The Root and Soul

Brined for 24 hours and sizzled in cast iron, the fried chicken at Christian Buze's north Scottsdale soul-food restaurant can hang with the most famous version of the dish in town — that of his grandmother, Elizabeth White of Golden Rule Cafe fame. The breast is hot and juicy. Darker cuts ripple with a robust, Thanksgiving-conjuring depth. Breading has the texture and detail of a landscape, though all of its grooves and intricacies fall swiftly to your big, eager bites. The meat, too, is uncommonly well seasoned. Buze deploys an 11-spice blend, embellishing the flavor of the bird but not enough to drown out its goodness. Not long after getting your plate, you'll be staring down at gnawed-clean bones and red-checked paper smudged with grease, thinking about your next visit.

Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Heather Hoch

When you see a restaurant with duck fat fries on the menu, you're probably going to take out your smartphone to Google if Guy Fieri has ever visited the establishment. To our knowledge, the Food Network star has yet to claim Arizona Wilderness as a province of his Flavortown empire, which means he's missing out on the best fried potatoes in the state. Flavored with rosemary, thyme, and garlic aioli, this zesty side dish almost overshadows the burgers and brews that put this pub on the map. (Rumor has it duck fat is a little healthier for you, too, but we're not nutritionists.) In fact, you can get the fries covered with pulled pork, cheese, or bacon, and forget the entree altogether. Let's hope Fieri never discovers the brewery, so there are more fries for the locals.

Trapp Haus BBQ
Chris Malloy

Roosevelt Row is known for cocktails, galleries, and maybe a craft beer, which is what makes Trapp Haus BBQ all the more worth a visit. The inside is welcoming, with a bar and a narrow dining room, complete with murals and painted-on barbecue lingo. Proprietor Phil "the Grill" Johnson is a seasoned barbecue master, offering a tight menu of food, beer, and cocktails. The must-try order is the Jumbo Philly Crack Wings. They can come naked or with sauce, but we recommend the sauced version. You get about half a dozen, but these are meaty, smoked wings, fringed with a little bit of crisp and crunch on the edge. These are the ultimate barbecued wings, and you're going to appreciate that roll of paper towels on the table.

Little Miss BBQ
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Though Scott Holmes' Sunnyslope location may be a half-step behind his OG spot, this pound-for-pound barbecue champ reigns supreme. Sure, his fatty brisket is legendary, but other meats speak just as truly to his Jedi skills. Holmes smokes turkey. It is some of the juiciest poultry you'll ever eat. Holmes brines and smokes pastrami for a Thursday special. One bite in, and your smile will meet behind your hair at the back of your head. Holmes cups sides of jalapeno grits. Good luck finding better grits in town. Holmes changes woods frequently, mixes a hypnotic mustard sauce, and just made a risky but triumphant foray into burritos — and still, the man lights up like a kid on his birthday whenever he talks about smoked meat. Forget the pyramids and the Great Wall, Little Miss BBQ is a wonder of the world.

Pizzeria Bianco
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Bianco? Again? Yep, until somebody catches him. In 2019, Chris Bianco, who won his James Beard Award in 2003, is at the top of his game. How is this possible? The pope of pizza is continually drilling down into all the nuances of his processes: evaluating, re-evaluating, and making them better. He and his brother Marco are continually testing new flour compositions. Chris is always sourcing from new farmers, always going the extra mile to capture the most true and beautiful flavors he can. His cheeseless marinara pie ripples with tomato flavor — swirled from tomatoes he cans. But as is the case with his pistachio-and-Parm-powered Rosa, many of Chris's best pies don't even use them. Instead, many cede even more spotlight to blistered house-made mozzarella, simple but orchestral ingredient unions, and the chewy, shattering mastery of his crust.

Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana
Courtesy of Pomo

True Neapolitan pizza can be a thing of beauty, and Pomo's version is as close as you'll get to the truth in this town. Stefano Fabbri's pizzerias are certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the Naples-based organization that decides which pies are truly authentic. Earning this certification isn't easy. Crust must be a certain height. Dough must be of specific proportions. Pizza must cook in 90 seconds. Fabbri checks all these boxes. The personal-size pies that emerge from his gold-tiled oven have the fantastically puffy crust ("cornicione") and slightly soupy centers of the real deal. Toppings are spare but smart. Whether rich with porcini or heady with anchovy and Sicilian oregano, these pizzas stand out in a pizza town. And being so true to Neapolitan standards, the pizzas at Pomo are so light you might even be able to scarf two.

Are the days of the round pie in metro Phoenix numbered? Probably not, but Valley pizza veteran Justin Piazza is turning out some damn good Roman-style pies anyway. Using high-hydration dough that rises for a whopping 96 hours, Piazza blazes shelves of square pie at 650 to 700 degrees — cooler than the ovens at his Neapolitan joints around town. As in Rome, the most underrated pizza city the boot has to offer, Piazza cuts slices to order with a scissors. The thick, baked dough stays surprisingly light — delicate and airy — yet flavorful enough to stand up to toppings that Piazza rains: rich guanciale and tomato sauce; mozzarella and basil and tiny whole tomatoes; prosciutto and mushrooms. When the toppings are right, the crust stays moist but tears in your mouth like a wicker basket smashing. Here are square pies to round out our magnifico pizza scene.

This isn't a "best of" because the two Jersey kids behind it can cook Italian noodles. This isn't a "best of" because Racan Alhoch and Joe Cetrulo live up to their motto, "al dente or die," plating spaghetti with bounce and rigatoni with chew. This isn't a "best of" because the duo elevate bread crumbs with lemon rind, carefully skim off "acids" to create a luscious pomodoro sauce, or say "fuck it" and add butter to aglio e olio. This isn't even a "best of" because the Saint Pasta kids simmer a glorious vodka sauce and have the best food Instagram in town. This is a "best of" because, in a city where looking for truly great pasta can feel like tracking a snow leopard, Alhoch and Cetrulo are finessing flawless noodles. Next up: a brick-and-mortar spot, coming soon.

You have the right to be skeptical of a falafel sandwich from so free-wheeling an establishment as WTFExp, which also offers burgers, fish and chips, Philly cheesesteaks, and sushi. Which means you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that the spiced balls of ground chickpeas at this no-frills, down-to-earth zone are perfectly browned and lightly crisp, with just the right hint of caraway seed, balanced by a drizzle of white sauce and nestled among strips of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. The bread is not the kind of pita that, being rough along the underside, quickly absorbs sauces or liquids and immediately becomes mushy. Rather, it is a thinner and stretchier version of naan, which keeps the sauce in and around the falafel and vegetables, and has a sturdy, structured feel to it. The portions are beyond generous, especially given the $5 price tag. Meanwhile, WTFExp lives up to its name. Unlike other falafel venues in the area, it whips up this classic Mediterranean sandwich in five minutes, making it one of the best bangs for your falafel buck close to downtown.

Sushi Nakano
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

The more popular sushi becomes, the more perfectly serviceable sushi joints we see popping up around town. But in the hands of passionate experts, sashimi, nigri, and the rest are elevated from a simple meal to a dining experience. Sushi Nakano's small Ahwatukee strip-mall location is our favorite place for raw fish and other Japanese dishes; Chef Leo Nakano, who learned the art under the tutelage of his father, Hiro Nakano, of Hiro Sushi, has created a spot reminiscent of small, quiet restaurants we've visited in Tokyo. The food is consistently wonderful, whether it's a gyoza appetizer; simple, gorgeous nigiri; or one of the spot's popular rolls, like the Mt. Fuji, which brings together shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, and spicy tuna.

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