Best Place to Take a Foodie 2023 | Valentine | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Natasha Yee

Melrose District restaurant Valentine has been one of the Valley's most buzzed about since it opened in late 2020. The restaurant and its team have landed on lists and racked up notable awards and nominations, including a James Beard nod for Chef Donald Hawk in 2022. For all the pomp surrounding Valentine, the restaurant and its stellar team — led by Blaise Faber and Chad Price — continue to work, refine and experiment, while staying true to their valentine, the ingredients and history of Arizona. The restaurant is equipped to be an all-day affair, and it's well worth it to indulge in the trifecta of offerings for brunch, dinner and drinks at its slightly hidden Bar 1912, because each offering peels back another layer to the complexity of Arizona cuisine, integrating local and indigenous ingredients. Whether taking out a foodie or just an eater, there's plenty to love about Valentine.

Tia Carmen

Some restaurants are a feast for the eyes but not the taste buds. Or, it's the other way around: delicious food in an unappealing space. Tia Carmen, the newest restaurant at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, is truly the best of both worlds. The main dining room boasts high ceilings and a stylish neutral palette with wood accents and groups of large overhead lights. A side room continues the neutral tones but with a more intimate feel. Or, guests can dine on the patio overlooking the resort's main lawn. It's all a subtly beautiful backdrop for Tia Carmen's outstanding menu of Latin-influenced fare from Chef Angelo Sosa. Even when we're focused on a wagyu tomahawk steak with house-aged mole and bone marrow butter, or a tuna crudo with corn coconut broth, smoked chile oil and dill, we still remember to pick our head up and admire our surroundings.

Hiding in plain sight in a West Valley strip mall is the cutest little superhero joint you've ever seen. Wally Burger's name gives no hint of its aesthetic, which is basically "DIY nerd palace." After ordering at the counter, you can sit down in the dining room and admire your surroundings, which consist of primary-colored walls, life-size figures of Superman, Spider-Man, The Joker, Thor, Iron Man and others; modern versions of classic arcade games such as "Pac-Man" and "Mortal Kombat"; and photos, movie posters and comic book art. The food isn't the draw here, although the simple menu options like burgers, pastrami sandwiches and cheese fries are tasty and filling. Just leave enough time to get a selfie with Batman before you go.

Best Place to Eat Before a Downtown Event

The Liar's Club

Tirion Boan

For us, part of the fun of a night out at the symphony, a basketball game or a play is getting downtown a little early to catch a bite before the main event. Our pick for a quick preshow nosh is The Liars Club, the current resident of the old Downtown Deli space. The decor is quirky, to say the least: a row of presidential portraits mingle with a taxidermied alligator, a Zoltar machine like the one from "Big" and a neon piece depicting three rabbits having sex. But the food is straightforward and geared toward a fast meal — think wings, fries, Detroit-style pizzas, salads and burgers, but done with a bit of panache. The Sweet Lil Lie pizza, topped with pepperoni cups, ricotta, basil, jalapenos and spicy honey is a standout, as are the Liar Fries smothered in cheese, caramelized onions and Liar's Sauce. The Liars Club also has a full bar and a solid cocktail menu, ensuring that you'll be full and well-lubricated before continuing your evening.

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.

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