The Phoenix area is fast becoming a foodie's paradise. There are so many choices, we figured you'd need a little help deciding where to spend your valuable dining dollars. Read on to find out where's the best steak, the best patio dining, the best Italian food, the best place to take kids, the best seafood, the best food truck and even the best restaurant restroom. We guarantee by the time you get to the end of this list you'll be hungry, so make those reservations as quickly as possible. These places fill up fast.
Best Chef: Kevin Binkley
2320 East Osborn Road
When James Beard Award-nominated chef Kevin Binkley announced he was closing two restaurants and migrating his flagship New American fine-dining outpost to midtown Phoenix, the local food cognoscenti was skeptical, to put it lightly. Fortunately, the reimagined Binkley's Restaurant feels like a worthy risk. Binkley works closely with his small culinary team to prepare elaborate, 20-plus-course dinners, which are crafted using optimal ingredients and served in a highly intimate setting. The chef pulls out all the stops, offering diners a direct view into the kitchen and mingling with guests throughout the three- to four-hour dinner service.
Best Place to Take a Foodie: Restaurant Progress
702 West Montecito Avenue
Restaurant Progress is the indie darling of the Phoenix culinary scene, and the perfect place to take any diehard foodie friend. The 37-seat neighborhood restaurant feels at once sophisticated and intimate, and the open kitchen means you can catch a glimpse of chef-owner TJ Culp and his kitchen crew manning the ovens throughout your meal. Culp and company deliver seasonally driven, modern American fare, with a menu that changes about every four to six weeks. You can order à la carte, but the best way to experience Culp's playfully refined cooking is with the five-course chef's-choice tasting menu.
Best New Restaurant: Pa'La
2107 North 24th Street
You won't come to Pa'La for complicated, showstopping dishes, or white tablecloth ambiance. You'll come because Pa'La is a temple of simple and elegant wood-fired cooking, highlighting impeccably sourced ingredients. The casual counter-service restaurant, a collaboration between veteran chef Claudio Urciuoli and Tortas Paquime's Omar Alvarez, delivers a menu that is relatively modest in scope: just Spanish tapas, wood-fired Italian schiacciata flatbread, salads, and Urciuoli's signature Navarro bowl, made with heirloom grains and topped with responsibly sourced, ultra-fresh seafood.
Best Visionary: Tamara Stanger
1006 East Warner Road, #113, Tempe
A lot of what you see when walking your dog or on a hike — the berries, and fruit, and flowers — you may see but not really see. You may dismiss them as regular parts of our vast and strange Sonoran landscape. Tamara Stanger of Cotton & Copper sees this central Arizona bounty in ways that virtually nobody else does. She has started to build a formidable reputation for using these hyperlocal lifeforms to push and elevate her artful food. With dishes like dumplings with corn ash, cactus fruit semifreddo, and tacos built from heirloom Pima wheat tortillas, Stanger trailblazes toward a new Arizona cuisine.
Best Food Truck: The Maine Lobster Lady
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well, we're very fond of The Maine Lobster Lady, a seasonal food truck that graces the Valley with its presence November through May. In those other months, when proprietor Diana Santospago is at her home in, well, Maine, all we can do is remember fondly the times when we've been greeted warmly at the cheerful blue truck and think about all the dishes we can't wait to revisit upon her return — the fat lobster rolls, the rich lobster bisque, the juicy fried seafood rolls (your choice of scallops or whole-belly clam), the Maine whoopie pies, and much more. Is it November yet?
Best Glow Up: Welcome Diner
929 East Pierce Street
Welcome Diner is dead; long live Welcome Diner. In May, after more than a decade at 10th and Roosevelt streets, the original location of Welcome Diner closed and a brand-spanking-new location opened just a few blocks south. We love the slick retro vibe of the new Welcome Diner, and we're psyched that it's now open every day of the week (and until 2 a.m., no less) for riffs on Southern classics like pulled pork and grits, cornbread panzanella, and the famous Big Jim fried chicken biscuit sandwich.
