Best Italian Restaurant 2017 | Marcellino Ristorante | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Molly Smith

When we want some of the best Italian food we've had this side of the pond, we make a visit to Marcellino Ristorante in Old Town Scottsdale. Ditto when we're looking for impeccable service, or an ideal spot for a romantic or celebratory atmosphere. Really, we'll find any excuse to eat there. Chef Marcellino Verzino never fails to us impress us with his food and his attention to his guests; we see him greeting diners nearly every time we visit. And we can't get enough of the food, whether it's an appetizer like the grilled jumbo shrimp on a feta cheese croquette; entrees such as gnocchi in a creamy gorgonzola sauce, chicken breast layered with prosciutto and fontina; or classic Italian desserts like panna cotta and tiramisu.

We look for three things in an Italian deli: a good selection of groceries, friendly service, and of course, delicious prepared food. Niccoli's has all three in a small strip-mall storefront in uptown Phoenix. The narrow aisles of the grocery section are packed with everything you need to play Marcella Hazan at home, including all shapes and sizes of dried pasta, canned tomatoes, olive oil, jars of giardiniera, and more, and the deli cases have plenty of meats and cheeses to choose from. Niccoli's serves Italian entrees, pizza, salads, and sandwiches in its small dining room, or you can order them to go. They also do catering, in case you need enough lasagna, chicken Parm, or cold cuts to feed a crowd. Our favorite menu item is the excellent Italian sub, a hearty sandwich that comes with Genoa salami, capicolla, mortadella, ham, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pepperoncini, and dressing on a fresh-baked roll.

Vincent on Camelback has been around long enough to qualify as a local institution (the restaurant recently celebrated its 30th anniversary), but its light-handed fusion of French culinary tradition and Southwestern flavors often still feels revelatory. Wild boar loin, intensified with habanero sauce, is both intriguing and delicious. A roasted rack of lamb, jazzed up with a spicy pepper jelly, is almost ludicrously rich in flavor. Duck confit, an old standard that's buoyed with citrus sauce, is terrific. Plus, Vincent delivers all the virtues that you want from a classic French bistro: white tablecloth ambiance, attentive service, a bread basket filled with homemade mini croissants, and a winning wine list that goes on for days.

Metro Phoenix doesn't suffer from a lack of great Vietnamese restaurants, but Song Lynn stands out as an exceptional destination for Vietnamese cooking. The menu is extensive, offering staples like gorgeously fresh spring rolls (Song Lynn offers three versions), pork-laden banh mi sandwiches, and a terrific house pho special that involves slivers of flank steak, meatballs, and brisket. There is also a full vegetarian menu, and the photo-rich menu, fully annotated and labeled, makes this is a great spot for those new to Vietnamese cooking. Service is very friendly, and the comfortable, modern dining room only adds to the pleasure of eating at this west-side gem.

Jacob Tyler Dunn

Smile Lao Thai, located in a Tempe strip mall, delivers a varied and delightful menu of Thai and Lao specialties. Come here for the deftly made curries, including a wonderfully creamy and mint-colored avocado curry, and a very fragrant pumpkin curry infused with sweet basil. You'll also find excellent renditions of mainstream Thai staples like pad si ew, Thai fried rice, and tom yum soup, plus harder-to-find dishes like larb, a minced chicken salad perfumed effusively with mint and lemongrass. The casual yet refined ambiance at Smile Lao Thai makes it suitable for a quick lunch, but also smart enough for a nice dinner.

Tim Chow

Far north Phoenix's swanky outdoor mall, Desert Ridge, seems like an unlikely setting for a high-end Korean barbecue restaurant. It takes guts to pull off that kind of endeavor, but chef Hyunwoo Lee proves he's up to the challenge with Sizzle, a slick restaurant with a menu designed to appeal to both newbies and longtime Korean barbecue aficionados. Unlike traditional Korean barbecue joints, the restaurant has dedicated chefs to man the tableside grills. No matter who's cooking, though, the results are generally delightful. A big part of Sizzle's success rests on use of high-quality ingredients, which include prime beef and heritage pork, coupled with skillful execution. The results are beautifully seared cuts of rib eye, skirt steak, tongue, and brisket, tender and awash in flavor. Just try to resist the house bulgogi, infused with a garlicky marinade and then beautifully charred over the fire before your eyes.

