A much-loved corner of the Valley is located in southern Tempe, at the Tempe Square Shopping Center — better known as the adobe-style strip mall home of Changing Hands Tempe, Trader Joe’s, and 24 Carrots. A female-owned vegan cafe, 24 Carrots is as healthy as its name suggests. Here, you’ll find a substantial selection of 100 percent vegan and gluten-free items for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and beyond. Bowls, salads, sandwiches, and raw delicacies are on the menu, as are organic teas, coffee provided by local purveyor Peixoto Coffee Roasters, fresh-pressed juices, natural smoothies, cocktails, beer, and wine. For lunch, it’s an ideal place for families and work-a-days; dinner brings a calmer, dimmer, wholly civilized atmosphere. No matter when you drop by, though, you’re likely to encounter an aroma that calls to mind a spice cabinet in a well-used kitchen. It smells like a place you’d like to spend some time.
A sushi and cocktail bar (or maybe the other way around, depending on how your evening’s going), Across the Pond offers a big-time dining experience in petite environs. The open-kitchen setup here lets you observe the chefs up close as they quietly chat with one another while preparing handmade rolls and blowtorching the occasional scallop. (The place smells like a campfire, in a good way.) The owners have brought the same levels of heat and humor to the cocktail list as can be found at Clever Koi, their Asian kitchen located just across the breezeway. We recommend the Yojimbo, the Berry White, and the concoction known as the Ms. Paka — lady-shaped glassware, sunrise-colored mixers, and a garnishing of mint, a dried blood orange wheel, and flowers (like, straight-up backyard flowers).
This fast-casual Mesa lunch spot checks a lot of “classic hidden gem” boxes: strip mall location, beachy walls and window murals, several decades in business, super flavorful fare. Aloha Kitchen is, in fact, such a classic hidden gem that it is no longer hidden. It’s been on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and has a line out the door almost daily. Fame hasn’t gone to the heads of Aloha Kitchen’s friendly owners, though. The reasonably priced Hawaiian-style eatery (they throw in a little Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, too) still serves generous, hard-to-resist island food via simple counter service. We’ve often raved about the fried saimin (island-style noodles in a shrimp soup base). But don’t sleep on the mixed plates, particularly the teriyaki chicken — black-edged, charbroiled boneless chicken marinated in special island teriyaki sauce, served with steamed rice and your choice of macaroni-potato salad or a small side salad. Have mercy.
At his shop-meets-restaurant in north Scottsdale, Giovanni Scorzo has assembled a wide-ranging selection of Italian food, including groceries, pastries and sweets, and sit-down-style dishes. Though not cheap, Italian flours, olive oils, canned vegetables, and other larder gems beckon from their shelves as you wait in line. Under the glass case up front, you’ll find sweets like chocolate-shaped tools, cannoli, and more regional Italian favorites like sfogliatelle and torrone, both strong versions and about as good as you can eat in metro Phoenix. Most people come to Andreoli, though, to eat on-site. The dining room that spills away from the ordering counter is casual but retains a formality (and an element of timelessness) you’d experience at meals in Scorzo’s native country. Though he hails from Calabria, Scorzo’s cooking often reaches from far southern Italy into the north: risotto with seafood, giant slabs of bistecca Fiorentina, the rare Tuscan steak. Salads like Caprese, sandwiches like porchetta, and a fleet of pastas anchor a menu that prizes tradition over change. A white board revealing rotating specials tends to delve deep into the annals of Italian gastronomy. As with any Italian restaurant that looks back in time, the kitchen is at its best with regional specialties and plates closest to the earth or sea, like the simple grilled squid with parsley and lemon.
Plenty of praise has been heaped upon the beers over at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. (chef’s kiss to that extra-peachy Sonoran Prince), but the food at this “Arizona-inspired scratch kitchen” is top-notch as well. Wild concoctions like the peanut butter and jalapeno jelly burger and the dry-rub chicken drumsticks confit are reason alone to drop in to the original Gilbert location, which opened in 2013. Ditto the duck fat fries, which are memorable, weighty, and served piping-hot, flavored with rosemary and thyme, and paired with garlic aioli; no visit to the brewery should go without a basket for the table. AZ Wilderness opened a beer garden in downtown Phoenix on Roosevelt Row in 2019, and this location offers a tighter version of the Gilbert flagship’s menu. But the fries are available, as are other go-tos like the Downtowner Burger (corn guac, pepper jack, onion strings), the AZ Hot Fried Chicken Sandwich, and the shareable bites of Buffalo cauliflower.
Whether entering from the small parking lot or the surrounding neighborhood, you’ll smell the kitchen — grilled meat, aromatic onions, some array of spices — before you even reach the doorway to Asadero Norte De Sonora. Asadero may be one of the coziest Mexican restaurants in the Valley. The dining room is homey and brightly lit, with picnic-style benches and tile-top tables. A TV is going, and a server is rushing around trays of water, tall glasses of horchata, Mexican Cokes, and complimentary chips and salsa. It can feel like a casual waiting room — with patrons chewing while checking their phones or eyeing a soap opera — or an ideal date or family dinner spot. But above all, it’s the food that draws in all who sit here or glide in for to-go orders. Recommended dishes listed on the laminated menu (always backdropped by a photo of Havasupai Falls) include the barbacoa burrito, baked costilla, and lengua stuffed into tacos, tortas, and/or burros. The best part? Most meals won’t run beyond $10 — unless you blow some change at the toy-vending quarter machines.
Over the years, Mesa has become a mecca for Asian cuisine in a variety of forms — everything from hot pot spots to classic Chinese eateries. Asian Café Express falls in the latter category. Its decor is all strip-mall Chinese restaurant, while the kitchen turns out next-level Hong Kong-style cuisine. This no-frills, award-winning east Valley eatery from master chef Michael Leung (he’s also a tai chi master) and his wife, Susan (the heart of the operation) opened in 2005. Standout menu items include stews, sautes, hot pots, congee, fried rice, and a slew of noodles across two separate menus — the Hong Kong style and the Arizona style. Take your time, as there are more than 300 items to choose from. To start, we recommend the raved-over chili salt chicken wings, an essential dish of the Valley. Other favorites include the chili sauce dumplings, Singapore fried noodles, and the mapo tofu.
Atlas Bistro is located inside the Arizona Wine Company in Scottsdale, tucked away in a small room with white tablecloths. The bring-your-own-bottle, dinner-only restaurant has been around since 2001, with Chef Cory Oppold presenting ever-changing modern dishes that originate from his French-driven cooking style. Diners may experience a $65, three-course, prix-fixe meal powered by keywords like organic, hand-foraged, local, wild, line-caught, sustainable, and exotic. Courses from this locally owned eatery have included chilled chicken breast presse, Hudson Valley foie gras mousse, Niman Ranch pork belly, and seared wild Nordic halibut from Chula Seafood. Desserts and cheeses are also on the menu, which includes petite beignets, and a plate of soft, aged, blue cheese accompanied by accoutrements, nuts, and toasted Noble bread. But the best part may be the relaxing atmosphere this sliver of a restaurant offers its patrons.
Mornings, in-the-know customers trickle into Balkan Bakery, inhaling the bready fragrance of its tiny room on Bell Road. Some get French-style rolls. Some get rope-like kifli. Some get dark twists of pretzels still hot from the oven. All seem to have an unspoken respect for Jasenko Osmic, the man behind that oven, who bakes, peals, and shapes dough with the endurance of an Olympic athlete. His prized baked good is the bourek, available in three styles; it’s so central to Balkan Bakery that boureks have their own section of the menu. Osmic makes them in the style of Sarajevo, which his family fled in 1997. Shaped like a butterfly’s tongue, the tight coils of baked homemade phyllo dough come from the oven warm and soft, rich and fragrant, pretzel-brown on top and utterly stuffed with a meaty or cheesy filling. The newly baked discs sit in a tiered display, steaming behind glass. Those who come for bread and pretzels often find, as they exit the shop, the toasted lip of a spinach bourek against their own. Quietly, Balkan Bakery’s bourek is one of Phoenix’s finest baked goods.
Bao Chow has a gem of a menu in an unlikely setting — a classic Tempe music venue. For years, Yucca Tap Room served decent bar food, sure, but in 2017, Bao Chow became the entirety of the kitchen’s offerings. The Asian fusion eatery still lists excellent wings and breakfast burritos, all laid out on a show flyer-style menu under concert-related puns. That’s all lovely, but the namesake dish is why people occupy the barstools and booths at Bao Chow. Bao offerings include bulgogi, tofu, and the incredible fried chicken. Biting into the fried chicken bao is, first, all deep flavorful fluff, then all crunch, followed by zings of cream sauce and slaw. Naturally, you’ll want to pair the bao (or bulgogi tots, or street tacos, or the occasional special like the hot chicken sandwich) with a craft beer or a well-mixed cocktail — and maybe with a loud show for dessert.
Knockoffs and ripoffs are an unavoidable hazard of the restaurant industry, but if there’s a silver lining to this phenomenon, it’s that all the impostors only make it easier to spot a true original. Barrio Café — established in 2002 by Wendy Gruber and Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza and located along the Calle 16 restaurant and bar row cutting through central Phoenix — is an unmistakable O.G. gem. The live music and local artwork provide a delightful atmosphere, but the food is what seals the deal. Menu standouts include cochinita pibil, chiles en nogada, churro rellenos, and the well-known chef’s tableside guacamole — famously bejeweled with pomegranate seeds. Diners will also find Mexican beers, Micheladas, and too many amazing margaritas to list here (okay, we’ll list one: try the Flor De Jamaica).
This Arcadia eatery is nearing its 10th year of operation, a feat accomplished thanks to the efforts of double husband-and-wife team owners — sommeliers Katie and Scott Stephens and Justin and Michelle Beckett. Justin Beckett is the executive chef and co-owner of Beckett’s Table and its sister restaurant Southern Rail, but there’s something about Beckett’s Table that raises the profile of the dining scene along Indian School Road in this specific part of Phoenix. Maybe it’s the actual community table, which can’t be missed upon entering the restaurant. The multiseat high-top is best enjoyed during social hour, when a number of Beckett’s signature dishes are on special — like the deviled egg of the day. Many menu items demonstrate the fact that Beckett has been in the kitchen since he was 9 or 10. Favorites include the signature fork-tender short ribs, and the city-famous fig and pecan pie.
