Best Vegetables 2016 | The Larder + The Delta | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Lauren Saria

If you're still stuck in the mindset that vegetables are the foul-tasting greens of your youth, then you need to get yourself to The Larder + The Delta, chef Stephen Jones' Southern-inspired food stall at the DeSoto Central Market. At this matchbox-size eatery, Jones makes vegetables fun, transforming everything from peas to beets into flavorful creations with a Southern lean. First, order the cauliflower, which combines the mild, nutty vegetable with pickled celery, bleu cheese, and locally made Homeboy's Hot Sauce to make a pretty-much healthy take on the classic chicken wing. Jones and his team also dish up spring bean chow chow with corn, soybeans, and apple cider vinegar; an excellent heirloom tomato salad with peppered corn bread and cured strawberries; and wild green garlic and ramp "beignets" dressed in green goddess froth.

Jamie Peachey

Fresh Mint owner and head chef Mai Ly has a way with herbs. It only takes a sip or two of her spicy lemongrass soup to understand that vegetarian cooking can be as fragrant and lively as anything coming off a barbecue grill. Everything is made to order at Fresh Mint, but it's worth the wait for the restaurant's pan-Asian dishes, which are often brimming with the flavors of bright sesame ginger sauce and fragrant coconut curries. Fried rolls stuffed with taro root, shiitake mushrooms, tofu, and herbs are wonderful, and the veggie kabobs with nicely seasoned hunks of eggplant, tofu, peppers, and mushroom, served with peanut sauce, are a revelation. Even your most ardent carnivore companions will enjoy the Kung Pao chicken dish, which uses a soy meat replacement in place of chicken, and comes loaded with chopped veggies and herbs deliciously dressed in a garlic sauce. Desserts, which include a wonderfully dense carrot cake, are pretty great, too.

Meat lovers may scoff at vegan cooking, but that's only because they haven't eaten at Loving Hut. The restaurant offers a sprawling menu of freshly prepared yet highly craveable vegan eats, including delicious, shatteringly crispy spring rolls stuffed with potato, onion and minced veggies, served with hot mustard and sweet and sour sauce on the side. Burgers, featuring juicy garden patties, are as satisfying as anything you'll find sliding across a drive-thru window. But the real culinary magic is in the entrees menu, where Asian-inspired dishes shine. The Vietnamese-inspired barbecue noodle bowl is a small feast of rice noodles piled with finely shredded veggies, pickled daikon, heaps of fresh herbs, and crunchy slices of the crispy veggie rolls, the whole bowl sluiced with a lovely sweet and sour vinaigrette. The restaurant also offers an impressive menu of fresh fruit and herb drinks, which are reason enough to stop by the Loving Hut.

We know True Food Kitchen isn't a gluten-free restaurant exclusively. But it is a restaurant that's specifically designed to be accommodating to those with dietary restrictions, which, of course, includes our gluten-free friends. The menu at this trendy, health-focused eatery offers plenty of options for gluten-free meals, including an inside-out quinoa burger that's popular with some of pickiest diners we know and a spaghetti squash casserole that's so rich and creamy, you won't be missing anything on the flavor front.

Judy Nichols

For Jewel's Bakery owner Julie Moreno, going gluten-free isn't just a business, it's personal. Moreno first got into baking gluten-free treats when her young daughter developed an allergy to the protein, so you can bet her recipes have all been kid-tested and, yes, adult-approved. We love this cafe's moist peanut butter cookies and rich rocky road brownies, and we don't care whether they're gluten-free or gluten-full. All we know is they're delicious by any standard.

One of the Valley's most unique bread houses is north Scottsdale's Jerusalem Bakery, the passion project of husband-and-wife team Lior and Lily Ben-Shushan. Using traditional baking techniques they learned in Israel and perfected while living and working in San Francisco, the couple offers freshly baked pita bread, rye bread, sourdough, and more. The menu includes a Moroccan flatbread topped with herbs that's baked on large river stones for a soft texture and sweet flavor, and challah bread that's made without eggs and can be topped with raisins, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or nothing at all. But there's much more to Jerusalem Bakery than the bread — the Ben-Shushans also keep customers coming back with a rotating selection of treats like rugelach, hamantaschen, chocolate croissants, savory Turkish bourekas, homemade preserves, and out-of-this-world lemon tarts.

Most people won't get up at 4 a.m. for anything, but Odelay Bagel Co. owner Ryan Probst isn't most people. He's so dedicated to the pursuit of the perfect bagel that he's up every day before the sun to hand-make scores of bagels in more than a dozen varieties. And yes, you can tell the difference. These bagels have the perfect, shiny, blistery exterior you only find on the very best bagels, as well as doughy interiors that offer just a little bit of chew. We're partial to classic flavors like the shop's Everything bagel, which gets coated completely on both the top and bottom, but you can also find some more unique options, including black pepper Parmesan. And the creativity doesn't stop there. Odelay also offers 10 house-made schmears. Along with plain and "low phat," you can load your bagel with spinach and feta, horseradish bacon, and even Sriracha cream cheese.

Food nerds, listen up. If you think something has to be artisanal, handmade, or just really expensive to be great, then you obviously haven't tried the canned biscuit doughnut at Okra Cookhouse & Cocktails in central Phoenix. After your meal of excellent Southern fare like Tennessee hot fried chicken or a smoked ham hock with black-eyed peas and greens, it may be hard to find room for dessert, but do it. You'll be rewarded with a fluffy, deep-fried doughnut with a thin, crisp exterior that's coated in salty-sweet caramel that sticks to your fingers, lips, and just about anything else it touches. It may be made with simple canned biscuit dough, but a few seconds in a deep fryer turns the mundane into something magical. And to truly up your experience, order it topped with a couple of Okra's fried chicken skins. The combo of salt, fat, and sugar is the perfect note on which to close out your dinner.

Jim Louvau

If there was a crown for being the dessert queen of the Valley of the Sun, it'd be sitting prettily atop Tracy Dempsey's head. Not only has she been one of the Valley's top pastry chefs for more than two decades, but she also continues to create fun, creative dessert menus for some of the city's top restaurants. Ever wrapped up a meal at Citizen Public House or Crudo with a delectable dessert? Thank Dempsey, whose specialities include playful mashups like s'mores bread pudding or an elevated brownie sundae made with strawberry ice cream, fleur de sel caramel, and banana-peanut caramel corn. This year, Dempsey opened up her commercial bakery in Tempe to retail customers, meaning you can pick up some of her best-loved confections when you need to have a serious "treat yo self" moment. Our go-to is Dempsey's pecan bacon brittle, a candy so light and buttery you'll never be able to have just one piece.

Lauren Saria

Discriminating gelato lovers know where to find the best, creamiest stuff in town: Doc's Artisan, where the Italian-style ice cream is made in small batches using quality ingredients, many of which are locally sourced. The flavor selections are regularly updated at this friendly ice cream shop, but it's pretty easy to find at least one flavor to fall in love with on any given visit. The pistachio-almond is superb, smooth, and delightfully nutty, and sophisticated flavors like chicory coffee and Grand Marnier make regular appearances on the shop's chalkboard menu. The gelato here is creamier and often less sugary than others, which adds to the simple pleasure of indulging in a cup of ice cream. The shop also makes short batches of tasty gelato ice cream pops. 

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