Thanks to Harold and Kumar, White Castle hamburgers are now better known as a feast for stoners than comfort food for Midwesterners. But both camps — transplants from the middle of the country and native Arizonans curious about what would make the cinematic duo ride a cheetah in the middle of the night in New Jersey — stood in line together for hours on a warm October morning last year, eager to sample sliders from the first White Castle to open in Arizona. Those who camped out for days to storm the castle ordered hundreds of the tiny burgers at once, causing the 24-hour restaurant to close early on its opening day in order to restock. Some sad latecomers left tired, frustrated, and empty-handed. It would be weeks before the rush of cravers ticked down to something like normal fast-food restaurant levels, but for many, it was worth all the wait.

Binkley's Restaurant
Debby Wolvos

You needn't travel to New York or Chicago for the ultimate foodie experience. Just bring a generous appetite to Binkley's, where you can marvel at Kevin Binkley's creations — from his tamarind barbecue octopus to smoked Copper River salmon to sweet corn. When you dine here, you can't help but feel you are part of something special and, yes, exclusive. There are only 20 spots available for dinner (reservations should be made well ahead of time), the menu is seasonally driven and never stagnant, and patrons get to watch as Binkley and his staff prepare and unveil each small plate. Whether you're a tourist or a native Phoenician, you're missing out on magic (and that isn't an exaggeration) if you don't have Binkley's on your bucket list.

For nearly three decades, Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot has married the bounty of Arizona with Italian-leaning techniques and flavor palettes in singular ways. Still, the skill and flavors of Rancho Pinot seem, at times, not wholly understood by the younger generations of Phoenix eaters. There's no Instagram wall. No neon signs. But there's damn good food and drink, cooking from the heart and the heart of the arid world we inhabit. Robertson plates panna cotta with local white peaches, a classic caprese-like salad hinging on the quality of top Arizona tomatoes, and a dainty-yet-vigorous roast quail accented with mostarda of fruit in season. Roberston was a 2020 James Beard Award finalist for a reason: Like a cactus wren or Gila woodpecker, her cooking sings a brilliant local song.

Alter Ego
Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown

Alter Ego, located on the ground floor of the also-new Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown, impressed us soon after opening in early summer 2020. But it's not just the student bustle of downtown Tempe or the luxurious dining area that will have us returning again and again to this restaurant. It's the food. Veteran Valley Chef Ken Arneson oversees the kitchen here, ensuring guests and those picking up takeout are treated to well-executed specialties like the skirt steak chimichurri, the katsu chicken sandwich, and sweet Thai shishito peppers. Don't even get us started on the goat cheese gelato, mixed with fresh berries and served with the In "The Pot" Cobbler. Part of Alter Ego's menu is seasonal, so you may not get to try everything mentioned above. But we're confident most any order here will leave you satisfied. Some of Alter Ego's food also can be ordered up to the hotel's rooftop bar counterpart, meaning you can enjoy dishes like the Filipino-style empanadas while sipping the signature cocktails they serve there. But if you'd rather stick to the patio outside of Alter Ego, right on University Drive across from ASU's main campus, we feel that, too.

Hula's Modern Tiki

When a restaurant's menu has two pages of happy hour deals, good times lie ahead. So much the better if your happy hour setting makes you feel like you're on vacation, as you will while imbibing at Hula's Modern Tiki. Happy hour means several bucks are knocked off the price of tropical-themed cocktails and pan-Asian appetizers. You-won't-know-it's actually-alcohol concoctions like the Dr. Funk and the Painkiller come in tiki man and coconut glasses, and appetizers like spicy edamame and crispy fish bites are great for sharing. We particularly love the crispy coconut shrimp rolls and the Hula's chicken wings, which we usually pair with the blood orange martini or the Tropical Itch (it comes with a backscratcher). Another thing about that happy hour? It's offered every single weekday from 3:30 to 6 p.m., all night on Wednesdays, and from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends. Plenty of time to pretend you're in paradise.

