Best Old-School Seafood 2018 | The Salt Cellar | Food & Drink | Phoenix
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.

Dominic Armato

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.

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.

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.

Adjacent to midtown Phoenix's beloved Pho Thanh, Milk Run specializes in Insta-friendly East Asian-style boba tea drinks. The menu is huge and includes iced-milk teas, milk-tea floats, sparklers, iced teas, slushies, smoothies, and Vietnamese coffee. Pretty much every drink in the house can be topped with your pick of specialty boba tapioca balls, including flavors like honey boba, aloe vera boba, citrusy crystal boba, and fruit-flavored popping boba. Not only is the menu extensive, the quality at Milk Run is top-notch. The drinks are handcrafted from scratch and feature fresh fruit, organic teas, and house-made ice cream. With more than 50 drink choices that you can customize with add-ons, Milk Run is a boba tea-lover's paradise.

There are a lot of mediocre horchatas in metro Phoenix — chalky and cloyingly sweet concoctions that are usually made using store-bought powder mixes. If you want to savor what a fresh, thirst-quenching horchata should taste like, head over to one of La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop's two Valley locations. La Santisima's horchata is cool, frothy, and lightly sweet, with fragrant notes of cinnamon. It's topped with fresh fruit and chopped pecans. It's a perfect palate cleanser between tacos, or simply as a light, sweet finish to your meal.

Courtesy of Sweet Republic

Living in Phoenix can be hard sometimes — we've got face-melting summer temperatures, crazy politicians, and disappointing sports teams. But then, we think of Sweet Republic, a source of Phoenix pride and joy for a decade now. Sweet Republic, which adds culinary ingenuity to top-quality ingredients to create out-of-the-box flavors like blue cheese and date, sweet corn, and coconut cashew curry, while elevating traditional flavors like salted butter caramel swirl, Belgian chocolate, real mint chip, and sweet berry cobbler. Sweet Republic, which Bon Appetit named one of the top 10 ice cream stores in the United States, and whose Toffee Banofi Sundae was highlighted on the Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Sweet Republic, which we return to over and over again, day or night, summer or winter, whenever we crave a taste of the sublime.

The humble doughnut, that mainstay of road-trip breakfasts and morning office meetings, becomes something special, something elevated in the hands of Welcome Chicken + Donuts. There's no guessing at a typical doughnut joint; the offerings are predictable and familiar. This isn't the case at Welcome, where every visit brings new flavors and new questions: Will I like a chipotle limon doughnut? (Yes.) How does a chocolate rose pistachio doughnut taste? (Surprising and delicious.) We doubt we'll get tired of the Welcome crew's innovative spirit, but if we do feel a desire for the classics, they do mainstays like apple fritters and plain with "sprankles" just as well as the unique ones. And on the off chance you find yourself there and aren't in the mood for doughnuts (what's wrong with you?), Welcome's fried chicken, ramen, and breakfast sandwiches are mighty good, too.

Heather Hoch

When it's time for a caffeine fix (which is pretty often, truth be told), there's nowhere we'd rather go than Jobot Coffee Shop in Roosevelt Row. It's hip enough that we feel cool just hanging out there, but it's also got a comfortable, welcoming vibe that isn't present at some of the other trendy coffeehouses in town. Jobot has it all, from a full slate of coffee and tea drinks to a small but satisfying menu of breakfast and lunch/dinner options (the breakfast burrito, which is served all day, is outstanding). Depending on your mood, you can sip and sup in the industrial-style interior or hang out on the patio and take in the hustle and bustle of downtown Phoenix.

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