Cafe Chenar
Jackie Mercandetti Photo

For people who love to eat the world, one of the most exciting openings of the last year was Café Chenar in north Phoenix. This one-room restaurant — the third eatery opened by the Uvaydov family, who also run LaBella Pizzeria and Restaurant, and Kitchen 18 — serves Bukharian food. This is the cuisine of a Jewish minority in Uzbekistan, one at the intersection of Europe and Asia and at a prominent point of the old Silk Road. Being kosher, the dining room observes the laws of kashrut, meaning there's no dairy on the menu. Steamed manti arrive in a bamboo vessel not with the customary sour cream but a ramekin of light tomato sauce that lifts the rich noodles. This is a menu that you could close your eyes, point at, and be perfectly happy. It's loaded with plov, Cornish hen, lamb rib kebabs, and enough dumplings to fill a book — or the stomachs of a large, hungry party. During Hanukkah, the kitchen serves sufganyiot, simple and satisfying with a cup of green tea.

Verdura
Verdura

Verdura takes a second to process. The tables and chairs in the large dining room are spaced apart like a well-planned neighborhood. Then there are the open kitchen, plants, lava lamps, and big framed photos of Prince, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and Joan Jett. The counter-service, plant-based eatery has fun dish names like London Calling and the CBGB Salad, but the food is all business. The carne asada nachos, made with seitan, are in the running for best nachos in town. The I'm Just a Po'boy sandwich is a pile of flash-fried mushrooms, while London Calling is "phish" and chips. Everything is spot on, but the Goth Waffle will have you popping in for a visit at random hours. It's a warm, black-in-color bubble waffle, made with activated charcoal and topped with tart raspberry sorbet. Verdura is not just vegan-friendly — it may be vegan-converting.

The Coronado
Jacob Tyler Dunn

Do you want to trick your carnivore friends into abandoning their sinful, meat-eating ways by showing them how stupidly good vegetarian food can be? Then go to The Coronado and prepare to be confused: Its veggie burgers are so good you'll forget you're not eating meat. The goat cheese and jalapeno marmalade quesadilla is so absurdly delicious it won't matter that your hands are crazy sticky and your mouth is on fire just a little bit. The Coronado also has brunch specials that vary from week to week, outside seating, beer on tap, games in the back, and an array of beautiful and tasty baked goods.

Best Restaurant to Trick Yourself Into Eating Healthier

Green New American Vegetarian

Green New American Vegetarian
Courtesy of Green

Here's a common complaint about many vegan food items from one flesh-loving carnivore: A lot of it tastes like soy and old tube socks. But then, Green opened up in Phoenix and Tempe, spreading the gospel of proper vegan cuisine to the steak-obsessed masses. Chef Damon Brasch had the magical idea to blend a multitude of cooking styles, yielding tasty comfort food from vegetarian or vegan ingredients that's both familiar and daring. There are the West Coast Fries, better than any spuds from In-N-Out; barbecue wings worthy of any sports bar; and, hands down, the best crab puffs in the entire Valley. But Green does more than simply trick the taste buds into eating better — the menu shows the true versatility of spinach, chickpeas, and cabbage when prepared with a lot of care and a dash of excitement. Were it not for actual burgers or wings, Green could make a vegan/vegetarian out of almost anyone.

Food allergies and sensitivities definitely make eating out more challenging; for those who require gluten-free food, options can be limited and not always tasty. But in Jewel's Cafe, the gluten-sensitive among us have a place where everything on the menu is safe to eat, and it's all delicious. Jewel's does breakfast, brunch, and lunch; highlights include the award-winning Nashville hot chicken sandwich, the chicken and waffles, and the chorizo burrito. The baked goods here also are incredible; on any given day you might find red velvet cheesecake bars, chocolate chip scones, or peanut butter bacon brownies. What we're saying is, Jewel's isn't a great gluten-free eatery — it's a great place to eat that happens to be gluten-free.

