Black and Blue Venison Tinderbox Kitchen 34 S. San Francisco St. 928-226-8400, tinderboxkitchen.com
From his historic Southside space, where punched tin ceilings and modern art co-exist, chef-owner Scott Heinonen turns out self-described "American comfort food redefined" offering up simple but nuanced dishes with big, bold flavors. Delicious case in point: juniper-cured Black and Blue Venison, served with blue cheese grits, fresh blueberries and blackberries, and a dash of balsamic -- a sweet, herbaceous, and pungent mash-up of flavors and textures that feels like home for Heinonen, who grew up in the Midwest ($28). The dish fits in pretty well in Flagstaff too, where Heinonen says it's a "crowd pleaser" he can't take off the menu.
Spiced Venezuelan Chocolate Cake Criollo 16 N. San Francisco St. 928-774-0541, criollolatinkitchen.com
Casual Criollo, baby sister to Brix, shares the same local, sustainable philosophy but rocks it Latin-style, offering upscale versions of familiar dishes from Mexico, Cuba, Spain, and the Caribbean. Try not to fill up on the irresistible fire-roasted jalapeño and bacon nachos, the pork belly tacos, or the ropa vieja (all favorites) because you'll need wiggle room for the Spiced Venezuelan Chocolate Cake, a luxurious little treat that blends sweetness and heat in perfect proportion. It's a moist flourless cake -- light, spongy but decidedly fudgy -- made with high-quality dark chocolate from Venezuela and a touch of chile pepper, which produces a slow, subtle burn. Painted with orange glaze, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a drift of whipped cream, it's familiar but faintly exotic ($8).