La Piazza Al Forno

If soft-centered, real-deal Neopolitan pizzas are your thing, then this bustling little spot in downtown Glendale (complete with a stamp of approval from the Italian trade group Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana) is your place. And by the looks of the line out the door on Friday and Saturday nights, just about everyone else's in town, too. You'll want the Bianca, pulled from the brick oven when its clumps of ricotta have melted and the crust is charred and crisp at the rim — or perhaps the Dolce Diavolo made with fiery Calabrian chiles and honey. And if the restaurant has offered one of its specials — perhaps the fried pizza known as Montanara — well, then, it seems you have some tough decisions ahead.

Spinato's Pizza

This family-owned local of chain of pizzerias has been flipping dough in the Valley just shy of 40 years, amassing a loyal following of fans along the way. And with good reason. Its excellent old-school Chicago-style pies are delicately crunchy, dutifully slathered with a sweet housemade sauce, and cut into squares. Don't miss Mamma Spinato's "Signature" Fresh Spinach, a glorious pie starring baby spinach marinated in the family's secret seasoning, Roma tomatoes, handfuls of garlic, and — naturally — a generous layer of mozzarella.

Lamp churns out red and white artisan pies that are delicate yet able to be laden with top-notch ingredients.
Jackie Mercandetti
Lamp churns out red and white artisan pies that are delicate yet able to be laden with top-notch ingredients.

Lamp chef-owner Matt Pilato doesn't quite adhere to the strict Neapolitan pizza standard he learned at the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli Academy in San Francisco, but when the pizza's this good, who cares? Combining Neapolitan techniques with his own style, Pilato features nearly 20 varieties of red and white artisan 12-inch pies served up in a restaurant that's as casually refined as the neighborhood. Each is delicate but still laden with top-notch ingredients and features a bready crust, charred and crisp at the rim and thin and soft in the center.

Best Neighborhood Pizza, Southeast Valley

Big Boy's Pizza

Big Boy's giant pizza
Hanefeld
Big Boy's giant pizza

Husband-and-wife team Dennis and Vickie Heath like their pizzas big. How big? Along with the standard 14-, 16-, and 18-inch pies, this friendly Mesa joint features a 28-inch monster nearly the size of a kiddy pool. Then there are the three-buck slices, which are more like pizzas shaped like a slice and served with their own pizza cutter. Sure, it ain't the gourmet stuff; but with a crispy, not too chewy, and nicely seasoned homemade crust, signature sauce, and fresh toppings, we're not complaining — we're goin' supersize.

Zinc Bistro
David Holden

We're hard-pressed to find much we don't like about Zinc Bistro, the French cafe in Kierland Commons, but the piece de resistance is most definitely the house French fries. This summer, we sent an intern into the field in search of hamburgers, and naturally he wound up with several sides of fries. About Zinc's, he wrote: "The house fries, deep-fried to a light golden-brown, were tossed in marjoram and seasoned with smoked paprika for a little kick. And on the side of the mountainous serving came a creamy smoked paprika aioli, which is absolutely heavenly on a fry." Normally we try to refrain from using the word "heavenly" to describe food, but in this case we must agree.

J.T.'s Bar & Grill

Like nearly every food-slinging tavern in town, J.T.'s makes the obligatory wings. But this tiny bar on the western edge of Arcadia nails the three key aspects of them — meat, sauce, and preparation — like no one else in the Valley. They are big enough so that they don't easily overcook. The sauces are comfortably salty, not too sweet, and nowhere near goopy. And they are lightly deep-fried, tossed in one of three sauces, and then placed on a grill to get a nice char. Someday, we may get around to ordering just a dozen of them — but not today.

Petite Maison

Canadian cookbook author Cynthia Wine once described poutine as "an amazing concoction of French fries, cheese, and gravy." No one may understand that sentiment more than chef James Porter, who's given the popular street food of Montreal a delicious gourmet twist at his cozy French bistro in Scottsdale. Featuring golden pommes frites sprinkled with truffled cheese curds and lightly topped with veal gravy, it's a crispy, squeaky, and pretty much hopelessly addictive (and even elegant) way to enjoy one of Canada's most delicious imports since Ryan Gosling.

Desert at Lux
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux

Most menu items at this Central Phoenix coffee shop are short-lived — Lux's chefs like to keep you on your toes — but we've never stopped by for lunch and not found mac 'n' cheese on the menu. This version is basic — a cheesy carb overload (in a good way) with the option of thick-cut bacon and jalapeños. It's rich and satisfying and can be paired with coffee, tea (we recommend the iced hibiscus), or a cocktail from the bar. If you're really throwing calorie caution to the wind, grab a pastry, too. Just be careful not to drip cheese on your laptop keyboard. The clerks at the Mac store hate that.

Zulu Caffe

If the idea of the best mac 'n' cheese in the Valley coming out of the Scottsdale Airport seems a bit of a stretch, consider its source: chef Brian Ford, who made his name working at the highly respected Quiessence in South Phoenix for 10 years before calling this unassuming cafe home. Turning the oftentimes heavy cholesterol load into a surprisingly light gourmet meal, Ford's mac 'n' cheese creations are sometimes made with a trio of fontina, aged cheddar, and Parmesan, sometimes kicked up with roasted poblano peppers, and almost always topped with local ham or bacon and buttered bread crumbs. And because the cafe sits in view of the airport's runways, you can enjoy your mac 'n' cheese with a side of aero-entertainment.

Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
Heather Hoch

Few ingredient pairings have reached the dynamic duo-ness that is chicken and waffles. But then Larry "Lo-Lo" White, the grandson of Mrs. White of the legendary Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe, has known that all along. Pairing his grandmother's one-of-a-kind crispy and tender Southern-style fried chicken with cinnamon-dusted waffles (and plenty of syrup), White's toothsome twosome is so popular he opened a second location in Scottsdale, moved into bigger digs next door to his original home in South Phoenix, and inspired one Phoenician to submit chicken and waffles as a flavor combination for a new Lay's potato chip. Now that's soul food status worth sticking a fork into.

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