If you’d like to put on a helmet and launch yourself to the outer possibilities of eating in Phoenix, book a reservation at Binkley’s. Entering Binkley’s is like entering Rivendell. Your meal unfolds in a house on Osborn Street, the 20-plus courses and river of beer, wine, and sake steadily flowing into the night, mimicking the rhythm of a dinner party. From the first bite, all your personal troubles (and those of the wider world) begin to feel remote. Everything stills, and you’re in the gentle palm of a master: Kevin Binkley, who’s handily one of the very best chefs in Phoenix. The playfulness, technique, seasonality, ingenuity, and ultimately the flavor of his food says this loudly and clearly to all those who take a seat on the patio, nibbling those first bits of Hokkaido scallop cooked for 38 seconds, those fermented cucumbers with polenta chips. After the first five or so courses, diners move to the house’s pub room for riffs on bar food: wagyu roast beef slider, kabob with octopus and lamb loin. Tunes flow. Drinks bubble, fizz, and — thanks to the skill of Amy Binkley — entwine harmonically with the food. Next, the meal moves into the dining room for a long, rich, mesmerizing finish. At that point, if you want, you can wander into the kitchen and watch Binkley cook and create, a maestro of meals that feel as brilliant and considered as a sculpture or painting.
Moving through the historic and altogether adorable Coronado District, Seventh Street, just north of downtown, is a regular restaurant row thanks to spots like Green, The Coronado, and the Main Ingredient. But Bri has something extra-special (and you can’t miss that seemingly hand-drawn sign). Bri is the phonetic spelling of its namesake, the braai, a south African-style grill at which the food here is prepared. Opened in spring 2018, the small house restaurant offers a few table-and-chair sets, a patio, and a bar serving up simply beautiful cocktails like the Bri Paloma, the Disco Lemonade, That Thing You Do, and many others you’ll want to try. These are best paired with bar-style snacks like the honey butter-drizzled potato chips. Chef Vince Mellody plates menu items like the pork spareribs, the duck leg, and the wood-roasted veggie plate. Specials also grace the up-to-date Instagram postings, including the crispy, fatty masala with Nelson’s Meat + Fish swordfish.
The Bukharian food plated, bowled, and served hot and doughy in lidded bamboo baskets at Café Chenar is Bukharian — the food of a Jewish minority of Uzbekistan. This is the native country of the Uvaydov family, whose matriarch, Mazel, presides over the cooking of Café Chenar. The family also runs LaBella Pizzeria and Kitchen 18 in Scottsdale, but Café Chenar is where the Bukharian wonders live. This central Asian restaurant of soups, dumplings, kebabs, and Cornish hens is a return to family roots after catering to other palates. Diners sit in a spare, sleek modern dining room chatting softly over porcelain teapots, green tea issuing warming steam from deeply blue, gold-rimmed cups. From one angle, to eat at Café Chenar is to embrace a vast world of dumplings. Dough pockets come large and small, pan-fried and deep-fried, steamed and souped. They come as manti, pelmeni, and hanum. But this is just one angle through which to see Café Chenar. There are other enclaves of the menu, plenty of sub-categories to hungrily roam. Don’t miss the extensive selection of kebabs, flat metal skewers ripe with, ideally, sweetbreads and lamb ribs. Or a section of well-priced savory hand pies, like beef-rich samsa. You can also enjoy larger-format plates, like Cornish hen and molded-rice mountains of plov. The way to best experience this food at the crossroads of European, Asian, Russian, and Jewish traditions is to order small, widely, and to share. Café Chenar is an important cog not only in our kosher restaurant scene, but in our food culture as a whole.
No one lives in Tempe for long without hearing, “You’ve got to try Cafe Lalibela.” The husband-and-wife-run Ethiopian restaurant has occupied a strip mall suite for decades, and given that its foods are starting to appear as local items in area grocery stores, it’s only getting easier to sample the offerings of Cafe Lalibela’s menu. Serving some of the best African food in all of metropolitan Phoenix, the eatery specializes in vegetarian dishes (though several meat items are on the menu) and is known for teaching many an Arizona State University student about the importance of injera and wat. Injera, or a crepe-like sourdough bread made with teff, is served with most orders. And wait till you try this wat. The Ethiopian stew comes spicy or not, meatless or not, but we recommend the key sega wat (spicy beef stew). Do not fear, possibly unadventurous eaters: The menu comes with a glossary.
This south Phoenix staple is a true come-as-you-are restaurant. It is almost shockingly bare bones. There’s no decor on the paint-chipped walls, no music. The stark white building’s entrance leads straight to the ordering counter just above a scuffed wall. But those shoe-marked baseboards speak to the many over-eager diners running up to place their order. That’s because the food here — catalogued on the wall above the register — is exceptional. It’s nothing a Mexican food fan hasn’t seen before — burros, tacos, enchiladas, tostadas — but all those specimens are basically perfect. Need proof? The parking lot is usually full, and the booths of the cafeteria-style dining area are almost always occupied. More proof? Order the red chile burro, the super-soft beef wrapped with precision in a handmade flour tortilla. Get a tamale, even if it isn’t Christmas. Go for the machaca enchilada. Arrive on Saturday for the menudo. And order a bag of tortilla chips just to try the famous, bright-red hot sauce. Carolina’s has been around since 1968, when it was opened by Carolina Valenzuela, and it has held on at this location since 1986. There are several Carolina’s locations around the Valley, but the Mohave Street spot will always be a Phoenix favorite.
When people complain about Phoenix being too beige, they’re likely referring to areas like Cactus Road and 67th Avenue. But Casa de Falafel, located inside a gas station at this intersection called Simon Xpress, is the opposite of suburban snooziness. A Mediterranean grill churning out authentic Arabic street foods, Casa de Falafel has a menu that’s stretched above the prep station on electronic screens, promising falafel sandwiches, beef shawarma plates, salads, and falafel rings. Aside from the saj-wrapped falafels, lentil soup is a favorite. The shop was opened in 2016 by Ali and Madda Shakir from Iraq, who dubbed it Casa De Falafel only because Falafel House was taken. (So, no, this isn’t a Mexican-meets-Mediterranean fusion eatery.) Both Casa De Falafel and the gas station have a retro vibe, sporting green and pink plastic booths, dark green tiles, neon signs, and a peppy, we’re-here-to-serve atmosphere. Plus, you can get any drink you want — it’s a gas station.
This Chinese-Mexican-Caribbean mashup was established in 1990 by husband-and-wife team Frank and Eve Collins and boasts a loyal cult following in the Valley. The kitchen yields a blend of Mexican and Asian cooking, creating multitudes of different mix-and-match food combinations, thanks to Eve’s Chinese background and the couple’s Arizona roots. Over the decades, the restaurant has grown into a 5,000-square-foot, 150-seat space, offering dine-in as well as takeout. The deep-fried, spicy-sweet Jade Red Chicken is practically legendary, while the slow-cooked carnitas dish is perfect next to a pillowy bed of steamed, white rice. If you’re trying to get wild, opt for a burrito filled with egg foo yung or jerk chicken, or a quesadilla jammed with Chinese barbecue pork. And save room for dessert: Each takeaway order comes with a complimentary snickerdoodle cookie.
Established in San Diego in 2009, this family-owned operation started selling never-frozen fish by the pound six years later in Scottsdale (a second location opened in Uptown Plaza in 2019). Sustainability is a big thing at Chula. The owners have a 68 Hoquiam harpoon boat (aptly named Chula) on which they travel the Pacific waters seeking deep-sea buoy swordfish and other California coast species. But the flavors are why you come to Chula Seafood: the poke bowls, the confit tuna sandwich, the swordfish tacos, and weekend treats like the lobster BLT. Or the grilled oysters, the Mexican wild shrimp, the Thai peanut noodle bowl — we could go on.
For a desert town, Phoenix has a surprisingly large number of Italian restaurants. CiBo Urban Pizzeria (it’s pronounced CHEE-boh) is one of the best. The downtown restaurant serves fare like signature wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, salads, saltimbocca bread, and fresh limoncello made from a family recipe by Chef Guido Saccone. But aside from the house-made pasta, killer burrata, and wine list, CiBO also boasts some next-level atmosphere. The lush garden patio is one of the finest in Phoenix — between the lights and the gentle chatter, it literally twinkles — and the 1913 bungalow, with its exposed brick, creaky hardwood floors, and soft glow from the windows, doesn’t hurt the vibe, either.
You may not know this downtown restaurant by name, but if you’re into music, you’ve likely eaten here. Cocina 10 is the kitchen at Crescent Ballroom, which brings in a power-lunch and music-fan crowd expecting something a notch or two above bar food. Owner Charlie Levy is also behind Valley Bar and The Van Buren, but he says of anything he’s ever done, he’s most proud of the food at Crescent. The menu was crafted by Pizzeria Bianco’s Chris Bianco, as well as Doug Robson of Otro Café and Gallo Blanco. The concept was meant to appeal, in part, to bands rolling in off Interstate 10. Maybe they’re performing at the Crescent, or maybe they’re just stopping in for a bite before getting back on the road to L.A. or Tucson. Either way, they’ve got options like Sonoran dogs, tacos, nachos, and burritos wrapped in foil and marked with their own special stickers bearing images like Mr. Bean and Morrissey. Hopefully, there’s a show that night on the Crescent main stage, but even if not, the lounge, patio, and balcony are always open, free, and serving food till midnight.
This small chain of English-focused, somewhat-metal-themed restaurants is either referred to as Cornish or Pasty, depending on which circles you travel in, but never just Cornish Pasty. (We’re in the Cornish camp.) Around since 2005, Cornish is known for its … pasties — savory ingredients entombed in a flaky, baked shell with a crimped edging. Popular pasties include lamb and mint, pesto chicken, the Pilgrim, and the Cubano. Pro tip: Select a pasty, but have a backup, too. Some are so popular the kitchen runs out. Vegan and vegetarian options are available, as well as an entire B-side of the menu offering fresh salads, tandoori wings, house-made bread and butter, oven chips, Scotch eggs, and English desserts. Equal to Cornish’s impressive menu is the vibe‚ especially at the original Tempe location (shout out to The Beast, the hidden bar inside). Always expect alternative music, a lively patio, and a short wait at the bar.
This south Tempe “public house,” a dim but warm space vaguely reminiscent of an old saloon, is surely one of the most Arizonan restaurants in the Valley. Sean Traynor, proprietor and captain of a wide-ranging cocktail program, sources glasses for his measured libations from antique shops upstate. Tamara Stanger, one of the most incandescently creative culinary talents in metro Phoenix, plates poetic riff after poetic riff, cycling through an ecstatic run of country-fried nopales and mesquite-glazed chicken, bison carpaccio and tomahawk steaks with squash gravy and indigenous-style ash, and the most eruditely madcap pies in town. Stanger grew up in a Utah ghost town and incorporates wild ingredients into many of her creative dishes. She is one of the leading pioneers of New Arizonan, a cuisine that uses globally inspired techniques to take the wild and farmed foods from our state to never-before-seen places. Eating at Cotton & Copper is taking a gastronomic journey into the harshly beautiful land where the sprawl thins to dust and tiny-leafed trees. Most of the dishes of this wild nature cycle in as sweet and savory specials or live more permanently on the menu as chicken lacquered with mesquite glaze, or bison medallions with tepary beans and cheddar jus, or a Sonoran riff on hummus composed of tepary beans and pickled local produce, farmed and foraged. The food menu is positioned toward the concept of a drinkery, meaning lots of patty melts and fish sandwiches. As with the wilder stuff, Stanger makes these utterly her own.
