This year, the variety of new restaurants in the Valley has more breadth and depth than ever before: comfort-food-meets-gourmet in Scottsdale; artisan pizzas by a legendary baker in Central Phoenix; and knockout Italian eats in east Mesa.
When I made this list, I wanted a selection of restaurants offering distinctive fare -- places you couldn't wait to return to and tell your friends about -- and with options for various tastes and wallet sizes. Find a few that fit your fancy and pay them a visit in the new year -- they'll appreciate it.
The House Brasserie Set in a charming little1920s bungalow, chef Matt Carter's newest restaurant in Old Town is a sophisticated spot serving American cuisine with touches from all over the globe. From charcuterie and cheeses, tapas-style shared plates, stellar side dishes, and entrees like the noteworthy Berkshire pork country ribs, there's something for nearly every palate. Bonus: Al fresco dining on the equally charming patio.
- Crudo This year, chef Cullen Campbell moved his home of modern Italian fare to a warm and intimate space hidden in the back of a shopping center in East Phoenix. And although it's tricky to find, Campbell's inventive and expertly prepared raw seafood dishes, handmade pastas, signature mozzarellas, and wood-grilled delights are worth a few go-arounds in the parking lot to get to. Bonus: Cocktails from Crudo bar owner Micah Olson.
Italian Restaurant It started off with a few snags, but now, Valley legend Chris Bianco's shabby-chic neighborhood restaurant in the Town and Country Shopping Center in East Phoenix is delivering on Italian standards and signature Italian-American creations in full force. With a small, rotating menu of flavor-packed salads, pasta dishes, and entrees using fresh, locally grown ingredients, there's always a dish or two to savor. Bonus: Desserts from Bianco's mom, Francesca.
Davanti Enoteca Chef Peter DeRuvo shines at this Italian restaurant in Scottsdale owned by Chicago-based Francesca's Restaurants Group. Featuring a stellar selection of sharable modern Italian fare like the housemade orecchiette, seared octopus, and the must-try focaccia di recco, cheese-filled bread smeared with honeycomb honey, nearly every dish is superb. Bonus: Wines selected with the help of assistant general manager and long-time sommelier, Dave Johnson.
Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails This urban gathering place on the second floor of the new Hotel Palomar at CityScape is the restaurant downtown Phoenix has been waiting for. And thanks to chef Stephen Jones, who isn't above mixing his versions of corn dogs, tater tots, and Mexican pozole in with the Hamachi crudo and duck confit flatbread, the contemporary American menu stays deliciously approachable. Bonus: A selection from the novella-sized cocktail booklet.
- Federal Pizza The latest venture from Craig DeMarco and his Upward Projects team is a cool yet unpretentious restaurant in a former bank in Central Phoenix where the "bread" comes courtesy of master baker MJ Coe. The wood-fired, artisan pizzas are the showstopper, but stellar sandwiches, salads, and sides are noteworthy as well. Bonus: Housemade wine coolers.
Crepe Bar From an award-winning food truck to a Tempe storefront, chef Jeff Kraus' crepes are nothing short of scrumptious works of culinary artistry. Loaded with quality ingredients, and masterfully prepared, sweet and savory creations include the Papa K (more or less the crepe version of a ham and cheese hoagie) and the Nutella, strawberry, and torched banana sensation called the First Time. Bonus: Expertly crafted coffees.
Dolce Vita Italiana With a penchant for top-notch ingredients and a way of turning the simple into the sublime, it's no wonder why this new Italian grocery and deli in east Mesa is so exceptional. Courtesy of Walter and Marti Bergamaschi, owners of the adjoining Gelato Dolce Vita, classic, Northern Italian-based dishes can be had from a small menu or snagged from the specials board. Bonus: Imported cheeses and cured meats from the deli counter.
Pig & Pickle This new Scottsdale restaurant from culinary duo Keenan Bosworth and Joshua Riesner (formerly of Scottsdale's top-notch BYOB Atlas Bistro) has come right out of the gate with a first-rate comfort-food-meets-gourmet menu of globally accented fare with seasonal touches. Don't miss pork shoulder tostadas topped with kimchi, luscious braised duck leg, and a dessert called the Elvis worthy of The King's praise. Bonus: Late-night eats until 1 a.m.