The good news is that, in 2013, as most of the country was transfixed by the shenanigans of the now-infamous Amy's Baking Company, we eye-rollers in the Valley were being treated to a crop of new restaurants more focused on well-prepared food than overcooked reality.
From big-name chefs and restaurateurs to family-owned eateries, the 20 best new restaurants of the year offer an array of cuisines that take inspiration from across the globe as well as focus on using as many locally procured ingredients as possible.
And that, dear Amy and Samy, is truly what makes us hungry.
See also: 10 Best Things I Ate in November
The sleek new midtown restaurant from former Parlor Pizzeria chefs Jared Porter and Joseph Absolor along with co-owners Joshua James and Nicholas Campisano (who also did time at the pizzeria), the Clever Koi is more or less a Chinese-American comfort food head trip. Porter and Absolor's tight selection of reinvented street snacks, rice and noodle dishes, and steamed buns and dumplings are deliciously inauthentic, the two chefs both paying tribute to -- and taking wild liberties with -- each Asian dish. See Also: 20 Best New Metro Phoenix Restaurants of 2013 (Complete Slideshow)
This contemporary, easygoing spot in north Central Phoenix from Mexican-born chef Doug Robson both complements Gallo Blanco, Robson's first restaurant, in the way of outstanding Mexican while managing to find a more elevated niche of its own. Not that anything gets too lofty here -- there are excellent tacos, tortas, and street snacks. And if you're in the mood for something a bit more unique -- say, a Spanish-style appetizer, an intricate Inca salad, or a sublime pollo en mole negro -- Otro's got those, too.
Scottsdale's newest meat-intensive venture comes courtesy of restaurateurs Bob and Sally Ann Molinari and Bret Pont, owner of Hobe Meats, the over-50-year-old custom butcher shop in Phoenix. Which begs the question: Does The Blind Pig's freshly butchered offerings of custom meats to take home as well as meaty Mexican-inspired street foods to enjoy on the spot make it a butcher shop with a restaurant or a restaurant with a butcher shop? Either way, it's all about the meat.
This cheery restaurant in Sunnyslope from Oaxacan-born owner Elizabeth Hernandez not only features some of the best moles in the Valley, it serves excellent tlayudas, enfrijoladas (chicken enchiladas smothered in an anise-laced black bean sauce), and a spicy homestyle soup called amarillo. The restaurant doubles as a Oaxacan marketplace, boasting deli cases and shelves filled with ingredients, foods, and cooking items from Hernandez's homeland.
In November, after being closed for five months, this longtime dining destination at the Farm at South Mountain reopened under new management, a new chef, and a new motto: You don't need a special occasion to eat here. Chef Dustin Christofolo, who still operates The House at Secret Garden in South Phoenix, has put together a seasonal menu that still focuses on farm-to-table food, but in a more approachable way -- and with larger portion sizes. Christofolo's mother, Pat, owns the Farm.
Chef-owner Gio Osso's menu at this tiny, wonderful downtown Scottsdale cafe is a kind of white board of elegant, ever-changing, Mediterranean-inspired dishes revolving around farmers market vegetables, naturally raised meats, and pristine seafood. On one evening, there may be scallops with a heavenly white chocolate beurre blanc; on another, grilled octopus with lemony chickpeas and streaks of spicy chile butte. Pop in for happy hour and you can try Osso's dishes on a smaller and wallet-friendly scale.
Nook is something of a trattoria speakeasy, which is to say it's a nice spot for a glass of wine and Italian eats but still inconspicuous enough to stay off East Phoenix's who's-who restaurant radar. From the former owners of Amaro Pizzeria & Vino Lounge in North Scottsdale and with chef Nick LaRosa (who used to cook with Gio Osso, who now runs Virtu Honest Craft) helming the kitchen, Nook's cozy space features a menu of very good pizzas, desserts by Tracy Dempsey, and a top-notch staff as neighborly as the scene.
For Mediterranean eats served up Subway style, this fast-casual eatery in Tempe from chef-owner Ahmad (Eddie) Hantas is just about as good as it gets. A kind of chef-driven street food stand by way of Lebanon, Hantas offers a colorful, rotating array of homemade salads and hummus, boldly flavored sauces, hot vegetables, fresh toppings, and slow-cooked meats that can be packed as-you-please into pitas, bowls, or plates -- and all for around 10 bucks. Don't miss the outstanding falafels seasoned with Mexican chili powder for a bit of Southwest flair.
With more than 20 savory and sweet creations ranging from the straightforward to the more unusual, this family-owned South American-style empanaderia, housed in a sleek mid-century building in downtown Mesa, offers the largest selection in Arizona. Priced around $3 each and with a very good casing of golden and flaky fried wheat flour dough, consider the Puerto Rican-style Boricua, the addictive cheeseburger, and dessert empanadas like the decadent Nutella and banana.
Renegade by MOD (R.I.P.)
The year, the Valley's most risk-taking restaurant was also its shortest-lived one. From chef and co-owner Michael O'Dowd (Kai), Renegade by MOD, which opened in May, took diners on an exotic ride with an electrifying menu of re-invented foods from around the globe. But just six months later, O'Dowd and business partner Ed Leclere called it quits. And although (for now) the restaurant, now simply called Renegade, still offers the same playfully bold yet sophisticated dishes, sadly, the man behind them is gone.