This Arcadia eatery, found at the north end of 40th Street’s restaurant row, is a rare dinner-only taco type of place (or close to that; it doesn’t open until 3 p.m.). CRUjiente Tacos Chef Richard Hinojosa likes to get regional with his menu — dishes might be inspired by Maine, Korean, or Polynesian cuisine. Tacos arrive heavy with lamb, beef, pork, and potato. All good stuff, but we suggest you opt for the signature Tacos De La Calle, specialty tacos loaded with Korean fried chicken, duck breast, or garlic roasted mushrooms. All arrive looking just as good as that sounds. These tacos have been crowned grand champion of the Arizona Taco Festival — twice. Visitors will find similar creativity in house cocktails like the Pocket Full of Shells, Swipe Right, and Japanknees Bees.
The moment you’re seated and handed the cracked-laminated menu at Da Vang, relief follows. Good, aromatic, hearty Vietnamese food is on the way. Most dishes are under $10 and usually require a to-go container or an afternoon nap — or better yet, an order of café sua nong (hot coffee with sweetened condensed milk). The pho choices are versatile, about a dozen varieties in all, but the pho tai nam may be your best bet. If you really want to go nuts, the com tam dac biet is — get ready — broken steamed rice with barbecue pork, shrimp, a fried shrimp cake, a barbecue pork meatball, a crab-egg cake, shredded pork, and a fried egg. Da Vang, in its multi-roomed strip-mall setting south of Christown Spectrum Mall, also offers banh mi (sandwiches), lau (hot pot), and bun (vermicelli) in a beyond-comfortable setting.
The shopping cart fries are what you’ll most likely remember after eating at Delux, an upscale burger joint in the Biltmore area. They’re called “A La Cart” fries, and they’re served in an actual mini shopping cart overflowing with french or sweet potato fries. But the burger is the real star of the show here. A pioneer in Phoenix’s gourmet burger restaurant game, Delux offers Niman Ranch-sourced meat and was one of the first places in town to offer lettuce wraps instead of a bun (or, in Delux’s case, a demi-baguette). The signature Delux Burger is a half-pound of 100-percent vegetarian-fed beef, augmented by caramelized onions with applewood smoked bacon bits, Gruyere cheese, Maytag blue cheese, and baby arugula. But there’s more to Delux than gourmet burgers. Craft beer, cocktails, and some quite-good sushi round out the Delux Burger experience.
The family of New Mexico-leaning eateries and drinkeries along 16th Street is a treasured standby of the Phoenix dining scene. But within the Richardson’s Restaurants family — which also includes Richardson’s itself and The Rokerij — the inconspicuous Dick’s Hideaway is a cut above. It’s the type of place where you’ll need divine intervention to find seats for a party of five or above on a Friday night, but the crowd is due to the excellent menu and bar program. Dinner options include the Taos Tenderloin, the New Mexican platter, and a green chile burger, while the bar cranks out pristine bloody marys and margaritas, and wine options known citywide. But the best thing about Dick’s Hideaway is its size — it is small. (Seated at the bar, you can almost feel the heat from the nearby open-flame grill.) And better keep your maps app fired up till you know you’re in the right place; there is no sign.
That old saw about good things coming in small packages is especially true at The Dressing Room. This itsy-bitsy Roosevelt Row eatery serves food that comes from “streets, beaches, carts, and trucks from around the world,” including Korean galbi lettuce cups, Baja shrimp tacos, a German schnitzel salad, a crispy fried chicken sandwich — even cheese curds. It’s also a winning downtown happy hour spot (for cocktails, go with the Rosemary & The Sage or the Pear Shaped), ideal for quick after-work meetups, dates, or any occasion that would be made better by a lovely patio and/or drink specials that start at 11 in the morning.
Going to Duck & Decanter for a lunchtime sandwich, or a Nooner as they call it here, is like visiting an Icelandic cafe. The A-frame, faux chalet structure is not just a sandwich joint, but also a small grocery, wine bar, cheese shop, and of course, deli. To take your sandwich to go is to deprive yourself of a major part of the experience here. Why not browse the gourmet coffee selection and pick up a canister of Café Du Monde coffee and chicory? Or take a stroll through the place, pondering whether you want to dine at one of the cozy downstairs tables, the spacious upstairs dining space, or the twinkle-lit, dog-friendly patio? Or do you just order your giant sandwich right off, deciding between the Reuben, the Genoa, or classic roasted turkey? The Duck originated in 1972, growing to three locations then sizing back down to this one, but this impressive spread not far from the original location at 16th Street and Camelback Road is a forever gem in Phoenix’s dining scene.
Since 1950, Durant’s has sat proudly on Central Avenue, its iconic Midcentury sign lit up for decades as the city has slowly grown around it. This vibe here is old-school, vaguely Rat Pack-ish: red-leather banquettes, scarlet wallpaper, dim lighting, a back entrance that takes you through the kitchen. (Gangster tales and Hollywood lore abound regarding original owner Jack Durant.) You’ll still find Phoenix power players gathering at this chophouse today; Durant’s continues to cook a mean 48-ounce porterhouse steak, in addition to slow-roasted prime rib, liver specials, lamb chops, and a sizable selection of seafood. (Another time-warp trademark at Durant’s is the gratis relish tray: carrots, celery, green onions, and black olives served over ice.) The wine list is long, but for when-in-Rome reasons, go with a martini or an old fashioned. They pour ’em strong here.
On the hunt for top-tier Peruvian food? Head for the Coronado district, where the family-owned El Chullo Peruvian Restaurant & Bar has been a go-to spot for arroz con mariscos since opening in 2015. Menu items include a crispy chicharron, the tacu tacu de mariscos, ceviche mixto, and the arroz chaufa — a Peruvian-meets-Chinese fusion-style dish with chicken-fried rice. Another highly recommended dish, actually an appetizer, is the anticuchos — 10 hot, dense, chewy cutlets of marinated grilled beef heart kebabs. Eating beef heart is making use of an organ that would otherwise be discarded, so you can feel fulfillment in your psyche as well as your stomach. (The menu also offers vegetarian dishes like arroz chaufa veggie and the tacu tacu veggie.) The bar program includes cocktails like the Piscorita and Maracuya Sour, or imported Peruvian beers like Cerveza Cusqueña and Cerveza Cristal, all of which taste better in El Chullo’s cozy, colorful dining room.
When an eatery feels more like a well-loved home than a restaurant, there’s a good chance some excellent food is about to land on your table. At Fàme Caffe, that table is wooden, adorned with fresh rosemary, and topped with a small bottle of house-made hot sauce. Glance around, and you’ll see basketed fruits, liquor bottles on full display, soft bistro lights, chalkboard menus, and a community table that functions as a centerpiece to the dining space. No, this New American breakfast-and-lunch spot is not named after that David Bowie song. It’s actually fàme, meaning “hunger” in Italian. We recommend the vegan tacos, the massive and colorful Cobb salad, and the Frenchie Toast — a menu item a New Times reviewer previously considered proposing to, were it legal to wed breakfast foods.
Opened in spring 2019 on the offshores of Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix, Farish House is a self-proclaimed neighborhood bistro, ideal for a date night or a quiet family dinner. Seated inside this 1899 brick home, you often feel as though you’re dining behind the velvet ropes of a historic museum. Farish is operated by a husband-and-wife team, one of which is Lori Hassler, the former chef and owner of Radda Caffe-Bar in Scottsdale. The signature craft cocktails (we like the Farish Cup and the Cuba Libre) each have their own story explained on the menu. Recommended entrees include the pork loin roulade with bacon Brussels sprouts, and Le Mac — perhaps the finest bowl of gourmet mac and cheese in town. If the burrata cheese ball is on special, order it.
At Farmboy in Chandler, owners Oren and Diana Molovinsky take the notion of locally sourced food to admirable extremes. They get fruit, eggs, and other produce from their own 3.5-acre farm, which Diana maintains. They offer local bounty from other farms and artisans, like tiny plums and a bulbous half-rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, on a farmstand-style table within the sandwich shop. They bake bread using a blend of local flours designed for them by Don Guerra, Jedi baker of Barrio Bread in Tucson. And the meat they smoke for sandwiches like the pulled pork or the Southwestern cheese steak? Well, unlike just about every other beefy, barbecue-hearted eatery in town, the cows are older (5 to 7 years of age, meaning more flavor) and from our state (provided by Arizona Grass Raised Beef Co.). Farmboy offers a robust breakfast, replete with fried eggs and burnt ends, with breakfast burritos on thick-and-chewy flour tortillas from La Sonorense Tortilla Factory. Sandwiches form the core of what’s for lunch. Almost all of them incorporate meat, some more traditionally (French dip, chicken salad). Most have creative flourishes and fall in line with the local, Arizona-driven spirit (wood-grilled beef tenderloin, chopped beef with spicy mayo, pepper jack smoked rib-eye “Verde Valley”cheese steak). The Molovinksys have bet the house on local food systems. The payoff is that Chandler has one of the Valley’s most intriguing breakfast-and-lunch options.
We probably don’t need to tell you about FnB, the Scottsdale kitchen helmed by culinary sage Charleen Badman. You probably already know she scours local markets for common and arcane ingredients from our state’s popular and marginal family farms, about how she plates food braiding gastronomic threads from the Sonoran Desert to South America to the Levant. You might not need us to tell you how into vegetables she is, or how she still cooks in her restaurant kitchen just about every night, 10 years after starting in Old Town. And probably, you don’t need us to vouch for FnB, because the James Beard Foundation did just that in 2019, honoring Badman with the first award to a local chef in more than a decade. Maybe, too, you don’t even need us to tell you about FnB’s drink program. Co-owner and beverage guru Pavle Milic curates one of the more interesting wine lists in town. It kicks with enough Arizona options to give you, in just a few visits, a crash course in the wondrous vintages of fermented grape juice our state has made — and is making. Milic even stocks up-and-coming Arizona beverage artisans, which he knows in the same way Badman knows our state’s farms and ranches. Maybe, too, you don’t need us to tell you that the tucked-away FnB bar might be the restaurant’s best spot to drink and eat. Maybe you know about FnB’s quirks and lore, its layers of greatness. But we’re excited to tell you anyway.
