Best of Phoenix

The Essentials: Taste Phoenix Through These 50 Local Favorites

What does Phoenix taste like? What are its spice and textures, soups and pizzas, tongue sandwiches and pig cookies? Here, we find out through these 50 essential Valley delights.

50. Soul Food Platter from Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles
1220 South Central Avenue
(and other locations)

Larry White, owner, gives his nickname “Lo-Lo” to this now-classic soul food restaurant. He grew up in the kitchen of his grandmother, Elizabeth White, she of the legendary Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe downtown. His fried chicken has a huge shatter. The crunch rolls through your head and blots out all non-chicken thoughts as you chew. Golden batter jacketing the catfish brings a different texture, one with more of a short granular crunch. Sides like collards with homemade hot sauce and Kool-Aid cocktails give Lo-Lo’s its own unique space within our robust soul food scene. CM

49. The Bear at Short Leash Hotdogs + Rollover Doughnuts
110 East Roosevelt Street

The Bear at this beloved food truck boasts a not-so-secret ingredient: Cracker Jacks. The old-school caramel corn is stippled over the hot dog, which features sweet barbecue sauce, smoked gouda, bacon, and your choice of frank (the spicy beer hot dog is a solid pick). The hot dog is lightly slicked with some peanut butter, too. Eventually, the flavors congeal into something meaningful, and The Bear takes on the appeal of something like peanut brittle. It’s both dessert and dinner, cradled inside the powdery folds of its warm naan “bun.” PE

48. Grilled Squid and Other Specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocery
8880 East Via Linda, Scottsdale

At Andreoli Italian Grocer in Scottsdale, blocks of torrone, a nougat made from sugar, almond, and egg white, are as big as bricks. All kinds of delicacies quicken your heartbeat from inside the display case: pistachio cake, fresh-made mozzarella, San Danielle prosciutto, al taglio pizza, cheeses, olives, and so on. Choosing what to walk away with isn’t easy. The place is half-market, half-restaurant. Proprietor Giovanni Scorzo’s best dish might be one of the simplest: simply grilled squid. Scorzo manages to get an ultralight char on the outside, with just a scintilla of carbonic bitterness coming through. A bright sauce of olive oil and parsley jolts the squid and sends your mind to distant beaches. CM

47. I-10 Nachos at Cocina 10

308 North Second Avenue

Cocina 10 debuted under the aegis of some serious culinary pedigree: Local heavy-hitters Chris Bianco and Doug Robson had a hand in designing the menu of “Mexican-accented road food.” What makes Cocina 10’s I-10 Nachos so irresistible is that they’re made with a sense of abundance and integrity: thick, hot tortilla chips baked with refried pinto beans, and glued together by at least three types of cheese: cheddar, Oaxaca, and a light sprinkling of cotija. The chip-to-toppings ratio is pretty consistently spot-on — a crucial factor of any successful nacho platter. The I-10 Nachos are made even better with some of the kitchen’s spongy, delectable barbacoa. PE

46. Coffee Made From ROC2 Beans
7003 East Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek

David Anderson of Roastery at Cave Creek (ROC2) might be the most interesting man in the world. He has welded elements of his Willy Wonka roastery, photographed the stunning pictures himself, and traveled throughout the tropics to source the beans. His roasting process brings all kinds of bells and whistles, the biggest one being a Kirsch + Mausser UG22 Retro machine from Germany that Anderson custom-ordered and took more than half a year to build. His beans are stunning. You can find them in many of the Valley’s best restaurants. His nitro pours a smooth, subtle, creamy cup that will change the way you see coffee. CM

45. Haturo Sub Sandwich at Cheese ‘n Stuff
5042 North Central Avenue

When you go to Cheese ‘n Stuff, you know exactly what you’re getting: expertly made deli sandwiches, served in a delightfully old-fashioned setting. The Haturo is perhaps the meatiest house specialty sandwich (“Nine ounces of meat!” the menu says), a couple of solid inches of ham, turkey, and roast beef served on your choice of bread. It’s layered with provolone cheese and punched up with Italian dressing and mayo. Try it with the deli’s soft yet gorgeously crusty submarine rolls. It’s a quintessentially Cheese ‘n Stuff sandwich: incredibly simple yet delicious, and wholly satisfying. PE

click to enlarge A Zookz stuffed with pulled pork, slaw, and cheese. - CHRIS MALLOY
A Zookz stuffed with pulled pork, slaw, and cheese.
Chris Malloy

