Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli
Lauren Saria

When it comes to restaurants, at least, the line between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean gets fuzzy. Luckily, we're here for the food, not to draw lines on a map, because all we know is that Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli in Central Phoenix serves some of the best falafel and dolmades in town. The little market that houses the counter-service restaurant certainly is worth exploring, but what we come back to taste time and time again are dishes such as the bright, fresh tabbouleh, sweet baklava (which comes in three different styles), and tender lamb kebabs. It also helps that the restaurant's staff is always friendly and accommodating and they make even first-time diners feel like longtime fans.

Goldman's Deli

There's nothing fancy about Goldman's — and we wouldn't want it any other way. It feels as though this classic Jewish deli has been in the same spot forever, a place where the chopped liver is creamy, the matzoh balls are fluffy, and the corned beef is spot-on. Put it all on rye with a seltzer and get a hunk of halvah for dessert. Then, if you squint a little (okay, you might need to close your eyes completely), South Scottsdale becomes the Lower East Side of Manhattan, if only till your plate's clean.

Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
Heather Hoch

Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles may have relocated to shiny new digs in the same neighborhood south of downtown Phoenix in 2012, but we can assure you that the much bigger, more contemporary space hasn't had any effect on the restaurant's soul-filled food. It's really no surprise that this restaurant serves such knockout Southern specialties when you consider that owner Larry "Lo-Lo" White is the grandson of Phoenix food legend Elizabeth White of downtown Phoenix's Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.

Larry's restaurant may not be as authentic to the Deep South experience, but that doesn't make the food any less authentic. You can still find any combination of fried chicken and waffles you can dream up, as well as biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, fried catfish, and more. You'll definitely want to wash it down with a jar of Lo-Lo's famous Red Kool-Aid Drank.

Haus Murphy's
Jennifer Goldberg

Serving Valley residents who want a really great brat these past 18 years, Haus Murphy's has gone on to become a local tradition. Who else serves such authentic schnitzel? No one else, that's who. We love the jägerschnitzel, a pile of pork loin that's breaded and sautéed to a golden brown and topped with a mushroom demiglaze. Served with German-fried potatoes and Wirsing, this is the most German meal in town, and one you won't mind driving to historic downtown Glendale return for. Sometimes we start out in the Wunderbar Lounge, a German-style pub with long benches in Murphy's biergarten. There, we tip back a huge beer and groove to the sounds of Haus Murphy's oompah band before heading in for our schnitzel plate. Guten!

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.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of