Best Chef 2022 | Yotaka 'Sunny' Martin | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Allison Young

Last year, we recognized Thai eatery Lom Wong as the best pop-up restaurant. This year, they've secured their own space. The restaurant is always busy but cozy, and the food feels like a communal experience. That's what self-taught Chef Yotaka "Sunny" Martin of Lom Wong has fostered. But the atmosphere is nothing next to the culinary experience of Lom Wong. Martin grew up on a farm in Thailand, where her family raised livestock and grew rice, herbs, and vegetables. She brings that inspiration and foundation to every dish on Lom Wong's menu, and the depth of her recipes makes the experience unlike any other Thai restaurant in Phoenix. Martin does as much as she can by hand and is faithful to the region's culinary traditions. This means she pounds her curry paste, makes her own sausage and grills it over charcoal, and brings in as many regional flavors as possible. Meals are made for sharing, and the current menu highlights include sai ua (charcoal-grilled Thai sausage), kaeng phet fak tawng (curry paste, bamboo shoots, and eggplant), and the tom yum haeng sen yai (stir-fried rice noodles, langoustine, and tom yum sauce).

Mark Chacón, baker-owner of Chaconne Patisserie, is not only the best pastry chef in Phoenix, this year he was named a James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. Though he has no formal training, he's worked at some of the best bakeries in the world, including Tartine, Chez Panisse, and Hart Bageri in Denmark. When you're eating a Chacón-made pastry, you know it. An expert in lamination with the rare ability to weave seasonal fruits, like pluots and cherries, into gorgeous fruit tarts and dazzling danishes, Chacón creates delicacies that pair technical excellence with a dig-in decadence. Think gloriously gooey pecan sticky buns on rich brioche, caramelized croissants coiled with paper-thin layers for a shatteringly crispy finish, and rustically regal hand pies studded with poached pears on flaky, all-butter pâte brisée. Available at some of the best restaurants and coffee shops in Phoenix, including Tratto, Bacanora, and Futuro, as well as farmers' markets and by special order on his website, there's seriously no better way to indulge your carb cravings.

Johnny Chu has spent decades creating, preparing, and serving tasty Asian cuisine, earning him a Valley-wide following. His roster of eateries includes Lucky Dragon, Fate, and Red Thai. That last one felt the wrath of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Chu had to close the doors of the chic-meets-casual north Phoenix restaurant. Earlier in 2022, Chu came in hot, literally, with his new spot, Mifan Claypot Kitchen. Delicious dishes are prepared at 600 degrees in clay pots — a Southeast Asian cooking tradition — allowing steam to do most of the work, meaning there's less oil and fat in the equation. Add a protein of choice to options such as HK Typhoon Style, where vegetables mix with crispy garlic, a butter sauce, and Sichuan peppercorns for an intoxicating mix of flavors. The menu, which also features an array of soups and appetizers, is highly vegan-friendly. Chu's back, and his commitment to feeding Phoenix with healthy, mouthwatering meals is a part of what makes him a local treasure.

Luana's Coffee and Beer didn't want to move. But after being shuffled out of their original McDowell Road digs, the cafe's owners made the very best of a bad situation. The coffee shop, bar, and hangout moved a few miles north and expanded into the old Mu Shu Asian Grill on Thomas Road. From the outside, the Mu Shu sign and the pointed roof remain. But inside, the space is transformed. Dark walls, plush velvet chairs, spinning vinyl, and draping greenery set the tone, rounded out by a menu of coffee, beer, sandwiches, pizzas, and baked goods. We're partial to the indulgent Campfire Smores mocha with hazelnut, cinnamon, and mocha, or if we show up at lunchtime, the And Put Your Spell on Me spicy chicken salad sandwich.

