The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Tacos Chiwas

Tacos Chiwas
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 and third locations, in Chandler and Mesa) 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. New Normal: Patio seating is available for those uncomfortable dining indoors. ($)
1028 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 85014

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

24 Carrots

24 Carrots
24 Carrots
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. New Normal: 24 Carrots is offering takeout and curbside pickup only. Weekly specials are posted via social media daily. ($$)
1701 E. Guadalupe Rd., Tempe, 85283

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Across the Pond

Across the Pond
Lauren Cusimano
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). New Normal: Across the Pond accepts reservations via Tock. ($$$)
4236 N. Central Ave., #101, Phoenix, 85012

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Aloha Kitchen

Aloha Kitchen
Lauren Cusimano
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. New Normal: Seating is limited inside, but we hear the takeout counter is busy but speedy with to-go orders. ($)
2950 S. Alma School Rd., Mesa, 85210

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Andreoli Italian Grocer

Andreoli Italian Grocer
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
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. New Normal: Seating is limited inside, but Andreoli Italian Grocer offers takeout and delivery. ($$)
8880 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, 85258

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.

Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Heather Hoch
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 jalapeño 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. New Normal: Both the Gilbert and Phoenix locations have open-air seating options. The downtown spot also doubles as a bird-friendly beer garden. ($$)
721 N. Arizona Ave., Gilbert, 85233

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Asadero Norte De Sonora

Asadero Norte De Sonora
Chris Malloy
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 $10 — unless you blow some change at the toy-vending quarter machines. New Normal: Asadero Norte De Sonora's popular picnic-table seating is more spaced out than ever inside. Takeout is always available, too. ($)
122 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 85034

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Asian Cafe Express

Asian Cafe Express
Heather Hoch
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. New Normal: Asian Cafe Express is open for carryout only. Delivery via DoorDash. ($)
1911 W. Main St. #3, Mesa, 85201

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Atlas Bistro

Atlas Bistro
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
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. New Normal: Reservations are extremely limited and preferred via direct message through social media. The Atlas Wines shop is also open next door. ($$$$)
2515 N. Scottsdale Rd., #18, Scottsdale, 85257

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Bacanora PHX

Bacanora PHX
One man. One grill. One of our most fun places to eat, period. Bacanora has fast become one of Phoenix’s signature Mexican restaurants thanks to the skills, friendliness, and humility of Rene Andrade, the man behind the grill. Andrade has cooked in well-regarded fine dining restaurants throughout the Valley, and Bacanora is his sizzling, mesquite-touched, chiltepin-dusted return to the food of his home region: Sonora, Mexico. On any given night (or weekend brunch morning) the menu offers just a handful of items, many rotating. One night there might be grilled octopus. Another, a version of the shrimp aguachiles Andrade sold in his youth. Beef is a Bacanora cornerstone, whether brick-thick steaks crusted on the grill or shards of carne asada — among the best in our carne-asada-crazed town. Masterfully, seemingly effortlessly, Andrade adds the touches of an accomplished chef with diverse experience to Sonoran food, slightly elevating dishes yet somehow keeping them as humble as those of trucks and family-run taquerias. His radish-and-cucumber salad is clean and light, lifted by olive oil and queso fresco. His beans are plump, stewy, and make you marvel at how much flavor beans can contain. His caramelo is phenomenal. Built on a crisp, fragrant flour tortilla, slicked with melted cheese, heaped with shreds of wildly rich grilled beef, it’s the kind of plate that might haunt your hungry daydreams forever. ($$)
1301 NW Grand Ave Unit 1, Phoenix, 85007

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Balkan Bakery

Balkan Bakery
Chris Malloy
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. New Normal: Indoor dining is not currently available, but Balkan Bakery offers zeljanica for takeout and curbside pickup. ($)
1107 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 85022

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Bao Chow

Bao Chow
Patricia Escarcega
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. New Normal: Yucca Tap Room now has a permanent patio in the parking lot where you can sit and enjoy your Bao Chow. ($$)
31 W. Southern Ave., Tempe, 85282

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Barrio Cafe

Barrio Cafe
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, just one: the Lowrider). New Normal: Barrio Café has never taken reservations. The dining room is open with limited seating, but takeout is always available. ($$$)
2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 85006

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Beckett's Table

Beckett's Table
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
This Arcadia eatery just passed 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. New Normal: A weekly menu for curbside pickup is available at the Beckett's Table website. ($$$)
3717 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 85018

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Binkley's Restaurant

Binkley's Restaurant
Debby Wolvos
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 Road, 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. New Normal: Reservations are required and can be made via the Binkley's website. ($$$$)
2320 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix, 85016

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Cafe Chenar

Cafe Chenar
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
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. New Normal: Seating is limited inside, but Café Chenar's kosher menu is available via takeout and third-party delivery services. ($$)
1601 E. Bell Rd., Suite A-11, Phoenix, 85022

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Cafe Lalibela

Cafe Lalibela
Timur Guseynov
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. New Normal: Seating is limited inside, but Cafe Lalibela offers curbside pickup and no-contact delivery. ($$)
849 W. University Dr., Tempe, 85281

The Best Restaurants In Phoenix 2021: Our Top 100 List

Carolina's Mexican Food

Carolina's Mexican Food
Sarah Whitmire
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. New Normal: The O.G. Carolina's is open for dine-in and takeout. The Avondale location offers an online order form. ($)
1202 E. Mohave St., Phoenix, 85034