Best Barbecue 2020 | Little Miss BBQ | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti

We've argued for years that Phoenix is a first-rate barbecue town, and our conviction comes from solid spots like JL Smokehouse, newcomers like Eric's Family Barbecue, and especially the Arizona-famous Little Miss BBQ. Even "soul food scholar" Adrian Miller — a former lawyer and special assistant to President Clinton, a food historian, and a certified barbecue judge — has heard of Little Miss BBQ. So has everyone else in town. Little Miss is the kind of barbecue joint where you fold waiting in line into the allotted time and experience. (And while you wait, a piece of tape may get slapped over the very item you planned to order on the large, displayed menu; like we said, the place is popular.) The double location barbecue restaurant was started by a competitive barbecue team inspired by the meat joints of Texas Hill Country, all to the benefit of hungry Phoenicians. This fanaticism is mostly because of the fatty brisket, pulled pork, and like-butter beef ribs weekend specials. But sides hold their own here, too. In fact, any bite of the smoked turkey or housemade sausage should be followed with swallows of the jalapeno grits and creamy mac and cheese. And don't even get us started on the barbecue sauce. We're glad we can buy bottles to take with us so we can have a bit of Little Miss BBQ at home.

Chris Malloy

Barbecue in greater Phoenix? Widespread. Stellar brisket? A rare find. And especially rare in the west Valley, where Eric Tanori has been smoking top-notch brisket using nothing but mesquite wood, fire, a late papering, and a salt-and-pepper rub. His style emulates central Texas with a few nods to Mexico and the Southwest. Slabs of dark-barked, thickly carved brisket are his best meat. Plenty of others are strong, notably a flavorful turkey jolted at the 11th hour with butter au jus. Eric's low-key smokery is still growing (on deck at some point: house-shaped tortillas), but it's already a barbecue joint deepening and rounding out our greater scene.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Myke Olsen, now long settled into his brick-and-mortar spot within Cider Corps, is making the most inspired pizza in the Valley. Not only are all components thoughtfully pondered, they are executed with a flair that gives Olsen a style that bears his own signature. He uses lots of Gouda cheese and cooks a crust that carries the flavor and warmth of great bread. He can nail a classic sauce-only marinara, one of the true tests of any pizzaiolo. Toppings on specialty pizzas track the seasons: cherries, squash, peaches, and pistachios. Olsen is growing and innovating at a rate far beyond that of any other pizza artisan in the Valley, making him 2020's best.

Jackie Mercandetti
Lamp churns out red and white artisan pies that are delicate yet able to be laden with top-notch ingredients.

LAMP Pizzeria is serious about Neapolitan-style pizzas. The centerpiece of the dining space is a red brick oven, where owner Matt Pilato — who prepares his dough and cheese in-house — slides all his pies, cooking them at some optimal temperature that produces ideal levels of crunchiness once they are finally removed from the heat. LAMP offers 20 pizzas, and this is not the place to go with your tried-and-true order. Pick one of the pies that lists ingredients you've maybe never considered combining. A few of our favorites: The Scientist, which has three types of thinly sliced salami and juicy green olives; The Simple, a margherita pizza topped with arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano; and The Kavorka, a pie with Sicilian sausage, wood-roasted red onions, and piquante peppers. Despite the experimentation in the kitchen, there's a comforting atmosphere at LAMP. When he's not distracted at the oven, Pilato roams around and chats with diners. Everybody needs a go-to pizza spot, and it's easy to see why so many people have chosen LAMP as theirs.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

By the time you swallow your last entropic morsel of nigiri, perhaps brushed with soy, perhaps deepened a shade with the blue fire of a torch, your meal's beginning feels like a distant memory. Many orders of rare Japanese beer and sake ago, you sat down for omakase at ShinBay, Shinji Kurita's high-end sushi counter in Old Town Scottsdale. He may have started you off with a trio of bites highlighting Japanese eggplant and mountain yam. By the end of the early creative courses, the sea comes into full focus via a plate decked with novel preparations like an artist's palette has paints. Jellyfish on ice. Creamy lobster reduction on shrimp. Ponzu jelly on a fat oyster. From there, Kurita whisks you to an ethereal finish in a long flight of nigiri, cutting, brushing, and plating, turning dinner into a dream.

Not all restaurant takeout is equal, and the pandemic has left a hole in the dim sum lover's heart the size of a tiny-wheeled cart rumbling around laden with chicken feet and shumai. Sure, you can get dim sum to go, but great dim sum is the sum of many parts, just one of them being food. Others: community, the first sip of hot tea in an energetic room, and just piling on the dishes whimsically as the cart wanders by. Weekend dim sum at Mekong Palace crackles with energy and provides the best experience in town. Spare ribs gluey with bean sauce are rich. Barbecue pork buns are the same, only puffy, fragrant and sweet. Coconut buns are pillowy and sweet in a different way, touched with coconut cream. Empty plates gather on your table, and as you eat, every hungry soul in the room seems to fill with joy.

Bahar Anooshahr

As of press time, Americans still aren't allowed to travel to France (thanks, coronavirus). But you can get a little taste of the country when you visit either of Chef Jenna Leurquin's shops. Depending on the season, you might find eclairs; colorful tartlets; a rainbow of macarons; or her famous gluten-free square carrot cake, topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting. Leurquin uses seasonal and local ingredients when possible, and butter imported from France for its higher fat content. We fantasize often about her chocolate pistachio cake, a glorious, round creation with a shiny chocolate mirror glaze and a crumbled pistachio skirt. There are simpler treats as well: cookies, croissants, quiche, and bread. We recommend almost all of it. We may not always have Paris, but at least we've got JL Patisserie.

Is there a food more sleep-inducing than the 20th-century dinner roll, wan and milquetoast, sent out in a basket on a clothed restaurant table? Forget that crusty fossil. Chris Lenza, executive chef at Café Allegro at the world-class Musical Instrument Museum, has souped up the dinner roll with three local flours — white Sonora wheat and red fife from Hayden Flour Mills, both freshly ground, and then the kicker: mesquite flour. There is shatter to the outer shell, and softness, intrigue, and dusky caramel notes within. This hot-and-chewy roll is the stodgy old staple dragged through the thunderbolts, deluge, and aromas of a Sonoran monsoon. There's a reason the recipe took Lenza 10 years to perfect.

As Arizona's first dedicated and certified gluten-free bakery, Gluten-Free Creations has a reputation to live up to. The two locations in Phoenix and Scottsdale certainly rise (heh) to the challenge. We dream about these delectable, all-homemade, and freshly baked goodies — the cinnamon rolls and everything bagels in particular. As an added bonus, many of the options, like the marshmallow treats and the berry Champagne cupcakes, are vegan. There's also a selection of sugar-free items, like coconut bread and vegan super seed bread. We recommend it all.

A croissant from the hands and oven of Nathas Kraus isn't a pastry. It's toasty wheat and rich butter expressed in one of their highest forms — not a mere breakfast, but a portal to grain fields, dairies, and the land. This is his artistry: Targeting French baked goods, especially viennoiseries, and making them so good that they seem to transcend what they are. That croissant? It has such an intricate, calculated shatter. You can feel the care he puts into the shape, into the laminations. This is just one of Kraus' baked goods, and one of his most basic. Everything from his chestnut-hued caneles to cream-stuffed "rhino" croissants to his simple French loaf is mesmerizing.

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