Best Place to Eat in a Basement 2023 | Rough Rider | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Kyla Hein

It's a fact: Basement establishments are just cooler. We don't make the rules. We'd make Rough Rider a frequent destination for food and drink even if it wasn't underneath Roosevelt Row's "so hot right now" Ten-O-One building. We love the intricately crafted cocktails (they're known for their boozy tea punches and cobblers made with house-made jams) and the diverse menu, which offers everything from oysters to duck breast to pasta. But it's all made better with the subterranean location and the inviting decor: Think dim lighting, inviting furniture and a retro masculine vibe (it is named after Teddy Roosevelt, after all). Show up for happy hour for discounts on food and a special cocktail menu.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

There are lots of upsides to wood-fired cooking. Food not only picks up the flavors of whatever wood you're using, but it's often much more moist and tender. If you're not exactly keen on figuring out these techniques on your own, you could always head to Pa'La. Pa'La's offerings at its two locations consist mostly of tapas small bites that draws influences from Japan, the Mediterranean and South America. From that fusion approach, we get a menu that's constantly evolving, with dishes cooked in alignment with the best-sourced items. Standouts include wild Mexican shrimp with a garlic chile ginger dressing, roasted polenta, wood-fired octopus and Niman ranch bone marrow. Add in some primo wine and cocktail options, and what you get isn't simply a really great night out. Rather, it's a celebration of how powerful food can be, and the ways in which one novel choice can unlock something monumental in how we enjoy and contextualize an evening out. You say wood-fired, but we'd also say this is food lovingly and carefully forged for the enjoyment of mind and body alike.

Lauren Cusimano

Long before craft cocktails and trendy vegan fare, before Chris Bianco put our pizza scene on the map, before Arizona became a state and even before the Spanish showed up, the land you're standing on belonged to Native people. So we can't think of any food that's more authentically Arizona than that of the Indigenous community. The Fry Bread House was opened in 1992 by Cecilia Miller, a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation. It won a James Beard Award in 2012 in the America's Classics category, and even after Miller's death in 2020, it continues to be one of the most beloved restaurants in Phoenix. The menu is simple and hasn't changed much over the years because it doesn't need to. Options like red or green chile beef frybread tacos with beans, cheese and lettuce; hominy stew with chumuth (a Native flatbread); and for dessert, a piping hot frybread drizzled with honey have kept customers coming back for 30 years.

Allison Young

Scottsdale hotel restaurant Cala doesn't feel like it's in a hotel — or in Scottsdale. The restaurant, decorated with light woods, leathers, linen and greenery, feels like a little piece of the Mediterranean. The food also does its best to transport guests to far-away places and has something for everyone, from simple and familiar to exciting and complex. Try the Lumache a la Vodka, a creamy tomato-based sauce that blankets tender pasta, or the spicy calabrese pizza for a taste of Italy. The Moroccan chicken with Egyptian sesame seed dukkah and the muhammara, a spicy red pepper dip originally from Syria, expand the regional offerings. The flaming saganaki is a showstopper, with a block of fried kasseri cheese found on nearly every table, and the drinks enhance the already luxurious and elegant experience. If not for the party busses filled with bachelorette parties rolling past the patio, you'd hardly remember you're in Old Town.

Jackie Mercandetti Photo

What, you were expecting burgers and fries? Please. Fast food can be so much more than the usual preprocessed grease bomb, and with prices at the big chains rapidly ballooning, there's no longer an excuse not to seek something better. Casa de Falafel is the perfect example of a new breed of fast food restaurant — a local independent offering something fresh, cheap and delicious at a moment's notice. Ten dollars nets you a cup of lentil soup and a hefty wrap filled with cool vegetables, tahini, hot sauce or mango pickle if you like, and the restaurant's namesake — beautifully seasoned rings of crispy, hot, steaming falafel. There's beef and chicken shawarma if the thought of eating vegetarian freaks you out, but here's betting you won't miss the meat. This isn't cheap fast food that's better than most. It's great food that happens to be fast and cheap.