Best Hangout: Super Chunk Sweets & Treats and New Wave Market
7120 East Sixth Avenue, Scottsdale
Super Chunk in Old Town Scottsdale was always a place we loved to stop at for goodies and gifts of various types. Then, last year, owners Sergio and Country Velador expanded into the space next door to create New Wave Market. Now, the combined concepts are a place we're content to linger. There's no need to rush through your meal at New Wave; the vibe is relaxed and cheerful, the perfect place to stay awhile with a book or a friend, and if you delay your departure long enough, you may find you have room for something from the Super Chunk side: a rich canele, perhaps, or one of the famous mesquite chocolate chip cookies.
Best Dining Corner: Northeast Corner of Rural and Warner Roads, Tempe
The vastness of metro Phoenix means that there are restaurant gems to be discovered all over the Valley. But you can save yourself some gas and hit up three hot new eateries with one stop to the northeast corner of Rural and Warner roads in Tempe. Aaron Chamberlin's Tempe Public Market Café, a casual all-day spot, was the first to open, in January. July brought us Cotton & Copper, an Arizona-centric eatery created by Sean Traynor and helmed by chef Tamara Stanger. Finally, Ghost Ranch, another Chamberlin eatery debuted in August. All of a sudden, one unassuming corner is a must-visit dining destination.
Best Restroom: Durant's
2611 North Central Avenue
With its old-fashioned pay phone, rose-covered wallpaper, and basket full of peppermints, the women's restroom at Durant's is a hyper-feminine antidote to the rest of the steakhouse's 1950s mob-boss vibe. But the best part of the restroom, besides its vintage charm, is the millennial-pink vinyl couch. When you've had enough of men for the night, or you just want to gossip in private, grab your martini and settle in. The only downside? Durant's predates the age of catering to digital influencers, and the restroom's tight corners and strange lighting mean that we've never been able to get the perfect Instagram.
Best Tropical Vibe: The Breadfruit & Rum Bar
108 East Pierce Street
Come for the Jamaican fare and the enormous menu of creative rum drinks; stay for the cozy enclosed outdoor lounge where you can eavesdrop on the cigar-smoking crowd. At this downtown restaurant, you can leave responsibilities behind and pretend you're on a tropical island vacation. As the name suggests, The Breadfruit & Rum Bar has a huge number of rums on offer. The kitchen also serves up sustainably sourced seafood, earning the restaurant a Smart Catch label from the James Beard Foundation.
Best Western Dining Inside the City Limits: T-Bone Steak House
10037 South 19th Avenue
The T-Bone Steak House has been serving Western grub and spectacular views of the sunset for more than 40 years. And it's only about seven miles from downtown, located among the saguaro cactuses in the foothills of South Mountain, a mile and a half south of Baseline Road. Huge mesquite-grilled steaks with a side of cowboy beans are the main feature, of course, at the T-Bone. When we ordered a porterhouse during a recent visit, the waitress asked, "Do you want the small one or the big one, honey?" We went small, a mere 24 ounces. The big one is 40.
Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant: Kai Restaurant
5594 West Wild Horse Pass Boulevard, Chandler
As a AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star restaurant, Kai at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass Resort is one of the most highly praised restaurants in Arizona. What really makes Kai uniquely Arizonan, though, is its singular menu of Native American-influenced fare. Chef de cuisine Ryan Swanson's menu weaves elements of Pima and Maricopa culture and tradition into an uncommon menu that you won't find anywhere else in the country. Don't miss staples like the grilled tenderloin of buffalo, a gorgeously cooked, lean steak paired with a saguaro blossom syrup.
Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant: FnB
7125 East Fifth Avenue, Scottsdale
If you get up early and hit a farmer's market, you just might see Charleen Badman, chef at Old Town Scottsdale's FnB, eyeing Sphinx dates or Romanesco cauliflower and considering how she can elevate that night's dishes. Badman is uncannily attuned to what is happening on the Valley's farms, dairies, and ranches. She understands and harnesses the delicate spirit of each local ingredient she uses, plating dishes that exceed their parts and delight with rigorous composition, intellectual charm, and inspiring flavors.
Best Happy Hour: PNPK
23335 North Scottsdale Road, Suite D105, Scottsdale
PNPK in north Scottsdale is a relative newcomer to the metro Phoenix food scene, but we're already taken with its happy hour for a few reasons. First, the food: PNPK has a wide range of specials at fantastic prices; the bruschetta (we love the smoked salmon with goat cheese, red onion, and capers), deviled eggs, signature craft sliders (try the Crispy Hot Fried Chicken), and other shareables are discounted. Second, the drinks — think super-affordable wine, sparkling wine, and craft beer flights in addition to other specials.
