Best Taproom 2023 | The Wayward Taphouse | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Lauren Cusimano

Locally made artwork, an always funky playlist and the glow of neon lights contribute to the casual, comfortable and welcoming atmosphere at The Wayward Taphouse. Owned by former Wren House Brewing Co. bartenders Hilda Cardenas and Tyler Goolie, the taphouse has an enviable beer list. Order a pint of an unusual brew from around the world, grab a skillfully poured Guinness or pick a colorful can of cider or wine from the fridge. Then, decide whether your night calls for a seat at the bar, a table outside on the large patio or a game of Scrabble on a coffee table at the sofas up front. The bar often hosts food pop-ups and food trucks, and customers are also welcome to order a slice from SnapBack Pizzeria right across the street.

Geri Koeppel

Fans of natural wines — or those who are curious to explore them — have a gold mine in the new Sauvage, which expanded this year from its humble beginnings as a petite bottle shop in The Churchill. Owner Chris Linga stocks only small-production natural wines, and the list rotates constantly, creating an always-fresh experience whether you want to try a pet-nat, orange wine or Old World red. The setting in itself is so charming and cozy that it warrants a look even if you just want to pop in for a digestif and a plate of high-end bar snacks or a dessert from theDinersaur. Situated in the historic Helen Anderson House, Sauvage rejects the typical cool, modern wine bar aesthetic in favor of rooms full of antique-style furnishings and quirky artwork. But the mood also changes depending on the time and day. It attracts a wide swath of wine drinkers, including couples stopping in with strollers for an afternoon tipple, hipsters pregaming before the club and energetic crowds enjoying live DJs later at night.

Zoya Vora-Shah opened The Wine Collective in late April 2022 and has created a buzz with her business. The Wine Collective showcases at least 40 offerings with special consideration given to Arizona-made wines. The aim is to make wine tasting accessible and an open experience, so prices are reasonable. Cozy and comfortable are two of the adjectives that describe the space. The servers are knowledgeable about the wine, and those unfamiliar with Arizona wines will certainly leave with a greater appreciation of what the state has to offer in terms of its vino selection. Small bites are paired with your favorite glass, and this is certainly a space where questions are welcome. The Wine Collective also offers private bookings for wine tastings for anniversaries and birthdays. And when you find a wine you love, you can buy one or a few bottles to go.

Great food and drink establishments are spread out all over the Valley, but patrons don't always feel like driving a long way for a bite or a glass. Ahwatukee residents are fortunate that they don't have to go very far for a cozy, satisfying night at a wine bar. The Cellar is heavy on both the ambiance and the menu options. The wine list includes selections from around the world and comes in 5-ounce, 9-ounce and full-bottle options; there are also a limited number of beers and cocktails made with sake or Champagne. On the food side, light fare such as charcuterie boards and bruschetta provide a delicious base for our alcohol consumption. Our favorite is the baked goat cheese with roasted tomato jam and toasted Asiago, a big bowl of warm, cheesy goodness accompanied by small pieces of bread. The Cellar also offers live music on select nights, a wine club, weekly specials and occasional wine tasting events. It may not be in our neighborhood, but we're always willing to make the trek.

We asked Google why we prefer red wine to white wine. Google told us it's because white wines are more acidic. But in Los Milics' Hannah's 2021 wine, we've found a white we don't just tolerate but love. Produced by Pavle Milic's Los Milics Vineyards in Elgin, Hannah's is a white blend described as the "inaugural Marsanne with notes of chamomile and mandarin and a hint of lemon flavor from Picpoul Blanc." The result is bright, a touch sweet without getting anywhere near cloying and dangerously drinkable. It's a little difficult to find in the wild, but it's currently on the wine list at FnB, the award-winning Scottsdale restaurant where Milic is the co-owner and runs the wine program. By the way, our white-wine-obsessed drinking companion tried Hannah's the same night we did. They loved it, too.

As Arizona's wine industry continues to grow, there are ever more wonderful state-produced wines to seek out and taste. We can't pretend to have tried them all, but some stick out as a bottle we won't soon forget. Case in point: Golden Rule Vineyards' 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery, located in Cochise in the southeastern part of the state, has created a cab that has notes of leather and dried fruits such as blueberries and prunes. It's not too tannic and it has a richness, a viscosity that's apparent from the first sniff in the glass to the time it lingers on the tongue after your glass is empty.

This Tucson distiller has taken the Scottish approach to whiskey-making and infused a distinctly Sonoran Desert flavor into its excellent single-malt spirits. Launched by father and daughter Stephen and Elaine Paul, Whiskey Del Bac has received accolades, most recently getting a shoutout from luxury mag The Robb Report for Normandie, a special release from its Global Cask Collection that, taking inspiration from its namesake, is finished in apple brandy barrels. We're partial to Dorado, which is "mesquited" in place of the Scotch "peated" method — the barley is malted and smoked over a mesquite fire. It's a unique approach that imparts the smoky campfire flavor, along with a bit of sweet caramel, for a distinctly Southwestern flavor that's worth savoring on a cool desert night.

Lauren Cusimano

The pandemic took a bat to the kneecaps of Phoenix's late-night dining scene, and it still hasn't fully recovered. But Korean has proven to be one of late-night's most resilient subgenres, and it's often your best bet for grabbing something better than a 'Bertos. Korean anju (booze food) is ascendant, and Drunken Tiger remains our favorite purveyor thereof. Justin Jin Park's buzzy little pub slings soju and sustenance past midnight on the weekends, and you can stuff yourself silly with Korean fried chicken, tteokbokki, corn cheese and the like. This is the kind of brash, aggressive cuisine that's a religious experience when you're smashed, but unlike a lot of similar joints, Park's food tastes just as sharp when you're sober. The padak is crisp and craggy, the barbecue sizzles, and the fire chicken brings some serious flavor to back up its punishing heat.

Plant-based mac and cheese, meat-free Buffalo chick'n sandwiches and much more can be found at this vegan drive-thru that operates "on the lowdown" from 7-11 p.m. Monday through Friday out of Froth Coffee Roasters after the daytime business closes. This is vegan food so tasty it could convert even the most vehement carnivores. Co-owners Theron Evans and Jai Jones eschew plant-based burgers, which are widely available elsewhere, in favor of specialties that are mostly made in-house. Jones developed a faux cheese sauce from potatoes that may fool anyone not in the know, as would her ranch dressing. Even the mock chicken patties are remarkably meat-like, but the clincher is the homemade Buffalo sauce that, against all conventional wisdom, tastes as good or better than the version with real butter. The first vegan fast-food joint in the state, Lowdown is also speedy. It offers online ordering in advance but can whip up meals in five minutes or less if you decide to swing by on the fly, so vegan eaters in a hurry no longer have to settle for the boring no-cheese bean burrito or wait half an hour for their

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