From Rick Phillips, co-writer of the food blog EaterAZ and the man behind the Arizona Taco and Arizona BBQ festivals, and competition-circuit pit-master Kevin Slade, this barbecue pit gone the way of a gastropub now has a location in Scottsdale as well as North Phoenix. Excellent dishes like hickory-smoked beef brisket, a pork belly sandwich lit up with a spiced aioli, and the salty and smoky Bacon Board go down easily with well-crafted cocktails like a dangerously smooth house made apple pie moonshine.
Accessible, affordable, and instantly enjoyable, this tiny eatery in Tempe comes courtesy of Henry Ku, the chef and restaurateur who has been credited with putting Taiwanese food on the map in Seattle. Blending the memories of his homeland with the French cooking techniques he learned in the States, Ku creates a menu of street snacks (think Taiwanese sausage, sticky rice rolls, and the notorious stinky tofu) with main dishes that, thanks to their portion sizes, mean leftovers for the next day.
Comfort food meets chef finesse at this easygoing Scottsdale restaurant from Keenan Bosworth and Joshua Riesner (formerly of Atlas Bistro). The culinary duo's affordable, mostly meaty menu of well-crafted dishes with global touches and an emphasis on seasonal fare includes noteworthy eats like pork shoulder tostadas with kimchi, house made charcuterie, and a meltingly tender braised duck leg. Sweet tooths shouldn't leave without dessert. And for night owls, there are late-night eats served until 1 a.m.
What's better than one chef well-versed in the food of his or her homeland? Three of them. Thanks to a trio of Indian-born friends who attended culinary school together, this pleasant restaurant in Scottsdale features some of the Valley's most vibrant examples of South Indian cuisine. Boldly flavored, expertly prepared, and packed with handfuls of ingredients like chiles, tamarind, and cumin, dishes include curries nearly falling over themselves with flavor, thin and crispy stuffed dosas, and a parade of richly layered selections from the sea.
Carefree's Cafe Bink may be more French-inspired, and Binkley's Restaurant in Cave Creek may draw a more affluent clientele, but Bink's Midtown, from James Beard Award finalist Kevin Binkley, is the hands-down headquarters of the three for reimagined local produce in Phoenix. Specializing in small plates put together with things like sangria granité, quince preserves, and truffle ketchup, Bink's is the place where pristine meats and produce meet the future in a cozy remodeled bungalow. Bonus: A second branch of Bink's Midtown is planned to open in Scottsdale in the coming weeks.
The best thing about Sam Fox's new seafood restaurant in Phoenix is that it doesn't act like a Sam Fox restaurant -- that is to say, its eclectic array of seafood dishes are more inventive than anything you might find at one of the restaurateur's more mainstream haunts in the Valley. There are Thai-style frog legs, Cajun shrimp, and house-smoked sturgeon with crème fraiche and a fried egg atop toasted ciabatta -- Little Cleo's version of bacon and eggs. Tucked inside The Yard, Fox's mammoth dining and hangout space, you'll be glad to know it's also a more easygoing scene.
At this cheery spot in the retail space of Bragg's Pie Factory, the former pie factory turned art gallery in Central Phoenix, diner-style vegan and vegetarian eats come by way of tasty dishes like fragrant coconut curry waffles; sandwiches such as the "E.L.T." made with eggplant "bacon"; vegan chili, and a spinning carousel of glorious pies that may include rosemary apple, banana cream, and chai-spiced pear. And if co-owner Dana Stern's vegan doughnuts happen to be on the menu, consider it your lucky day.
A kind of hamburger stand by way of The Jetson's, Ingo's, the cylindrical structure of gleaming metal and brick in Arcadia, is the latest project from the folks at La Grande Orange, the popular grocery and pizza spot across the street. With just a handful of snacks, burgers, and sandwiches on the menu made with things like Strauss Free Raised Grass Fed Beef, scratch-made sauces, and a house sauerkraut that's pretty much perfect, Ingo's may be the snack shop of your fantasies -- or the future. Ponder the question over your choice of equally tasty libations, such as blush sangria or a bottle of sublime housemade cold-brewed ice tea.
Tingling, numbing, spicy -- your new favorite Chinese restaurant in Tempe also serves as the fiery inner core of the Valley's Sichuan dining community. Smacked with Sichuan peppercorns -- their taste oftentimes likened to a trip to the dentist more than the dinner table -- the boldly flavored scarlet sauces and stinging meats of this youthful, hidden gem in a former Eagles Hall come by way of three twenty-somethings from China. For curiosity seekers as well as fans of the Asian spice, Miu's is Sichuan-sensational.
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The latest iteration of the Welcome Diner, the tiny, iconic eatery at 10th and Roosevelt streets, is the kind of road-food-rich rest stop you might expect to find along a stretch of Southern highway. Here, former Old Dixie food truck owners Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson have put together a small, ever-changing menu of scrumptious New Orleans- and Southern-inspired eats, many of which include luscious biscuits, Gulf Coast shrimp, and smoky Andouille sausage. The fried chicken buttermilk biscuit sandwich is the place to start. And if you fancy a boozy and fruity housemade hurricane to wash it down with, they've got that, too.
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