Best Restaurant 2023 | Bacanora | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Jackie Mercandetti

Rene Andrade and Roberto Centeno continue to tear it up at their thumping boombox of a restaurant that's as brash and bratty as it is delicious. You'd think the novelty would wear off eventually — this is Phoenix, after all — but Bacanora remains the hottest table in town, and rightfully so. The cousins' contemporary Sonoran cuisine arrived as a statement and endures as a mission, humble Mexican roots filtered through the eyes of a pair of talented chefs and forged in the fire of the wood-burning grill in back. Killer agave-based cocktails give way to grilled meats infused with smoke and fire, paired with charred vegetables, tortillas and beans so good they could pull off a one-man show. But the excellence is in the detail: the subtlety of the seasoning in a watermelon salad, the balance of flavors in a bowl of birria, the care taken with something as mundane as a roasted potato. Bacanora may look and feel like a party, but it's a laboratory in disguise, meticulously extracting every last bit of flavor from its Sonoran roots.

Chef/owner Gio Osso designed his third Scottsdale restaurant to fit comfortably between his original concept — the slightly more formal prix-fixe Virtù Honest Craft — and his casual yet stunning Pizzeria Virtù, a place to share burrata and Neapolitan pizza. Like both of those, Piccolo Virtù delivers Italian dishes with impeccable ingredients and gorgeous but unfussy presentations. But unlike either, it's fine dining and also a la carte, so guests can share a few plates and a bottle of wine from the impressive Italian-heavy list or settle in for a multicourse meal starting with snazzy cocktails and ending with a whole suckling pig or monster Bistecca alla fiorentina. The menu offers thoughtfully created dishes with some classic components like pasta, pancetta, pecorino cheese and prosciutto, but they don't hew strictly to the Italian playbook, which makes it more exciting. Branzino crudo might loll in a warm sesame oil broth. Black-noodle carbonara is topped with briny uni. Service excels as well: The employees are knowledgeable when you need it but unobtrusive when you want time to savor and enjoy.

Natasha Yee

Everything's coming up Donald Hawk. As Valentine slides into its third anniversary at year's end, Hawk can now add Esquire's Best New Restaurants in America to his stack of accolades (even if it took them two years to figure out what we knew long ago). The ambitious breakfast-lunch-dinner concept he runs with Blaise Faber routinely earns national praise, Hawk remains a vocal advocate for improved conditions for restaurant workers, and he still finds time to give back to the community by helping out with Charleen Badman's Blue Watermelon Project. But perhaps most telling, at a point in his career when many chefs would understandably take their foot off the throttle and coast for a little bit, Hawk continues to push Valentine and its talented team to greater heights, slaying menu favorites to make room for new creations that are even more delicious and inspired than the food that earned him his perch. That kind of commitment to continued growth is a rare thing indeed, and it deserves recognition.

Mark Chacón set out to become a professional violinist. After that, he became a journalist. And as much as we love our fellow writers, we are so thankful he found his true calling with baking. His exacting, precise pastries are a gift, and Phoenix struck the lottery when Chacón chose to call our desert city home. He settled here after traveling the globe to work at the world's best bakeries and restaurants, including Tartine in San Francisco and Chef Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. Now, he rolls immaculate croissants and laminates dough for Danishes from a tiny commercial kitchen in the Melrose District. These treats are worthy of any French patisserie, but customers can find his flaky, sweet, satisfying pastries around the Valley at Futuro, Moxie Coffee Co., Pizzeria Bianco and Pane Bianco, Peixoto Coffee Roasters, WeBe Coffee and more. Those in hunt of perfect pastries can also find the Chacónne Pattiserie stall at the Uptown Farmers Market.

Come for the robot, stay for the food. Robot servers are getting more common, but Shiela is special because she was one of the first and became a social media celebrity when she rolled onto the scene. The restaurant bought the robot during the early days of the pandemic to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and suddenly found Shiela was a TikTok star. Diners would flock to this unassuming Chandler strip mall Indian restaurant to see her deliver savory samosas, delicate dosas, craveworthy curry dishes and more, and the entertainment value cannot be overstated. She can be aggressively good-natured, telling customers when she arrives at the table, "Your meal is ready. Take it away!" But she doesn't like it when you mess with her, barking testy retorts if you block her way. Some news reports lamented that an army of Shielas and other robots could eventually usurp legions of food industry jobs, but despite cropping up at a few other locations — Kura Sushi and Pronto by Serrano's, to name a couple — the technology isn't ubiquitous and the squat, zippy Shiela continues to delight.

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.

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