Looking for the don't-miss spots of the Phoenix dining scene? Then you'll want this list, which includes longtime Valley favorites and some of the hottest restaurants to open in the last few months. Whether you're looking for fine dining, a true adventure, or just a great plate of barbecue, there's plenty to try in the Valley of the Sun.
James Beard Award nominated chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's Barrio Cafe is the gold standard of Mexican fine dining. Esparza offers diners upscale central‑southern Mexican cuisine elevated with just a hint of French inspiration. Some of the most popular dishes include the award‑winning guacamole, sweetened with fruit and prepared tableside during dinner service, and chiles en nogada, which features a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with chicken, fruit, and pecan and served with an almond cream sauce.
There's a good reason chef Charleen Badman is known as the vegetable whisperer. This James Beard Award nominated chef has a way with seasonal, locally grown vegetables that's unlike anything else in town. The menu at FnB, a cozy Scottsdale spot, is always-changing to reflect what local food producers can deliver, but always features New American cuisine such as Tuscan kale falafel, fried green tomatoes, and roasted chicken served with spaetzle and mushrooms.
Crudo, a Central Phoenix restaurant, specializes in contemporary Italian cuisine, specifically crudo, or raw seafood done Italian-style. At a reasonable price point (three courses for $35), chef Cullen Cambell delivers hand-made pastas, house made cheeses, and excellent wood-grilled entrees. The butterfish crudo and ricotta with walnut and honey are a few of the favorite starter plates, while the chef's squid ink risotto is something of a signature dish. Be sure to order a cocktail to go with your meal; Bar Crudo is also one of the very best spots for hand-crafted cocktails in town.
Welcome Chicken + Donuts
Though it only opened at the end of the year, Welcome Chicken + Donuts has quickly become one of the most popular dining destinations in town. The menu is simple but entirely well-executed and consists of fried chicken and a rotating lineup of artisan donuts. The chicken can be ordered with several Asian-inspired sauces such as Vietnamese + Herb or Korean Chile. Donuts, available daily from 7 a.m. until they run out, include flavors such as mesquite and sea salt and classic cake with chiptole sugar.
At Posh, a sleek Scottsdale dining spot, chef Josh Hebert does what he calls "improvisational cuisine," a take on the Japanese omakase dinner. Guests get a checklist of ingredients, mark those they like and dislike, and then leave the rest in the hands of the chef and his team. You can usually expect high-end dishes done with Japanese cuisine in mind, though some of the chef's signatures include uni panna cotta and a foie gras torchon.
More than a decade ago, Chris Bianco became the first pizza chef to win the coveted Best Chef: Southwest award from the James Beard Foundation. Pizzeria Bianco's pizzas are all about simplicity and using top-quality ingredients to make rustic but elegant food. The menu is concise but each of the pizzas will be worth your while. Pro-tip: there are two locations; the original in downtown Phoenix and a second spot at the Town and Country shopping center in central Phoenix.
Molecular gastronomy may not be the hottest trend in food right now but that doesn't make a meal at chef Kevin Binkley's namesake restaurant in Cave Creek any less impressive. At Binkley's diners receive spectacular amuse bouche between each course, which can range from a miniature take on a classic Sloppy Joe to a dramatic show involving dry ice and flashing lights.
Chef Jeff Kraus' humble Tempe restaurant specializes in fun, modern takes on the classic French crepe. Whether you're looking for a savory option such as the vegetarian 13 Mile crepe made entirely with vegetables from the local farm 13 miles away, or going for a sweet treat with the Grand Prixe, made with a cold-brew coffee infused crepe, Kraus gives diners something special in every dish. Don't skip the coffee drinks, either. With beans from Heart Roasters, Crepe Bar is also a great place for caffination.
Let's put those rumors about not being able to get good seafood in the desert to rest. At he James Beard Award-nominated restaurant ShinBay, an uber posh Scottsdale restaurant from chef Shinji Kurita, you can indulge in elegant multi-course meals of contempoary Japanese cuisine. The signature dish is the stunning Tsukuri Six, a dazzling selection of small seafood bites that can feature anything from tuna tartare to a fresh Kumamoto oyster with ponzu gélee and rich sea urchin.
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Little Miss BBQ
Fair warning, if you're planning on going to this excellent barbecue spot you're going to want to plan ahead. Tuesday through Saturday this Phoenix Little Miss BBQ opens its doors at 11 a.m. and dishes up near-perfect brisket until 4 p.m. -- or more likely, until it runs out. It's Central Texas-style 'cue so you can bet the brisket will impress, but the ribs, hot links, and turkey are all worth your while, too.