Best Hidden Gem 2020 | Shamy Market & Bakery | Food & Drink | Phoenix

In the back of their Middle Eastern grocery in a Mesa strip mall, the Alimam family, two generations of refugees from Damascus, run a lunch counter. Breads are central. Their flavors lean Syrian, and they are peeled out of a gas-fired oven. You tear into them when they're just seconds old. Consider safia, canoe-shaped loaves scattered with ground meat in the hollowed middle. Or try manakeesh stretched into an oval and rained with za'atar and salty halloumi cheese. Even the simple pita is pillowy and divine, doubly so when dragged through a side of hummus or baba ghanoush. The secret charms of Shamy extend to everything from sujuk sandwiches to simple sides of fava beans.

Like a superhero, the chef of Ghost Ranch in south Tempe has another identity: distributor of phenomenal peppers to lucky Phoenix chefs and customers. These aren't your workaday jalapenos or habaneros — the chiltepin is a tiny, round chile native to the Sonoran Desert that, when picked wild, bursts with a fruity heat. Andrade, who goes by "Chito," gets the peppers from his family's ranch in Sonora, Mexico. They bring a measured fire to everything from aguachiles to eggs to cookies. One day, if there is any justice in our chile-loving corner of the world, chiltepins will supplant the comparatively insipid alternatives as local king of all peppers. If Andrade keeps on, this might just happen.

The duo behind The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, Danielle Leoni and Dwayne Allen, released their first carbonated beverage under the brand Big Marble Organics earlier this year. That first entry? A ginger beer that took many, many, many batches to get right. The final product is about as right as right can be, sizzling with an intense ginger flavor that takes off across the palate like a jet. Though long on ginger flavor, this ginger beer isn't unevenly spicy or jagged. Rather, it's beautifully round. The best part is that this is just the first product from Big Marble. Already, Leoni and Allen are dreaming up more to come. You can find Big Marble at select locations around metro Phoenix like The Gladly and Changing Hands' First Draft Book Bar; the full list is on the Big Marble website.

A Renaissance man of urban agriculture, Greg Peterson's list of roles goes on for about as long as the morning cry of a backyard chicken. Peterson, a founder of GrowPHX and teacher of permaculture-focused farming methods through the Urban Farm, wants folks to "embrace their own greenness." He instructs on subjects as varied as seed-saving, fruit trees, compost, and water-harvesting. Urban agriculture, he believes, is our future. His north Phoenix property, also called the Urban Farm, contains dozens of fruit trees festooned with juicy loquats, plums, elderberries, citrus, and just about every fruit that grows in Arizona.

It's a scientific fact: Like every carbon-based life form, geeks need to eat, too. Good thing Sarah and Matthew Stubbs are here to help satisfy the hunger pangs of nerds seeking sustenance. Over the past few years, the Scottsdale couple have served up food and drink recipes with a pop culture bent on their website, Geeks Who Eat. Several times monthly, the Stubbses post fantastic creations based off of movies, gaming, comics, and other subject matter. One day, it's directions on how to whip up a cocktail in the spirit of cult slasher flick Pumpkinhead. The next, it's a recipe for Hårgan Meat Pies inspired by Midsommar. Scroll through the archives and discover fare like Eleven's Eggo Sliders, Hulk Smash Potatoes, or the Frozen-themed Arendelle Spice Cake. They also offer culinary tips and tricks for those who aren't as adept in the kitchen as Remy the Rat and dining guides for events like Phoenix Fan Fusion. Now, if they could only conjure up a decent Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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