The Melrose District, especially the Melrose Curve along Seventh Avenue in central Phoenix, is one of the most dynamic neighborhoods in the city, chockablock with mural-covered coffee shops and colorful new bars. The family-run Fry Bread House is a longtime Melrose staple that far predates the more recent arrivals in the neighborhood; it opened in 1992 and has been serving traditional Tohono O’odham food here ever since. The James Beard Foundation-recognized eatery offers a variety of regional menu items like tacos, burros, stews, and “chippies and salsa.” We recommend the signature, namesake pillowy fry bread — often stuffed with ground beef, beans, and cheese, or topped with sweet chocolate.
Many of the Valley’s finest restaurants are hidden among the suites of strip malls or inside concentrated dining hubs. Not Geordie’s. Guests here dine at one of Phoenix’s most stunning and historic sites: Wrigley Mansion, the 1932-built home of the gum tycoon William Wrigley Jr. The manse is also home to the James Beard Award-winning Chef Christopher Gross, who leads an experienced culinary team that plates European and Southwestern dishes like Black River Caviar, red wine and bone marrow radiatori, braised lamb neck, and the beloved chocolate tower. The extensive wine list offers more than 800 bottles, all selected by award-winning wine director Paola Embry. Also on the grounds are five private dining rooms, a cocktail lounge, and the exquisite Jamie’s Wine Bar. But the best feature of Geordie’s is the view. Wrigley Mansion sits atop a 100-foot hill, offering guests unmatched looks at midtown, downtown, Camelback Mountain, and Piestewa Peak.
Set way south of ASU and the scatterings of dining options in downtown Tempe, Ghost Ranch has made a big name for itself in the short time it’s been in operation. The locally owned restaurant is helmed by Chef Rene Andrade and Chef Roberto Centeno. Both are Nogales, Sonora, natives and make use of their personal family recipes in their cooking. (Andrade, for example, uses the cherished chiltepin in many Ghost Ranch dishes — and supplies other area restaurants with the small red peppers.) Among the highlights of the modern Southwest cuisine served here is the roasted chicken enchiladas, which come with green sauce. We also like the cowboy steaks, green chile stew, and authentic-to-Arizona sides like rancho beans. And the interior of Ghost Ranch, with its community tables and tiled bar, is a modern stunner, thanks to artist Gennaro Garcia.
Part whiskey bar, part upscale restaurant, part home base for some of Phoenix’s best-known chefs, The Gladly is a fixture of the Valley dining scene — and has been since its 2013 opening. Overseen by Chef Bernie Kantak, this Biltmore-area restaurant and Camelback Corridor staple also stocks more than 250 varieties of whiskey, most of which are served with the Gladly’s signature ice balls — spherical “cubes” the staff crafts right at your table. The menu features contemporary American cuisine (duck meatloaf, a daily grilled cheese) and raw bar options, but the standout is the Original Chopped Salad. This colorful entree salad can only be found here and at Kantak’s other establishment, Citizen Public House, and has been dubbed Arizona’s state salad. It literally has its own Facebook page.
This central Phoenix restaurant — the name translates to “far from home” — specializes in Thai street food and regional northeastern Thailand cooking. Chef and co-owner Pornsupak “Cat” Bunnag (who runs the place with her partner, Dan Robinson) has roots in Bangkok and the Isan region of Thailand, and that heritage is reflected in Glai Baan’s tight menu of small plates, noodles, and street food favorites. We recommend the kao soi, a northern Thai-style chicken curry dish, kanom jeeb (steamed pork dumplings), and Silom Road moo ping pork skewers. And you can’t tell anyone you dined at Glai Baan without trying the larb moo salad or the son-in-law eggs — a Thai street food delicacy. Pro tip: Parking is tough along this stretch of Osborn Road, so it may be wise to Lyft. Bonus: That’ll allow you to try another one of Glai Baan’s impressive cocktails.
A no-frills Middle Eastern grocer and counter-service joint, Haji-Baba serves well all who enter: students from nearby ASU, lunching business-casual types, families, couples, and in-from-out-of-towners. For cheap ethnic eats in metro Phoenix, this place is hard to beat. The lamb tongue sandwich is one of the true wonders of Tempe eating; other standouts include the pita-wrapped chicken shawarma, babaghanooj, rice, hummus, and the Arizona pecan baklava. We’re also big fans of the exotic aromas that have lived inside Haji-Baba for the past several decades. If we could bottle the scent of this place, we would.
This busy, family-owned operation north of Seventh and Missouri avenues is overseen by co-owners Lynn Becker and Chef Lori Hashimoto, a true treasure of the Phoenix chef scene. The place is known for well-crafted sushi and sashimi — yellowtail, tuna, salmon, crab, albacore, and whitefish. We like the squid maruyaki, scallop edamame kasane age, Hana tempura, and various bento box lunch options. Hana does not accept reservations, so diners may have a bit of a wait at peak times. Hana Japanese Eatery is also, famously, BYOB. Patrons may bring their own sake, beer, or wine for a $5 corkage fee, and the Hana staff will keep it cold for you. Sharing with the neighboring table is always encouraged.
For a quarter-century, this cozy, classic restaurant from chef and owner Brett Hoffman has been dishing out authentic German cuisine in Glendale. (You may have seen it on the Food Network.) Haus Murphy’s is known for its Original Oktoberfest Pretzel, the sausage sampler, juicy bratwursts, house-made sauerkraut, and quite a variety of schnitzels (including a one-pounder). We’re also keen on the potato and quark gnocchi, the haus gulasch in a bread bowl, and gulasch fries. The German aesthetic extends, of course, to the bar, which offers giant bottled biers you can enjoy beneath strung-up lights on the vaguely European patio — a lovely slice of Old World in the West Valley.
The closest thing Phoenix and/or Arizona has to a signature dish — aside from the much-battled-over chimichanga — is the Sonoran hot dog. When we’re called upon to make a case for the importance of this cherished street food, we look to the El Caprichoso Sonoran hot dog cart. Around for 20 years, El Caprichoso operates outdoors from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., a hot grill under a parking lot tent. Its grilled, bacon-wrapped hot dog is crammed, almost forced, onto a fluffy, split-top roll that’s kissed all over with char. If you’re the type who likes a heavy Sonoran dog, order yours with all the fixings: beans, grilled onions, fresh diced tomatoes, guacamole, salsa, cotija cheese, ketchup, mustard, and thick squiggles of mayonnaise. If you weren’t an Arizonan before, you are now.
Two things to know about Hot Noodles Cold Sake. One, it has incredible ramen. Two, it has nothing to do with the similar-sounding local sports bar chain Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers. Opened in Scottsdale in 2016 as a spinoff of the Tuesday night ramen specials at the now-closed Posh Restaurant, Hot Noodles Cold Sake is overseen by Chef Joshua Hebert, who’s previously logged time in Tokyo studying Japanese cuisine. If you only have one shot at Hot Noodles Cold Sake, go with the Goma House Specialty — char-siu pork and broth, bok choy, Fresno and shishito peppers, and sesame seeds. Other ramen options include shoyu, miso, shrimp, and vegan bowls with a mushroom base. If you’re the type to dress your own ramen, try adding on the pork cracklings or an onsen egg. Before ramen? Order the house-made Japanese pickles. For dessert, it’s all about that green tea mochi ice cream.
The emergence of Hush as one of the most exciting places to eat in metro Phoenix is the product of many melding influences. Like Chef Dom Ruggiero’s signature oxtail-centric riff on a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich, molten with cheese and showered with soulful giardiniera, all the elements here come together harmoniously. First, there’s Charles Barber, captain of the classic-leaning cocktail program and the genuine general manager highly visible at the front of the long, warm, rectangular dining room. Then there’s the room itself: intimate, filled with cordial chatter and nostalgic rock, cooking sounds and smells washing out from a wide-open kitchen. It all primes you for Ruggiero’s food. The chef, formerly of La Grande Orange-owned restaurants like Chelsea’s Kitchen (and lately of the tiny Carefree butcher The Meat Market), cooks New American food with finesse, character, and soul. There are the crab-perfumed hushpuppies to start, plus grilled slab bacon, a cauliflower steak with harissa that will haunt your daydreams, and a chicken liver mousse with seeming miles of depth. The menu changes a lot, sure, but what doesn’t change is the kitchen’s stunning facility with vegetables, fish, and meat. Being a butcher, Ruggiero can nail a flatiron steak. Being a barbecue guy, he can smoke mean beef ribs. But being a Renaissance man in the kitchen, he can plate glorious swordfish steaks or ceviche, plus simple plant-driven dishes like hard-cheese-showered snap peas that honor their name.
You might think it unlikely to find great barbecue in a citrus grove. But that’s just what Jalapeno Bucks is — one of the best and most underrated haunts for smoked meat in our metro area. It’s a gathering place for pork that collapses with the faintest touch and for peanut-butter brisket in a treed expanse just south of the 101 in Mesa. Using rotisserie Oyler smokers from Texas and wood from Arizona (including the non-culinary, post-wildfire-salvaged wood that forms the long roadside shack), Jalapeno Bucks buns, platters, and tortilla-wraps its own spin on Arizona barbecue. Pork butt gets a rub and 24 hours in the smoker. Brisket gets just salt and pepper in the minimal Texas style. Ribs draw a line that forms hours before lunch. Though the Burden family’s smoked meats are in the top echelon of what you can find in Arizona, they might do best when served not naked, but as the centerpiece of other preparations. Quesadillas. Burritos with hot or sweet barbecue sauce, and a few of the many scratch-made salsas. A minimal sandwich of smoked brisket, meat griddled for color and laid onto a sweet bun goosed with mayo-based spread. Though Jalapeno Bucks makes its own rules, there is something of Arizona afoot in the thoughtful, quality meats baptized by slow smoke in this 32-acre grove, a citrus farm just three years younger than our state.
For gluten-avoiders in Phoenix, Jewel’s Bakery and Café in the Arcadia outskirts is a well-known quantity — everything here is 100 percent gluten-free (or vegan- or dairy-free) and made with locally sourced ingredients. Before scanning the cheeky menu of adventurous Arizona comfort food, we recommend the popcorn chicken and doughnuts, the cornbread pancakes, or the brunch sandwich — eggs, sausage, and cheddar cheese on a butter bun with a side of potatoes and buttermilk syrup for dunking (or pouring all over the plate and probably table). The Frites Street fries and the Nashville Arizona hot chicken sandwich are also deserving of praise. As much as anything, Jewel’s is just a nice little place to hang out, a quintessential cafe setting with a lot of natural sunlight and a nice view of passing traffic on Thomas Road. There are plenty of pastries to ogle, to boot.