Best Breakfast: Butters Pancakes & Cafe
8300 North Hayden Road, Scottsdale
Don't be put off by the wait that you'll inevitably find at Butters Pancakes & Cafe on a weekend morning. Think of it as more time to study the comprehensive menu. You could go for the restaurant's namesake: soft, fluffy pancakes that come in varieties like Wildberry Bliss, Oreo cookie s'mores, cinnamon roll, and banana cream. Or if you're feeling more savory than sweet, there are plenty of omelets and scramblers along with specialties like the Eggs Verde, which features two eggs on a corn tortilla with black beans, cheese, and green New Mexico chile sauce.
Best Brunch: Fàme Caffe
4700 North Central Avenue
Ah, brunch — the most important meal of the weekend. When we're in the mood for not-quite-breakfast, not-quite-lunch, we stop by Fàme Caffe in central Phoenix. It's usually busy, but the line to order moves quickly, so don't delay in choosing what to eat. We love the veggie scramble — eggs, goat cheese, mushrooms, cauliflower, and broccoli — with house potatoes, or if we're more in the mood for something sweet, the French toast crafted from sturdy country bread is also a wise choice.
Best Downtown Lunch: The Dressing Room
220 East Roosevelt Street
You won't find run-of-the-mill sandwiches or lackluster salads at this Roosevelt Row micro-restaurant, which specializes in playful, globally inspired street food with a gourmet twist. On the menu, you'll see everything from Korean-inspired yakitori, salads, burgers, and tacos. Skipped breakfast? Try the kitchen's All Day Burrito, which bulges with cheesy scrambled eggs, pico de gallo, bacon, hash browns, and avocado. Service is quick and friendly, and there's a daily happy hour that runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. — the perfect excuse to indulge in a lunch-hour cocktail.
Best Small Plates: Bri
2221 North Seventh Street
Duck roasted high over a wood fire. Pickled cabbage flecked with chile. Pork ribs in black bean sauce. Pan-fried cheese. These are some of the small plates at Bri, the new Seventh Street restaurant captained by chef Vince Mellody (once an executive chef at Otro Café). At Bri, Mellody cooks whatever he wants, looping together flavors from Europe, Asia, and beyond. At this spot, even the tiny radishes with house-made butter seem to have way more flavor than they should.
Best Place to Eat at the Bar: Tratto
4743 North 20th Street
Chris Bianco's Italian-Arizonan trattoria evolves with the Sonoran micro-seasons. Roasted eggplant with olive oil might be in one day, out the next. How do you know what's best to order? You sit at the bar and catch the ear of Blaise Faber, one of the Valley's most congenial and skilled bartenders, as he froths egg whites and measures house-made apricot liqueur. The bar at Tratto is an escape. You feel almost like you're sitting in a formal restaurant in Florence.
Best Romantic Restaurant: House of Tricks
114 East Seventh Street, Tempe
Romantic meals have something in common with real estate: It's all about location, location, location. That's why we keep coming back to House of Tricks, which is situated in a 1920s cottage just off Mill Avenue. It's an oasis of charm and refinement amid the hustle and bustle of Arizona State University's Tempe campus, an intimate space whether you're nestled in the dining room or eating on the tree-canopied patio. And, oh yeah, the food is outstanding.
Best Restaurant for Kids: Luci's at the Orchard
7100 North 12th Street
We love kids, but they're not always the easiest dining companions. When eating with little ones, the choice of restaurant is crucial, which is why we love Luci's. Part of the Orchard complex in north central Phoenix, Luci's has a simple but tasty kids' menu of perennial favorites — including chicken strips, a cheeseburger, Funky Monkey French toast, and a cheese crisp. But as good as the food is, it's what comes after that makes this the ideal spot for families. The Orchard is home to a splash pad and a shaded lawn surrounded by chairs, as well as Splurge Ice Cream & Candy Shop, a dessert spot that will delight kids of all ages.
