From humble beginnings in central California, chef Silvana Salcido Esparza has risen to become the reigning queen of Mexican food in metro Phoenix. Her original restaurant, Barrio Cafe, is nothing short of a local landmark and has drastically transformed the popular perception of Mexican food since opening in 2002 and these days counts restaurants at Sky Harbor International Airport and The Yard in Phoenix as sibling spots. But Esparza's not just about giving Phoenix diners excellent and affordable food. She's a chef in the true sense of the word, which means "leader" or "chief" in French. Esparza manages to run four restaurants and still finds time to mentor up-and-coming chefs, to give back to the community, and to grab the attention of national critics — including the James Beard Foundation, which has nominated her for awards on four occasions.
Readers Choice: Kevin Binkley