If only there was somewhere you could buy a single-origin cappuccino, and a sunflower seed brownie, and a dehydrated chicken breast for your cat, and a new apron for your mother-in-law, all in one convenient stop. Oh, wait. There is such a place — the Uptown Farmers Market on the North Phoenix Baptist Church grounds at Central Avenue and Bethany Home Road. Uptown is home to Caffio Espresso, and Lee's Aprons, and Practical Art, and the Flying Bakery. While you're there, you can scoop up some locally grown kale from any number of Arizona farmers, as well as a jar of apothecary bone broth and some of the tastiest pickles in town. Uptown Farmers Market isn't the biggest local outdoor bazaar, but it's fast becoming the most popular place to buy quail eggs, kettle corn, and bok choy on a Saturday or Wednesday morning. Home to the Iconic Cocktail Company and tahini brownies from Blissful Bakery, Uptown is barely four years old and yet already has made USA Today's list of markets worth traveling to visit. Go find out why — and get there early. There's a lot of parking, but even more savvy outdoor shoppers (and indoors on Wednesdays all summer).

In a world of antibiotic injections and CAFOs, Arcadia Meat Market sources beef, pork, chicken, and lamb raised right. Nick Addante and his crew have learned a lot since opening about a year and a half ago. Arcadia offers some 30 cuts of grass-fed beef from Arizona animals, 18 cuts of lamb, and some of the most sublime bone broth you'll ever put hot to your lips. Addante also carries local beers and heady cheeses. The range of cuts of meat and prepared foods make for some hard choices. Choose from sausages or liver pâté with cherries and pickled mustard seeds, BLTs or spicy beef jerky — or don't choose and get them all. There are some beautiful cuts of meat here. Beef heart. Carne asada. Pork belly. Phoenix is lucky to have such a quality new-age butcher sawing pig sides and aging steaks right in the bustle of Arcadia.

Of all the many improbable, beautiful, soul-stirring sights a person can see in Phoenix, the fish case at Nelson's might be the most consistently fantastic. When it comes to the art of sourcing marine life, Chris Nelson has powers somewhere between Harry Houdini and Pablo Escobar. Like magic, an iced rainbow of fish appears in the case every morning the shop opens. Glistening purple octopus. Halibut like vanilla ice cream. Salmon more orange than a magic marker. Oysters that glisten like living creatures in their blue shells and slide over your tongue with a hypnotic rush of brine. Scallops that hit you like a sweet sea wave. Sure, you have to fork over some serious change for the specimens that Nelson overnights to his shop from across the globe. But dropping the ocean into the desert is well worth the splurge.

Aioli Gourmet Burgers
Lauren Cusimano

It's true that a good burger starts with fresh, high-quality beef. But for us, what makes or breaks the burger are the toppings, the extras that turn that simplest of handheld foods into a memorable dining experience. Aioli Gourmet Burgers never disappoints on that score; its lineup of options includes the New Mexico (cheddar cheese, Hatch green chile, and green chile aioli), the Fresh Prince (provolone, shaved rib-eye, pepperoncini, caramelized onion, tomato, and garlic aioli), and a rotating monthly special. We love pretty much everything else on Aioli's menu, too, from the pretzel bites with cheese sauce to the caprese salad to the meal-capping milkshakes. Add in the bright, cheerful dining room and friendly service, and you've got a neighborhood eatery we come back to again and again.

"Perfect" is not a word we throw around often, so believe us when we say that Pane Bianco's mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich is pretty much perfect. From the freshly baked bread and the thick slab of mozzarella to the crisp tomato slice and fragrant basil, this is a sandwich we can't help but order over and over again, despite the fact that every sandwich on Pane Bianco's menu is consistently good. In the event you feel like exploring more of the options, Francesca's meatball sandwich is filling without being heavy, and we love the albacore tuna salad sandwich with red onion, celery, raisins, olives, and arugula for being a lighter, but still delicious, option.

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