Though the big draw for spring training visitors is the 15 professional baseball teams that come to the metro Phoenix area for pre-season training, this city offers plenty to do, eat, and drink before and after the game.
From exciting new breweries to classic Mexican fare, we've gathered a list of restaurants and bars that showcase some of the best and most exciting things going on around town. There are standby dining destinations on the list, as well as some of the newest spots to break into the local scene.
Don and Charlie's
This Scottsdale chophouse makes our list not because it serves innovative cuisine or adheres to the latest dining trends, but rather because Don and Charlie's serves simple, well-executed steaks; always has great service; and boasts one of the best collections of sports memorabilia anywhere. With walls and walls of signed jerseys, baseballs, and photos, this restaurant will have plenty to keep spring training fans interested while waiting for the food to arrive. The restaurant's menu takes inspiration from owner Don Carson's Midwestern roots, with popular dishes including shrimp de Jonghe, prime rib, and bbq ribs.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
Named the best new brewery in the world by Ratebeer.com, this new-ish Gilbert brewhouse has quickly become a must-go destination for visiting beer geeks. Founded by a group of friends and funded thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. even teamed up with renowned gypsy brewer Mikkeller last year. The brewery turns out wildly experimental beers often brewed with local ingredients ranging from Sonoran white wheat to locally-grown oranges. The tap list changes nearly everyday, but you can always count on finding something unique.
Little Miss BBQ
Since opening about a year ago, Little Miss BBQ has changed the Phoenix barbecue scene forever. Everyday diners line up at the Phoenix restaurant with hopes of getting a plate of the dry-rubbed, slow-smoked brisket before the food runs out -- and it always runs out. Owners Scott and Bekke Holmes specialize in central Texas-style 'cue, and their menu also includes housemade sausage, pulled pork, turkey breast, and pastrami. On Friday and Saturday there's even beef short ribs to be had, with all the food served market style on butcher paper with pickles, onions, and white bread.
If you're coming to town and looking for a taste of upscale Mexican cuisine, you'll be wanting to dine at Barrio Cafe. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's restaurant highlights regional specialties of central-southern Mexico infused with her own French-inspired style of cuisine. Look for dishes such as cochinita de pibil, or pork marinated in achiote and orange and wrapped in banana leaves, and chiles en nogada, a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with chicken and topped with almond cream sauce. Located in the mural-filled Calle 16 neighborhood, the restaurant also offers a chance to check out some local street art.
Matt's Big Breakfast
For fueling up before a long day of baseball watching, Matt's Big Breakfast is the logical choice. This downtown Phoenix restaurant serves the best classic breakfasts in town, and has national cred since appearing on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The key to the restaurant's success is a reliance on fresh and local ingredients, including locally made sausage, coffee, and bacon. Most breakfast platters will come with your choice of home fries or hashbrowns, and you'll want the later -- Matt's hashbrowns are nothing short of perfection.
Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
Whether you're cocktail enthusiast or just looking for an interesting place to grab a drink, you'll find what you're looking for a this downtown drinking hole. Opened by Arizona Cocktail Week co-founder Ross Simon, Bitter & Twisted offers a 24-page "Book O' Cocktails" that includes a cocktail map to help drinkers choose a cocktail that fits their mood. The menu covers everything from a basic margarita and mojito, to the cheekily-named Slap and Tickle, made with sloe gin and citrus. The food is also worth a try; chef Bob Tam's menu Asian-inspired includes dangerously addicting hurricane popcorn and a massive ramen burger.
Welcome Chicken + Donuts
Fried chicken and doughnuts come together under one roof at this Phoenix restaurant, and it's just as beautiful a combination as it sounds. During the morning, Welcome Chicken + Donuts serves a selection of unique doughnut creations that range from a simple cake doughnut topped in rainbow sprinkles, to more one-of-a-kind flavors such as red wine and chocolate pudding and Thai tea Arnold Palmer. Then come lunchtime the crowds arrive for a taste of the crispy fried chicken, which can be dressed in your choice of three Asian-inspired sauces: Korean chili, Vietnamese + Fresh Herbs, or Japanese BBQ. Served with a simple plain cake doughnut, this sweet and savory combination is sure to satisfy.
This classic local Mexican restaurant has been serving some of the Valley's best tortillas since 1968. It's a no-frills dining situation, but the lack of air conditioning and paper plates are worth it when you bite into a Oaxaca Special Burro, stuffed with chorizo, fried potatoes, refried beans, and cheese. It's stick-to-your-ribs Mexican fare at its best, and for bonus points, you can be sure that nothing on the menu will break the bank. For the full Carolina's experience you'll want to visit the original location just south of downtown, but there are also restaurants in Peoria and North Phoenix. See also: 9 Classic Mexican Restaurants in Metro Phoenix
Super Chunk Sweets and Treats
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Satisfy your sweet-tooth at this Scottsdale candy store, where pastry chef Country Velador and her husband Sergio make hand-crafted caramels, taffy, and more. Located in the Old Town Scottsdale district, Super Chunk offers artisan sweets including black licorice chews made with anise, fennel and green chartreuse, and rich bleu cheese caramels. For a sweet souvenir of your Phoenix visit, try a bag of the sweet or savory popcorn. Flavors include Junk Food caramel corn with potato chip, frosted flake, and roasted peanut, and White Cheddar Truffle.
No list of local dining destinations would be complete without mentioning world famous Phoenix pizzaiolo Chris Bianco. Since opening Pizzeria Bianco in the back of grocery store in 1988, Bianco has earned a reputation as one of the best artisan pizza-makers in the world. There are two locations of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix now, including the original freestanding restaurant located in downtown Phoenix's Heritage Square and a second restaurant located at the Town & Country shopping center in central Phoenix. Both have a cozy, rustic-chic vibe, though the second serves an expanded menu that includes pasta and other larger entrees.