44. Zookz at Zookz

100 East Camelback Road

A Zookz sandwich, for the uninitiated, has a blueprint like ravioli. The entire filling is encased in a wheat-based exterior — in this case, bread. The bread is crimped on the circumference, making fillings invisible and creating a sandwich in the shape of a flying saucer. Carole Meyer, owner of the shop, calls this method of sandwich a “Zookz.” Meyer is from North Africa. Growing up, she remembers her grandmother making Zookz-style sandwiches using a stovetop cooking device. Later, Meyer attempted to re-create this device. She succeeded after an 18-month effort. Today, she uses custom pans to make Zookz at Zookz. CM

43. Jade Red Chicken at Chino Bandido
15414 North 19th Avenue

A friend of mine once described Chino Bandido this way: “It’s like Panda Express and Filiberto’s had a baby.” The undisputed house favorite is the jade red chicken, a solid choice for both newbies and long-time customers alike. The slightly grizzled chicken hunks are thoroughly glazed in a bright red sauce that’s tangy, spicy, and sweet all at once. It’s goopy and flavorful. Try it in one of the restaurant’s combo bowls, or stuffed into a burrito or quesadilla. Either way, the jade red chicken is irresistibly flavorful. It’s the kind of off-the-wall comfort food that Chino Bandido, a true Phoenix original, has been giving us for almost 30 years now. PE

42. Tasting Menu at Quiessence at The Farm
6106 South 32nd Street

The best overview of the menu — and arguably the best way to experience Quiessence — is achieved through chef Dustin Christofolo’s seasonal tasting menu. On any given night, the tasting menu might meander its way from duck terrine to fiddlehead fern salad to melty waygu beef. It’s a spendy, chef’s choice smorgasbord that requires an investment of your time and money. But it’s reliably understated, refined, and delicious. And it’s the kind of long meal that, like the nearby vegetable patches from which food is sourced, seems to put the outside world on pause — if only for a couple of hours. PE

41. Single-Origin Papua New Guinea Bar at Zak’s Chocolate
6990 East Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale

Zak’s sources one line of cacao beans from Papua New Guinea farmers who dry them over a fire. Smoke can be tasted in Zak’s finished bar. At first, the flavor flirts with dark chocolate, making itself known subtly, lurking on the edges of the dark current. Okay, okay, you think — this is a cool touch. But then the smoky flavor steadily intensifies. As the morsels collapse into a rich, creamy state, the full funk drops on you like a meteor out of the sky. The flavors of smoke and hay are strange, but so good. There’s also some dry cherry and cranberry action on the side. This is unlike any chocolate you’ve tasted. CM

click to enlarge A classic green chile plate in Tempe. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
A classic green chile plate in Tempe.
Patricia Escarcega

40. Green Chile at Casa Reynoso

3138 South Mill Avenue, Tempe

If you’ve had the pleasure of eating chile verde at Casa Reynoso — or you know first-hand the special magic contained within a bowl of homemade pork chile verde — then driving 100 miles to get it in Globe will probably strike you as a totally sensible and expedient kind of road trip. Luckily, Casa Reynoso has an outpost in Tempe. Its most famous chile verde dish is the Gollo Burro, which features ultra-savory pork stewed in roasted green chiles and onions, paired with whole pinto beans, and wrapped inside a sturdy, buttery flour tortilla. It’s outrageously flavorful, and best eaten with a knife and fork. PE

39. Brûlée Burger from Paradise Valley Burger Company
4001 East Bell Road, #102

The brûlée burger, PVBC’s Free Bird, kicks with the same carnival spirit as the shop. “Brûlée” refers to the process of burning sugar. Owner Bret Shapiro starts by coating buns with raw sugar. He uses a culinary torch on the grains. They collapse into a slick paste that bubbles and shines and turns black in some places, brown in others. The topography of the mutated sugar has slopes, peaks, valleys. It cools into a crust that tastes part like caramel, part like campfire. The burger also sports a patty, fried egg, bacon, lettuce, Thousand Island dressing, and a heap of neon pickled onion. The egg leaks, coating the rest like a second sauce. CM