Hash Kitchen
Hash Kitchen

When you and your breakfast club can't decide between a solid, hearty meal or a trendy, Instagrammable feast, go to Hash Kitchen, which is the best of both worlds. We must first mention the bloody mary bar, which boasts over 50 toppings to mix and match. Then, there's the DJ spinning tunes in the corner, starting the party early — a wakeup call, if you will. The menu has traditional items like corned beef hash and buttermilk pancakes, but we usually go for the stuff we can't get at many other places, like Lucky Charms French toast or a lobster Benedict. Portions are large; at least two people can split the S'mores pancakes or the carnitas hash. You can also get a friend to share the cereal shooter flights (you read that right) or down them all yourself. We won't judge.

Prep & Pastry
Prep & Pastry

A stone's throw from the canal in downtown Scottsdale, this Tucson import has been drawing the hungry morning hordes since its first days. It's easy to see why. When you open the front door to the cavernous dining room and look left, your eyes land on a pastry bar. This isn't your 200-year-old Parisian emporium of long bread and pain au chocolate. Rather, at this counter you can score gigantic cinnamon rolls, croissant doughnuts, and brioche stuffed with "Mexican hot chocolate." The pastry case's whimsy also runs through the sit-down menu, replete with a PB&J French toast on Japanese milk bread and a duck confit hash with cherries. Also nicely weird: a deep morning cocktail selection.

Pane Bianco
Heather Hoch

Lunch is for sandwiches, and it is our belief that the quality of a sandwich is ultimately determined by the quality of its bread. Ergo, ipso facto, by the transitive property, etc.: The best lunch spot in Phoenix is Pane Bianco, because that's where the best sandwich bread is served. Specifically, these are sandwiches served between round cuts of wood-fired focaccia that resemble a half-roasted marshmallow, or the surface of the moon. Between these doughy masterpieces are simple combinations of ingredients that pack explosive flavor. Mozzarella, basil, tomato. Provolone, sopressata, relish. And if, by some bizarre circumstance, sandwiches aren't your thing, Pane Bianco has you covered: The house-made mozzarella salad is just as juicy and fragrant as the sandwich version; the albacore tuna salad is filling without being heavy; and the pizzettes are like the younger cousin of Bianco's famous pies. Most things you eat that deliver this much joy tend to weigh you down, either with guilt or whichever combination of chemicals that causes food comas. Not so with the food at Pane Bianco. We've yet to detect any slumping in our work productivity after devouring them. And we would know: The Van Buren location, which will close soon to make way for the new location of Bianco's other restaurant Tratto, is just a few blocks away from the New Times office, and we're in there constantly.

Glai Baan
Jacob Tyler Dunn

You walk onto the patio through a wrought-iron door. The greenery, the string lights, and a cozy smattering of tables grab your attention. Red oilcloths with blue floral patterns cover the tables. The trees have colorful sashes tied around their trunks reminiscent of prayer flags. The intimate, beautiful patio at Glai Baan is just the first wonderful part of your experience at the popular eatery that specializes in Thai street food. We go back again and again for well-executed dishes like the juicy kanon jeeb (pork dumplings) and the fragrant, comforting panang curry. We don't overlook the drinks menu, a hidden jewel of the local cocktail scene; choices like the spiked Nham King Hot Tea stand on their own merits, but pair well with the food. And of course, we always ask for patio seating.

This two-story former event venue in downtown Mesa is now 12 West Brewing Co.'s second location, which, unlike the first spot, offers cocktails and full meals in addition to craft beer. If a few beers make you exceptionally hungry, or if you're looking to get dinner before a show at Mesa Arts Center, the menu at 12 West exceeds the usual bar food expectations. Food options start with shareables like smoked mac and cheese, Southwest avocado hummus, the Blap! Blap! Fries, and the Bretzel. That last one is a hefty-ass Bavarian pretzel paired with a generous portion of Belgian wheat beer cheese. There are flatbreads like ricotta-mushroom, bacon jam and fig, and caprese. And salads range from power greens to a poke bowl. But the best thing on the menu will be whatever sandwich you order. Maybe the katsu chicken sandwich — a spiced, extra-crispy fried chicken thigh topped with Thai chili aioli on a warm bun. Our pick is definitely the steak sandwich — grilled flank steak with beefsteak tomato, baby arugula, chimichurri, and pickled red onions, all piled on grilled flatbread. The smell alone should be a Yankee Candle.

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