Best Place to Eat on the Patio: Ocotillo
3243 North Third Street
When patio season hits, there's nowhere we'd rather eat al fresco than Ocotillo. The central Phoenix eatery has been a favorite of ours since its inception, and the outdoor atmosphere is a big part of the reason. There's the covered area that contains long, picnic-style tables and its own bar; there's also a cozy area with couches for groups that's near a good-size lawn perfect for children to play on. Or, you could sit on the wraparound patio that looks out at Third Street. And Ocotillo's rotating seasonal menus have nothing but good options, including plenty of vegetable dishes and the famous mesquite-grilled Ocotillo chicken with citrus, chiles, and local honey.
Best Dog-Friendly Patio: SanTan Brewing Company
8 South San Marcos, Chandler
One of Historic Downtown Chandler's staples is SanTan Brewing Company, which has served craft food and numerous varieties of craft beer since opening in its corner spot at Arizona Avenue and Chandler Boulevard in 2007. And if that's not everything you need already, the dog-friendly patio should cap you off nicely. SanTan has a roomy patio, fresh water, and attentive guests for your doggies to bask in. There are also Otto's Brew Bones — peanut-butter-flavored dog treats made with SanTan spent beer grain that are made and packaged in-house, and feature Otto, the cartoon dog that graces the label of SanTan's Oktoberfest German Style Lager.
Best Late-Night Dining: SoSoBa
214 West Roosevelt Street
Craving a Vietnamese-style salad with rice noodles, veggies, and seaweed salad? How about blistered shishito peppers, pork belly or fried chicken bao buns, or a savory bowl of katsu ramen at midnight? SoSoBa has you covered. Everything on the restaurant's Asian-fusion menu is available until 2 a.m., making it the perfect spot to sober up after a night of drinking. If you're not ready to call it a night just yet, you can also pair your meal with one of the inventive cocktails, like the Honey and Knives, which combines tequila, grapefruit juice, ginger syrup, and serrano pepper.
Best Steakhouse: J&G Steakhouse
6000 East Camelback Road, Scottsdale
The Valley dining scene is increasingly diverse, with restaurants representing countless regional and national cuisines available for the sampling. But sometimes, we just want a really good steak. J&G Steakhouse at The Phoenician resort recently celebrated its 10th anniversary by undergoing a redesign that included a desert-inspired color scheme and improvements to the patio area. Fortunately, the stunning views, outstanding food, and impeccable service haven't changed.
Best Casino Buffet: Wandering Horse Buffet
9800 East Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale
One of our favorite parts of the Las Vegas experience is the buffets: For a moderate fee, we get to gorge like we're living in the last days of the Roman Empire. We get the same thrill when we visit the Wandering Horse Buffet at Talking Stick Resort & Casino. Variety is the keyword here. There's a full salad bar. There are sections for Mexican, Italian, and Asian food. Antipasto, sushi, carving stations, desserts including a gelato bar (the blood orange gelato is our favorite) — it's all here.
Best Diner: Art's All American Cafe
1724 West Van Buren Street
This shoebox-size, family-run diner serves up classic, mouth-watering greasy spoon eats. Open six days a week for breakfast and lunch, Art's specializes in unpretentious and delicious homestyle comfort food. For breakfast, don't miss the scratch-made biscuits and gravy, served with your choice of home fries or hash browns (both are exceptional). For lunch, the ABC (avocado, bacon, and cheese) burger is terrific, as is the French dip sandwich. Squeeze into the tiny dining room and make yourself at home — the service is as friendly as the food is delicious.
Best Soul Food: Rhema Soul Cuisine
1153 East Jefferson Street, #1
Rhema Soul Cuisine isn't your average neighborhood soul-food restaurant. True, you'll find familiar dishes on the menu, including chicken and waffles. But at Rhema, this staple dish is prepared with a playful twist — the fluffy, oversize waffle is prepared with a red velvet batter, drizzled with sugary icing, and served with juicy boneless chicken. The friendly Childs clan, who own and operate Rhema, have fashioned a one-of-a-kind menu that creatively draws culinary inspiration from Southern and Caribbean cooking, with the occasional nod to Southwestern cuisine.
