The House Brasserie

Braving the crowds and craziness of Old Town Scottsdale on a Friday night may not sound like the recipe for the most romantic evening with your loved one, but just beyond the hustle and bustle you'll find one of the most romantic spots in the Valley: the House Brasserie. Trees block the candlelit patio from the street, and white tablecloths wait to present Chef Matt Carter's comforting yet original fare. Inside you'll feel like you're sitting in someone's home, with the service and hospitality to match. Grab a glass of wine or a cocktail and settle in with your honey for a lovely evening.

Readers Choice: Elements

Jacob Cutino only started making Homeboy's Hot Sauce in March, but already it's become a favorite ingredient of some of the Valley's best chefs. You'll see it on the shelves at markets including La Grande Orange and Luci's Healthy Marketplace, as well as on the menu at restaurants including Crudo, Yard Bird + The Larder, and The Gladly. So why do home cooks — and chefs — love Homeboy's so much? It's probably because Cutino uses onions and carrots — a mirepoix of sorts — as a base, giving his sauces as much flavor as heat. For now, the popular line includes two hot sauces: a fiery red jalapeño hot sauce and a deceivingly friendly looking golden habanero variety. From what we can tell, both taste good on pretty much everything. Our only complaint? That the four-ounce bottles aren't bigger.

www.homeboyshabanero.com
Crepe Bar

Crepe Bar might not be the first place you think of when it comes to vegetables, but it should be. Chef Jeff Kraus nearly always offers a selection of daily small plates that showcases local produce, usually from the nearby Farm at Agritopia. We've had everything from lightly tempura-battered green beans seasoned with mole spices, mint, and honey to a heap of tiny roasted carrots complemented with harissa and served with a single fermented tomato. In addition to these exciting and ever-changing veggie small plates, there's also the restaurant's well-loved vegetarian option, the 13 Mile Crepe. Made with seasonal vegetables from the Farm at Agritopia, this curried crepe is easily one of our favorite vegetarian dishes. If one thing's sure, it's that Kraus source the best and freshest vegetables, then showcases them with creative flavor combinations that always keep us interested in eating our greens.

Alexi's Grill
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.

www.facebook.com/lilliemaespickledgarden
Virtu Honest Craft
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.

Little Cleo's Seafood Legend
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.

Posh Improvisational Cuisine

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

Sushi J
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 Cuisine

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.

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