented as it is crafted with expert care.
Jackie Mercandetti
Federal's food is not so much reinvented as it is crafted with expert care.

Who to bring on board when you're planning a lively new pizza joint? If you're restaurateurs Craig DeMarco and Lauren Bailey (Postino, Windsor, Joyride Taco House), it's Valley master baker MJ Coe. Featuring a light and crispy outer crust with a thick, puffy edge, a slightly chewy interior, and a harmonious flavor balance of toppings, the best of Coe's 12 pizza creations might be the Casanova, a robust mix of flavors and textures courtesy of prosciutto, dates, ricotta, arugula, and Pecorino cheese. Like surprises? Order up the Chef's Whim and let Federal craft its latest flavor craze just for you.

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