The exterior is pure strip mall, the interior is modern and sleek, and the setup is quick-service and buffet style. But the food from the 2018-established Jollof King in south Tempe goes back generations and generations in west Africa, with a few personal touches from the cooks and owners. The two-page menu features Ghanaian food with a few Nigerian flourishes. Before entering, prepare yourself for hits of ginger, garlic, guinea pepper, alligator pepper, and Maggi in the various entrees, stews, soups, dumplings, and starches like Jollof rice. Orders can include chicken, beef, tilapia, or goat, yes, but also banku or fufu — both west African-style dumplings of sorts. These colorless balls made from corn or yam, plantain, or even oatmeal are beautifully accompanied by the eatery’s oily, fragrant stews, the dumplings working like an edible utensil. Plus, there’s peanut butter soup here. It’s unassuming, yes, but Jollof King has some of the best samplings of west African offerings in the Valley.
Those wishing to experience the finest of what the Sonoran Desert has to offer — the native saguaro fruit and wolfberries, the tepary beans and wild sumac — would be wise to throw down for an upscale evening at Kai Restaurant. For nearly two decades, Kai has taken the best of what the Gila River Community can grow and forage (the tribe owns the restaurant, which is on its grounds) and put those quintessential Sonoran ingredients through global, fine-dining filters. Cactus key lime pie. Buffalo steak with saguaro syrup. Posole with Ramona Farms corn. Wolfberry vinegar. Chiltepin froth. A circus of beautiful desert ingredients carried to new places. These days, Chef Ryan Swanson is leading Kai’s efforts. Swanson’s congenial, soft-spoken nature might, at first blush, seem at odds with his ferocious passion for this kind of innovative, deeply Arizonan cooking. His process for developing new dishes is arduous, often taking weeks and weeks of expensive revisions and taste-testings. But what emerges is a menu reading like a hike through the creosote-fragrant desert. Kai remains as intimate a place-rooted experience as you’ll find in metro Phoenix, and, even after all these years, is a thoughtful and thrilling place to eat.
The entrance to La Bamba lies beneath no sign, in a strip mall suite between a laundromat and Discount Tire in the deep west Valley. Inside, the extremely friendly chef, Edson Garcia, is multitasking, creating next-level tacos, sauces, horchata, and aguas frescas. Garcia — who has said he was homeless just four years ago — started his restaurant career as a dishwasher, worked his way up to line cook, then began opening restaurants in this suburban sector of Phoenix. In a recent review, our restaurant critic made a big claim: The al pastor tacos at La Bamba in El Mirage are the best in the Valley. Garcia uses pineapple vinegar and pork belly and serves these tacos on flour tortillas, topped with onion, cilantro, and house-made salsas. It’s a hauntingly good example of the level of Mexican fare our city has to offer.
It’s rare to find a more joyful lunch, dinner, or late-night meal than one eaten near a taco truck in a lot on 16th Street. Our favorites along this strip near 16th and Van Buren Street are La Frontera 1 and 3, and, up the street some, Tacos Y Mariscos El Sinaloa. As its name suggests, Tacos Y Mariscos El Sinaloa specializes in the food of the Mexican state Sinaloa, meaning, for one, mariscos. Seafood comes amid the scraping and clacking of the truck and the music of the boombox, past the ice chests of sodas, and to your table on the pavement. It comes in a goblet. It comes on tostadas. You get a whole plastic sleeve of snappy corn beside your aguachile or ceviche tostadas. They spread a lush fire to your very marrow, a freshness you feel in your soul. The two La Frontera trucks are open deeper into the night. One serves mariscos plus odds and ends, including hamburgers and a plump, glorious, cheese-blizzarded Sonoran dog. The other truck focuses on big ticket meats and offal. Burritos. Vampiros. The tacos are among the best street foods in town. Though commonly available meats like carne asada thrive here, consider looking to others. The lengua is rich and fatty. The buche has a deep animal intensity. Tripas are screaming hot and crackly. Sure, there’s salsa you can add, but these tacos are so right you don’t need more than onions and chopped herbs.
Just southwest of Old Towne Glendale, you’ll find La Mejor Barbacoa sandwiched between an auto repair shop and a transmission repair shop. Blink, and you may not find it at all. Good thing there’s a sign, and three flappy banners advertising barbacoa, menudo, and Micheladas. Inside this golden-yellow restaurant (which looks deceptively small from the outside but is larger once you walk through the door), you’re greeted with neon beer signs, worn but elegant tables and chairs, oversized house plants, and a friendly, family-like staff. The barbacoa is worthy of its place on the sign, but so is the consome, pozole, and menudo. Most items come with house-made tortillas, a green sauce, and a slow burner of a red sauce (which a staff member will warn you about personally). In the mood for something sweeter? Flip the two-sided menu for mango con chile, ice cream, fruity shaved ice, and aguas frescas.
Chef Stephen Jones named his counter at DeSoto Central Market the Larder + the Delta, and when DeSoto tanked, Jones reopened his operation in the scenic surroundings of Portland Parkway Park. The 2018-established Larder is housed in a sleeker, modern space with an efficient little patio and a wraparound bar, and it showcases both local Arizona produce and Jones’ talent for elevated Southern fare. Entrees include pork ribs, butcher’s steak, chicken fried chicken, and ocean trout. But smaller plates are the main draw here, and they’re often quite surprising. The cauliflower is made with Cutino’s Hot Sauce; the hoppin’ John comes with Carolina Gold rice and Sea Island red peas; the crispy pig ears are heavily dusted with Cheetos. For an extremely memorable order, go with the chicken skins — crunchy treats drizzled with desert blossom honey, orange zest, and lavender. To quench your thirst, the staff is happy to slide just about anything your way: an Old Style can, a coffee negroni, even a hot chicken cocktail (when it’s available).
Little Miss BBQ is a popular barbecue restaurant — a very popular barbecue restaurant. It is the kind of joint where, while waiting in line, a piece of tape may get slapped over an item on the large, displayed menu, exacerbating your order anxiety. But that’s all part of the experience. If you’re not on your feet, standing with strangers waiting patiently to order, your nose filled with the fumes of grilling meat, your stomach sucking up against your spine — well, you’re not doing it right. Little Miss BBQ was started by a competitive barbecue team inspired by the barbecue joints of the Texas Hill Country. Sides range from the expected to the inventive — anything from creamy mac and cheese and coleslaw to jalapeno cheddar grits and a cold roasted vegetable salad — but the meat is straightforward and top-tier. When you finally get to the counter, you speak first with your meat man, ordering your chopped brisket, or pulled pork, or turkey breast, or the like-butter beef ribs (only on Fridays and Saturdays). Then it’s on to sides and add-ons like slices of white bread. Spot the blue-and-yellow Midcentury Modern sign off University Drive or Seventh Street, and you know you’ll soon be in barbecue heaven.
Hailing from Isle au Haut, Maine, and active in Phoenix from November through May, the Maine Lobster Lady is by now part of our local food lore, so beloved that food blogs and newspapers scramble to alert the masses of her return. Diana Santospago’s seafood wagon has been one of the most popular mobile eateries since it first appeared in 2012. Lobster lovers can find her (as well as a lengthy line) at festivals and food truck gatherings, hawking lobster in its various forms: rolls, bites, bisques, even cocktails. Her signature rolls are made with fresh Maine lobster (natch), tossed with mayo and lemon, and piled onto a New England-style split-top roll roughly the size of a hot dog bun. If you’re looking to get weird, Santospago will also spoon out lobster mac and cheese, lobster salad, lobster mashed potatoes, and lobster biscuits and gravy. The lady loves her lobster.
The second-best part of Mariscos Playa Hermosa is the dining room and patio. The Sinaloan-style Mexican seafood restaurant was established in March 2002 by Jose and Maria Maldonado, both originally from the small colonial town of Guanajuato, Mexico. The scenery of their hometown shows in this beautiful, loudly decorated eatery. Chairs are bright pink and blue, with Technicolor sky and landscapes across the walls and chair backs; nearly every color in the rainbow is represented in the decor here. The food stands on its own, though. The multipage menu lists pescado, aperitivos Mexicanos, and especialidades — everything from a grilled shrimp Michelada to a seafood tower and all kinds of aguachiles. They also have fun at MPH. Recently, for only the second time in 17 years, MPH added new menu items — one of which is called El Peligroso. It’s a raw seafood bowl filled with eight or nine different chiles that has become something of a spicy eating challenge. If you’re thinking an ice-cold adult beverage would pair nicely with items like these, MPH is way ahead of you. Go with the Serrano Margarita or a round of Modelo Especial.
Never again will be the days of the old Matt’s Big Breakfast, with the wraparound line of hungry breakfasters at the original, 800-square-foot red brick building at First and McKinley streets. The breakfast was simply too good, and the deserved accolades sent Matt’s to a bigger location a block north and then on to additional Valley locations. But the menu has stayed true. The beloved Chop & Chick is waiting here for you, as are the scratch-made waffles topped with real butter, the cheese omelet, the salami scramble, and bottomless coffee from the Roastery of Cave Creek. And lunch-minded diners need not despair: The Big Butter Burger and tossed Cobb salad are superb options for the breakfast-averse.
What was once a Mervyn’s department store is today Mercado De Los Cielos, a Hispanic marketplace on the southern end of Desert Sky Mall. More than 200 tenants call the place home. Though some view Mercado De Los Cielos primarily as a shopping destination, it’s also a paradise of counter-service eateries serving up fresh agua frescas, tortas, quesadillas, mariscos, gorditas, and all kinds of street foods. We’re partial to the rancheritos con elote at Elotes Y Hot Dogs and the full mole platter from Gorditas Wendy. There’s a lot to choose from — almost too much. If you struggle with decisions (or, for that matter, pronunciation), photos of almost every dish can be found above the register. And if you’re just at Mercado De Los Cielos to shop, grab a pina or mango loko at the raspados de frutas naturales stand to sip as you browse the shelves.
Walking up to Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café, you can’t, for a second, tell if you’re in present-day Phoenix or the first act of a decades-old film. Inside and outside, this place is a throwback, from the painted-on sign to the tight wooden booths and lunch counter. The fantasy extends to the menu; Mrs. White’s (named for founder Elizabeth White) serves utterly timeless Southern food. The writing on the wall — literally — informs you this 50-year-old restaurant is where you’ll find one of Phoenix’s most famous Southern dishes: the golden brown Southern fried chicken (with suggested sides of cabbage and black eyed peas). You’ll find other homestyle staples here that are relatively rare in Arizona, like fried catfish (tartar sauce not needed), red beans, and cobblers. No worries if you live or work nowhere near the little yellow luncheonette. Mrs. White has spinoffs everywhere, including her grandson, Larry “Lo-Lo” White’s spot, Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles.
