Best Of :: Food & Drink
Pie in the Sky
by Robrt L. Pela
Myke Olsen of Myke's Pizza
Myke Olsen dreamed of opening a pizzeria.
"It's a cliché to say so, I know," the owner of Myke's Pizza admits. "But getting fired from my accounting job was one of the best things that ever happened to me."
Olsen had been unhappy counting beans, but he loved pizza. He'd been hosting monthly pizza parties with his friend Jared Allen, founder of beloved bakery Proof Bread, for a couple of years. "I started to notice that my friends really liked the combinations I was creating," he says of his amateur pies. "I started to think maybe I could do this."
Five Things That Make for a Great Pizza
By Myke Olsen
- The most important thing is you have to care about what you’re making. I ordered a pizza at a place in Utah last summer. It sounded great on the menu, but it came out with no color or crispness. It tasted awful, because it was made by someone who didn’t care.
- Using quality ingredients goes a long way, and the way to do that is to build relationships with vendors and the people who are making good food here locally.
- Make it your own. The cool thing about pizza is there are so many ways to individualize it. I always say, make a pizza that’s a reflection of your personality.
- Use one ingredient that really puts your stamp on it — like how we use Gouda as a finishing cheese. Most people use Parmigiano.
- Sharing a pizza with someone important to you is a good thing. And sharing pizza with a whole bunch of important people means grabbing more than one pie and getting to try different slices!
Unless you were raised on nopales from a young age, prickly pear cactus is probably not a staple of your regular diet. But why not? Easy to grow, nutritious, and quite tasty when paired with grilled meats, or in an ensalada of fresh tomatoes and onions, nopalitos are at once simple and sublime. The most troublesome thing about nopales, of course, is that, for the uninitiated, trimming spines and scraping off thorns can be time-consuming and intimidating. You can skip the prepping altogether and head to La Barquita, a neighborhood restaurant in central Phoenix where nopales are on the menu all day. They are exquisite in the Molcajete A La Mexicana, a minor feast served in the namesake, three-legged Mexican mortar. The dish comes piled with grilled slices of steak, caramelized bulbs of onion, feathery sprigs of cilantro, finger-length slices of fresh white cheese, and limp, charred nopal paddles, their natural tartness mellowed to a fine, smoky sweetness.
Located on the southeast corner of Third and Flower streets in central Phoenix, Ocotillo is much more than just a neighborhood eatery — though it certainly qualifies as that, too. With a full-service restaurant, coffee shop, and outdoor beer garden, this dining and drinking destination is a sort of catchall intended to meet all your needs. The restaurant, however, is the true centerpiece and an edible homage to the bounty of the Sonoran desert. Chefs Walter Sterling and Sacha Levine offer up an ever-changing, vegetable-focused menu highlighted by wood-fired roasted chicken, handmade pastas, and local produce often treated with globally inspired preparations. The sweet, earthy roasted cauliflower that's complemented with chiles and mint is not to be missed, nor is the signature Ocotillo chicken, which comes steeped in the flavors of local honey and herbs. General manager and sommelier Dave Johnson heads up the service team and has crafted a fun, approachable wine program with a list that offers a symbol-based tasting note key.
When it comes to badass women chefs in metro Phoenix, no one can hold a candle to Chrysa Robertson. For more than two decades, she's been serving simple, seasonal, Italian-influenced cuisine at her Rancho Pinot restaurant, now one of the Valley's longest-standing dining spots. But Robertson's career in the culinary arts goes back much further than that. She got her first job at 16, and has spent time working with some of the most legendary women chefs in Arizona, including Carol Steele of C. Steele and RoxSand Scocos of RoxSand, over her career. She founded the Phoenix chapter of the Slow Food Convivium in the '90s — long before "farm-to-table" became one of the food world's biggest buzz words — and continues to showcase the desert's bounty through her food, often using local produce, fresh eggs, and homegrown herbs in the Rancho Pinot kitchen.
"Serious Food, Extemporaneous Style" is the mantra at Scottsdale's Posh restaurant. And chef Josh Hebert truly means it. At this improvisational restaurant, chefs create specialized menus based on diners' preferences — imagine a Choose Your Own Adventure book translated into a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Here's how it works: Show up, select a number of courses, let the kitchen know what you'll eat (and what you won't), and wait for the magic to happen. Hebert and his team are known for creating thoughtful, modern fare, including "cheesecake" topped with raw uni and veal sweetbreads served over carrot puree with zucchini. Not a picky diner? Opt for the Chef's Omakase, which means the kitchen team gets the freedom to throw down whatever their hearts desire.
Most people who love good food can appreciate the subtle details that make great sandwiches stand out from merely good ones. And that's why a true food lover will surely appreciate Jason Raducha's simple-yet-elegant Noble Eatery, where rustic house-made breads serve as the foundation for excellent sandwiches loaded with imported Italian meats and cheeses and local vegetables. The menu at the lunch spot changes almost every day, but you can count on a concise selection of sandwiches, pizza, smorgas (open-faced sandwiches of Swedish descent), and the Ramon Navarro bowl. The last has become something of a Noble Eatery staple: a bowl of heritage grains like durum white wheat, lentils, and Khorasan wheat mixed with vegetables and seeds and dressed in oil. There's only a handful of seats, and they're nearly always full, but we like to think the wait just makes the experience seem all the more exclusive.
