Best Wings 2014 | AZ88 | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Allison Young

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Courtesy of Alexi's

The joy in a good Caesar is the combination of texture and taste and, for those of us who love all things salty, the pleasure of eating anchovies with cheese. A well-made Caesar involves whole leaves of romaine dressed with oil, garlic, lemon, anchovy paste (or Worcestershire sauce, made from anchovies), and either raw or coddled egg. The best among them are topped with anchovies, homemade croutons, and one or more grated or shaved hard cheeses, and the best example of this special combination can be found at Alexi. Its dressing is both sweet and tangy with lemon and its cold plate piled high with shiny romaine leaves, drizzled with an anchovy-rich dressing, and showered with Parmesan. And, as with any good Caesar, anchovies are a given — so be sure to tell your waiter if you don't want them.

Jackie Mercandetti
Korean cuisine hasn't really taken root in Phoenix yet, but what our Valley does have is Chodang, and that's definitely good enough for us. Located just north of downtown Chandler, chances are you've driven by this spot a few times and never even noticed it. Well, it's time to stop in and be blown away. From the tender, flavorful dry-rubbed BBQ spare ribs to the sizzling bowls of bibimbap, you'll find all the classics accompanied, of course, by small plates of pickled and fermented side dishes called banchan. The real must-try dish at Chodang is the bright red bowl of soft tofu soup, to which you can add seafood, beef, pork, kimchi, and more. More importantly, the egg added tableside perfectly poaches in the bubbling broth, and if that doesn't sell you on Chodang, we don't know what will.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

A wise chef once told us that there are as many types of ramen as there are chefs who make the dish. In short, it's a highly personal food and everyone has a favorite style. We're confident in saying the bowl of tonkotsu ramen at Hana Japanese Eatery has to be one of the best anywhere. It's a simple but elegant take on the dish, made with a pork-based broth that's thick, opaque, and full of rich, meaty flavor. The toppings, too, are basic in the best way. You'll get just a couple of slices of fish cake and some housemade char siu along with scallions, memma, and sheets of broth-soaked seaweed. When it comes to the art of doing simple food well, it doesn't get any better than this.

There's escargot and there's escargot, and then there's Petite Maison's escargot with bone marrow and white anchovy, a delectable treat for those of us who like eating snails. Braised in burgundy and seafood broth and dished up with boquerones in butter, garlic, and crème, the slugs are plated alongside tasty wagyu beef bone marrow. The salty anchovies provide a tart zing that offsets the rich marrow perfectly — so perfectly that you'll want to ask for more bread for sopping, because you won't want to miss a drop.

Debby Wolvos

Octopus is having its moment right now. You'll see it popping up on many menus around town, but if you want to try the cephalopod in the best possible conditions, you have to eat it at Virtù. Though Chef Gio Osso's menu changes all the time, you can always find the wood-grilled octopus somewhere on it, and that's because it quickly became his signature dish. The charred chunks of buttery, soft octopus have an addictingly smoky quality balanced by the acidity, spice, and saltiness of whatever other components Osso decides to pair with the meat. The texture of the octopus itself isn't rubbery, as you might expect, rather it's more like a cross between a rare steak and a lightly seared tuna. Fifteen dollars is a small price to pay for perfection.

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