Sapiens Paleo Kitchen is something of a hidden gem. The restaurant is housed in a plaza near McDowell Mountain Regional Park, an incredibly scenic part of northeast Scottsdale. It serves French cuisine on a 100-percent paleo menu — cool on its own — but also from a completely gluten-free menu, from a completely gluten-free kitchen. Here, you can order the Paleo Bread Platter for starters, the Sapiens Burger, Paleo Meatloaf, and the Sapiens Crème Brûlée — all dishes normally avoided by gluten-free diners. The entire menu is built differently (we're looking at you, hot pink Paleo Dip), because the food here caters to those with specific dietary restrictions — by choice or otherwise. You won't have to endure the annoying ordering process of special requests and substitutions here. The staff gets it.
Not being vegans ourselves, we were skeptical the first time we accompanied a vegan friend to Verdura for lunch. We left believers. It's a cliche, but you barely miss the meat when chowing down on menu items like the hearty Rainbow Connection (a veggie sandwich with pesto "mayo" on Noble Bread) or the spicy General Pow Cauliflower with jasmine rice and Korean broccoli. Just make sure you save some room to split the Goth Waffle with your dining companion; we've written about this black waffle topped with berries, compote, and shaved coconut before, and we still rave about it every chance we get. And since we enjoy style and substance, we feel compelled to mention that the rock 'n' roll-themed decor is just one more thing we love about Verdura.
Green's "vegan comfort food for the masses" includes delicious and deceptively meaty plant-based versions of carnivorous classics like burgers, Buffalo wings, cheesesteaks, chili, and barbecue sandwiches — all so good most people can hardly believe they're vegan. That's the whole point. Green New American Vegetarian owner Damon Brasch wants to offer American classics that every family member can enjoy, including kids (there are faux chicken nuggets, a kids' burger, and a mini "cheese" quesadilla on the menu). Samosas, smothered fries, and crab puffs are among the savory sides. Herbivores can get their food fixes, too, with Green's variety of specialty salads and garden burritos. To satisfy a sweet tooth, pop over next door to the Phoenix location and peruse Nami's menu of soy-based ice cream treats and vegan baked goods.
Nepalese dumplings. Filipino chicken skewers. Cold brew and soursop frozen ice pops. The Uptown Farmers' Market, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the parking lot of North Phoenix Baptist Church, is back, with prepared food vendors firing up the grills and the other stands selling, between them, just about anything you might want from an Arizona farmers' market. There's grass-fed beef, heirloom tomatoes, rye bread, hand-pounded salsa. As the seasons change, so too does the glorious rainbow bounty of farm-fresh ingredients. The fruits and vegetables shine at stands like Wong Family Farms and McClendon's Select. Whether you come by for lobster rolls, pickles, or duck eggs, the community and wonderful vibe at this market managed by Bo Mostow will be a highlight of your week or weekend.
It was big news when Korean-American supermarket chain H-Mart opened its first Arizona location in Mesa last summer, and we're happy to report that the store lives up to the hype. H-Mart has it all: a dizzying variety of Asian groceries, a not-to-be-missed food court, and killer K-pop playing on the speakers. Sure, it's no mom-and-pop shop, but it also sells everything you need and everything you didn't think you needed until you stumbled across it. Stock up on frozen dumplings, chili sauce, rambutan, fresh seafood, outstanding chilled sake, a new rice cooker, and much, much more. On your way out, you can stop by the food court and chow down on Korean, Japanese, and Chinese takeout — including a to-die-for Korean fried chicken vendor.
One of these days, we're going to head to Lee Lee, fill up a cart with products whose labels we can't understand, and take our purchases home for some global culinary exploration. But until we conduct that grand experiment, you can just catch us at Lee Lee for our usual purchases, like frozen shumai, Filipino lumpia, containers of fried garlic that go great on everything, Bulgarian red pepper spread, central European meats, Korean ramen, and so much more. We make sure we have extra time to shop when we get to one of Lee Lee's two Valley locations; we like to stroll the wide aisles at leisure, looking at the unusual products and appreciating the gastronomic diversity of the world we live in.
There's pizza sauce, and then there's the house-brand pizza sauce we get from this west-side deli, a Phoenix tradition since 1975. Those in the know about Italian delis — and anyone too lazy to make their own red gravy — will tell you that Romanelli's pizza sauce is the best in town. So's the selection of Italian cheeses and cured meats, holiday candies and cookies, olive oils and pastas. They'll cater your next office party or bar mitzvah, and they'll serve you a delicious lunch to go, but what Romanelli's will mostly do is make you want to back up a truck and fill it with provolone balls and mostaccioli, cannoli and pizzelles. Maybe you'll be inspired to make your own, in which case this family-owned institution sells pizzelle irons, cheese-ballers, and cannoli shells.
Owned by Mahfam Moeeni-Alacron and her husband, Cristobal Alacron, Mingle + Graze was a dream many years in the making. At the shop, which opened in early 2019 in charming downtown Chandler, Moeeni-Alacron uses her expertise to select just the right cheeses for her store and clientele. She also educates people about new flavors. You can build your own cheese board and sample their new cheeses while you're there. (The pecorino is definitely worth a try.) It only takes a few visits before you become part of the Mingle + Graze community; the owners will know you by name after the first time, and once you're a regular, the staff will start working on your food as soon as you step into the shop. This is the best place for cheese in town, but cheese is by no means the only offering at Mingle + Graze. The menu is peppered with creative nods to her Persian and his Chilean heritage in the form of sandwiches, salads, and desserts.
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.