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.
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]