Starting in 2016, some of the best pizza in the Valley could be found two nights a week in downtown Mesa at a sidewalk pop-up run by a guy named Myke Olsen. These days, some of the best pizza in the Valley can be found inside Cider Corps, where Olsen moved his operation last year. He now has a wood-fire oven that allows him to bake five Neapolitan pizzas at a time, and he’s open for business Tuesday through Saturday nights. We like the arugula, potato, and bacon pizza, the tomato pie, and especially the salami (which comes with some heaven-help-us spicy honey). Turns out, ciders pair nicely with pizza. Who knew?
We previously have made the argument that Phoenix is a bread town. A major player in our carb-heavy scene is Noble Bread. The bread itself is made in a micro-bakery near 22nd Street and McDowell Road. But there’s also an entire restaurant serving bread that meets the same high standards. Noble Eatery, a wood-fired deli and bakery, serves midday meals on weekdays in the Biltmore area, and Noble Bread is available at the eatery daily — or, at least, until they sell out. The menu at Noble includes seasonal salads, sandwiches, and pizzas, yes, but the more popular dishes here seem to be the Noble Toasts. They’ve got an avocado one, obviously, and a burrata-and-coppa toast, and a roasted mushroom toast, but our favorite is the tuna toast, a weighty work of art.
Chef Nobuo Fukuda, now of Heritage Square’s Nobuo at Teeter House, won his James Beard Award more than a decade ago. But his cooking feels fresh and anchored vitally in our present age of dining. The Teeter House space has the feeling of centuries past, as does its fantastic tea selection, but something more cutting-edge starts to unfold with the flavors from your first bite. Maybe it’s the local greens charged with a bright yuzu vinaigrette. Maybe it’s the marine-perfumed rice that pulls such subtle flavor from eggs and seaweed. Maybe it’s deep-fried soft shell crab with breaded legs spiraling outward, like the blades of a buzz saw, from craggy house-made focaccia. Whatever your first bite may be, it will be clear that a distinct and memorable eating experience has begun. Fukuda doesn’t confine his focus to his native Japan. He’s just as happy, when the pieces make sense, to reach out to a place like Italy for Parmesan shavings and basil oil to accent salmon sashimi. This isn’t cheap-plastic fusion, but thoughtful maneuvering essential to dishes, just as unexpected brushstrokes might be integral to a great painting. Fukuda relies, from season to season, on the intimately local. His Vietnamese-style noodle salad with short ribs changes slightly with the months, tracking the farm produce. To fully appreciate Fukuda’s prowess as a chef, take a seat at his bar and spring for omakase.
We’ve described Old Town Taste as a strip mall Chinese restaurant — easily spotted by the bright-red neon sign when cruising through Tempe — with a Sichuan bent, overseen by owners Xiohan Xu and Zuhao Wang and Chefs Qifu Chen and Jie Yu. Inside the mural-walled restaurant with turquoise booths, menus promise some exciting dishes, including the braised eggplant, mapo tofu, and Szechuan-style blood curd. One of our favorite plates is the Chongqing-style platter. This house special is offered as chicken or fish, and both options are phenomenal thanks to the piping hot meat coated in thin, crunchy batter. The dish is further weighed down with string beans and chile. Sides and drink options are just okay, which is fine, as anything Chongqing-style here will leave you satisfied for some time.
If you’ve ever spent time eating in China, the aromatic dining room of Original Cuisine will bring you back. The Mesa eatery’s exterior is unassuming, but inside it’s busy, welcoming, and modern. The menu leans Szechuan-style; items include Chongqing lo mein, spicy duck wings, breaded spareribs, stone pot-braised tofu, black pepper beef, and kung pao chicken. If you’re out for a special occasion — or if you just really enjoy posting food photos — the pork belly with garlic sauce is a must. With its thin strips of pork belly draped over a wooden rack, all of it hanging over a bowl of garlic sauce, it’s a major statement dish. It tastes good, too — as do most things at Original Cuisine.
Otro Café, an early staple of Seventh Street’s restaurant row in uptown Phoenix, serves New American dishes with heavy Mexican accents. The spot is owned and operated by treasured local chef and all-around nice guy Doug Robson — also of Gallo Blanco in the Garfield District. The place has plenty going for it — a formidable brunch menu, salads you’re actually excited to order, solid margs, a dog-friendly patio — but really, it’s all about the pork belly tacos. This taco (or tiny lettuce wrap, thank you) is a small brick of ultra-soft pork belly paired with cilantro and onions (though feel free to soak these suckers with the signature squeeze-bottle salsas available to diners). We recommend ordering three at a time. They’re tasty enough to turn casual patrons into permanent regulars — us included.
Claudio Urciuoli’s 2-year-old restaurant is a temple to simple food in the form of a 24th Street bungalow. Or maybe it’s more of a low-key barracks: There’s a spartan rigor to Urciuoli’s approach to ingredients. He gets the very best and often the most obscure, commonly from his native Italy: olio nuovo, heirloom beans, Tuscan pecorino, high-end polenta, heady wines. He also gets the best of what’s locally available, including marine life like skate and scallops from Nelson’s Meat + Fish, and sausage and steak from Arcadia Meat Market. His menu is tight. Dishes have few parts. All pieces appear to be working hard, because you never seem to want more than those Urciuoli adeptly unites. His food is solidly Italian, but not tied to any one region or regular classic preparations. Pa’La is small, almost half patio, and the heart of the eatery is a wood-fired oven. Beautiful breads emerge from its flames. Cast iron pans of colored zucchini frittata and crisp-skinned bluefish emerge, and once you bite in, the olden rusticity of the food washes you in a timeless warmth. Despite this, Urciuoli’s commitment to technique and his far-reaching supply chain of erudite ingredients feels very new, or at least firmly anchored in the 21st century. You can taste that commitment in plates as humble as grain bowls, or as starters of bread, cheese, and cured meat.
After building a following at the Uptown Farmers Market, Jason and Katherine Dwight, a married chef-butcher and baker, opened a restaurant in late 2019 that is intimately driven by local farms and ranches. Reclaimed wood slabs gleam in the Central Avenue restaurant. Fitting the rustic dining room, much of the small plates and a few of the larger ones emerge from a wood-burning oven. Everything is scratch-made, right down to bitters, tortillas, and ketchup. Jason butchers whole steers and makes his own charcuterie. Katherine makes magic from flour, water, and heat, including a really nice gingerbread. The food is New American, with lots of touches from afar: China, India, France, Mexico, and so on.
Pho Thanh Restaurant started off as a one-room show. (True heads still brag about slurping pho and chowing banh mi in those modest early days of the place; bigger props if you dined at Pho Bang). Then it became two rooms. Then three. At some point, a connecting boba spot materialized. In a way, the growth of this Vietnamese restaurant near Christown Spectrum Mall is consistent with the beautifully chaotic ethos of the place: there’s no drink program, barely any parking, you squeeze into a seat where you can find one, and service is ... let’s just say no one is going to ask how the first few bites taste. Still, the food, staff, and prices at Pho Thanh have remained mostly consistent over the years, earning this spot a loyal customer base of lunchtime diners and pho fanatics. The laminated, multipage menu lists more than 160 items, the most popular being pho tai. After about 50 visits, though, you may feel ready to try other dishes. In that case, we recommend the bun bo xao and the bo xao xa ot, or lemongrass beef.
Hear us out. This 25-year-old local chain is not necessarily pushing culinary boundaries — that’s hard to do when you’re constantly opening new locations — but it’s a well-known stop for a solid Mediterranean lunch or dinner. We mention it here to highlight its role as a transitional restaurant for many Phoenix-area diners attempting to make dietary transitions. The vegan and vegetarian options here are delicious and accessible (all hail the creamy green cilantro jalapeno hummus) and recent new menu items include keto- and paleo-friendly dishes like the Super Green Nordic Salmon Bowl and Shaved Korean Beef Cauliflower Tostada. No specific restrictions, but keen on the dieting part? The sizable broiled chicken salad remains a solid lunch option if you work nearby one of the Jungles.
Somehow, Phoenix is a pizza town, known far and wide for its innovative pies. Actually, we know how, and why: It’s because of Chris Bianco, the passionate, Bronx-born proprietor of his eponymous pizzeria. Bianco’s pizzas date back to 1988, but since 1996 he’s been in his Heritage Square location, serving Neapolitan-style pies to ever-longer lines and inspiring a whole generation of young American pizzaioli. Bianco won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2003 — the first pizzaiolo to ever earn the accolade — and over time, Bianco has extended his empire to a second Pizzeria Bianco, as well as other spots like Tratto, Bar Bianco, Pane Bianco, and a dizzying list of collaborations and projects. Nowadays, you don’t have to travel far to find delicious wood-fired pizza in the Valley. But if you’d prefer to go to the source, Bianco’s margherita pie — tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil — at his 42-seat brick restaurant remains as vital as ever. That wood-burning oven is still very much lit.
Occasionally, Phoenix diners may find themselves seeking a little break from the desert. In such times, Quiessence, found among the 10-acre pecan groves at the Farm at South Mountain, is a wonderful option. Thanks to the lush foothills and farmland of southern Phoenix, as well as the scenic patio attached to this historic home restaurant, Quiessence may be one of the Valley’s most picturesque eateries. It’s also one of our better restaurants. Co-owner and Executive Chef Dustin Christofolo’s menu of New American cuisine has earned itself four diamonds from AAA, and the wine list has an award of excellence from Wine Spectator. Quiessence offers a leisurely paced dinner, a callback to the several-hour meals of yesteryear. Diners have come to expect a seasonally changing menu of locally sourced meat and from-the-farm additions like vegetables, eggs, herbs, and edible flowers. Special dinners, markets, classes, and the neighboring Soil & Seed Garden also serve to keep things fresh around here.
Since 1993, Chrysa Robertson’s restaurant, with its comfortable yet upscale rustic setting and ever-changing menu, has been one of the most authentically Arizonan restaurants in the Valley. We’re big fans of dishes like the fried squash blossoms with local tomato vinaigrette or grilled quail with polenta, sauteed greens, fig chutney, and gastrique sauce. Then there’s Nonni’s Sunday Chicken — braised thighs, mushrooms, onion, white wine, herbs, crispy polenta, and an Italian cheese mix — just one example of the strong Italian streaks that run through the menu. For dessert, it’s back to the Southwest with the Arizona Date Cake.
Reathrey Sekong isn’t Phoenix’s only Cambodian restaurant, but it is certainly the best. The cha kreunh, or lemongrass stir fry, is perfection — a heaping pile of beef, chicken, or tofu stir-fried with onions, green beans, bell peppers, and kreung spices, paired with a small bowl of jasmine rice. Also on the must-order list here are the Cambodian pork chops — grilled and marinated in garlic soy sauce — and, for the meat-averse, the kathiev cha koansuh (ask for these student noodles with tofu and the vinaigrette instead of the oyster soy sauce). The dark maroon walls and numerous buddhas offer a calming dining experience that works either for a co-worker lunch or a date.