Unfortunately, it's easy enough to let Nobuo at Teeter House slip off your culinary radar. The restaurant has been quietly operating out of a historic bungalow in Heritage Square for almost a decade. It's become such a fixture of downtown dining that it's relatively easy to take for granted what it meant for downtown Phoenix to finally land its very own highly refined yet unassuming izakaya. Rather than let that happen, though, it's worth shelling out some bucks for a delicious refresher on the virtues of Nobuo. Chef Fukuda's tasting menu is always a treat; it has been known to include highlights like Miyazaki wagyu beef, exquisitely braised to reveal every layer of flavor. Another major highlight of dining at Nobuo is the chef's famous sashimi spoons, bite-sized servings of raw fish artfully arranged on white ceramic spoons, which often feature unconventional ingredients like nuts, olive oil, and even cheese. Regardless of what's on the menu during your visit, it will very likely taste divine.


As regional Chinese cooking blossoms in metro Phoenix, Chou's Kitchen continues to shine as one of the most satisfying destinations for traditional Chinese food. The restaurant's focus is on the cuisine of northeastern China, a regional variety that's still not as heartily celebrated as other provincial foodways. At Chou's Kitchen, though, the cold-weather cuisine of the Dongbei region is celebrated with a menu teeming with specialties like plump pork and chive dumplings; meat pies and homemade potstickers; cold noodle bowls that sing with notes of cilantro and chile paste; cumin-scented lamb; and the eternal comfort of a bowl of zhajiangmian, homemade wheat noodles topped with pork. The extensive menu at Chou's rewards repeat visits, and it's easy to unearth a new and unexpected dish with every meal.

Growing up in Phoenix, our favorite chain Mexican restaurants always offered a hamburger on the kids' menu for unadventurous tykes. But we were shocked to see ham and cheese and bacon sandwiches on the menu of a sophisticated Chinese restaurant in Tempe. Turns out, that's part of what makes Asian Fusion Café so authentic. Diners are a thing in China, and we're thrilled, because we love this one. We rarely order from the American side of Asian Fusion's menu, but our dining companions do, and then they demand dessert — also good, since the cold case is packed with creative options and a big machine spits out the softest shaved ice you can imagine.

For a true Arabian experience, unadorned and as you would find it in the Arabian Gulf, Mandi House delivers. The no-frills restaurant is lined with booths topped with napkin dispensers, and one wall is reserved for traditional seating on floor cushions. Your soda will come in a can, not a glass, and you will notice a few kernels of rice dotting the recently occupied tables. That's because the food here is all about the rice, ideally eaten by hand and crowned with a perfectly charred piece of fish, chicken, or meat. Though they offer some pan-Arabian specialties, like the ubiquitous hummus and falafel, their specialty is Yemeni food, from a country far from the fertile valleys of Lebanon and the Mediterranean. So, it's best to stick with Arabian Gulf classics, like fassoulia, a rich fava bean, onion, garlic, and herb dish served with warm flatbread. Their namesake mandi, a saffron-rubbed baked chicken served atop flavorful broth- and spice-enriched rice along with yogurt and a tangy tomato salsa, is pure comfort food. But their chicken muthbi, a chargrilled version of the dish, is even better. Fish here is marinated in spices before being butterflied, grilled, and presented on a metal platter of rice that would easily be shareable. This is not your "Mediterranean" gyro sandwich and Greek salad joint — it is real Arabian home cooking, offering a true taste of regional Middle Eastern food in a town awash with hummus and babaganoush.

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