You laugh. Isn't Hillstone a chain? Yes, it's a chain. And yes, if you glance at the menu, you'll find a lot of straightforward dishes: wood-fired rotisserie, a French dip, a cheeseburger, some sushi rolls. If you like restaurants where you are afraid to pronounce a menu item, perhaps move along. But if you're in the mood for the classics done exceptionally well, Hillstone is the spot. We have some recommendations for the (mildly) more adventurous eater, too. The Thai Tuna Roll, which contains macadamia nuts, is one of our favorite things to eat in all of Phoenix. The Thai Noodle Salad, served cold with mango, mint, chopped peanuts, and basil (we swap out the chicken for steak), is an absolute explosion of flavor — the perfect thing to eat on a hot day. The margs, heavy on the Cointreau, are $15 but somehow worth it. And, though we can't usually afford to hang at Hillstone, we often see people who seem vaguely famous when we do. Like a local CEO, or a guitarist from a famous '80s band who retired to Scottsdale, or a woman so beautiful she must be a model or the owner of a 500,000-follower Instagram influencer account. Maybe not the crowd you run with. But if you ain't been to Hillstone, they know something you don't.
Dom Ruggiero has one of the most diverse skill sets of any chef in the Valley. Beyond being a supremely gifted cook, he has grade-A chops in butchery, smoking food, and curing meat, yet also can rock out inspired vegetable cookery. Ruggiero is an underappreciated, quiet master of pasta, too. At Hush, he can usually be seen in the open kitchen or out in the restaurant delivering plates and chewing the fat with friends and regulars. There is a warmth to Hush that's as pleasant as the food. It's a place you want to return to again and again — and yes, it helps that Ruggiero's oxtail Italian beef, chicken liver pâté, and date cake are already stone-cold Valley classics just a few years in.
FnB could win this category on Charleen Badman's imaginative modern Arizonan food alone. It also could win on nothing but Pavle Milic's next-level drink program, highlighted by potable finds from up and down our varied state. Put the two together and you get some black magic. Somehow, Badman seems to get better year after year, turning out stellar dishes like chilled melon soup, lamb ribs over fregola, and Peruvian spring rolls, melding the top, most unusual local produce with her array of global techniques. Milic is a library of knowledge on drinks reaching to the far corners of our state. He sources small-batch ciders from cooler heights where apples grow and even bottles from, yes, Los Milics, his very own Sonoita vineyard.
What do you want? The Pemberton probably has it. This Roosevelt Row entertainment hub, which debuted during the pandemic inside and on the grounds of a renovated 1920 mansion, features a rotating cast of tenants selling everything from craft cocktails served out of a camper (Baby Boy) to vegan pistachio almond ice cream (Melt) to vintage clothes and furniture (Vamp Rodeo, Clubhouse). The Pemberton holds yoga classes on the lawn, hosts live music, and is constantly signing up enticing new tenants, such as NamPik (Thai street food) and Moiselle (a "wine trailer" from sommelier Kristin Humphrey and Grace Perry, of Gracie's Tax Bar). It is also a scene on the weekends — an excellent spot to people-watch or, who knows, maybe even talk to a stranger when you're not Instagramming the food.
They mince the pork and pound the curry paste. They add the other aromatic ingredients: makrut lime leaf, lemongrass, cilantro, turmeric. They shape the sausage, a northern Thai staple known as sai ua. At last, they grill links over hot charcoal and slice them on a bias. Alex and Yotaka Martin's sai ua is explosively flavorful. No surprise there. This is no different from the curries, noodle dishes, soups, laabs, and the rest of the regional Thai deep cuts they lovingly prepare at intimate popup dinners and for preorder takeout. Food geeks have been high on Lom Wong for a year or two now. This is Thai food from the heart, and the stories behind it are on another level.
We could go on for days praising Hearth '61 at Mountain Shadows. The pedigree of the chefs — a culinary trio that includes luminaries Charles Wiley, one of the great fixtures and masters of resort cooking in Arizona — is part of it. Then there's the kitchen's centerpiece, an impressive, wood stone hearth oven that imparts a rustic charm and nuanced smoky flavor to signature dishes like tender short ribs with crispy Brussels sprouts and pork chops dressed up with spicy peaches and beer mustard. Finally, the ambiance: The tight, U-shaped counter is paneled with sleek wood and edged by blue-upholstered chairs. And this being an Arizona resort restaurant, there is Midcentury Modern decor and floor-to-ceiling windows offering scenic views of Camelback Mountain.
Lovecraft's previous happy hour setup, in which prices rose as the hours wore on, used to be like a little devil on our shoulder: It encouraged us to bounce out of work as early as possible to get the best specials. (Not that we would ever do that.) They've switched it up, though, so now whatever time you get there between 3 and 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, you're going to get the same delicious eats at the same price as everyone else. The food specials are selections from Lovecraft's New Mexico-inspired menu; the broken chip queso dip (we add brisket) and the green chile stew with a tortilla are favorites. Drink specials cover craft beers, wine, and cocktails. We've often gotten started at Lovecraft before 6 p.m. and lingered into the night to enjoy the elegant interior, friendly staff, and jovial atmosphere.
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.