38. Hand-Pulled Noodles from China Magic Noodle House
2015 North Dobson Road, #2

Sing Chan pulls the ends away from the middle, making the dough longer. For a brief second the dough droops down like a jump rope. And then the dough is aloft, airborne, and flying. What happens next is hypnotic show of hand control, pretzel shapes, and noodle wizardry. Ropes of dough twirl through the air, braid, swing toward the floor, and plop on the counter for a few artful hand slaps and maybe a flour dusting. You blink twice, and the whirling show is over. From Chan’s splayed fingers droop alabaster noodles, strings hanging from collarbone-level to the bottoms of his pants pockets. They are glorious. CM

37: Carne Adovada Sliders at Dick’s Hideaway 6008 North 16th Street
If you’re specifically on the hunt for the unabashedly spicy, sun-burnished flavors of New Mexico in metro Phoenix, the Richardson family of restaurants can feel like a godsend. Carne adovada is a house staple at the three restaurants, and it’s wonderful: succulent, smoked pork roast that’s been long-simmered in a deeply earthy red chile sauce. It’s an exceptionally saucy, succulent carne adovada, which is available as an entree, or smothered with cheddar cheese and stuffed into three shiny slider buns. If I had to pick a place to sit on a bar stool and down a whole plate of these, it would be at Dick’s Hideaway, a dark, shoebox-shaped restaurant where you can sit at the bar and watch the cooks work the rotating rotisserie spit in the open kitchen. PE

36: Crispy Pig Ear and Amaro Cocktails from Crudo

3603 East Indian School Road

A libation known as Rebel’s Son combines Cardamaro with rye whiskey, lemon, elderflower syrup, and rosemary. When you put your lips to the glass, you get a massive inhalation of pine. This gives your sip a sharp, herbaceous quality, which seems to intensify the blast of lemon and orange, and to nicely shape the weird depths of the milder amaro. Monin, an elderflower syrup, gives the drink a floral undercurrent. All these flavors meld into a refreshing blend. Campbell fries crispy pig’s ear that’s pretty much made for drinks. Cut into strips of varying sizes, the ears are crunchy, salty, and sweet. CM

35: Chile-Laced Specialties from Cafe Ga Hyang
4362 West Olive Avenue, Glendale

Kimchi jigae, a stew made with fermented chiles and kimchi, delivers a lower current of heat. Its stone vessel been fired to such a temperature that the broth, sparse and red, bubbles away between the tofu, red peppers, and green peppers. The kimchi flavor is diffuse, the spice thin. The lightly tangy broth’s spice is low enough for the tofu cubes to contribute rather than suffocate. They’re soft and have a vegetal flavor like fresh peas. In a way hard to trace, they taste more like bean sprouts than a banchan of actual bean sprouts. PE

34: Martinis at AZ/88
7353 East Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale

Although there are all kinds of classic cocktails on the bar menu, the specialty at AZ/88 is the martini. There are more than a dozen specialty versions on the menu, everything from lemon drops to an espresso martini bolstered by Kahlua, Baileys, and a shot of coffee. Whatever you pick, your martini will be served in a large, chilled, hand-blown glass that’s been filled to the rim. The waitstaff at AZ/88 receives special training to learn how to balance the overflowing glasses on serving trays and deliver them without spilling a drop. PE

33: Nooner at Duck & Decanter

1651 East Camelback Road

You can build your own “nooner” (thick sandwich) or you can pick from the restaurant’s menu of signature sandwiches. The Duckling is a house favorite, a sweet-savory sandwich that conjures a small autumnal feast. It’s packed with a couple solid inches of smoked duck breast and smoked turkey breast, which are skillfully paired with a sweet, tangy cranberry-walnut relish. The whole thing is buttressed by two thick-cut, fluffy slices of country bread. Another highlight is the simple yet exquisite Vermont Treat, made with honey glazed ham, pine nuts, sliced apples, and Duck & Decanter’s homemade cheddar cheese spread. PE

