Merenghata Semifreddo and Mascarpone Cheesecake at Franco's Italian Caffe
Nikki Buchanan
Merenghata Semifreddo and Mascarpone Cheesecake at Franco's Italian Caffe

Italian-born chef Franco Fazzuoli truly makes you feel like family when you dine at his Scottsdale restaurant. In 2012, the chef returned to the Valley after leaving for a stint in New York and opened the cozy Franco's Italian Caffe. You'll often see Fazzuoli wandering between the tables and bustling in and out the kitchen amid plates of pasta and incredible desserts. One of our favorite dishes is the pasta erbe aromatiche, which combines handmade strozzapreti pasta with a light sauce made of white wine and just a touch of cream. The namesake aromatic herbs are what make the dish so stunning. You'll be able to smell them as soon as the plate arrives at your table.

For Phoenicians who grew up on the west side, having the city's best Italian deli practically in your backyard was a pleasant perk. For everyone else who liked authentic Italian baked goods or needed a nicer ricotta for their Easter pie, it meant driving farther. Because Romanelli's is it, where Italian delis are concerned. Home of Boar's Head brand everything (hot dogs, sauerkraut, ham), several imported Parmesans, and wheels of smoked mozzarellas, Romanelli's doesn't stop at capicola or spinach pies. Its full-service bakery offers cannoli, tiramisu, and sfogiatelle so authentic, you'll think you're in Pisa. The friendly staff also caters events and will be happy to help you determine the difference between hard Romano and harder Romano. When in Phoenix, head to Romanelli's!

Sometimes it's hard to know whether what you're ordering is truly "authentic" unless you've traveled to the source and tasted a dish when it was created. Fortunately, that is not the case when you order a Neapolitan pizza at downtown Phoenix's La Piazza PHX. The restaurant, the second from the man behind downtown Glendale's La Piazza al Forno, is certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana, an Italian nonprofit organization that protects the culture of true artisan Neapolitan pizzas around the world. The menu of 16 excellent thin-crust pizzas includes the Regina Margherita D.O.C., made with the highest-quality ingredients money can buy. The flash-baked crust, near-perfect with its blackened crust and chewy interior, comes layered with with San Marzano tomatoes D.O.P., mozzarella di bufala, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil to create a pizza unlike any you've had before — at least here in the States.

Mamma Mia Original Pizza & Subs

For more than a decade, this Valley favorite — particularly the original location in Arcadia — has been satisfying our cravings for a quick slice. The homey atmosphere and friendly staff and consistently delicious Italian cuisine are great, but we come here because, instead of offering two or three heat-lamped cheese or pepperoni choices, Mamma Mia features a generous sampling of by-the-slice flavors here. Sticking around for a whole pie isn't a bad idea, either, because Mamma Mia offers pizzas topped with eggplant, broccoli, ricotta — all kinds of rare and delicious stuff you won't find at your chain store. Thank you, Frankie and staff, for elevating a slice to a real meal deal!

Sweet, squeaky cheese curds. We fell in love with Arizona Cheese Co. at first bite. Though there aren't many people making cheese in the Phoenix area right now, Arizona Cheese is representing well with its regular and spicy jalapeño-flecked cheese curds, as well as cheddar, Monterey jack, and pepper jack cheeses. You can find the addicting, eat-the-whole-bag-in-one-sitting jalapeño cheese curds at many local grocers and farmers markets including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Tempe Farmers Market, Old Town Farmers Market, and Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market. But be warned: You will probably find it impossible to stop scarfing cheese curds once you start.

Az 88
Natalie Miranda

From Little Caesar's on up, we can safely say we've tried just about every wing in this town, and our favorite resides at AZ88. The artwork at this Scottsdale mainstay changes often, but the menu has stayed the same for years, and that's just fine with us, particularly if that means we can have our dragon sauce fix. We love Elsa's Chicken, a sandwich topped with the soy/ginger sauce along with pecans and bell pepper. But when we're just in the mood for a nosh, we go for the chicken wings. You can get them hot and spicy or tangy, but we prefer the third option — you guessed it, dragon sauce, the perfect complement to crisp, moist chicken. AZ88 is a little fancy for finger-licking, but we don't care one bit. Just keep those martinis coming so we can wash it all down.

Palette at Phoenix Art Museum

Who thinks of a museum cafe as a destination? Only those of us who have eaten a grilled cheese sandwich at Phoenix Art Museum's Palette, one of the city's nicest downtown lunch spots. Hidden away on the "For the Kids" section of a menu full of entrées with groan-inducing names (like the No Salad for Old Men — argh!), the grilled cheese on white sandwich is a delicious guilty pleasure, offering a trio of melted cheeses — Parmesan, Fontina, and goat — on crisp buttered and browned homemade white bread. Heaven.

The Hot Dog Stop
Lauren Saria

If you're from the East Coast, then you know what's up with the name Sabrett. It's New York's most widespread brand of hot dog, one you may have eaten under a street vendor's blue-and-yellow-striped umbrella. It's not exactly the kind of food you'd expect to find in a North Scottsdale strip mall, and yet that's where Hot Dog Stop has set up shop. The bright, family-owned restaurant is one of just a few brick-and-mortar places serving Sabrett, and it's got more than 50 varieties to choose from. We like to go with the classic New Yorker Dog, topped with Sabrett red onion sauce, sauerkraut, and mustard. We guarantee you'll recognize the wiener's signature snap as soon as you bite in.

Ingo's Tasty Food
Jackie Mercandetti

Visit this new diner just once, and your stomach may begin to growl whenever you near 40th Street ever after. The grass-fed hamburgers at Ingo's Tasty Food, the newest restaurant concept from LGO Hospitality (the folks behind popular Arcadia staples including La Grande Orange grocery, Chelsea's Kitchen, and Grateful Spoon Gelato), are tops.

This gleaming metal-and-brick, single-room cylindrical structure is part burger stand, part theater-in-the-round, with a cool curved counter where diners can watch while Chef Dom Ruggerio and his attractive staff prepare the best burgers in town. Each begins with a thick puck of grass-fed beef, cooked to a pinkish medium rare and seasoned with only salt and pepper. The simple cheddar cheeseburger is moist and chop-house sized, and the Paris Texas Burger, a tangy barbecue sandwich served with smoky-sharp apple barbecue sauce and pancetta, is great, too. The Farmer's Daughter Burger is the real winner, though. A tasty take on the Reuben, with a thick, tightly packed patty of perfectly cooked beef in place of corned beef, housemade Dijon sauce, a slice of Fol Epi cheese, and a pile of wilted sauerkraut under a soft, shiny-crusted poppy seed bun from the LGO Bake Shop. Do you hear growling?

Welcome Diner
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

We've been fans of Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson since before they landed at Welcome Diner. Back in the day, the couple served their über-satisfying Southern fare via food truck under the name Old Dixie's. It's been a good year or so since they settled into the permanent digs, which has allowed them to offer an expanded menu, cocktail program, and special seasonal dishes. This spring, they introduced a handful of new entrées, including the fried green tomato sandwich. It's a simple but memorable dish that features fried green tomatoes, sweet corn ranch, and for a bit of Southwestern twist, a layer of chipotle relish. The buttery toasted sourdough bread between which it all rests is a perfect backdrop for the harmony of sweetness, acidity, and spice.

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