Mesa’s Main Street has seen considerable growth these last few years. The Nile Theater is back, the antique shops never left, and the dining options have exploded. One of the heavier hitters is República Empanada. This hip Latin restaurant is set a block east from Mesa Arts Center in Southside Heights and specializes, as its name suggests, in empanadas. In fact, this spot claims to have Arizona’s largest selection of South American-style savory empanadas. We recommend the Boricua, a Puerto Rico-inspired empanada packed with ham hock and arroz con gandules. The Cubana — slow-roasted pork and ham, mozzarella, dill pickle — is also a winner. For dessert, go with the Dizzy Fig, a dessert-style ’nada stuffed with Mesa-grown figs wrapped in mozzarella cheese and touched up with dulce de leche.
Dining at this compact eatery occupying the eastern-most suite of the historic Wagon Wheel building in the Melrose District feels like a visit to Biosphere II: Loads of plants and greenery mingle with natural wood and light, creating an earthy experience unlike any other in the Valley. The constantly changing, seasonally driven, five-course tasting menu at Restaurant Progress is overseen by chef and owner TJ Culp, who plates mostly upscale, New American fare. Among the dishes we’ve sampled here are soy-cured watermelon, scallop crudo, skin-on pork belly rillon, tagliatelle ragu, short rib bourguignon, and rabbit ballotine. The small but passionate team has recently added a brunch on Sundays that includes — as with the a la carte and tasting menu — offerings from local purveyors like Proof Bread, Arcadia Meat Market, and more. (And just FYI: This is the same team behind Dino’s Napoletana, the backyard pizza operation at the neighboring Thunderbird Lounge.) Walk-ins are welcome, but we recommend a reservation.
If you spot the sign for the The Rez, an Urban Eatery, out in the wild, reach for your cash and head for this roaming restaurant. You can sometimes find The Rez in downtown Phoenix during the late hours, even till 4 a.m. on weekends, or possibly at a festival, farmers market, or special event where food vendors are crammed into neat little rows. The Rez offers Navajo cuisine, food stand-style, served by Renetto-Mario Etsitty — whose resume includes Tertio Wine Bar chef and ASU fine arts graduate, among other things. Etsitty is known for frying up Navajo tacos, and plating Navajo burgers, chilaquiles with blue corn chips, tamales, crepes, stew, and some incredible frybread. (Vegan options are also plentiful.) The aguas frescas are a signature dish here; flavors include a prickly pear that packs a deep magenta punch and a green flavor that’s a complex mix of honeydew, basil, pineapple, and jalapeno.
Around since 1977 — the original location is on 14th Street in the Garfield District— this to-go-only eatery is rightly celebrated for its famous green chile burro. On busy days, there’s still a line out the door at the Garfield location, though the wait has been slightly alleviated thanks to new locations in Uptown and Surprise. (They’re all in the hands of the Salinas family.) In addition to that burro, we’re fans of the guacamole taco, the refried pinto beans, and the green beef tostada. Rito’s is also known for making any order chimichanga-enchilada style — deep-fried, drowning in red sauce, and topped with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Yes, please.
Saint Pasta is a team of two cooks — Joe Cetrulo and Racan Alhoch — from New Jersey, known somewhat for roasting people on social media when less-than-intelligent questions are posted. Where do they get this confidence? Saint Pasta is plating some of the top pastas in greater Phoenix. The operation started with a cult-favorite food truck in early 2019. In that same year, a permanent kitchen was set up inside Linger Longer Lounge — the wood-paneled throwback bar known for its vintage beer signs and dancefloor. The food ordered here falls somewhere between Italy and the East Coast which tracks, as the pasta maestro, Cetrulo, has cooked in places like Jersey, Boston, and Capri. Pasta styles are either classic or progressive riffs on classics. In addition, Saint Pasta serves a “fried pizza,” some now-beloved garlic knots, a heavy plate of chicken Parmesan, and other Italian-American staples.
The front door of this south Scottsdale seafood staple looks like it leads to a golf pro shop. In fact, it will send you down a staircase, at the bottom of which you’ll find an exceptionally classic dining experience. Salt Cellar Restaurant has been around since 1971, and its staying power stems, in part, from the atmosphere: the subterranean bar, the white tablecloths pinned by flickering candles. The menu lists seasonal seafood items from all over — Boston, Hawaii, Alaska, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, Georges Bank, and New Zealand. Aside from the go-to lobster and scallop dishes, a standout is the mussels in butter sauce appetizer, an actual bucket of Blue Hill Bay mussels swimming in a broth with drawn butter. From the depths of this cellar, each bite feels sent from above.
Seydi’s Pupuseria & Grill has been open for less than a year, yet the fast-casual north Valley eatery already has Phoenix hooked on El Salvador’s most famous dish: the pupusa. This mother-and-son-operated pupuseria is run by Jose Flores and the Usulután, El Salvador-born Seydi Flores. At the straightforward ordering counter, you can choose from 12 pupusas — some with shrimp, with green peppers, with jalapeños, beans, melted mozzarella — all tucked inside a soft, grill-kissed, handmade enclosed sandwich the size of a compact disc. We recommend the pupusa heavy with loroco — an edible flower common in El Salvador and Central America, sourced from a Spanish market in Los Angeles. Before you envision a weed, we’re here to tell you it’s more like artichoke, which vibes well with the cheese, jalapeno, and corn dough. Other menu items are already favorites at Seydi’s, like the fried yucca, banana-leaf tamales, and coconut water.
Not long ago, our food critic declared the best sushi in town to be found at ShinBay — the third incarnation of the omakase-style sushi place, now set in Old Town Scottsdale. Executive chef Shinji Kurita has made his home here, slicing and calculating near the 13-seat L-shaped bar. Shinbay hosts two seatings a night at more than $185 a ride. His omakase creations include Japanese eggplant with miso and bonito shavings, slices of halibut cured with kombu, chopped Hokkaido scallops with yuzu-miso, sashimi, and nigiri. The drink menu offers everything from a high-end sake bottle for $2,700 to rare (but less expensive) Japanese beers. It ain’t cheap, and diners are asked to allow approximately two hours for the dining experience. But the experience is well worth it.
What’s in a hot dog? Most of us have no idea, but at Short Leash, dogs are all-natural beef, bratwurst, chicken, veggie, apple Gouda, or spicy link. Originally (and still) a food truck, later located along Roosevelt Row, and now situated in a sunny, Seventh Avenue suite in the Melrose District, Short Leash is, yes, all about those dogs. We’re partial to The Lady, an absolute killer loaded with chipotle cream cheese, sauteed onions, and fried pickles, and wrapped in the shop’s signature naan. The Bear — peanut butter, smoked Gouda, bacon, barbecue sauce, and Cracker Jacks — is also great fun. The 80-plus craft beers and scratch-made brioche doughnuts nicely round out the offerings here.
You’ll find a European-themed menu with Arizona and American touches at St. Amand Kitchen & Cocktails, located in the Ocotillo district in south Chandler. The name is a nod to the patron saint of winemaking, beer brewing, and bartending, which creates a kind of self-imposed pressure on the drink program here. Good thing it holds up. Head bartender Ruben Gaeta’s house-crafted cocktails, like the Rhubarb Paloma, Peach Caipirinha, and the Vanilla Rosa, make a strong impression. But the food, overseen by Executive Chef Ramon Rice, also rises to the occasion, with options like octopus, bright and spicy sea scallops, street tacos, deviled eggs, New Zealand grass-fed lamb meatballs, and a next-level dish of cauliflower mac and cheese. The specials menu is where Rice gets to play around, and if on your visit it mentions anything about lobster risotto or burnt cheesecake, order those immediately. Soft live music often accompanies the food and drink here — and, depending on where you’re seated, so might a mural view of the great St. Amand himself.
Though you won’t see the roadside, open-air kitchen built from arrowroot and cactus ribs on Instagram food feeds, or in the pages of any glossy publication, The Stand on the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Reservation is one of our favorite places to eat in metro Phoenix. Here, the seats are stumps, the ceiling is the sky, and the fry bread from cook Cindy Washington will occupy your thoughts long after the meal is through. This Frisbee-sized fry bread is shaped from dough using vegetable shortening and born from a deep fryer. It rises dripping on the tines of a long, steaming fork. It’s puffy as a marshmallow — chewy, lacy, and soft all at once. With some honey, the nuttier toasty notes of the grain awaken. Blanketed with gloppy red chile, rained with toppings, and supercharged into an “Indian taco,” you have a sub-$10 meal for one that could feed two hungry people. Though fry bread isn’t an indigenous food with roots in the deep past, people, including many Native Americans around Phoenix, still enjoy it. If you don’t, well, when you hunger for a similarly satisfying meal, try The Stand’s menudo.
When you’re carrying a heavy title like “Arizona’s original steakhouse” on your hip, you better be ready to fire it off. And that’s exactly what’s done daily at The Stockyards Restaurant and 1889 Saloon. Around since 1947 on Washington Street, the Stockyards was once a go-to chow stop for cattlemen from the Tovrea Land and Cattle Co. and other prominent members of early Phoenix. Now, the classic restaurant has a reputation for serving New West cuisine — primarily, corn-fed, aged steaks and prime rib — but today’s menu hasn’t diverted all that much from the original. Other specialties include Paloma Ranch calf fries, American bison meatloaf, the Arizona cut steak, and some beloved baking soda biscuits. And who could resist a whiskey in the 1889 Saloon, designed by Mrs. Cattle Baron herself, Helen Tovrea? Sit yourself down and have a seat, partner.
This sushi place appears pretty straightforward from the parking lot — strip-mall suite neighboring a Trader Joe’s, blinking sushi sign in the window, a narrow, gently lit dining room. But inside Sushi Nakano in Ahwatukee, there is magic. Start with the appetizers. Edamame arrives salty and steaming. The fried mackerel is like an upscale fish stick. The Okinawa soba is to die for. But the fresh sushi, nigiri, and sashimi options deserve top billing here; we recommend spending some time exploring that section of the menu. Seating options are equally split between tables and the sushi bar, and both have their rewards — tables provide intimacy, while the bar offers a glimpse of the sushi chef at work. This is the debut establishment of Leo Nakano, son of Hirofumi Nakano, the owner of north Scottsdale’s Hiro Sushi, where Leo got his start.
