If the first half of 2014 is an accurate indication of how the rest of this year's going to go, then we're in for quite a delicious ride. We've welcomed more than a few hot new dining spots to the scene, some of which didn't quite make this list but just need time and a few tweaks to become true top-notch spots for Valley diners.
Some of the places that top this list of the best new restaurants so far take a cue from the current dining trends, while others deliver classic cuisine done remarkably well. All of them play a part in making the city a more delicious place to dine with every passing year. In no particular order, here are five of my favorite restaurants to open so far in 2014.
Little Miss BBQ
It may have taken a little while for the barbecue trend to make its way here. But with the arrival of Little Miss BBQ in Phoenix, it's fair to say it's arrived and in a big way. When we look back on the Valley's barbecue scene, I think we'll see two distinct eras: pre-Little Miss and post-. Because yes, the barbecue is really that good. Owners Scott and Bekke Holmes do central Texas-style 'cue that's dry rubbed and slow smoked -- for a full 11 hours in the case of Little Miss BBQ's brisket. The rest of the menu's meaty options include pulled pork, housemade sausage, pastrami, and turkey. Waiting in the restaurant's inevitable line is part of the experience. Just keep your fingers crossed they don't run out before you reach the counter. Best to show up early and avoid the risk of severe disappointment.
Phoenix Burrito House
In the very early part of 2014 the Phoenix Burrito House opened its doors in the middle of the Melrose District, taking over the former home of James Beard Award-winning The Fry Bread House. A fresh coat of white paint and some lotería art transformed the tired space into a bright restaurant that offers remarkably good burritos. Housemade flour tortillas make the base of the restaurant's namesake food, which come stuffed with everything from moist carne asada to plump shrimp and bright calabacitas. The shrimp burrito is one of our favorite dishes; It offers a handful of shrimp accompanied with a medley of fresh vegetables including onions, cabbage, and cilantro making for a light, flavorful, and filling meal.
Young gun chef Chris McKinley might "just want to have fun," but that doesn't mean his menu at The Local should be overlooked. The Roosevelt Row restaurant started off strong earlier this year with lunch, dinner, late-night eats, and brunch -- though they've cut out brunch service for the summer. On the current menu you'll find decadent dishes like McKinley's roasted bone marrow with lamb bacon next to a selection of more refined options such as handmade pastas and compressed watermelon and pork belly salad. The Pig Ear Pad Thai might be our favorite dish so far, with crisp pieces of fried pig ears mixed with spicy peppers and crunchy vegetables. On the cocktail side The Local proves it understands what "craft cocktail" actually means. Think seasonal ingredients, seasonal shurbs, and barrel-aged drinks.
If fusion food was always as successful as it is at Sumo Maya, then we'd have no qualms with the current dining trend. This bright, loud Scottsdale spot comes courtesy of local restaurateur German Osio, who hand-picked chef Herb Wilson to head up the kitchen. Wilson brings experience at Sushi Samba to the table, which means you can expect an expert melding of Asian and Mexican cuisines. The extensive menu offers more options than you'll be able to navigate in one visit, but the restaurant's selection of ceviches is a good place to start. They take the idea of raw, citrus-cured fish and throw in the restrained, subtle sensibility of Japanese sushi to create dishes that are bold in flavor but also perfectly-balanced. The fact that the kitchen is decked out with a wood fired oven, Spanish plancha griddle, and multiple Chinese woks means the restaurant should be equipped for anything Wilson can dream up.
As a rule, sequels suck. But in the case of Steak 44, the more casual sister restaurant to uber swanky Dominick's Steakhouse in Scottsdale, the sequel is excellent in its own right. The menu at Steak 44 is quite similar to the one you'll find at Dominick's, but the few variations are what makes the restaurant such a likeable place. Alongside standard chop house fare as Ceasar salad and shrimp cocktail, you'll find more approachable -- if elevated -- options such as crispy fried deviled eggs and tempura battered soft shell crabs. The wet-aged steaks are of course the stars of the show, but even in that category the restaurant deviates from the norm with smaller, more affordable cuts including the $38 12-ounce NY strip.
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