This story was originally published on October 10, 2018. It was updated on June 15, 2019.
You can take a gastronomical trip around the world without ever leaving the Phoenix area, from England to China, Italy to Vietnam, and France to the Middle East, and of course to all parts of Mexico, we are blessed with an abundance of ethnic restaurants in the Valley. Here are the ones we selected as the best in each category for the 2018 Best of Phoenix.
Best English Pub: George & Dragon
4240 North Central Avenue
There's so much we envy about our friends across the pond. They've got great accents, Harry and Meghan, and they've got classic English pubs, dimly lit bastions of beer and conversation. Until we can get back to Jolly Olde England, we indulge our Anglophilia at George & Dragon, a central Phoenix mainstay for more than two decades. The G&D is the place to have a pint (or several), enjoy some traditional English dishes (there are several types of pasties and curries, bangers and mash, shepherd's pie, and more), and watch some football — meaning soccer.
Best Irish Pub: Seamus McCaffrey's Irish Pub and Restaurant
18 West Monroe Street
This pub is authentically Irish, from the Guinness on tap to the Emerald Isle memorabilia scattered around the bar. Founder Seamus McCaffrey is also tied to sibling Irish pubs in Phoenix: Rosie McCaffrey's on Camelback Road and The Dubliner in north Phoenix. But the atmosphere at Seamus McCaffrey's is second to none. Founded in 1991 and next door to the Hotel San Carlos, you might think you're in Ireland after knocking back a few pints in the dark wood booths. The menu includes corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips, shepherd's pie, and potato skins. Sláinte.
Best German Restaurant: Haus Murphy's
5739 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale
Isn't it wonderful how many of the cities that make up the Valley of the Sun come with their own little historic downtown area? Glendale is no exception, and a big part of its draw is Haus Murphy's. For over two decades, the quaint restaurant has dished out authentic German cuisine — which is still prepared by chef and owner Brett Hoffmann. It's known for its Original Oktoberfest Pretzel, sausage sampler, juicy bratwursts, house-made sauerkraut, and a variety of schnitzels.
Best Italian Restaurant: Marcellino Ristorante
7114 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale
Marcellino Ristorante is the best of both worlds: a long-beloved destination for fans of classic Italian fare and discerning foodies alike. Everything is done with care and artistry here, from the food to the service. We like to start with an appetizer like scallops with pesto, then move on to something more substantial, perhaps the strozzaprete with broccoli di rape in olive oil, white wine, and garlic. If we save room for dessert (it's hard, but worth it), we love the warm apple galetta served with gelato.
Best French Restaurant: Le Sans Souci
7030 East Bella Vista Drive, Cave Creek
Traditional French cuisine is in short supply in metro Phoenix, but you'll find classic Continental cooking at this longtime Cave Creek restaurant. Head chef Jose Rivera continues the restaurant's legacy of decadent and traditional French cooking. Highlights include the trout sauteed in lemon butter; the coq au vin (chicken cooked in a Burgundy sauce); and the beef tenderloin en brochette, served with mushrooms and dressed in a red wine sauce. This is probably not the spot to skip dessert. Try the sugary, extra-creamy crème caramel.
Best Vietnamese Restaurant: Pho 43
2844 North 43rd Avenue
This west-side mom-and-pop shop is one of the oldest Vietnamese restaurants in metro Phoenix and still one of the best. First-time visitors should try the pho dac biet, or the house special pho, which comes with slices of brisket, tendon, and tripe floating atop rice noodles submerged in a meaty broth. Don't miss the shareable banh xeo, a turmeric-stained rice paper crepe stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp, and shredded pork. Of course, you probably shouldn't leave without one of the restaurant's famous macaron ice-cream sandwiches.
Best Korean Restaurant: Drunken Tiger
1954 South Dobson Road, #5, Mesa
This quirky and dive-y restaurant and bar, which is tucked into a corner of a Mesa strip mall, delivers a menu that's rooted in the tradition of Korean anju, otherwise known as drinking food. Don't miss the bao — the fluffy steam buns are folded over savory ingredients like barbecued pork belly and juicy fried Spam. If you're feeling brave, order the buldak, a.k.a. fire chicken. The silky hunks of chicken are bathed in a fiery hot sauce, then smothered in melted mozzarella cheese. Wash it all down with one of the bar's delicious soju cocktails.
Best Japanese Restaurant: Hana Japanese Eatery
5524 North Seventh Avenue
Hana Japanese Eatery is a lively bistro serving a strong menu of casual yet polished Japanese dishes. Co-owners Lori Hashimoto and Lynn Becker, along with a long-running crew of sushi chefs and cooks, put out signature dishes like ika kara age, fresh squid slathered in sweet butter and then fried tempura-style. For many regulars, though, Hana is a destination for artful, well-crafted sushi and sashimi. Try the florid Hana Pride, which features crisp cucumber wrapped around yellowtail, tuna, salmon, crab, albacore, and whitefish.
Best Thai Restaurant: Glai Baan
2333 East Osborn Road
Bangkok native Pornsupak "Cat" Bunnag and partner Dan Robinson have turned Phoenix's Thai food scene on its ear with this lively midtown bistro. Glai Baan's small menu specializes in Thai street snacks and northeastern Thai specialties, including pork skewers, larb, noodle dishes, and kanom jeeb, or freshly steamed pork dumplings. Bunnag skillfully deploys staple ingredients like garlic, basil, and lime to create irresistible sauces and curries.