The Collins Small Batch Kitchen

Local chef/restaurateur Christopher Collins takes happy hour to new heights 4-6 p.m. daily at his seasonal restaurant. You won't find ho-hum hummus or flaccid flatbread at The Collins; the "social hour" menu is packed with affordable ($8-14) but upgraded options. A solid selection of wine and cocktails mostly comes in at $10 or under, too, and draft beer is $5. Sample plates include charred shrimp risotto with Parmesan-chive risotto and arugula, shaved prime rib and brie sliders with truffle aioli and spicy tomato jam on Noble brioche, or short rib mac and cheese with Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggiano sauce and bread crumbs. Even the onion dip made with sweet onions and chives is in a league of its own. And while other places might offer a discount on wings at happy hour, the barbecue chicken sliders with cashew slaw, also on Noble bread, are an upscale alternative. Everything can be enjoyed in a relaxed setting with plenty of natural light, wood accents and pretty blue nailhead-trimmed chairs. But get in early, because the place fills up for these deals.

The extensive and generously portioned happy hour items at this independent Ahwatukee brewery/restaurant let you make a meal out of a huge list of chef-created appetizers for a ridiculously low price. Choose from more than a dozen items for $5.50-$10.50, while bargain booze includes house brews for $4.50 a pint, premium well drinks or wine by the glass for $5 and specialty cocktails for $8. Fill up with grilled seasoned avocado served with sourdough bread and pico de gallo, edamame with spicy Wicked sauce, crispy Brussels sprouts, hearty homemade hummus with tons of pita and veggies, baskets of boneless or cauliflower wings, pizzas and more. It runs 2-6 p.m. weekdays (and all day Wednesday), with a reverse happy hour from 9 p.m. to close Sunday through Thursday. The expansive interior has a double-sided bar that's half inside, half outside, as well as a dog-friendly patio, making it a great place to watch games while enjoying the fresh air.

Lauren Cusimano

Located between Camelback and Indian School roads, the Melrose District is getting increasingly full of trendy eateries. But as the shiny new concepts move in, one spot is staying true to the classics. Joe's Diner, a bright yellow-painted brick building with green awnings and a tight parking lot, is often the scene of a long line of hungry customers waiting for breakfast. And Joe's is worth the wait. Order the pancakes, fluffy buttermilk creations made from a batter that rests overnight, creating bubbles that puff to perfection when they hit the griddle. If savory is more your jam, try the biscuits and gravy. The biscuits are another item that makes the most of the wonders of tangy buttermilk. Wash it all down with a coffee, served true diner-style: hot, black and in mugs that are an inch thick.

Bahar Anooshahr

SugarJam has hands down the best French toast in Phoenix. And the rest of the brunch menu is pretty outstanding as well. Chef and owner Dana Dumas moved her small bakery to bigger digs a few years ago and expanded the menu to fit the space. Her famous pies are still available but so are full brunch plates and cocktails. If you, like us, are hard-pressed to decide between chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and that amazing French toast, don't fret — the French toast comes as a side dish that can be paired with other items. We recommend ordering a side for the table so all of your brunch mates can taste the magic. On the weekend, SugarJam knows how to turn up, so come prepared for a party. If you prefer a quieter setting to enjoy your morning meal, we recommend visiting on a weekday.

With a name that nods to a desert plant, Ocotillo's nearly 1-acre space connects diners to the outdoors. Sure, you can sit inside the restaruant's sleek modern dining room and enjoy the hum of the guests and the bustle of the kitchen team as they craft wood-fired global fare. But, there's something innately calming about Ocotillo's back patio, which is landscaped with native plants, including a small grove of palo verde trees. When they bloom in the spring, their bright yellow flowers dot the grounds. After dark, strings of Edison bulbs set the mood to this backyard like space that invites you to linger. And you can — head toward the back of the property to Sidecar, Ocotillo's sister bar that crafts unique cocktails perfect for a nightcap.

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