The Stand
Evie Carpenter

What's so special about the french fries at The Stand? They're hand-cut, for one, which means they taste like honest-to-goodness potatoes. Then there's the matter of their texture and seasoning: The fries are sliced into thin, skinny strips that are fried to a light golden crisp, and zapped with a delightfully salty and pungent spice blend. They're served with the restaurant's signature Stand sauce, which gives them just the right spicy kick. Wash it all down with one of The Stand's banana shakes for a quintessentially Phoenix fast-food meal that's worth every single calorie.

ATL Wings
Via: ATL Wings

One of the most frustrating things in the entire world is getting a bad order of traditional, or bone-in, wings. Sometimes they're too small, leaving you feeling hungry and ripped off. Sometimes they're too large and fleshy, making you feel like salmonella poisoning is inevitable. However, if you find a place that consistently produces order after solid order, that's when you generate a category of your budget called simply "wings." Such a place is ATL Wings. Each piece, drum or wing, is hefty and evenly coated. You hardly get the gross runt wings, or the dry pieces that the sauce somehow missed. And the flavor options are plentiful, categorized by dry rub, barbecue, and red hot. The recommended dry rub is ATL Style — a heavy and oily blend of herbs and spices that is just this side of addictive. Other unique flavors include the Extreme Honey Habanero, Lucky's Sweet Red, and Chef's Special. The best part is that the barbecue and red hot sauces may be taken to go.

Little Miss BBQ
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

The restaurant that launched 1,000 effusive Yelp reviews, the jalapeño grits that turn seasoned diners into smiling kids, and the brisket that cradles your soul and makes everything right in our broken universe can all be found at Phoenix's holiest barbecue restaurant. Little Miss may be opening a second location, and who knows what will happen from there. But we'll always have the first location's rich burnt ends that melt in your mouth like orange sherbet. We'll always have that chewy, sticky, faintly smoky pecan pie. And hell yes, we'll always have mammoth beef short ribs on Fridays and Saturdays: the best bite of 'cue in town.

JL Smokehouse
Chris Malloy

James Lewis of JL Smokehouse, a big man with big dreams and a tiny south Phoenix restaurant, makes the best barbecue sammie in town. And there's not a fold of brisket to be seen. The sandwich, called the Alene, casts a harsh, smoky spotlight on sausage. Lewis barbecues links in his smoker custom-made in Arkansas, laying on a thunderous smoke. As you eat this sausage modeled after a Chicago-style dog, with its soft bun and soft cabbage, celery, and peppers, the umami and smoke pummel your senses with pure glory. Chile flakes lend heat, upping the ante even more. Barbecue doesn't get much better.

Chula Seafood
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Stopping into this low-key Scottsdale fish emporium feels like an event, and not just because the easy tunes flow and the crew is ultra chill. The prepared food here is one of a kind: bowls, sandwiches, sashimi, and smoked fish platters. Chula sources beautifully fresh seafood, some even caught from the owners' San Diego boat. What distinguishes this spot is product quality, yes, and then, on top of this, the rocket fuel of what happens next. Pickling. Smoking. Hypnotic ingredient combos like confit tuna and green chile, smoked trout and pickled enoki mushrooms. Chula is a place where, if you had beers and time, you could linger forever.

Salt Cellar Restaurant
Evie Carpenter

The thought of seafood in the middle of Arizona gives some transplants pause, but those of us who have been around awhile realize that despite not being known for fresh seafood, the Valley can still deliver. Deliver is the main word, as The Salt Cellar — a classic upscale Scottsdale restaurant open since 1971 — has its seafood flown in daily. It's also just fun to go, as the front door opens to nothing more than a wood-paneled room with a set of downward stairs. The lobby, dining room, and bar are all three stories underground, making the dining experience more of a desert escape. We recommend the mussels in butter sauce to start, and then, you really can't go wrong from there.

We remember the days when there were no poke restaurants in the Valley, mostly because it was only, like, two years ago. Now, it seems that we can't go a week without a new eatery devoted to raw fish bowls opening somewhere in metro Phoenix (not that we're complaining, because poke is actually really good). The number of options can be a bit bewildering, but we're here to help: Go to Koi Poke. This Scottsdale-born chain already has four locations in the Valley, with several more in the works. Koi pulls ahead of the poke pack for the superb quality and selection of its fish; we're partial to the Hawaiian tuna, which has a rich flavor and texture we can't get enough of. We also love the great selection of bases, sauces, and toppings, which guarantees that we never have to eat the same combination twice.

Sushi Nakano
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

At first glance, Sushi Nakano resembles any number of run-of-the-mill strip-mall sushi spots in metro Phoenix. This intimate Ahwatukee sushi restaurant, though, is closer in spirit to a traditional Tokyo sushi bar than the average Phoenix sushi joint. The restaurant is the debut effort of Leo Nakano, whose father, Hirofumi Nakano, is the owner and head sushi chef at north Scottsdale's venerable Hiro Sushi. Leo Nakano shares his father's talent for crafting traditional sushi with an artful and contemporary twist. Highlights include creative rolls like the Rising Sun, which features creamy, flash-fried tuna wrapped around burdock root. If you can swing it, though, opt for the chef's-choice omakase tasting menu, which delivers a parade of pristine, elegantly prepared sushi, nigiri, and sashimi.

Hot Noodles Cold Sake
Chris Malloy

Josh Hebert started making ramen at Posh, his now-defunct improvisational temple to fine dining. The ramen he bowls at his tiny north Scottsdale noodle shop has an incredible umami depth, paling just about every other ramen bowl in the Valley. Hebert is a white dude, sure. But he has cooked in Tokyo, and here we're judging purely on flavor. His are nuanced and soulful. His are traditional, spurning some of the crazier ramen trends and sticking to the classics, like miso and shoyu. A bowl where he innovates is sisig ramen, the piping hot heap of noodles crowned with sizzling pig face.

Dim Sum Cafe
Patricia Escarcega

All-day dim sum options are still few and far between around metro Phoenix, which is why Dim Sum Cafe is such a treat. This friendly strip-mall restaurant offers top-notch dim sum specialties like shumai pork dumplings, steamed barbecue pork buns, hand-rolled scallion pancakes, braised chicken feet, and juicy, made-to-order xiao long bao, or Shanghainese soup dumplings. If you want to augment your meal with something more than dim sum dishes, the restaurant also offers a wide-ranging menu of traditional Chinese dishes, with an emphasis on Shanghainese and Sichuan specialties. From the non-dim sum side of the menu, don't miss the terrific stir-fried pork intestines.

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