32: Eggs Maximilian at Harlow’s Cafe
1021 West University Drive, Tempe

At its heart, Harlow’s is a place to indulge in a big, old-fashioned breakfast. It’s the place to go for a dish like Eggs Maximilian, which looks and tastes like something a bored and ravenous teenager whipped up in the kitchen on a Saturday morning. It features a thick flour tortilla layered with homemade hash browns and a buttery, wobbly mound of freshly beaten eggs. It’s embedded with mild hunks of green chile, doused in fresh salsa, and crowned with a big scoop of sour cream. PE

31: Beef Tacos from Asadero Norte De Sonora
122 North 16th Street

The milieu is family kitchen. The simple grilled meats result in solid tacos, just what you expect rolling up to this place. Two of the better meats at Asadero are lengua (tongue) and cabeza (head). These are the only two meats that aren’t grilled. Lengua has a toned-down steak flavor with irony notes, massaged by tongue’s high fat content. It has a soft texture. Cabeza is even softer and milder than lengua, with a muted flavor that allows the aromatics of the tortilla, lime, and cilantro to develop. It’s fitting that a pair of unloved meats — two unrefined yet subtle offerings — are two of this quiet restaurant’s best. CM

Orange Blossom, brewed in Arizona since 2005. - CHRIS MALLOY
Orange Blossom, brewed in Arizona since 2005.
Chris Malloy

30: Orange Blossom from Huss Brewing Company

Available at various metro Phoenix bars

A taste of this longtime Phoenix staple brings the standard lush flavor of a wheat beer, a flavor that’s more of a feeling: standing in a grain field with the wind blowing. With that flavor you get bubbles bursting on your tongue and a cool flush of orange peel and vanilla. Without thinking, you could make three of these disappear in 10 minutes. Orange Blossom, a filtered wheat beer, clocks in at an easy-drinking 5 percent ABV. The brew is the rare classic that can stand up to the new guard. CM

29: Rye Bread from Yasha From Russia
10240 North 32nd Street

Traditional Eastern European dishes and ingredients are still in short supply at most local big-box supermarkets. Thank goodness, then, for Yasha From Russia, a quirky standalone grocery store and deli located near the intersection of 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard in Phoenix. For nearly two decades, this “mom-and-pop” shop has been a lifeline for folks on the hunt for import food and drinks from Russia and other Slavic countries (the shop also carries a wide-ranging selection of Scandinavian and other European import products). Whether you’re on the hunt for Russian cookies or Polish beer, somebody will help you find it. PE

28: Scotch Beef and Mashed Potatoes from Tarbell’s
3213 East Camelback Road

A classic that sends you back viscerally into the past is Tarbell’s Scotch beef. There is nothing subtle about this dish, nothing refined but for presentation a shade on the elegant side. It’s melting beef and potatoes, pure comfort, pure goodness, exactly what you’re looking for when you order forever-cooked beef. You might be thinking, what the hell man? Potatoes and beef? I can cook that. But not with quite Tarbell’s technique, not with the micro refinements, and not with demiglace and feeling that can open a door to the past. CM

27: Griddled Corn Cakes and Ramona Farms Super Food Salad at Phoenix City Grille
5816 North 16th Street

The thing to try at least once are the Original Griddled Corn Cakes. The highlight of the dish are the corn cakes themselves: sturdy, gently crispy, with a lovely balance of sweet-savory flavor. They’re stuffed with grilled chicken and stretchy white cheese, and served with some of the restaurant’s wonderfully spicy, garlicky black beans. The cakes go well with the Ramona Farms Super Food Salad, a dish born out of a partnership with the Sacaton-based family farm. The salad is an earthy, chewy medley of tepary beans, Sonoran wheat berries, chickpeas, roasted squash, and arugula. PE

click to enlarge Soup from Reathrey Sekong. - CHRIS MALLOY
Soup from Reathrey Sekong.
Chris Malloy

