Ingo's Tasty Food
Jackie Mercandetti

In the beginning, the best grilled cheese sandwich in town was an off-menu item at tiny neighborhood eatery Ingo's Tasty Food, available only to in-the-know regulars who were clued in to ask for it. Then, for a while, this sister restaurant of La Grande Orange made the sandwich a permanent part of the menu. Now, it's back to being a secret, but it's definitely worth asking for. Why should you get a Grown-Up's Secret Grilled Cheese instead of one of Ingo's award-winning burgers? Between two toasted slices of Noble bread are melted cheddar, gourmet For Epi cheese, and sweet Mad River Farm jam. It's a unique combination that will make your next trek to this Arcadia restaurant sweet and savory.

Located just steps away from the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, Simon's is the rare hot-dog shop that manages to please everyone — herbivores included. Everything on the menu can be made vegetarian or vegan, from the classic Sonoran Dog to the seaweed-topped Tokyo Dog. The restaurant's owners hail from Colombia, and the true standout on the menu is the salty-sweet Colombian Dog, featuring mozzarella cheese, crushed potato chips, and diced pineapple. Not a fan of hot dogs? Try the fried plantains or the salcipapas, french fries topped with sliced sausage and Simon's special sauce.

Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe
Jacob Tyler Dunn

A lot of promising soul-food restaurants have opened in recent memory. A lot of Southern-style chefs are sizzling impressive takes on everybody's favorite battered bird to come out of Dixie. A lot of professional cooks are gussying up the tried-and-true basics of fried chicken: frying only strips of dark meat, serving chicken drowned in honey. A lot of chefs who channel the magic of poultry, buttermilk, and spitting oil are making fried chicken's trendy cousin out of Nashville: hot chicken. And none are as good as Mrs. White's shatter-jacketed, juicy classic, the best fried chicken in town.

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.

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