Dominic Armato

Walk into either location of Pa'La, and you're likely to run into a chef. Yes, Claudio Urciuoli, the chef who owns the eateries, but also other chefs from restaurants around the Valley. People who really appreciate every element of food eat here. At the 24th Street bungalow, the menu is filled with tapas, little plates that let individual ingredients shine and provide small but intense bursts of flavor. Try one of Pa'La's signature grain bowls topped with fresh seafood, or lunch on a gourmet sandwich. They are served on Italian schiacciata bread, made fresh in the restaurant's wood-fired oven and stuffed with fillings based on what's fresh and in season. At the newer downtown location, you can get a rotating selection of wood-fired pizzas and inventive dishes, heavy on the seafood, inspired by Japanese and Italian cuisine.

Benjamin Leatherman

ComicX is a feast for the taste buds and the eyes — if your eyes enjoy superheroes, comic books, cartoons, and all things nerdy. A chain with more than 30 locations in Mexico, ComicX's only U.S. location is right here at north Phoenix's Desert Ridge Marketplace. If you can tear yourself away from the eatery's endless homages to pop culture, you'll find a menu full of well-done restaurant standards, many of which have clever names. Try the Hen Solo (a hot chicken sandwich), Wade's Chimichanga (a reference to Deadpool, of course), or the Captain 'Merica, a cocktail crafted from Crown Royal, Luxardo Marachino, squeezed lemon, and green chartreuse. When your eyes and stomach are full, you can empty your wallet by purchasing some of the pop culture items available in the gift shop.

Looking for a brunch backdrop that'll make all eyes envious of your Instagram? The Canal Club at The Scott provides a 1930s Havana-inspired ambiance that gives all the vibes. Known for its photogenic spots and Cuban cuisine, try pulling a seat at the bar and shooting underneath the Canal Club sign while drinking a Sin & Santeria, or snagging the corner booth for the green, jungle wallpaper while you check out IG Stories. Don your favorite flowy dress, floppy hat, and raffia heels for photos, and don't forget your best accessories — food and drink, of course. Go classic with a Cubano sandwich or go sweet with churro doughnut holes. Pair with a Cocojito cocktail and your best brunch babes for photo and video content.

When waiting in line for a show at The Van Buren in downtown Phoenix, the obvious pizza choice is the one connected to the music venue. But just a few steps away, Via Della serves slices that are a cut above. This little brick building beckons to concertgoers waiting in line, as it glows with neon and warm light from a fiery pizza oven churning out fresh pies. The menu offers riffs on classic pizza flavors, with slices topped with vodka sauce, prosciutto, fresh basil, and crumbled pistachios. A few slices and a bottle of beer picked from the pizza shop's fridge are sure to leave you ready to dance the night away, and even if you're not going to a show, these slices sing.

Natasha Yee

Valentine, the all-day eatery inside Modern Manor in the Melrose District, has made quite a splash in the Phoenix dining scene since it opened last year. Part of the reason why has been the way Chef Donald Hawk incorporates Arizona ingredients into menu items that both honor and elevate the traditional foods of the region. A piñon croissant is baked with White Sonoran wheat and piñon frangipane. The elote pasta, a customer favorite, includes house-made tagliarini, Hassayampa asiago cheese, crispy corn, and chile de arbol. Even the squash latte, crafted with espresso, O'odham squash, mesquite, and milk, is an expression of the culinary riches Arizona has to offer.

The decline of shopping malls means that there are fewer places around town where we've got plenty of dining options in one compressed space. Fortunately, Pemberton PHX off of Second Street between Moreland and Portland streets in downtown Phoenix has an ever-changing variety of dining options. Current tenants include the fun, casual, Baja Tacos & More; an adorable charcuterie and wine food truck called Moiselle, and Viejito Hibachi, a Japanese food truck with rice and noodle dishes accompanied by steak, shrimp, or lobster. Melt serves small-batch ice cream flavors like maple bacon and Viet coffee out of Chinese takeout boxes. The Pemberton is a great place to try some different options all at once: a pizza from here and some tacos from there. And when you get thirsty, Baby Boy is a fun blue-lit bar that serves Tajín-rimmed margaritas and the like.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of