We’d like to get this on record now: The original location of Tacos Chiwas — the one on McDowell Road against State Route 51 — is a wonderful place to eat. The vibe is that of a repurposed Dairy Queen: dim, wood-paneled, tile worn from decades of visitors, a forever-smell of grilled meat that travels clear out to the sidewalk. We wouldn’t have it any other way. We note this because the location is soon to undergo a remodel, allowing for more seating and better parking. Well — good for the staff and owners (husband-and-wife team Armando Hernandez and Nadia Holguin), we suppose. We’ll probably dig the new digs. But for our money, the cramped dining space and patio (as well as that of the second location, Chiwas Chandler, which opened in 2019) is one of the best places in Phoenix to enjoy an afternoon taco — barbacoa, pastor, and lengua are our picks. Burnt out on tacos? Go with the deshebrada roja gordita or asada burrito.
The Spanish-inflected steakhouse spilling out onto the second story patio of the Four Seasons in far north Scottsdale is impressive, as is the food within. The flavors here originate in the mind, hand, and heart of Samantha Sanz. From Nogales, Sonora, Sanz loops together a variety of influences, bringing Sonoran touches and colorful flare to her classical, meat-focused concept. Crudos cascade across plates in arcs of fish, fruit, and flowers. Salads often unite unlikely flavors, like coffee-roasted beets, vanilla, and bleu cheese. Even the peppered basketweave of iberico pork shoulder gains levity from citrus, celery leaves, pickled squash, and mostarda. Each season brings thrilling new changes to Sanz’s menu, and there are so many directions you can go. Sherry or sidra. Spanish-style gin and tonic or Txakoli. Prawns with mole verde or lamb meatballs with raita. Fideo in smoked tomato broth or a beautiful seafood-and-pork-belly paella, punctuated with a scarlet lobster carapace — a squiggly exclamation point on so much more than just a pan of rice.
A good torta is not hard to find in Arizona, but a good torta spot, one batting a thousand? If there’s one, it’s TEG Torta Shop — formerly Tortas El Guero. The family-owned 16th Street torta hall has been around since 2002, and offers nearly 20 tortas in mini, regular, and super sizes. We recommend the torta ahogada — a sandwich of pierna (pork leg) and beans, smothered (or drowned, as the name suggests) in chili sauce, the fresh-baked bolillo bread sopping wet. Elsewhere on the menu you’ll find standard Mexican fare: streets tacos, burritos, quesadillas, aguas frescas, and licuados (milkshakes), all solid options if your companions seek something more familiar. But do nudge them toward that torta. It’s a knockout.
Jutting out of the stucco plaza at 16th Street and Bethany Home Road since 1985, Texaz Grill is equal parts roadhouse cliche and serious steakhouse. Upon entering, allow your eyes to adjust as they wander over the dimly lit mounted trucker hats and road signs, framed photos of yesteryear diners, and the buzzing neon of beer logos. Regulars know their order — probably the fall-off-the-plate chicken fried steak, but maybe the barbecue ribs, fried catfish, or smoked prime rib. The bar is well-stocked, both with booze (they’ll make just about any type of drink) and pretzels and peanuts to chew while you sip. Holidays are fun here too: We’re big fans of the marinated black-eyed pea salad — or Texas Caviar — that’s served on New Year’s Day.
If environmentally sustainable practices enter into your calculus for choosing where to dine in Phoenix, The Breadfruit should be mighty high on your list. Chef Danielle Leoni has been through so many environmentally focused programs, from those at the James Beard Foundation to others at ASU, that her resume must span many pages at this point. Dwayne Allen (her husband) is no slouch, either. Just ask him about the implications of the trees shading The Breadfruit’s patio, or downtown parking spots, or the Impossible Burger and beef consumption. There is a salon-like sense of intellectual exchange at this intimate, Arizona-Jamaican restaurant, up to and including the bar presided over by Allen, who knows rum like art historians know sculptures and frescoes. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the offerings here are anything less than joyful. Leoni plates juicy jerk chicken and fragrant fish cooked in a Jamaican version of en papillote, soulful goat curry and a fiery, hypnotic plate of sauteed shrimp. When you’re on the patio digging into Two Wash Ranch chicken spiced with a jerk sauce made in part using palo verde beans, with a rum flight or ginger beer at the ready and a long cigar in hand, you couldn’t be anywhere else but downtown Phoenix.
The best Italian restaurant in metro Phoenix is Chris Bianco’s high-end but rustic trattoria, Tratto. Here, Chef Cassie Shortino crafts stunning pastas in shapes like spaghetti alla chittara and tagliatelle, using precise, intelligent local flours suited to the specific noodles at hand. Nobody else in town is crafting pasta on this level. Nobody else is cooking it with such depth, love, connection to history, and allegiance to the local produce seasons. At Tratto, the kitchen can rock out a classic pomodoro or cacio e pepe, sure, but arguably the more bracing, place-rooted gems are those that more completely embrace what Arizona can provide: the lamb ragu, the al limone (using local lemons), the pastas entwined with the day’s local bounty. Pasta, too, is just one element of Tratto. There are thoughtful starters, like a staple chickpea fritter or some of the most unsung crudos in town. The drink program, orchestrated by Blaise Faber, is unique and thoughtful and animated by similar ideas as Bianco’s food, leading to a beautiful ride not unlike ripping down an Italian coastal highway. We’re talking house-made liqueurs from apex local fruit, and some of the most esoteric, incandescent amari Italy has to offer. Talk to your barman, and he will go as deep as you want to. At Tratto, follow the menu’s lead, which is the lead of Bianco and Shortino and the seasons, and you’ll be in for a treat. This is a great spot for any kind of dinner, a great place to share soulful food with people you love. Everything is done with the highest intention, right on down to the olive oil and bread, which is so good you could eat it until totally stuffed and go home happy.
At Umami, your experience depends on a variety of factors. Sometimes, it’s a relaxing, open-air spot to slurp ramen, with a low-volume sports game on in the background. Other times, there’s a live EDM show at Shady Park — in which case your experience is likely to be a little more, let’s say, thumpy. The menu — from Chefs Jared Lupin and Matt Marlowe — has variety as well, with multiple ramen and sushi options, many of which have gluten-free and vegan offerings. You can also build your own bowl. (Pro tip: If you’re adding the vegan fried chicken — and we suggest you do — ask for it on the side to minimize sogginess.) But the real star at Umami, aside from whatever celebrity DJ is out back, is the Mr. Roboto Special: a house bowl (spicy shoyu is a favorite), a Japanese draft and sake, for just $12.
This fiercely original restaurant, which opened its heavy front door in Arcadia last fall, is a gem from start to finish. Chefs Eric Stone and James Fox have developed a one-of-a-kind menu, driven by vegetables, rooted in Latin America, laced with countless dimensions of chile heat. It also drills down to molecular details like few other places in Arizona. For instance: elote, simple street corn, contain some 40 ingredients. Other dishes include unlikely elements, like a beautifully pepper-centric habanero salsa that gains its creamy X-factor from butter. Entering the minimal restaurant with a bar in the middle, you wouldn’t expect such a nuanced approach. What you sense when you enter is smoke — grill smoke that perfumes the restaurant from the rig in the kitchen, where mesquite burns, which plays a role in almost every dish on the menu. Most of those dishes are small: potatoes with jalapeno crema, Peruvian-style hiramasa ceviche with an unspeakably lush coconut-based sauce, cauliflower crushed by 900-degree heat, a pepper-kissed romaine salad with Mexican Sriracha. Large-format plates go big. They’ve included a blackened pork chop with dazzling escabeche and, yes, carne asada rib-eye with thick ribbons of mesquite-perfumed fat. The beer list has rare finds, like Pistachio Shake by Arizona Wilderness. And then, Miguel Mora is maestro of a cocktail program kicking with personality.
Verdura is billed as Phoenix’s hot, vaguely vinyl-themed vegan restaurant, and the names of the dishes reflect that: the London Calling, the CBGB salad, “Phish and chips,” and so on. But this counter-service, plant-based eatery isn’t messing around with the food. Popular items include the seitan-made carne asada nachos and a po’boy made with flash-fried mushrooms and served on a Noble baguette. The Goth Waffle is also agonizingly good. Incorporate each element of this dessert into every bite: the warm, black-in-color bubble waffle (made with activated charcoal), the tart, raspberry sorbet, the shaved coconut, raspberry sauce, the strawberry. Looking down at you from big framed photos on the wall, Prince, Joan, Bruce, and Bowie would be proud.
Gio Osso’s Italian food isn’t afraid to reach beyond the boot, or even beyond the Mediterranean. His frequently changing menu has offered rib-eye with chimichurri and smoked swordfish belly with chorizo. But the bulk of the plates at this white-tablecloth restaurant on the edge of downtown Scottsdale are anchored in far southern Italy, though filtered through the New Jersey native’s learned, slightly playful culinary mind. There are handmade pastas, hand-shaped gnocchi. There are ingredients like the Italian green barba de frate, tender and wild under crisp-skinned branzino. There are flights of obscure, ferocious amari. There are Calabrian chiles, blood-red egg yolks given by chickens fed red peppers, and bowls of pork ragu utterly astounding and wholly comforting in their long-stewed, homey depths. Virtu is a place for somebody who prefers more formal dining, who thinks they’ve eaten all the Italian food there is, or who simply wants a reliably damn good meal. It is also an underrated destination for drinks. A deep wine list has some nice regional Italian finds by the glass. The bar manages to make even a vodka cocktail — the Ice Queen — interesting, thanks to strawberry-white-balsamic shrub, Champagne foam, and black pepper. You can fly high with tartare and steak. You can plunge into the sea with lemon-tahini scallops or a blackened octopus that has become one of the town’s classics. Best of all, you can noodle with great pasta.
Welcome Diner 2.0, now situated at that hot Garfield District intersection at Pierce and 10th streets, doesn’t have the same snug charm as its original location a block away. What it does have is a crisp, retro look, marrying its neon pink-and-blue sign with the diner’s seating options — which is to say, booths, a wraparound lunch counter, a bar with liquor bottles crawling up the wall, and a massive, usually busy, porch-style patio. Gulf Coast-inspired dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and seafood etouffee are big here, as are the classic cocktails. But it’s the biscuits people talk about: they’re big, pillowy, and have excellent biscuit names like the Bumble Bee and Big Jim.
The emergence of downtown Mesa as a (for now) low-key dining destination has a fair amount to do with the arrival of Worth Takeaway, a craft sandwich and coffee shop that opened inside a sleek-but-tight 15-seat dining room. Worth was pretty much an instant hit and has recently expanded next door, adding another 15 seats. The crispy chicken sandwich is big here — a heavy handheld of battered chicken strips dripping with a Sriracha honey spread and mayonnaise, topped with pickles and Bibb lettuce, and finished with ciabatta from Proof Bread (also a Mesa business). We like the roast beef sandwich, too, and a few other items. But we’ll let you find your own usual at Worth Takeaway.