Skipping town? You're not alone. But if you want to leave our city with a few memories of beautifully plated Mexican food, Sonoran hot dogs, and sips of one of our more famous beers, you might want to refer to this list.
Here's where you need to go, what you need to try, in order to round out your trip or semi-permanent stay in the Phoenix area.
Torta del Rey and Aqua Fresca at Los Reyes de la TortaMultiple Locations
As seen on Man vs Food, the Torta del Rey is stacked high with savory pork, beans, grilled hot dog, flavorful beef, ham, fresh veggies, and even a fried egg. It weighs in at just over two pounds and it's a sight to behold. But it's not just a hyped-up giant monster sandwich — this sucker tastes pretty freakin' good. Los Reyes combines the best flavors from Mexico City with high-quality ingredients and excellent customer service, which is why they are the best torta makers in the state. Even if you can't handle the giant Torta del Rey, we strongly encourage you to try one of the smaller, more manageable torta creations. They are every bit as good as the del Rey but they won't put you in a two-day food coma.
Green Chili Burrito at Rito's Mexican Food907 North 14th Street
Hidden (seriously, there isn't even a sign) near 12th and Roosevelt streets in the ramshackle yet up-and-coming historic Garfield neighborhood sits Phoenix's go-to spot for fresh tortillas filled with spicy green chile with melt-in-your-mouth tender beef and creamy beans. Chances are there will be a line of folks dressed in business attire out the door and around the building but trust us, it's 100 percent worth the wait — even in triple-digit weather. This is the original Rito's spot, established in 1977, but the family has since expanded to locations in Surprise and uptown Phoenix.
Sonoran-style Dog at Nogales Hot Dogs1945 East Indian School Road
Sure, you've eaten hot dogs for most of your natural life, but there's something about crushing two or three of them, Sonoran-style, at 1 a.m. and in the parking lot home of the Nogales Hot Dogs stand in central Phoenix, that makes the experience oh-so Arizona special. Mesquite-smoked and bacon-wrapped, tucked into a fresh bun, and smothered in beans, mayonnaise, and chopped tomatoes, load 'em up with additional toppings like guacamole, salsa, and cheese. Between bites, chat it up with owner Pablo Perez, who's been in the Sonoran dog game for over a dozen years, or take a few last, longing looks at the star-speckled Arizona sky.
Bruschetta at PostinoMultiple Locations
Who knew that something as simple as bread topped with meat and cheese (and a few other items) would become a staple in our weekly food rotation. We don't know what we'd do if we couldn't relax with a nice glass of wine and a couple of slabs of crusty bread with a schmear of light sheep's milk cheese and addictive tomato jam or creamy brie with crisp apples and sweet figs — no wait, we do — we would probably cry. If you still haven't made it out to one of Postino's beautifully hip wine cafes for a board of bruschetta, you need to do so immediately. Even if you aren't a "wine cafe" kinda person, you'll appreciate the simple elegance.
Enchilada-Style Bean and Cheese Burrito at Casa Reynoso3138 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Globe, Arizona-style Mexican food can't be beat and it can't be found anywhere else in the country. We dare you to try and find a bean-and-cheese burrito this good in Nebraska, Portland, or even California. The Reynoso family has been cooking up pots of some of Tempe's best beans, simmering batches of their amazing enchilada, and hand-making tortillas at their home on Mill and Southern avenues since 1984. The combination of all three creates a must-try burrito experience. It's simple but it's one of our favorites — and you'll find some pretty delicious salsa to top off.
Chinese-Mexican Fusion Dishes at Chino Bandido15414 North 19th Avenue
We're pretty sure there is nowhere else in the world where you can get a plate of sweet-and-spicy Jade Red Chicken with refried beans and jerk-fried rice. Nowhere. Chino Bandido owners Frank and Eve Collins have combined savory Asian style eats with spicy tastes of the Southwest and a dash of Caribbean flavors for a mix of food that is out-of-this-world. Slow-cooked pork carnitas with a side of egg foo young? Done. Spicy jerk chicken with a side of pork fried rice? No problem. Chile relleno with Chinese barbecue pork? You get the picture, now try it out.
The Aiko at Short Leash Hot Dogs4221 North Seventh Avenue
Short Leash Hot Dogs should be Phoenix's ambassador to the world because they are on the forefront of hot dog-making progress, as well as a favorite local food truck. Sure they have exotic toppings, a lively menu, and fantastic service, but what's really important is how they eradicated the weakest link in the entire hot dog experience — the bun. Wrapping the dog in naan has liberated the hot-dog-eating experience. It's made it possible for Short Leash to experiment with a broader range of toppings because they actually have a "bun" that can stand up to getting a little wet or supporting a tower of toppings. And good thing, because the Aiko signature dog is piled high with mango chutney, jalapeños, red onions, cilantro, and mayo.
Kilt Lifter at Four Peaks Brewing Company1340 East Eighth Street, #104, Tempe
Kilt Lifter isn't the best beer in Arizona. It's not the most hoppy, the darkest, the sweetest, or the most alcoholic. In fact, there's nothing really "Arizona" about this Scottish-style ale at all. But that hasn't kept it from reigning for years as one of the most popular beers in the state. Maybe it's the beer's smooth caramel sweetness and touches of smoke. Maybe it's how nothing pairs better with a Bleu Light Special Burger. Whatever it is, this is the beer that made Four Peaks famous, and there's a reason for that.
A Last Supper at Kai Restaurant5594 Wild Horse Pass Boulevard
Many restaurants can boast star and diamond ratings, but only one in Arizona has five of each. It's Kai, located in the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa on the Gila River Indian Reservation near Chandler. Their rating, in addition to its unique Native American cuisine, makes Kai a must-visit before exiting the state. From its beautiful interior and outdoor patio overlooking a dreamy, desert landscape, to exceptional service, to stunning fare mixing indigenous ingredients like heirloom squash, saguaro seeds, and nopalitos with gourmet components such as chanterelles, truffles, and foie gras, Kai is an indulgence worth the price of saying goodbye.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on April 30, 2012. It was updated on December 2, 2019.