Best Classic Diner 2023 | 40th Street Cafe | Food & Drink | Phoenix

In a city dominated by dusty ham-and-egg dives of dubious quality and kitschy faux-retro corporate chains, 40th Street Cafe stands tall as a bastion of quality, no-frills short-order diner fare. This boxy little joint may lack the patina and romance of the Tom Waits aesthetic, but the servers can sass, the kitchen can cook and there's even a tiny counter crammed into the back of its diminutive strip mall footprint. The food isn't artful, just pretty damn good — exactly what you expect, right down the middle of the plate. A Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich with an egg your way comes on bread griddled so perfectly it shatters. Pancakes are thick and fluffy with a gentle, sweet scent. The tuna melt doesn't fuss, filled with tuna salad that's little more than fish and mayonnaise. And local touches shine, like a "taco omelet" that arrives smothered in tender, flavorful chunks of stewed beef.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

Should we care if a restaurant is cool or trendy somehow? Yes, if it's done in the way Welcome Diner has over the last seven years from its place near 10th and Fillmore streets. Because it's not just that Welcome has repurposed and reinvigorated the look of the '50s-style diner for our modern age. Or that it's taken the same approach to its menu, which includes jackfruit french fries, a burger with peanut butter and garlic aioli, chicken biscuits with house beer mustard and the criminally unsung bourbon salted chocolate pecan pie. Not even that it's always crowded with the young and cool flocking for chicken melts and PBR tall cans. No, it's that Welcome does all of this without making a big deal out of it. That truly unassuming approach, and that care for a laid-back but nonetheless tantalizing experience, is why Welcome Diner is undeniably cool across the board. It's why this diner has helped shape and reflect the city's culture around the most important things, like community and slamming down endless poutine.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

The Larder + the Delta celebrates Southern cuisine, showcasing and evolving well-known dishes like shrimp and grits, Hoppin' John and blackened catfish. Chef Stephen Jones cooks seasonally, spotlighting Arizona produce and inviting diners to look beyond the classics with playful dishes that bring local ingredients to the fore, like shatteringly crisp chicken skins with oranges, dressed with honey from Twisted Bee Farms. The kitchen is open to the intimate dining room and L-shaped bar — offering a chef's table-like experience where you can watch them and the bartenders at their craft. The space is always humming but never loud, with a hip-hop playlist in the background as Jones' team puts on dinner and a show.

The denizens of West Chicago would be lost without a good dog or beef sandwich every now and again, and though Portillo's is the hulking behemoth that stole the spotlight, Luke's remains the insider's spot for the best Chicago-style eats. Cary Del Principe has the pedigree to do this food right. He comes from a family that knows the steam tables and deli slicers of Chicago grub stands, and the institutional knowledge shows. The Vienna dogs have the telltale steam magic, the sausage is fat and juicy with great char, and Italian beef stands that take the time to roast their own rather than using processed, cryovac beef are getting hard to come by in Chicago, to say nothing of Phoenix. Plus, Luke's offers Chicagoland esoterica like corn roll tamales, pepper and egg sandwiches and a killer Maxwell Street Polish. The soda fountain is even loaded with RC Cola.

Richardson's has been serving New Mexican cuisine in central Phoenix for 35 years, and it continues to reign supreme, serving massive portions and graciously drenching them with its red and green chiles. A visit to the restaurant almost feels like an occasion, thanks to its moody lighting; comfy, cozy booths; and ever-roaring fireplace that set the tone and feel delightfully old Santa Fe and, in an ever-evolving restaurant scene, old Phoenix. The Santa Fe Trail portion of Richardson's menu reads like a compilation of greatest hits, including classic New Mexican dishes like chile relleno, carne adovada and enchiladas. If you can't decide, the New Mexican Platter is a veritable smorgasbord, featuring a cheese relleno, chicken burrito and tamale of the day, along with rice, beans, your choice of chile to top it with and a dinner plate-size tortilla. Bring your appetite — and plans for those inevitable leftovers.

