Part informal breakfast spot with lighter plates, part bakery, part coffeehouse where you can eternally linger eating snacks and enjoying a slow caffeine drip, Ollie Vaughn's punches way above its weight when it comes to morning eating. The croissant creations, like an egg sandwich and a croissant pudding, simply don't miss. The breakfast sandwich with meat changes all the time and tends to feature banger after banger, like a buttermilk biscuit with ham, eggs, and pimento; or another biscuit sammy with Schreiner's sausage, green chiles, and eggs. Some of the best baked goods here are classics. Don't sleep on the workaday strawberry muffin with ample powdered sugar. At Ollie Vaughn's, the tea selection is just wide enough, and the coffee list covers all the essential bases admirably.
If you want the full brunch experience, meaning the breakfast cocktails and sticky sweets and wide savory selection and good coffee and a scene, then Tucson-based Prep & Pastry is the spot. The pastry counter of the on-canal Scottsdale location has some circus skills, from a croissant with puff and shatter to passion fruit pavlova and praline eclair. The plated brunch dishes are just as creative. Highlights include a peanut-butter-and-jelly French toast on Japanese milk bread, breakfast poutine with pork belly, and a cast-iron duck confit with cherries and goat cheese that could masquerade as a dinner entree. Drinks are thoughtful riffs on brunch classics, and they tend to disappear fast in the pleasant blur of a meal that reaches everything that the idea of brunch promises, but almost never actually delivers.
If we have one quibble with our fair metropolis, it's a shortage of late-night dining options that aren't a Berto's drive-thru or a chain diner. Thank goodness for Grand Avenue Pizza Company, then, which satisfies our craving for great food from a locally owned business well into the wee hours of the morning. Grand Avenue prides itself on its ingredients, like its all-natural pizza dough and house-made toppings and sauces. The result is pies a couple of notches above a lot of the pizzas in this town and pretty much anything else you can order at 2 in the morning. We love the Jimmy Legs, which comes topped with pesto, chicken, bacon, onion, broccoli, tomato, cheddar, and mozzarella, but sometimes we prefer to create a pie of our own. Fortunately, Grand Avenue lets us pick our toppings, and the offerings include fresh jalapenos, roasted garlic, and caramelized onions. Whatever time we sidle up to the pizzeria's order window, we know we're in for a treat.
Located on the grounds of the historic Hermosa Inn, Lon's at the Hermosa (and the adjacent Lon's Last Drop) puts the paradise in Paradise Valley. The white-tablecloth Southwestern resort restaurant is heavy with colorful umbrellas, turquoise and tile accents, and the clinks of silverware and wine glasses — all surrounding the large bubbling water fountain that's the patio's centerpiece. Nearby, but in the same courtyard, Lon's Last has cowboy energy — probably because it's named for the art on the wall, a Lon Megargee painting of a cowboy watering his horse from his Stetson hat. There are five outdoor fireplaces, lots of beer and whiskey, a wood-burning oven, and house cocktails like The Last Drop (Tucson's Whiskey Del Bac single malt whiskey, Luxardo apricot, sweet Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, and blood orange). But if you can catch this sprawling patio in the spring, specifically during that week of blooming yellow palo verde trees, expect courtyard-side flowers in just about every color of the rainbow.
You miss the good old days of Tempe. We get it; we miss that golden, grimy era, too. But something had to take over the space once occupied by Sail Inn, the legendary Tempe rock club. We didn't give The Lodge, a Sasquatch-themed sports bar that opened in 2015 in the location, much of a chance at first. But six years later, we must admit: It's a damn solid sports bar. The woodsy theme, sure, whatever, it's fine. The patio's nice and spacious too. But we go for the grub. We practically lived here during the Suns' playoff run, during which time we became big fans of the Nacho Mountain (absolutely huge), the chicken tenders (we are tender aficionados, and these are some of the best in town), and the green chile pork stew (endorsed by no less a personage than Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives). The staff's super-attentive, and you don't have to deal with the kind of undergrad nonsense you'll encounter a few blocks away on Mill Avenue. Change can be bittersweet. At The Lodge, at least it's also delicious.
Phillip Lewkowicz, vice president of operations for Monarch Hospitality Group, and his family own the high-end Scottsdale spot Café Monarch — an Old Town joint that has won multiple accolades for being the most romantic restaurant in town. Well, until now. Their spinoff, a venture called Reserve, has usurped its parent eatery. As with many luxury products, scarcity is baked into the concept: Reserve serves only 25 diners per night. Guests first pass through a lush, garden entrance, then an interior welcome area, where a cocktail hour with hors d'oeuvres commences. Then it's on to the courtyard, where dinner is served. A tasting menu of 12 courses is offered, with other bites in between. Three advanced sommeliers help with wine pairings. But the patio, the aforementioned courtyard, is a vision of soft lighting, chattering diners, clinking wine glasses, and romance. It's truly the best new date night spot in town.
People say you can get a really good porterhouse at any number of places around the Valley. But can you? Not according to us. So we swear by the steaks at this Phoenix perennial, which serves the finest corn-fed slabs of beef in town. The Stockyards' claim that it's "Arizona's Original Steakhouse" isn't hooey — the restaurant has been with us since 1947, offering entrees with an emphasis on hearty flavors and honking portions. There's no gourmet trickery here; no mushroom sauces or demiglace to detract from the filets and sirloins, the giant baked potatoes and fresh-steamed vegetables. And if you find yourself wanting to eat a little less food or spend a little less money, don't sleep on the restaurant's 1889 Saloon, a side room with turn-of-the-century appeal and a lighter menu of sliders, wings, and even calf fries. What we're saying is: Take your meat-and-potatoes ass to the Stockyards.
We have one teeny-tiny complaint about Welcome Diner: We don't get to eat there as often as we want. The retro-style diner is only open for breakfast and lunch on the weekends, which means we usually have to wait till dinnertime to belly up to the counter. But it's worth the wait. Fortunately, we can order off Welcome's breakfast menu any time of the day or night. The Whip Toast (French toast with berry compote and whipped cream) is a favorite. But there are no bad choices on Welcome's tight menu of burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, and chicken and biscuits. If it's hot or rainy, we try to squeeze into Welcome's retro-chic interior, but on crisp fall nights, we love to eat and drink on the patio, where denizens of the Garfield neighborhood gather to enjoy this local treasure.
Since 1964, Elizabeth White's hallowed soul food joint has catered to the downtown masses. Stepping in for a lunch of classic soul food plates like juicy, shattering fried chicken or stewed oxtails melting off the bone feels like existing inside of a textbook photograph, or stumbling onto a movie set. The Sharpied walls, half-open kitchen, and quick, friendly service feel teleported out of an older age of hospitality. You can't miss with the food here. Even the stewed collard greens and unadorned black-eyed peas are completely on point. If you want to end a pilgrimage to Mrs. White's with a bang, finish with the sweet potato pie.
As born-and-raised Southwesterners, we're deeply envious of anyone who got to grow up eating the kind of food they serve at Flavors of Louisiana. Now that we've been initiated in the ways of Cajun and Creole cuisine, we're hooked. What should we talk about first? Maybe the Dunkin Catfish, two perfectly done strips of fried fish on top of crawfish etouffee-covered rice. Or the Cajun Trio of jambalaya, crawfish pie, and gumbo, which delights the senses and stuffs you to the gills. It's all excellent, and all served with a smile by Flavors of Louisiana's charming staff (that Southern hospitality thing is no joke). Resist the temptation to finish your entree; take it home. That way, you can end your feast with peach cobbler or beignets. Or both.