Best Caesar Salad 2015 | Alexi's Grill | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Courtesy of Alexi's

There's plenty to like about this popular midtown restaurant, long a favorite of locals. But the Caesar here is really exceptional, with a good black-pepper kick and crunchy, housemade croutons crusted with cheese. Salads at pizza places are often second cousins to a main course, but not the Caesar at Alexi's. Perhaps because it's so unpretentious (the waiter always looks surprised when we request anchovies, as if they're de rigueur) or because its cold plate is piled high with shiny romaine leaves, drizzled with that anchovy-rich dressing and showered with Parmesan. Who cares why? Alexi's Caesar is simply the best.

We love pickles. We'll eat them on sandwiches, with eggs, in a Bloody Mary, or plain. And our favorite place to get all sorts of pickled veggies is from Lillie Mae's, a vendor you can find at several local farmers markets. Owner Dawn Peterson makes hundreds of jars of pickled veggies every week — everything from classic dill pickles and spicy cilantro pickles (our personal favorite) to pickled pineapple (they're great on burgers) and sweet pickled beets. We love the homemade feel of each heavy mason jar of preserved vegetables, plus the fact that she almost exclusively sources her ingredients from organic or local farmers. Most often you can find Peterson at the bi-weekly Uptown Farmers Market, where you can purchase pickles for $12 a jar or $33 for three different types.
Debby Wolvos

When you learn exactly what goes into the making of chef Gio Osso's grilled octopus at Virtù Honest Craft, you'll be amazed. Not because it's so complicated or because the ingredients are so exotic. But rather, it's the simplicity and ease of this dish that really surprises. Osso cooks the octopus with oil, chile flakes, garlic, and a cork (not kidding) so it remains tender. He then marinates it with olive oil, garlic, parsley, chile flakes, salt, and pepper. He cuts off the tentacles and chars them to add additional texture and smoky flavor. And that's about it. Add his marinated chickpeas and Calabrian chile sauce, and you've got the best octopus dish in the Valley.

Fox Restaurant Concepts

If Sam Fox restaurants typically offer style over substance, then Little Cleo's Seafood Legend is the exception. Located at the bustling Yard in north Central Phoenix, this East Coast-inspired restaurant provides a perfect escape — an escape that's bolstered by generous amounts of oysters, crab, and other fresh seafood. We love exploring the daily selection of raw oysters, and the employees are always willing to educate diners about the differences among the varieties of bivalves. Then you can move along to entrées that range from fish and chips or a Maine lobster roll to grilled ahi tuna or bouillabaisse accompanied by sides such as sweet corn elote or roasted mushrooms. For a real decadent dish, try the warm jar of king crab and melted butter with grilled bread.

The only thing we don't love about Posh's ramen is that we can't have it every single day. But if we could, we might, so maybe in the end it's a good thing that chef Josh Hebert offers his ramen only on Tuesday nights. That's when his upscale Scottsdale restaurant turns into a haven for Japanese food enthusiasts, serving a menu of several types of ramen and a few simple starters, including excellent okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake. The chef's signature ramen offering is the Goma variety that's made with dashi and pork stock and sesame paste. Inspired by a bowl the chef fell in love with in Japan, it's rich and nutty and piled high with noodles, seaweed, pork, and elegant bonito flakes.

Readers Choice: Republic Ramen

Jackie Mercandetti

Chef and owner Jay Chung brings experience working in Los Angeles and at several other Valley restaurants to his latest venture, Sushi J. Located just outside Old Town Scottsdale, this cozy restaurant serves an uncomplicated menu of sushi, sashimi, and a selection of cooked entrées that make the place suitable for both sushi virgins and experienced diners. We love the restaurant's affordable and incredibly filling sushi lunch combos, as well as the list of simple nigiri sushi. The restaurant stocks everything from uni and ama ebi to spicy scallops and shrimp with specialty rolls such as the Friday Night Fever and Lord of Tuna to keep things fun. With obvious value and an approachable vibe, we're happy to have this addition to the Scottsdale dining scene.

Readers Choice: Hana Japanese Eatery

Great Wall

We can remember the first time we went to dim sum at Great Wall Cuisine — years ago, but it feels like yesterday. How we stood outside the West Phoenix restaurant with dozens of other diners and how, by the time they called our number, we practically ran to the table to wait for the carts to start rolling by. This well-loved dim sum spot serves an impressive dim sum spread on Sunday mornings. The Saturday offerings are still above par, but Sunday is when you'll find the full array of delicate dumplings, mounds of noodles, perfectly fried egg rolls, and glistening egg tarts. It's tempting to fill up on the savory plates that fly by, but try to save room for the doughnuts. You won't be sorry.

Jackie Mercandetti

If we're being honest, then we can admit that fried chicken is mostly about the batter. Yes, to have great fried chicken you also want moist pieces of meat, but without the crunchy stuff, the whole dish is pretty much lost. That's why we love the fried chicken at Phoenix Public Market Cafe so much. Chef Aaron Chamberlin strikes the perfect balance between salt and spice with his dinner entrée fried chicken and makes a batter that holds tight to each piece of meat. It's the kind of crispy coating that will have you picking up the leftover bits with your greasy fingers — and then scattering on top of the accompanying side of vegetables for a little extra crunch.

Monkey Pants Bar and Grill in Tempe serves chicken wings three ways: regular (deep-fried), grilled (deep-fried then kissed on the grill), and blackened (deep-fried then charred until blackened). Ordering grilled or blackened adds a few extra minutes of cook time but also tons of flavor. The traditional hot wings (standard Buffalo sauce done right), grilled Mae Ploy (sweet chili flavor bomb) and grilled with Spankin' Monkey Sauce (hot and tangy barbecue style) are among our favorites. We also crave the Cajun dry-rubbed wings, blackened. The menu offers solid bar fare at reasonable prices with daily beer and drink specials, including 13 wings for $5.99 every Tuesday. A great place for lunch or day drinking, Monkey Pants has an all-day happy hour, as well as pool tables, darts, and TVs.

Readers Choice: Zipps Sports Grill

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Little Miss BBQ exploded onto the Phoenix food scene last year but hasn't yet lost any momentum. This year, the little barbecue restaurant that could even got some love from Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor for Texas Monthly and national authority on all things smoked. Of course, we locals didn't need to be told that Little Miss BBQ is something special. At this point, it's pretty much universally expected that Scott and Bekke Holmes' South Phoenix spot is the gold standard for Texas-style barbecue in Phoenix — perhaps even in all of Arizona. We're not sure whether it's the custom-made R&O smoker or the 11 hours each brisket spends inside it that makes the difference, but we do know that each perfectly smoked slice of brisket is a true thing of beauty. There's a line outside the restaurant daily when the doors open at 11 a.m., and we don't see that changing anytime soon.

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