26: Soup from Reathrey Sekong

1312 East Indian School Road

A lemongrass soup from this Cambodian restaurant contains more flavor than one would think possible. Coconut milk married with lemongrass forms a velvety broth, so dense with lemongrass that bits of stalk can floating in a mustard-yellow, oily broth. The tropical spirit and fragrance of lemongrass power the soup, instantaneously relocating your palate to a remote part of the world. Coconut helps to center the exotic flavors, and so does tamarind, coming in as a mild sweetness on the edges. The power and balance of this dish are rare, like a boxer who can endlessly dodge hooks or knock an opponent to Jupiter. CM

25: Lamb Tongue Sandwich at Haji-Baba
1513 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe

I don’t think you can properly call yourself a Haji-Baba connoisseur until you’ve eaten the kitchen’s terrific lamb tongue sandwich. The sandwich bulges with velvety hunks of slow-cooked tongue, which are topped with a light salad and cradled inside pillowy soft pita bread. The tongue is stewed slowly for six to eight hours, an employee told me recently, and subtly seasoned with garlic, pepper, and herbs. The meat is earthy and savory, and as tender and comforting as grandma’s pot roast. “Try it once,” the menu says, “and you will not stop talking about it!” PE

24: The Special at Grand Avenue Pizza Company
1031 Grand Avenue

The slices are foldable, New York-style slices with pleasingly chewy crusts and a lovely house-made red sauce that’s neither too sweet or acidic. But this place’s real calling card is The Special, a creative, rotating pizza selection that changes, more or less, on a weekly basis, and which is always available by the slice. Recently, The Special was a savory-spicy pork chile verde pizza topped with cilantro and a squiggle of citrus crema. Last year, there was the Moroccan-themed pie topped with juicy crumbles of lamb merguez sausage. Months later, we’re still daydreaming about that particular pie. PE

23: Red Chile at Elmer’s Tacos
355 North Arizona Avenue, Chandler

Few dishes are more emblematic of Elmer’s than the restaurant’s savory red chile and stingingly spicy green chile. The red chile, though, is arguably the most irresistible of the two. Tender, spongy, shredded beef is suffused with a creamy, faintly spicy red chile sauce. The sauce is so rich and flavorful, the beef seems almost beside the point. You can order the red chile in a burrito, combo platter, tostada, or several other delicious configurations. It’s a solid dish that tastes as good today as 20 years ago. And how many restaurants can say that? PE
click to enlarge Marranitos from La Purisima Bakery. - CHRIS MALLOY
Marranitos from La Purisima Bakery.
Chris Malloy

22: Marranitos at La Purisima Bakery

2318 East Indian School Road
(and one other location)

Marranitos are pig-shaped Mexican cookies. The cookie is a gingersnap without the ginger and without the snap. The similarity to the classic fall cookie stems from the Arellano family’s use of molasses, brown sugar, and whole wheat flour, imbuing the cookie with a trace of caramel flavor and light brown color. These marranitos grow on you in the course of eating one. The texture is yielding, yes, but brings a nice chew. The bite is spot on, the Platonic ideal of how a soft cookie should be. The flavor is plain but good. That’s the beauty. CM

21: Kronuts from Karl’s Bakery
111 East Dunlap Avenue, #13

The kronuts at Karl’s substitute buttered-up doughnut dough in place of croissant dough, resulting in a breathtakingly indulgent pastry. The most popular kronut in the house is the bakery’s signature Lemon Basil, a thick, sugar-encrusted kronut that looks, at first glance, nearly as dense as a bagel sandwich. The flaky layers melt easily in your mouth though, and the distinct flavor of lemon cream contrasts beautifully with the sugary, almost-crisp exterior. Karl’s Quality Bakery is an indispensable Phoenix bakery, and well worth the trek from any part of the city. PE

20: Beef Pies at Chou’s Kitchen
910 North Alma School Road, Chandler

Chou’s beef pies are wondrous, hockey puck-shaped pastries stuffed with pan-fried beef patties, which are steeped in a light, gingery broth. You want to take your time with the beef pies. They’re served incredibly hot, and it’s a good idea to nibble a small opening to help release some of the steam trapped inside. The meat, once you get to it, has a gentle crisp, and the broth pulsates with sweet, garlicky flavor. The meat pies at Chou’s are so good that  you’ll gladly devour them well into a sweltering Arizona summer. PE

click to enlarge Come for the giant pretzels, but stay for the homemade Bavarian grub at this classic Glendale restaurant. - COURTESY OF HAUS MURPHY’S
Come for the giant pretzels, but stay for the homemade Bavarian grub at this classic Glendale restaurant.
Courtesy of Haus Murphy’s

