Half of 2018 has come and gone, which means it’s time to highlight some of the best new restaurants to open so far this year. From a high-profile culinary collaboration in downtown Phoenix to a buzzy new east-side osteria, here are seven restaurants that are making the Valley a better place to eat and drink.
Roland’s Cafe Market Bar
1505 East Van Buren Street
Roland’s Cafe Market Bar, a collaboration between pizza icon Chris Bianco and Tacos Chiwas’ Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez, is a modern outpost for unpretentious and elegant Mexican cooking with a soft Italian accent. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the restaurant is situated in the lovingly restored Roland's Market building on Van Buren Street. The menu marries Bianco’s signature craftsmanship with Holguin and Hernandez’s soulful norteño cooking. It’s a winning formula that celebrates simple home-style dishes like entomatadas, corn tortillas folded over melted asadero cheese and smothered in a bright, sweet tomato sauce. Quesadillas, served open-faced and topped with ingredients like Schreiner’s chorizo and mortadella, evoke both wood-fired pizza and the classic Arizona cheese crisp.
7620 East Indian School Road, #101, Scottsdale
Walter Sterling and Alex Levine, part of the culinary team behind central Phoenix’s Ocotillo Restaurant, have opened one of this year’s most intriguing new barbecue spots. Starlite’s wide-ranging menu of barbecue delicacies includes tender, slow-cooked brisket grilled over mesquite, juicy hot fried chicken, and an extra-beefy, two-pound brontosaurus rib. Sides are varied and decadent, including fried mac and cheese, sweet braised green tomatoes, and a terrific skillet of cornbread. The cocktail program, spotlighting top-shelf whiskey, is worth exploring.
2221 North Seventh Street
This new small plates restaurant from chef Vince Mellody is a gem. Located in the dark, cool Seventh Street bungalow that formerly housed Rice Paper, Bri delivers creative small plates that evince a fondness for pungent, spicy Asian-inspired flavors and roasted duck. The best way to experience Bri is to come with a small group and order indiscriminately from the menu of shareable plates. Frico caldo, pan-fried cheese dovetailed against an herb-spackled potato pancake, is crispy and savory. Don’t skip the drooling duck, a succulent duck breast slicked in a lovely chile sauce and topped with crispy garlic and onions.
4025 East Chandler Boulevard
In a city overflowing with strip mall sushi restaurants, Sushi Nakano stands out for its exceptionally strong sushi, nigiri, and sashimi game. It's not surprising, considering head sushi chef Leo Nakano trained under his father, Hirofumi Nakano of north Scottsdale’s venerable Hiro Sushi. Great starters include the monkfish liver pate, which is touched with a vibrant and sweet miso sauce. Sushi options include traditional, simple rolls with ingredients like fermented soybeans and Japanese cucumber, along with creative flash-fried rolls like the Rising Sun, made with creamy tuna and burdock root. If you can swing it, the omakase chef’s choice tasting menu is the way to go.
Trapp Haus BBQ
511 East Roosevelt Street
Will lunch at Trapp Haus BBQ inevitably lead to an extravagant case of the meat sweats? If you’re anything like us, yes. A little perspiration, though, is a small price to pay for pitmaster Phil Johnson’s boldly flavored barbecue platters. The brisket is a winner, the fatty and tender meat bolstered by a drizzle of the sweet, house-made “OMG” sauce. More playful than your average barbecue joint, Trapp Haus also delivers great pastrami and memorable starters like the flash-fried Philly crack wings — order them naked to get the full breadth of Johnson’s intensely flavorful, homemade dry rub spice mix.
5609 East McKellips Road, Mesa
Situated amid the chain restaurants and retirement villages of northeast Mesa, Osteria brings some culinary firepower to the emerging Alta Mesa neighborhood. Chef Tony Snyder, a veteran of some of the Valley's top resort kitchens, uses local ingredients to craft classic Italian dishes, with an emphasis on wood-fired fare. The menu treads familiar territory, including pizza, salads, pasta,and antipasti. You’ll want to zero in on the pasta menu, where dishes like fresh-made spinach ricotta ravioli and tagliatelle Bolognese remind you that some of the best things in life are simple.
501 East Roosevelt Street
This downtown taqueria delivers a small but strong lineup of tacos, including highlights like slow-cooked barbacoa and succulent carnitas. Chef Suny Santana’s taco philosophy leans traditional in spirit, letting the carefully prepared meats shine with help from sparingly drizzled homemade sauces and fresh-pressed corn tortillas. A small, thoughtful list of classic Mexican cocktails, plus Arizona and Mexican wines, provide a good excuse to hang around a while. The restaurant's stylish dining room, filled with Mexican- and taco-inspired motifs, is as Insta-worthy as they come.