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

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.

Evie Carpenter

Whether you like yours with cheese or without, the Standard at The Stand in Arcadia is the kind of burger you can always count on. It's just about as basic as they come, but thanks to high-quality ingredients — including beef that's ground daily in-house — this burger is a good reminder that basic doesn't have to be boring. On top of your thin but tightly packed beef patties (the Standard already comes with two) you'll get a leaf of crisp romaine lettuce along with a slice of tomato, onions, and a few dill pickles. The restaurant's signature Stand sauce really seals the deal: it's a Thousand Island-like topping spread on the inside of the burger's toasted bun. Here's a pro tip: Order an extra side of sauce for your fries.

Readers Choice: Rehab Burger Therapy

Lauren Saria

So maybe it's because grilled cheese is the only item on the Pig's Meow's food menu, but the bar sure does know how to make them. We ask you what possibly could go better with beer and video games than melty cheese and other toppings housed between two toasty pieces of bread? Even with one menu item, there's variety. Maybe you'd like spicy pepperoni and capicola in your sandwich. Or perhaps you're more of a fig and goat cheese kind of person. For $5 each, you might as well order a few and do a grilled cheese sampling along with your beer flights.

Lauren Saria

Pittsburgh Willy's started as a simple hot dog cart. But over the past nine years, the name has become synonymous with serious gourmet hot dogs all over the East Valley. It's been two years since owner Randy Walters closed up shop inside a Chandler antique mall, but these days you can find all your Pittsburgh Willy favorites at Wimpy's Paradise, Walter's second restaurant in downtown Chandler. In addition to hot dogs and Twinkies, Wimpy's serves burgers, sandwiches, ice cream, and more. But our go-to meal is still the Pittsburgher, formerly known as the Wild Willy. It's a quarter-pound all-beef wiener topped with butter-soaked chipped ham (a Pennsylvania favorite) and cheddar cheese.

Lauren Saria

It's hard to choose just one sandwich from Ollie Vaughn's to name as the best sandwich in the Valley. The small breakfast and lunch spot has a variety of worthy choices, including the ham sandwich, with Gruyère, apple butter, and Dijon or the egg salad sandwich, with capers, currants, and dill. But the one we simply can't deny the number one spot to is the meatloaf sandwich. One moist slab of homemade meatloaf sits between two soft pieces of bread with crunchy and pickled carrots and radishes. The contrast of the sweet hoisin glaze on the meatloaf and the sour pickled toppings makes our mouth water just thinking about it.

Everyone from the New York Times and Bon Appetít to Oprah and Martha has shown mad love for the pizza at Chris Bianco's Pizzeria Bianco. And in addition to Bianco's winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest in 2003, the restaurant's been nominated for the foundation's Outstanding Restaurant award several times. It might seem like a lot of fuss for a simple pizza spot. But with one visit, it's easy to understand the buzz. The restaurant's concise menu showcases six pizzas, each of which features Bianco's heavenly crust. Blistered and bubbled and a true thing of beauty, it's tinged with smoke and just the right amount of char. From the simple Marinara pizza to the bright and peppery Biancoverde, made with ricotta and arugula, Pizzeria Bianco continues to live up to its reputation as a don't-miss destination for pizza enthusiasts.

Readers Choice: Pizzeria Bianco

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