Last month Phoenix New Times celebrated the cream of the crop with our 36th annual Best of Phoenix edition. Here are our top picks for healthy/specialty restaurants in metro Phoenix.
Best Vegetables: FnB They don't call her "the veggie whisperer" for nothing. Chef Charleen Badman really does have the magic touch. In fact, we once took a tomato-hating friend to her restaurant, FnB, and watched in awe as our dining companion devoured a whole roasted beef steak. "I've decided, if Charleen cooks it, I'll eat anything," she declared. And we agree. From tender eggplant and foraged mushrooms to her famous braised leeks, we have faith that Badman can turn even the most hated of vegetables into something remarkable. This year, we discovered that her vegetable thumb doesn't just work in the kitchen. At her home garden, the chef coaxes a stunning array of vegetables and spices out of the ground. We promise, you've never seen such a lush planter box in your life.
See also: 2014 100 Favorite Dishes
Best Vegetarian Restaurant: Bragg's Factory Diner For some of us, life is all about the pursuit of three things: innovative vegetarian food, quirky yet cozy design, and well-crafted puns. Fortunately, all of these things can be found at Bragg's Factory Diner. Bragg's is pure Arizona goodness, from the vintage maps, knickknacks, and state postcards that adorn the walls to the subtle Southwestern influence on the food. The diner features unpretentious (but delicious) food that even the carnivores in your crowd will adore. The service is every bit as sunny as the space, and the cafe truly has something for everyone. Gluten-free? Vegan? Not a problem. Our favorite dish is the perfectly punny Nopales Like Home (jackfruit marinated in barbacoa sauce and topped with smoky grilled cactus on a freshly toasted bun) and the Beet on the Brat burger (a creative, beet-based spin on the ever-ambiguous veggie burger). Don't forget dessert -- Bragg's vegan pies are made fresh in-house daily.
Best Vegan Restaurant: Green Damon Brasch is a genius, and if you don't believe us, consider the Taco Bell bean burrito. Both Brasch and the Taco Bell people had the same idea a long time ago: vegan comfort food. For years, Brasch has been frying tofu and potatoes and blending soy "ice cream" and candy into treats that may not make you skinny but do satisfy the requirements of a vegan diet. Yes, yes, you can also get a salad at Green, but why would you when samosas, curry, and a barbecue bacon burger beckon?
Best Gluten-Free Bakery: Jewel's Bakery and Cafe Even people who aren't concerned about whether their cupcakes contain wheat flour are flocking to this bakery, because Jewel's baked goods are so good. Not over-sugared, like so many dessert items tend to be, Jewel's gluten-free, sugar-free, corn-free, dairy-free, soy-free, vegan, and organic treats are magic on a plate.
Check out Mom Moreno's candied bacon cinnamon roll, a combination of sweet syrup and salty bacon that tastes surprisingly like the real thing. Jewel's scones offer a rare mix of dense cakiness and flaky softness, without being dry or crumbly. And pastry chef Julie Moreno's sticky buns don't taste anything-free: moist, sticky-sweet, dripped with tart icing, they're better than most made with wheat flour. We're not thinking about gluten when we eat Moreno's cheesecake, rich with toasted coconut, mini chocolate chips, and a moist, dark chocolate crust, slathered in a caramel glaze that doesn't obscure a smooth and slightly tart tower of sweet, cheesy filling. Don't leave without a carrot cake cupcake, moist and carroty and smeared with cream cheese frosting.
Best Gluten-Free Restaurant: Grabbagreen If "fast casual" and "gluten-free" are the culinary buzzwords of 2014, then Grabbagreen is the perfect love child of this year's biggest trends. The restaurant offers a menu of all-natural and gluten-free eats in a bright, clean, fast-casual setting. Diners can choose from a menu of juices, salads, smoothies, and grain-based bowls, all of which feature consciously sourced ingredients -- think free-range chicken raised without antibiotics and hormones, organic tofu, and locally sourced produce wherever possible. On top of all the good-for-you goodness, the restaurant offers online ordering and makes nutritional information available on the website. See? Eating well doesn't have to be hard.