Best Chinese Restaurant: Shaanxi Garden
67 North Dobson Road, #109
This casually upscale Chinese restaurant specializes in the bold, elusive flavors of northwest China's Shaanxi province and its capital city of Xi'an. The expansive menu spans more than 50 dishes, including stews, dumplings, offal, barbecue, and handmade noodles. Service is exceptional, and you'll find plenty of dishes that are hard to locate at other Chinese restaurants around metro Phoenix. Don't miss house specialties like crispy Shaanxi-style chicken and broad, silky biangbiang noodles served with slow-roasted pork.
Best Sichuan Restaurant: Original Cuisine
1853 West Broadway Road, Mesa
In the past several years, Sichuan-style cooking has become one of the most popular regional Chinese cuisines. And why not? Just try to resist the vibrant, lip-numbing properties of Sichuan peppercorns, or the spicy, oily allure of a mala sauce. One of the best places to explore the sophisticated, boldly flavored world of Sichuan-style cooking is at Original Cuisine. Try the house barbecued fish, a whole fried catfish, topped with peanuts and perfumed with peppercorns, that's served over a fragrant, chile-infused stew.
Best Indian Restaurant: Hilal Grill
1638 North 40th Street
This long-running family-owned restaurant (formerly known as the Tahoora Grill) serves terrific Indian, Pakistani, and Afghan fare in an unassuming east-side dining room. Come for the Indian restaurant staples like the succulent chicken tikka masala and butter chicken. Stay for fragrant, beautifully seasoned dishes like shrimp biryani cooked with fresh herbs and spices, or the beef chapli kabab, a Pashtun-style minced beef kebab served with fresh veggies and herbs.
Best Middle Eastern Restaurant: Haji-Baba
1513 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe
How do we love Haji-Baba? Let us count the ways. First, the menu is filled with standout Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes, from juicy gyros and crispy falafel to a velvety lamb tongue sandwich (trust us, just try it), and our favorite, richly spiced chicken shawarma accented with a pungent and addictive garlic sauce. Next, all that food we just mentioned is less than $10 per dish, as are most of the menu items. Finally, service is always friendly and fast, making Haji-Baba one of our favorite spots in metro Phoenix for a casual meal.
Best African Restaurant: Authentic Ethio African
1740 East McDowell Road
The best African restaurant in Phoenix has no waiters. Often, the menu doesn't faithfully reflect what the kitchen is cooking. But that can be forgiven, for Authentic Ethio African is a ghost restaurant — one that specializes in takeout and delivery — and the food is that good. Injera, made from teff, wheat, and barley, is riddled with pocks and explodes with wholesome, sour tang. Stews like chicken perfumed with ginger and berbere, fresh farmers' cheese made from whole milk, and cabbage and carrots yellow with turmeric are some of the many surprisingly soothing items that come atop.
Best Persian Restaurant: Saffron JAK
814 East Union Hills Drive, Suite C-6
Persian restaurants usually tend to be over-the-top affairs featuring white linen tablecloths, baroque furniture, and dangling chandeliers — or else they're barebones kabob counters. Saffron JAK finally offers something in between the two — a casual spot for a sit-down lunch or reasonably priced dinner, featuring freshly baked sagnak flatbread. The menu includes lamb and chicken kebabs, of course, but also less-traditional fare such as sagnak pizzas topped with feta, and "Persian tacos" stuffed with grilled meat and basmati rice and topped with yogurt sauce.
Best Jewish Deli: Goldman's Deli
6929 North Hayden Road, Scottsdale
Healthy eating is all the rage these days. But sometimes, we just want some blueberry blintzes. Or a big, carb-laden bagel piled high with cream cheese and lox. Goldman's Deli, a Chicago-style deli, specializes in classic Jewish fare like the aforementioned bagels, tall brisket sandwiches, warm bowls of matzo ball soup with chicken, noodles, and veggies; and potato latkes dotted with applesauce or sour cream. Everything is done just how we remember our bubbe making it, which is to say rich, delicious, and comforting.
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 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 Mexican Food Truck: Taqueria La Hacienda
254 East Buckeye Road
This long-running Mexican food truck has been a landmark on Buckeye Road for a decade. The meat selection is extensive — try the extra-spicy chicharrón taco, or the incredibly rich cabeza tacos. For a meal that will leave you satiated for hours to come, feast on the cheesy and spicy chile relleno burrito, a flavor bomb if ever there was one. The service at Taqueria La Hacienda is friendly and efficient, and the selection of house-made salsas is impressive. Be sure to bring cash.
Best Late-Night Mexican Food: Taqueria Tepehuaje
4602 South Central Avenue
Open until 1 a.m. on most nights (the exception is Sunday, when the truck closes down at midnight), Taqueria Tepehuaje is a longtime neighborhood food truck that's parked day and night near the corner of Central Avenue and Broadway Road. Highlights include street staples like vampiros — your choice of meat piled onto a thick, crisp, comal-toasted tortilla. Don't miss the tortas, which feature shiny, basted, extra-fluffy rolls stuffed with meats like the house-made birria, which has a thick, earthy succulence that's impossible to forget once you've had it.
Best Restaurant for Oaxacan Specialties: Las 15 Salsas Restaurant Oaxaqueno
722 West Hatcher Avenue
Traditional southern Mexican cooking is still hard to find in the Valley. Thank goodness for Las 15 Salsas, a colorful Sunnyslope restaurant that specializes in homestyle Oaxacan fare. Appetizers include Oaxacan treats like memelitas con queso, thin corn patties topped with heaps of queso fresco and salsa. There's a whole menu of tlayudas — crisp, pizza-shaped tortillas lightly smeared with asiento (pork lard), refried beans, queso fresco, lettuce, and your choice of meat, including options like cecina (thinly sliced marinated beef). Other highlights include thick, dark mole negro and empanadas stuffed with melted Oaxacan cheese and squash blossoms
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