Benjamin Leatherman

There aren't very many British pubs in the Valley, but out of the slim pickings, George & Dragon is undeniably the best. Grab a stool by the bar, a high-top table in the main dining room decked out with football flags and scarves or a table in the cozy side room filled with royal memorabilia. Start with a pint, such as a Boddingtons or Smithwick's on tap, before digging into the menu. Highlights include the bangers and mash; the chicken curry, available as an entree or stuffed into a flaky pasty; and the Sunday roast, available, you guessed it, on Sundays. Mint sauce is available for those who wouldn't contemplate eating lamb without it. Finish off with a sticky toffee pudding and maybe a game of darts.

Lauren Cusimano

The local Irish pub scene has gotten a wee bit smaller in recent years after beloved spots like Rosie McCaffrey's, O'Connor's and Rula Bula each went belly up. Thankfully, The Dubliner is still around and remains not only the Valley's longest-running Irish pub but also its best. How has it survived? It ain't just the luck o' the Irish, fella. The northeast Phoenix spot offers all the comforts of an authentic public house — including Emerald Isle-style decor, imports like Smithwick's and Harp on draft and a wall of whiskeys — plus a full menu of great Irish (Guinness-braised beef, Molly Malone mussels) and not-so Irish (their Reuben sandwich is top-notch) selections. Around the bar are the most colorful regulars you'll encounter outside of County Cork, and the weekends always feature a mighty craic with sets by the Valley's best Celtic musicians and bands. It's been that way since Seamus McCaffrey (the local publican behind the downtown Phoenix pub of the same name) opened The Dubliner in 1984, when it was reportedly the first bar in town with Guinness on tap. Go for an evening and you'll swear off other local pubs.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

A decade ago, this pick would have earned howls of disapproval from the red sauce, white tablecloth and Chianti crowd. But Phoenix seems to have finally figured out that one of the most talented Italian cooks in the nation has been here all along, slinging his uncompromising vision of what Italian food is and should be, waiting for the day when everybody else would finally catch up. Boy, have they, and not a day too soon. Andreoli Italian Grocer is constantly packed lately, and it's no wonder why. The casual trattoria-style fare served at Giovanni Scorzo's counter service market may seem humble, but those who know, know. There's no pizazz or flash here. Just excellent ingredients, simply prepared with a maniacal attention to detail and tradition. Scorzo and his family can do it all, from the fresh-baked breads to the house-cured charcuterie to the perfect pasta and panini to the stunning dessert case. This is Italian food for Italians — simple, soulful and elegant. If you don't like it, Scorzo will tell you you're wrong. And he's probably right.

Tirion Morris

A whitewashed bungalow with a roomy front porch and exposed brick interior may not immediately bring to mind exquisite French cuisine, but Sottise puts guests in a Gallic frame of mind from the first sip or bite. It would be worth a trip just to enjoy the casually elegant ambiance at this attractive downtown historic home, but the food and drinks are on par with anything you might find at top Parisian cafes, countryside brasseries or while sitting by the Riviera. Its seafood specialties — from jumbo tiger prawns to a knockout salmon rillette — are fresh and delicate, and the classic escargot de Bourgogne in garlic butter sauce could not be more tender or well-executed. Even the deviled eggs are transcendent. Everything on the menu boasts the best-sourced ingredients, from the humble little gems salad to the caviar menu for all you big spenders. The refreshing cocktails and superbly chosen wine list, packed with cherry-picked all-stars from Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux and more, round out the experience. Sure, it's a bit pricey, but think of it this way: It's like a whirlwind vacation to the best of all things French without the expense of plane tickets and hotels.

Here are our personal rules for dining at Ms. Martha's Caribbean Kitchen: Check the hours before you go. Make sure you have time to wait. And maybe don't visit that one week of the month when you're hanging on till the next paycheck hits. Tucked away in a North Phoenix shopping center, Ms. Martha's serves mouth-watering Caribbean fare on a limited schedule (three days a week with a fairly early closing time). We love the gently fried and impossibly flaky pates filled with beef, fish or veggies; the deep, rich flavor of the oxtails, which we like to order on a bed of rice and beans; and the pleasantly spicy jerk chicken. Nothing at Ms. Martha's comes quickly (good food rarely does) or cheaply, but none of that will matter after one bite of a perfectly spiced goat curry.

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