19: Bavarian Pretzels and Schnitzel at Haus Murphy’s

5739 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale

Step into the dining room and you’re transported into a Bavarian lodge, complete with dark wooden tables, old-fashioned bric-a-brac, and the clinking of glasses. Of course, you must try Haus Murphy’s enormous house pretzel, a gorgeously tender, salt-flecked Bavarian delight served with butter and spicy mustard. If you have any room after the pretzel, Haus Murphy’s also offers a delightful menu of schnitzels. The most popular option is the paprika schnitzel, a pounded-thin, delicately breaded pork loin topped with an exceptionally savory bacon, onion, and paprika sauce. Wash it all down with some beer. PE

18: Red Chili Burro and Sopapillas from Los Dos Molinos
8646 South Central Avenue
(and other locations)

You really shouldn’t leave Los Dos Molinos without trying something that scares you even just a little bit. For this, we recommend a beefy, robust burro swimming in the house red chili sauce. The sauce is made using (what else?) extra-hot New Mexico Hatch peppers, and it has an earthy, buttery, smoke-tinged quality. The shredded beef is merely a spongy conveyor, a middle man delivering bright doses of pungent heat. Will your palate get a little scorched at Los Dos Molinos? Probably. PE

17: Camelback Soda at The Sugar Bowl
4005 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

The Sugar Bowl’s Camelback Sodas come in about a dozen flavors — the most exotic option is probably the pineapple mint — and the fizzy soda base is topped with an oversize scoop of vanilla ice cream that inevitably causes your drink to run down the side of your glass. It’s a vintage Sugar Bowl treat: fun, messy, and a little out of step with the latest trends. Of course, you really can’t go wrong with any of the ice cream sundaes and banana splits, which are still served in old-fashioned glassware. PE

click to enlarge Brisket sandwich from Chelsea's Kitchen. - CHRIS MALLOY
Brisket sandwich from Chelsea's Kitchen.
Chris Malloy
16: Brisket Sandwich at Chelsea’s Kitchen
5040 North 40th Street

Once again, a metro Phoenix chef proves that the long way is the right way. Do Chelsea’s chefs have to sprint from his kitchen at the height of service to add another pecan log to a smoker? Do they have to spray-mist briskets to keep the moisture right while as smoke? Nope. But the extra effort pays off in flavor and turns this sandwich into a latent umami bomb. It’s what plucks the idea of a Platonic beef sandwich from dream and sets it down, hot and heaping, into sunny patio-table reality. CM

15. Taco Hazz at Ta'Carbon
2929 North 43rd Avenue
(and one other location)

Ta’Carbon is dedicated to the idea that red meat, seasoned sparingly and cooked over smoldering mesquite charcoal in classic Sonoran fashion, consistently yields wondrously smoky, flavorful bites. The heart of the menu is its gently charred carne asada, which cooked in enormous batches and then chopped to pieces. The grill smolders behind the counter, seemingly never getting a rest. A solid, all-around taco is Ta’Carbon’s signature Hazz, a green chile beef taco that spills blistery nubs of carne asada, which are glued together loosely with melted white cheese. It’s terrific, a taco of simple yet extraordinarily savory proportions. PE

Wood-fired pizza from Barnone at Agritopia. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
Wood-fired pizza from Barnone at Agritopia.
Patricia Escarcega
14: Barnone at Agritopia
3000 East Ray Road, Gilbert

Where can you find Arizona brewers, vintners, pizza-makers, and all manner of locally made handcrafted goods, all gathered (more or less) under the same roof in Gilbert? You’ll find it at Barnone, the hyper-local food and drink hub that opened in late 2016 in Gilbert. Barnone the brainchild of Joe Johnston, the Gilbert native and “ideas man” who also founded Agritopia, the tony urban farm village located on the northwest corner of Higley and Ray roads in Gilbert. Barnone showcases the spirit and flavors of the southeast Valley’s upper-crust “agrihood” scene in a convenient and charming space. PE