It isn't a hidden gem, per se — after all, chef Jeff Kraus' south Tempe breakfast and lunch spot has won awards from just about everyone in town, and it's right there in plain sight in the middle of a strip mall — but for some reason, Crepe Bar does seem to fly below the radar. Except, that is, with the Valley's food and drink devotees, who pack the restaurant's dining room each and every chance they get. And it's easy to understand why. The menu at Crepe Bar features sweet and savory crepes that show the chef's knack for creating food that's as fun as it is delicious. Kraus also offers a new expanded selection of sides that includes dishes ranging from tiny salads of local tomatoes, purslane, and tahini, to house-made "Rolos" for dessert. And it's not just the food. Crepe Bar is also one of the Valley's top spots for inventive coffee drinks. Always made with top-quality ingredients, Crepe Bar's caffeinated creations range from coffee brulee (as in, coffee covered in a layer of burnt sugar) to the singular Moroccan latte, which combines espresso, spices, and honey for a truly inspired pick-me-up.
A staple of the country and western spots along Cave Creek Road, the Buffalo Chip Saloon & Steakhouse is known for its live music and dance hall, authentic barbecue, allegiance to Wisconsin sports teams, and of course, its backyard rodeo arena. Whether it is in fact your first rodeo, or you've been part of bull-riding audiences since your boots were snug, the Chip offers live bull-riding sessions on Wednesday and Friday nights. Starting as an 800-square-foot feed and bait shop for anglers on their way to Bartlett and Horseshoe lakes, the Chip has grown to cover more than five acres — and has been overseen by proprietor Larry Wendt since 1999. Though a fire took down the previous saloon on Thanksgiving 2015, the rodeo arena and backyard patio area went virtually undamaged. The new 5,000-square-foot saloon is open during construction, and will be completed later this fall.
There's no better to place to impress your guests than at this fine-dining restaurant located at the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North. The service is always excellent, and chef Mel Mecinas puts out a menu that blends classic steakhouse fare with Southwestern flavors. Expect plates of top-quality Kurobuta pork served with achiote glaze, goat cheese, and tangerines, or a classic, corn-fed beef filet served with horseradish crust and marsala mushrooms. With more than 450 selections and over 30 options by the glass, the restaurant's wine list should satisfy even the most fussy oenophiles, but the thing that truly seals the deal are the restaurant's excellent views. From the Talavera dining room, you'll enjoy stunning views of the Valley and desert landscapes that look straight off a postcard. Catching a sunset on the restaurant's patio is easily one of the best ways to start an evening out on the town.
Lots of chefs talk about farm-to-table dining, but few do it as well as chef Charleen Badman at Scottsdale's award-winning FnB restaurant. At the cozy Old Town eatery, Badman continually creates new menus of seasonal fare, showcasing locally grown produce while taking inspiration from an array of global cuisines. Deceivingly simple plates like sumac-roasted tomatoes with i'itoi onion quark and dukka are both rooted in the Valley and capable of transporting diners far beyond the Southwest — all while retaining a sense of rustic familiarity that's helped make the restaurant one of metro Phoenix's top dining destinations. The wine list also exposes Arizona's terroir with dozens of locally made options by the bottle and a well-curated list of choices by the glass. Not familiar with the state's winemakers? Just leave the decision-making to FnB front of house manager and beverage director Pavle Milic, who's as least as charming as he is knowledgeable about the selections.
If you don't happen to live on the east side, a visit to Rhema Soul Cuisine in Queen Creek will no doubt represent something of a gastronomical field trip. But rest assured that the long drive will be worth it, because nobody is making soul food quite like the twisty, creative dishes you'll find at Rhema. House specialties include cheesy dishes like Symphony Fries, a delicious muddle of Parmesan and sweet potato fries glued together with four different cheeses and lavished with chopped barbecued pork. But you'll come for the barbecue, a top-notch selection that includes gorgeous, smoked-on-site St. Louis-style ribs, brisket, and chicken, all deliciously sauced up with the homemade "magic" sauce (a blend of the kitchen's sweet and spicy barbecue sauce). Of course, you'll also have to sample the kitchen's wonderful chicken and waffle dish, which is made with a fluffy red velvet waffle served with juicy, boneless chicken thighs.
There are steakhouses, and then there are steakhouses. And J&G Steakhouse at The Phoenician resort definitely falls into the latter category. Tucked away on the fifth floor of the resort, this sleek restaurant brings the talents of celebrity and Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to the Valley, meaning you can expect modern takes on chophouse classics. You'll find the usual array of steak options — from a 12-ounce filet to a 24-ounce porterhouse — as well as options for the non-meat lovers, including Maine lobster and slow-cooked salmon. The restaurant's views also make it a splurge-worthy destination; from the patio, you can look out over the resort's pool to the nearby Papago peaks.
Thanks to an appearance on Spike TV's Bar Rescue, central Phoenix's George & Dragon got a fancy new makeover this year. But the fresh coats of paint and shiny new tabletops haven't affected the attributes about this pub that we love most — namely, the affordable beers and ever-friendly crowds. Yes, you can also still count of a menu of British classics, including fish and chips (now battered and fried to order — thanks, Jon Taffer), pasties, and a remarkably good plate of Indian curry, and the jukebox still offers plenty of options for any musical taste. And if there's soccer — er, football on, you can bet you'll find it on the televisions here, along with crowds of jersey-sporting fans with whom you can cheer along.