Best Throwback Restaurant: Avanti
2728 East Thomas Road
Avanti has been doing it for more than four decades now, and we're glad. Its dependable service, delicious entrees, and sincere retro vibe are part of the Phoenix experience. Founded by Benito Mellino of Sorrento, and Tuscan restaurateur Angelo Livi, Avanti (Italian for "forward") began tempting us with perfect pasta and superb sauces in 1974, and its black-and-white and chrome decor has barely budged since. Blood-red walls and zebra-stripe fabrics add a little something extra to tasty entrees like linguine carbonara, rich with spaghetti, eggs, and cheese, and a hearty lasagna like Mama might make.
Best Upscale Mexican Restaurant: Barrio Café Gran Reserva
1301 Grand Avenue
The Valley is home to a handful of upscale Mexican restaurants, but few are as singular as chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's Barrio Café Gran Reserva. The small eatery is artful and elegant, with tables draped in white linen and original mural art gracing the flatiron-shaped dining room. This is one of the only Mexican restaurants in the city offering a multicourse menu de degustación (tasting menu), which acts as a showcase for Esparza's latest experiments in modern Mexican cooking.
Best Mexican Restaurant to Take a Scenester: CRUjiente Tacos
3961 East Camelback Road
If you want to impress your taco-loving hipster friends, take a spin out to Arcadia for a taste of chef Richard Hinojosa's terrific gourmet tacos. Don't miss the duck taco, which is slicked with a nice, bittersweet mole sauce and paired with salsa verde. Other highlights include a Texas wagyu steak taco paired with soy-pickled mushrooms; a pork belly taco served with house-made kimchi and Sriracha aioli; and a decadent vegetarian tempura avocado taco.
Best New Mexican Restaurant: Roland's Cafe Market Bar
1505 East Van Buren Street
This all-day restaurant/cafe — a collaboration between Nadia Holguín and Armando Hernandez of Tacos Chiwas and James Beard Award-winning pizza icon Chris Bianco — is an understated gem. Roland's offers a small menu that is rooted in the norteño culinary traditions of Holguín and Hernandez's native Chihuahua. Dishes like chile colorado and entomatadas (corn tortillas stuffed with asadero cheese and smothered in a vibrant red chile sauce) demonstrate an underlying reverence and respect for homestyle Mexican fare.
Best Mexican Restaurant to Take an Out-of-Towner: Barrio Café
2814 North 16th Street
Where do you take out-of-town visitors with a serious Mexican food obsession? You take them to Barrio Café, of course, arguably the most famous Mexican restaurant in metro Phoenix. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's long-running restaurant on Calle 16 has been lauded for its distinctive take on regional Mexican cooking since its debut in 2002. Many of the chef's dishes have become local classics, including her pomegranate-studded guacamole; creamy chiles en nogada; and banana leaf-wrapped cochinita pibil.
Best Vegan Restaurant: The Coronado PHX
2201 North Seventh Street
These days, it's not unusual for restaurants to offer options for vegan diners. But many of them miss the mark, relying too heavily on artificial substitutes for meat and cheese, or only offering up bland vegetable platters. Most could stand to learn a few tricks from The Coronado, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant in the heart of central Phoenix that excels at creating plant-based comfort food. From deep-fried cauliflower tacos to tepary bean burgers to savory breakfast burritos, everything on the menu is made up of ingredients that you can recognize.
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Best Vegetarian Restaurant: Pomegranate Cafe
4025 East Chandler Boulevard, Ahwatukee
We love veggies, and Pomegranate Cafe in Ahwatukee is one of the best spots in town to healthfully indulge. Truth be told, Pomegranate is almost vegan; there are just a few dishes that aren't. But in any case, we love to take ourselves over to Pomegranate for meat-free options like the spaghetti squash with mushroom walnut "meatballs," the poblano wild mushroom street tacos, and the buffalo cauliflower. And if you're just looking for something light or sweet, the restaurant also produces a fantastic selection of baked goods, all of which are vegan, and some of which are gluten-free.
Best Gluten-Free Restaurant: Jewel's Bakery & Cafe
4041 East Thomas Road
Finding a place to eat with our gluten-averse friends used to be a challenge. We want a great meal, but we also want our friends to have just as many menu options as we do. Enter Jewel's Bakery & Cafe. The story goes that owner Julie Moreno began her foray into the world of GF cooking when her daughter was diagnosed with a gluten allergy. What resulted is a bright, cheerful cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and most importantly, no food containing gluten. And at Jewel's, we don't even miss it.