13: The Jazzy from Emerson Fry Bread
Location varies

The Emerson Fry Bread food truck doesn’t just sell fry bread — it sells some of the best fry bread tacos in the state. The most popular order is probably The Jazzy, a taco that brings together Emerson’s Mojave, Quechan, and Mexican-American roots and packs them into an irresistible culinary package. The Jazzy features intensely seasoned carne asada and pinto beans, topped with fresh herbs and field greens that look as if they’ve been plucked off the farmers market truck at the peak of freshness. PE

12: Flour Tortillas from La Sonorense Tortilla Factory
5403 South Central Avenue

This longtime south Phoenix tortilleria and bakery, which has been operated by the Hernandez family for more than 30 years, produces upward of 1 million flour and corn tortillas a week. The hallmark of La Sonorense is its flour tortillas, which are made using only a handful of ingredients: flour, shortening, salt, and water. They are pressed into thin, par-cooked disks that puff up when you warm them up on the comal. Their flavor is straightforwardly rich and buttery, and their thin, pliable texture places them squarely in the Sonoran school of tortilla-making. PE

click to enlarge Peaches on the tree at Schnepf Farms. - AMANDA MASON
Peaches on the tree at Schnepf Farms.

11: Peach-Picking at Schnepf Farms

24610 South Rittenhouse Road, Queen Creek

Schnepf Farms is the biggest peach-growing operation in the state. Starting in the 1960s, founders Ray and Thora Schnepf planted palm trees, shade trees, corn, and peach trees on more than 5,000 acres in the southeast Valley, in what was then the small, tight-knit desert farming community of Rittenhouse. There aren’t many places in the Valley where you can drop in and pick fresh peaches off the tree, clip some fresh larkspur and lavender from the garden, and then wander into a country store for some fresh peach-blackberry pie. Even when you have to fight the crowds, Schnepf Farms is a breath of fresh air. PE

10: The Purple Fusion from Snoh Shaved Ice
914 East Camelback Road, #4B
(and one other location)

Snoh’s take on shaved ice is creative, playful, and beautifully textured. The light, creamy milk fluff is made with  fresh flavors like taro, acai, honeydew, mango, pistachio, strawberry, and chocolate. Snoh’s Purple Fusion combo bowl is a solid dessert featuring nutty, lavender-colored taro shaved ice, some almond pudding, and a handful of softly crumbled almond cookies. A light drizzle of condensed milk adds another layer of creaminess. You scrape the first spoonful of smooth, feathery milk fluff and feel it dissolve easily on your tongue. PE

9: Sours from Arizona Wilderness
Brewing Company
721 North Arizona Avenue, Gilbert

Arizona Wilderness’s best beer style might be the sour. The brewery does a simple, fresh sour, Grapefruit Gose. The beer uses local grapefruits, salt, and kettle-souring, a method that taps lactobacillus to acidify beer over a short period (24 to 48 hours). On the deeper end of the sour pool, Arizona Wilderness crafts a beer called Denmark in the Desert, an imperial sour peach porter that blends two beers, resulting in a high-ABV brew with heady yeasty and woody nuances from mixed cultures, with rapidly changing flavor and medicinal notes, and with the strange depth of a Mexican mole or Proust sentence. CM

8: Umi No Sachi at Hana Japanese Eatery

5524 North Seventh Avenue

If you want to get a sense for how scrupulously fresh the fish is at Central Phoenix’s favorite Japanese restaurant, order the Umi No Sachi. It’s a bright, florid sashimi salad layered with thin strips of raw salmon, tuna, octopus, white fish, and yellowtail. The fish is fresh and tender, with a natural creamy richness. The salad is drizzled with a terrific soy miso dressing that accentuates the sweetness and meatiness of the fish. PE

