In our state, where cattle is one of the five foundational Cs, great steaks are our standard. If you want to grill, smoke, or reverse-sear the best beef you can get your hands on, a trip to Roni Terry at The Meat Market is a must. All beef is grass-fed in Arizona. Cuts include porterhouses and ribeyes but stray into rarer finds like oyster steak and Denver steak. The pork and lamb options are equally heady. What sets The Meat Market apart most of all, though, are prepared goods, including excellent sausages and a budding charcuterie program. Now and then, Terry sources high-end products like veal leg, a cause for celebration for the meat lover.
Chris Nelson willed this once-scrappy-newbie seafood shop into a foundational pillar of Phoenix dining. See the name "Nelson's" on a menu next to a crudo, grilled octopus, or spot prawns? Pull the trigger. Though we've gushed about it over the years, the colors, sheen, and vivacity of marine life in the Nelson's display case remain a wonder. Nelson overnights fish into the desert from the world's near and far waterways. Vivid scallops, alien king salmon, pinkish monkfish slabs ready to be baked into osso buco: Some of the fish at Nelson's is so fresh, so rare, and so removed from the ordinary experience of a fish market (or grocery) that it almost seems fake. Chat up Nellie, though, and he'll tell you everything about the creature, right on down to the nickname of the fisherman who caught it.
Too many burgers are about the bacon or the chiles, the aioli or the fried egg. The burgers at Stoop Kid are about beef. When you sink your teeth into this bagel shop's single or double, you can tell that you're eating an animal. The patties are packed with rich, primal juice. The ratios of the burger emphasize everything just right. The Pobrecito is a proper single patty with American cheese, pickle, onion, ketchup, and mustard, the cookout burger of your youth dialed to 11. The Stoop Burger is bigger and sexier, a tall double spilling cheddar from brioche. Steve McMillen's burgers are downright flawless — not bad for a bagel joint.
Why not make sandwiches using our metro's most celebrated bread? The baker behind that bread, Jason Raducha, doesn't have to try too hard to make a beautiful Italian sandwich on his chewy semolina roll. But he does. He takes a minimalistic approach to making sandwiches, his creations featuring quality ingredients, smart combinations, with no parts out of place. A caprese ditches raw tomato for roasted, mozzarella for burrata, and balsamic vinegar for saba. It's a more decadent version of the classic. Similarly, he jolts tuna with cabernet vinegar and incorporates potato, making for a fresher, heartier, more sophisticated sandwich. It's all impressively executed and well-sourced, an ideal older-school sandwich shop for today's age of eating.
The Beckett's Table's grilled cheese isn't like any you've had. It's a play on textures, turned inside out: a golden bun, topped with roasted strands of asiago, oozing with an international blend of cheeses. The pillowy brioche is stuffed with a gooey blend of manchego, asiago, white cheddar, mozzarella, and fontina. Sharp, mild, zesty, piquant, and nutty dance together. How does Beckett make a fluffy brioche bun work with the softness of the five cheeses? Unlike other grilled cheese sandwiches, where the crunch comes from the outside (toasted bread), here it comes from the inside of the sandwich (crispy pancetta). A tomato and roasted pepper bisque accompanies the sandwich. Pro tip: Try at least one nibble with the sandwich dipped in the creamy soup. It's a perfect bite.
Hot dogs exist on a spectrum. There's the sketchy side (gas stations and sporting events) and the gourmet side, which is where Der Wurst hangs out. Every Der Wurst dog starts with a Schreiner's Fine Sausages product and a local, baked-from-scratch pretzel bun. All the offerings have slightly off-color names; we like the Dirty Sanchez, which comes with chorizo, cheese, and jalapenos; the Schnitzel Licker, a breaded and fried dog with lemon mayo and arugula; and the Strap-On, a vegan hot dog. There are other choices on the Der Wurst menu, too, like loaded fries and desserts, but the creative, delicious variations on the standard hot dog are what keep us coming back.
It has been more than a year since Fry Bread House founder Cecelia Miller passed away, but her legacy lives on in the form of puffy, craggy, golden-crisp frybread. At this legendary Phoenix Tohono O'odham restaurant, long a pillar of the urban Indigenous food scene, frybread comes in so many satisfying ways: in burgers, as tacos, with stews, even laced with warm chocolate sauce for the kind of dessert you involuntarily close your eyes to as you eat, soul awash in hot joy. The frybread here is so great, though, that you can eat it plain — experiencing the full gustatory potential of the dish.
There was a while there when we couldn't make it through the week without Stacy's Pampered Pig sandwich (juicy pulled pork and dark-meat chicken), but we're better now that we've acquired an addiction to the fried chicken at this Glendale Avenue food stand instead. We're not sure what Stacy and company are putting into the breading of their juicy deep-fried hunks of fowl, but we don't really care, so long as they keep doing it. Their three-piece dinner can be had with collard greens or candied yams, but we're always tempted to order it with another side of the crispiest, moistest fried chicken we've yet to eat.
The food-from-the-fryer desire is very real. Sometimes you need something hot, starchy, and high in sodium. But instead of sliding behind the wheel and sitting in the sad, emissions-pooping drive-thru at some nearby fast-food joint, roll up to The Hudson Eatery & Bar in central Tempe. This newer neighborhood spot serves quality comfort food and bourbon, but the fries are a major bright spot. They're not too thin, but not a steak fry — these are slender, lengthy boys encased in a nicely crunchy shell. Every piping-hot fry's surface is heavily textured and simply seasoned with just the right amount of salt and pepper (or so it's seemed when we've had them). These are very good fries — like two full rungs above fast food.
We're personally of the opinion that there should be far more outposts of Valley Wings around the metro, but until that happens, we'll gladly make the trip to either the west Phoenix or south Scottsdale locations. How else are we going to enjoy these hot, crispy, perfectly done wings? Each drum or flat is nice and meaty, and the sauces are phenomenal. We're partial to the tangy Valley Sauce, the more-hot-than-honey Honey Hot, the rich Garlic Parmesan, and the thick Sweet Teriyaki. Order some wings to go, and you'll get home to find your food perfectly packaged — no accidental mixing of sauces here. Valley Wings also sells chicken tenders and a few varieties of loaded fries, but if you walk out the door with no wings, you're doing yourself a disservice.