Surprised? Year after year, Scott and Bekke Holmes produce barbecue so good that second best is but a distant speck in their rearview mirror, if visible at all. At the original location, a humble lot not far from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, smokers puff deep into the night, lines form in the morning, and sliced brisket lands on the first blessed tray just after 11 a.m. Barbecue is done in the Central Texas style, meaning beef-centric with a minimal rub and mild smoke to let the greatness of the meat shine. Brisket, pastrami, and beef rib are all outstanding. Even the smoked turkey is uncommonly juicy, a solid 10/10.
Finding burnt ends — the uneven, barky ends lopped off a brisket — on local barbecue menus isn't easy. But Michael Sloan's Phat Turtle BBQ does Kansas City-style barbecue; burnt ends are a must. Phat Turtle's have a heavy smoke and the long, unholy dissolve of wildly fatty slow-cooked meat. You can order them on a plate or platter, caramelized with barbecue sauce for a sweet starter, or chunky and spilling from the bun of a happily sloppy sandwich. Burnt ends are by far Phat Turtle's best meat, a jiggling cornerstone for this barbecue joint that claims to smoke low and slow in "Kansas City, Arizona."
We asked a big question in early 2021: Will the next generation of Phoenix pizza be mobile? Thanks to certain juggernauts being knocked out or limited by COVID, that may be the case. Cue Quadro Pizza. Though owner Harry Canelos would bake just 50 pizzas, two nights a week, out of a mobile trailer, his were some of the most memorable in our pizza-crazed desert town. Pies are square, heavy, and sliced into quadrants. Fermentation, up to four days' worth, is used to develop a crunchy yet soft, airy, and delicious crust. Ingredients include Italian tomatoes underneath Grana Padano cheese — grated on at two separate points in the process. Overall, Quadro is a must-order for local pizza lovers. To grab one of Quadro's few dozen weekly pies, check in on Canelos after he posts his weekly menu to Instagram [email protected]
For the better part of a decade now, Gio Osso has plated some of the Valley's most progressive Italian food. Now, he also blazes our very best Neapolitan pizza. Osso hews close to the ageless traditions of Naples, birthplace of pizza, including the signature puffy crust, micro-thin center, San Marzano tomatoes, and cooking each pie at volcanic heat. Technically, the pizza is almost without error. Toppings, though, are where Osso truly separates from the pack. He isn't afraid to do taleggio, truffle, trumpet mushrooms, and arugula. Or stracchino cheese with smoked pancetta, caramelized onion, and chestnut honey. These are heady, old-school ingredients arranged in thoughtful ways — resulting in truly excellent pizza.
The owner of Andreoli, Giovanni Scorzo, grew up in Italy's far south. The dry goods, pastries, meats and cheeses, and prepared foods he offers all reflect his link to Italy, which hits you with the smell of fresh-baked bread upon entering. Scorzo crafts all kinds of ingredients from scratch, including cured meats, cheese like mozzarella and burrata, and intricate pastries like sfogliatelle. Plated dishes include an all-star lineup of stalwarts from up and down Italy, including handmade ravioli. Slippery, the thin outer noodle soft, the fragrant fillings even softer, Scorzo's mushroom, veal, squash, and other ravioli channel the Old World. They conjure the humble home kitchens where dough crimps and flour clouds catch the light — the true spirit of pasta.
Lately, charcuterie boards have risen to the level of art: Cheeses, meats, jams, and crackers get displayed so gorgeously that you stop to take a photo before digging in. The Sicilian Butcher definitely understands how a charcuterie board has a chance to make a memorable impression. There's not one, but four different choices for boards, everything from the Polenta board with meatballs, cheese, and toast points; the Cured Meat and Cheese board, which is accompanied by pickled vegetables and jams; and the over-the-top Sicilian in Strada, which delivers panelli fritters, potato croquette, craft meatballs with polenta, artisanal meats and cheeses, as well as jams. Served on a 5-foot-long board, it can easily feed a family or a group of friends. And while you're feasting, don't forget that happy hour is all day, every day; you likely won't regret pairing your charcuterie with a $6 glass of wine or $5 beer.
A $185 seat at Shinji Kurita's omakase temple gives you more than a meal. It's a ticket to a culinary event, a spectacle. Kurita sharpens his knife on the whetstone, whirls chopsticks and pinches food with surgical precision, hand-sculpts blocks of sushi rice with the whole-body movements of a ballerina, and gently brushes immaculate fish with soy-sake reduction and places it before you. Kohada nigiri drips a few dark drops onto its plate before vanishing into your mouth. The fish is incredibly fresh. Even the rice seems to burst with perfect fragrance. The shad is excellent. The eel, too. The eggplant with bonito shavings rocks. Shit, you'll actually even see fresh wasabi root. Kurita is our undisputed sushi king.
Housed in a wing of the Galvanize co-working space downtown, Kaizen doesn't look like a sushi restaurant. And yet, it's handily the best sushi restaurant to have plugged in its rice cooker since the pandemic began. Chef Gustavo Munoz prepares traditional Japanese sushi (maki, sashimi, etc.) but also raw-fish dishes that straddle Japan and the Americas. They're as brilliant as they are unlikely. Highlights include a scallop number, pearly coins of bivalve bathed in an electric dark green yuzu-and-serrano-charged aguachile, and a Peruvian-Japanese tiradito with similar brightness but much more creamy oomph. Critically, eel, snapper, and other simple nigiri taste clean and fresh. This is your new spot for sushi downtown.
Early in the pandemic, Osaka native Yusuke Kuroda was laid off from his job at the reputed American Japanese chain Nobu. He resettled in Arizona, where he opened Origami Ramen Bar in Ahwatukee, putting his learnings from Nobu and cooking in Japan into long-simmered bowls of noodle soup. For rich miso ramen, the simmering of chicken and pork bones lasts 12 hours. A blend of miso pastes from Hokkaido lends even more depth. One slurp, and a wild flavor landscape of umami comes to life, incredible in its intensity and subtleties. His other ramens are also exceptional, including a paitan that is pretty much chicken soup to the seventh power.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, it's a feeding frenzy at Chandler's Phoenix Palace. That's when dim sum is served. During those five hours, a steady offering of delectable Cantonese dishes is wheeled around the dining area's many tables in a kind of ballet performance of culinary hospitality. With so many choices, it takes no effort to litter your table with used plates as you taste savory dishes like spare ribs, steamed and baked barbecue buns, sesame balls, Chinese broccoli, roast duck, crispy pork, and soy sauce chow mein. And don't worry, there's plenty to satisfy your sweet tooth: Creamy buns stuffed with a rich custard and sesame balls filled with sugar and red bean paste are heady, confectionary delights.