7: Carne Asada Tacos from Taquería Los Yaquis
705 West Camelback Road

Taquería Los Yaquis pumps out exquisite chopped carne asada tacos, sold for a whopping $1 a pop. The tight menu also includes a juicy pollo asado, a thick and extra-cheesy carne asada quesadilla, and the signature “Super Mega Nachos,” a saucy hodgepodge of thick chips heaving with cheese, onions, your choice of carne asada or pollo, and a thick squiggle of fresh crema. And you can take comfort in knowing that you’re participating in one of Phoenix’s most prized culinary experiences: great tacos, served to you in a parking lot that sometimes feels more like an impromptu roadside party. PE

6: Tasting Menu from Different Pointe of View
11111 North Seventh Street

Perched atop the North Mountain Preserve, Different Pointe of View has been a go-to special occasion restaurant for many Phoenicians for more than 30 years. The restaurant’s featured attraction is its spacious outdoor patio, which affords sweeping panoramic views of the Salt River Valley. The kitchen has been on solid culinary footing since executive chef Anthony DeMuro joined the restaurant in 2008. The menu, which straddles the line between New American and Continental fine dining with a modern Mediterranean twist, changes around three times a year to reflect the season. PE

5: Sausage from Schreiner's Fine Sausage
3601 North Seventh Street

They come from Spanish and English culinary traditions. They come from South African and Cajun gastronomy, from Portuguese and Italian. They are bangers and boerwors, brats and bologna, chorico and chorizo. They are certainly hot dogs, and most definitely wieners. They are hot or mild, smoked or fresh, and they are sold by the sandwich or by the pound. They are eaten in restaurants from end to end of the Salt River Valley. They are meaty, handmade links from Schreiner’s Fine Sausage. You can find them on menus cross town, or you can stop by the shop and grab links to grill. CM

The Chop & Chick at Matt's Big Breakfast. - PATRICIA ESCARCEGA
The Chop & Chick at Matt's Big Breakfast.
Patricia Escarcega

4: The Chop & Chick from Matt’s Big Breakfast

825 North First Street
(and other locations)

There’s nothing novel about a dish like The Chop & Chick, Matt’s signature hungry-man breakfast. The big, buttery pork chop is served with two eggs your way, plus your choice of hash browns or rosemary home fries. It’s a savory, filling feast, rounded out by the restaurant’s signature thick-cut toast served with a side of fresh fruit compote. The dish is emblematic of what Matt’s Big Breakfast represents for so many people: honest, uncomplicated, delicious food. PE

3: Sonoran Enchiladas and Machaca from Poncho’s Mexican Food
7202 South Central Avenue

Poncho’s does a stellar take on a true regional Arizona-Sonora borderland specialty: Sonoran enchiladas, a dish that’s been documented in Tucson and Phoenix Mexican restaurants for at least a century: The fried masa patties are bathed in the restaurant’s homemade enchilada sauce and garnished with chopped white onions and black olives. Their soft crispness and corn sweetness is a nice contrast to the savoriness of the oregano-spiked red enchilada sauce. Sonoran enchiladas are kind of a rare restaurant find these days, but they’ve never left the menu at Poncho’s. PE

2: Market Sandwich from Pane Bianco
4404 North Central Avenue

No list of essential Phoenix food experiences would be legitimate without an entry from Chris Bianco. At Pane Bianco, which Bianco calls his “epicenter,” it’s all about the market sandwich, which changes every day. When you enter the oven-side of Pane Bianco from North Central Avenue, you will see, on a board, the market sandwiches featured that week. Each day’s sandwich surrenders its identity to the whims of the seasons. One day you might get wood-roasted eggplant with Parmesan. Another you might get a beautiful Caprese with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. As with most food Bianco makes, the sum seems to exceed the parts by a factor of 10 . CM
1: Seasonal Dinner at Rancho Pinot
6208 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

At Rancho Pinot, Chrysa Robertson cooks food anchored in our seasons. The food is simple but not simplistic. From the start, you’re aware that you’re in the hands of a capable chef. But this chef isn’t going to whisper a few seasonal flavors to your palate. Nope, her flavors are going to call to you in eye-widening tones through a harsh desert landscape, and they’re going to call with whiskey on their breath. Grilled quail with polenta at Rancho Pinot is a stupefying plate of finesse and power. Ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers have a heavy fry and colorful crowning of a light tomato salad, bright with Arizona sunshine. Robertson flies at her own altitude, making this restaurant a Valley essential. CM