Desert at Lux
Dominique Chatterjee
Desert at Lux

Looking for a place to get some work done inconspicuously while still managing to see and be seen by at least three people you know? Then you'll want to head to Lux Central, the hipster-chic coffee shop/restaurant/bar located on Central Avenue north of Indian School Road. If you live in the Valley, then you know this is the best place to come and mingle with a diverse cross section of fellow Phoenicians — everyone from 20-somethings in ironic T-shirts to business-professional yuppies and, of course, a whole horde of artsy types. And if you're visiting, you can bet that your host will take you to Lux to show you that our city is capable of sustaining the kind of cool hangouts you'll so often find elsewhere. Don't worry if you feel the barista is judging you. That's part of the experience.

Pizzeria Bianco

Whenever we have a visitor from out of town, we drag them, willing or not, to experience chef Chris Bianco's award-winning pizza. After all, what's a visit to Phoenix without tasting one of the city's most famous foods? For many years, that endeavor meant subjecting our guests to hours-long wait times at the original Pizzeria Bianco location at Heritage Square. But smart Phoenix hosts and hostesses know to skip the wait and head to the second location at Town & Country Shopping Mall at 20th Street and Camelback Road. Last year, Bianco split the restaurant into two sections with one half serving rustic Italian fare such as handmade pasta and the other offering his famous pizzas. It may be an offshoot of the flagship location, but that doesn't mean it's short on charm: Look for the artwork painted by the chef's father and handwritten dessert recipes illustrated by his mom.

Rancho Pinot
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

If the sheer lasting power of this restaurant doesn't qualify it as a true Arizona gem, then we hardly know what else could. But decades of business aside, Rancho Pinot continues to beguile us with its rustic Western décor, which includes cowboy paintings and other Arizona-themed accents. Chef Chrysa Robertson continues to cook gourmet comfort food that pays homage to the seasons and local bounty. You'll find produce sourced from local farms complemented by perfectly grilled quail, lamb chops, and chicken. It's like getting a taste of the entire state of Arizona all on one plate. And the handful of dishes that have been on the menu for years have become classics to Valley diners, including Robertson's ricotta gnocchi appetizer and famous Nonni's Sunday Chicken.

Matt's Big Breakfast
Matt's Big Breakfast

Thick-cut peppered bacon? Check. Perfectly cooked cage-free eggs? Check. Some of the most incredible hash browns you'll ever eat? You bet. So, by our count, Matt's Big Breakfast has all the makings of a perfect breakfast. Yes, even in its bigger space you'll probably have to wait for a table. But just take that time to decide whether you're hungry enough to eat the Hog and Chick and a waffle (because you know you want one). No matter what you do or eat, just be sure you don't skip the hash browns. They're the perfect way to start the day, fried to a crispy crunch on the outside and tasting strongly of butter. Best of all, Matt's never fails to understand the efficiency required of a great breakfast. Once you've ordered, your food arrives promptly so you can inhale it all and get on with your day.

Carolina's Mexican Food
Sarah Whitmire

We once read that making too many decisions causes your brain to crave glucose. Though we're not sure about the science behind that supposed fact, we can tell you from firsthand experience that an especially stressful day of work always makes us crave a Carolina's tortilla. This no-frills restaurant has been a Valley institution since 1968, drawing a crowd of customers that ranges from downtown business types to college students from ASU's downtown campus. The tortillas alone are worth braving the un-air-conditioned dining room, particularly when they hold servings of red machaca or green chile. We're also big fans of the Oaxaca Special, which combines cheese, potatoes, beans, and excellent chorizo.

Bink's Midtown

Sitting on the spacious outdoor patio at Bink's Midtown while you look out on the neighborhood brings a sense of community that's rare to find at restaurants in this town. We've spent more than one Sunday morning digging into chef Kevin Binkley's seasonal fare while feeling deeply appreciative of the beautiful surroundings and great company. It's a bonus that the Sunday brunch menu offers something for just about every type of diner. Classic brunchers will appreciate dishes such as the green chile braised pork served in a hot skillet with a cheddar drop biscuit and an egg cooked sunny side up. There's also a selection of cold and hot local produce, with options that include peaches with avocado, crema, sunflower seeds, and lime-tarragon vinaigrette during the summer. And the cinnamon roll — a large, freshly baked treat with butterscotch sauce and cream cheese frosting — is worth the calories.

Angry Crab Shack
Jackie Mercandetti

Normally, we shy away from any situation that requires wearing a plastic bib with a crab on it, but when it comes to dining at Angry Crab Shack in Mesa, it's our pleasure. This popular East Valley restaurant offers bags of seafood by the pound — everything from giant orange and white king crab legs to plump shrimp smothered in a sauce of your choice. No matter what creatures of the sea you choose to enjoy, you'll want them boiled in the restaurant's Trifecta sauce, a finger-licking combination of garlic, lemon pepper, and Cajun seasonings. You'll also be asked to choose a desired level of heat, and when they warn you that the food tends to run spicy, know that they really mean it. If you order correctly, you'll be left with an excess of sauce at the bottom of your bag; we recommend an order of Cajun fries to sop up the rest.

Little Miss BBQ
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

There aren't many places in this town where you'll find people lined up outside in the middle of summer, but that's exactly the sight you'll see five days a week at Little Miss BBQ. Hungry folks looking for a taste of Scott and Bekke Holmes' barbecue endure the heat because there's nothing quite like this place anywhere else. Since opening in March, the restaurant has exploded onto the local BBQ scene, selling out of pounds of brisket and slow-smoked ribs every day the restaurant is open. The brisket boasts a flavorful crust of pepper, salt, cayenne, and garlic and offers the melt-in-your-mouth moistness that can only be the result of 11 long hours in the restaurant's custom-made, wood-fed R & O smoker. And if smoky beef breast isn't your style, there's a full menu of meats that includes housemade sausage, pulled pork, turkey breast, and a remarkably good pastrami.

Steak 44
Lauren Saria

We'll admit, we were skeptical of the newest restaurant to come from the Mastro family. Would Steak 44 bring over-the-top décor and boring chophouse classics to Arcadia? Fortunately, the answer is no. Despite being an upscale and still relatively pricey restaurant, Steak 44 manages to feel like the type of comfortable neighborhood spot that's been a part of the community for years.

You'll find couples enjoying a casual meal at the bar, while families gather to celebrate special occasions in the dining room. Part of the draw has to be the menu, which includes unexpected options such as soft shell crab in vanilla bean tempura and fried deviled eggs. The steaks also come in smaller and, therefore, more affordable sizes. Try the 12-ounce Delmonico for a dinner that's full on flavor and a bit slimmer on price.

Zinc Bistro
David Holden

For francophiles. there's nothing not to like about chef Matt Carter's Zinc Bistro. The restaurant hits the nail on the head when it comes to replicating a charming Parisian bistro. The tin ceilings, abundance of light, and spacious patio make you feel as though you're dining in the City of Lights, and the food backs up the vibe.

Start your meal with a cup of Carter's incredible onion soup, which comes with a thick layer of crispy melted cheese. From there, you really can't go wrong with anything on the menu, though a few standouts include the grilled lamb and, believe it or not, the pomme frites. Carter's French fries are just about perfect, fried to a golden brown and then seasoned with marjoram, paprika, and a touch of fleur de sel.

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