Thanks to hundreds of new restaurants opening in the Valley this year -- including a cozy artisan pizza shop in Scottsdale, a vegan bakery downtown, and a trio of cuisines in East Phoenix -- there was plenty to chew on when it came to First Tastes, our column of initial impressions.
Featuring a variety of fare for various tastes and wallet sizes, this list has a little something for everyone. Find a favorite or two and pay them a visit in the new year.
A round of applause for chef Michael Rusconi, who opened his new restaurant of seasonal and sustainable American fare in the middle of a chain-infested strip mall at the northeast corner of Tatum and Shea. With dishes like butternut squash ravioli and prickly pear braised red cabbage, the neighborhood has quickly caught on, leaving the likes of Panda Express and Corleone's in the dust. Read the First Taste here.
Scottsdale's best-kept secret for a cozy-casual dinner of low lights and handcrafted 'za can be found at this tiny restaurant from former mobile pizza business couple Bill and Gina Forrest. Fashioned from naturally risen dough, the "Neo-Neapolitan style" pies feature first-rate ingredients best enjoyed with a glass of wine and Il Bosco's bottomless olive tray. Read the First Taste here.
The menu of Jamaican eats in this tiny, counter-service eatery on 19th Avenue just north of Indian School Road may be small, but who cares when the flavors (not to mention the portion sizes) are so big? Don't miss killer jerk chicken, bone-in curried goat, and stewed veggie chunks along with daily specials like beef patties and Jamaican stew peas. Read my review of Jerk Hut here.
With a beer garden full of suds and a brat haus full of, well, brats, this hardworking restaurant, courtesy of restaurateur Dave Andrea and chef Payton Curry, is a welcome addition to the Old Town eating scene. Don't miss Curry's homemade sausages as well as new dishes such as sauerbraten beef short ribs and hearty Jaeger Stew. Read the First Taste here.
The award for hardest-working restaurateur this year goes to Tuck Shop owner DJ Fernandes who opened not one, but two new tasty restaurants in Phoenix: Astor House, the charming breakfast, lunch, and nighttime snack space adjacent to the Tuck Shop in the Coronado neighborhood; and Vovomeena, the satisfying breakfast and brunch spot on the chain-ridden corner of Seventh Avenue and McDowell. The toughest decision isn't which one to visit, but which one to visit first. Read my review of Astor House here and the First Taste of Vovomeena here.
Vegans on the hunt for a scrumptious sweet treat could do worse than this cute, candy-striped shop on West Roosevelt Street. Owner and baker Corianne Sizemore always has a few delights on hand, like organic, non-egg, and dairy-free vegan cupcakes, cookies, muffins, pies, and "uncheesecakes". And the goodies change often enough to keep guests coming back for more. Read the First Taste here.
This family-owned restaurant in Central Phoenix offers a culinary crossroads of cuisines from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Don't miss dishes such as the goat or chicken karahi, a favorite curry of Pakistan, gulpi, Afghani braised and seasoned cauliflower, and, for carnivores traveling in packs, the mixed grill platter. Read my review of Khyber Halal here.
This cool little secret tucked into the Scottsdale Mall features artisinal gelato recipes courtesy of husband-and-wife team Alberto della Casa and Letizia de Lucia. Featuring twenty rotating flavors of luscious, top-notch gelato as well as sorbet made with fresh fruits, gelato sandwiches, and gelato affogato -- all made onsite daily -- this shop's a standout among the rest. Read the First Taste here.
North Phoenix's new favorite pizza spot is this bright, counter-service eatery in Moon Valley from Myrah and Joe Aiello, owners of Aiello's Salumeria next door and Charr, their American burger joint a few doors down. From its signature Neapolitan and Sicilian-style creations, stellar slices like the must-try spinach alfredo, and an often-singing pizzaiolo behind the counter, there's a lot to love. Read my review of Isa's Pizza here.
Forget the fact that no one knows how to pronounce the name and all that FnB moving news for a minute and conjure up three words: Chef Charleen Badman. When it comes to stellar locally focused and seasonal fare, there's little this notable chef can't do. And her small selection of eats without a single clunker in the bunch is reason enough to pay a visit. Read the First Taste here.