Mom-and-pop restaurants — whose ownership, it must be said, is well past an era of being defined by an actual man/woman couple — play a huge role in the particular flavor of a city. That's very much true in the Phoenix area, where the personal touches of independently owned eateries add depth and a sense of place to the restaurant landscape. Here are 12 of the classics.
Arcadia PremiumLara Mulchay and Joel LaTondress
5618 East Thomas Road, #100
If you need a delivery of some craft beer, an affordable but exceptional fine wine, some tangy salami, or any combo of those things, Arcadia Premium has you covered. If you’ve got transportation, a trip to this moderately sized, homey retail shop for grown-up drinks is worth it. The owners know all about their products and love to help steer customers toward new treasures.
Best of PhillyWelfy and Awriana Youkhana
2818 North Central Avenue
This couple has been providing central Phoenix with juicy, gooey Philly cheesesteaks since the ’90s, giving hungry eaters a reason to stop in. You’ll rarely find a time when Welfy isn’t manning the grill himself, or when Awriana isn’t taking orders. Best of Philly also has other sandwiches, from burgers to vegetarian handhelds, as well as wings and crispy sides like onion rings and fries.
Café LalibelaAnibal and Salem Bayene
849 West University, Tempe
Café Lalibela is the Valley’s best-known Ethiopian restaurant, going for nearly 20 years. It recently expanded its Tempe restaurant to include a next-door market with to-go meals and products. Owners Anibal and Salem Bayene are also selling some of those items in health-based retail stores like Natural Grocers and Whole Foods.
Carly’s BistroCarla Wade Logan and John Logan
128 East Roosevelt Street
For more than 15 years, this restaurant and bar has been a staple of Roosevelt Row. Offering an array of sandwiches, soups, and salads, as well as refreshing adult beverages, this neighborhood place is great for a quick lunch or a lounge-y dinner. Carly’s also features changing art exhibitions and offers live entertainment.
Ezekiel’s RestaurantBrad and Laurita Carr
4825-6 East Warner Road, Chandler
This couple from Pennsylvania serves up homestyle soul food along the lines of fried chicken and fish or barbecued ribs. There’s side dishes aplenty: cornbread, collard greens, and sweet potatoes, to name a few. Ezekiel’s dining area is also heavily decorated with bright colors and multiple framed photos of family.
Matt’s Big BreakfastMatt and Ernie Pool
Owned and operated by the Pool family, Matt’s is still one of Phoenix’s most popular places for breakfast. There’s lunch as well, but those super-crispy hash browns and creative egg scrambles make it hard to get past the morning options.
Middle Eastern Bakery and DeliIsam Saed
3052 North 16th Street
This central-Phoenix restaurant is a go-to for Middle Eastern dishes. Hummus, grape leaves, and spinach pies will get you started at Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli. Gyros and shawarma are some of the heartier options, along with kabobs that let different chunks of meat be the star, from chicken to lamb. If you can leave without grabbing a fresh-baked baklava, you are one tough cookie.
My Mother’s RestaurantManuel Guillen
4130 North 19th Avenue
Slow-roasted meat makes for a tasty open-face hot roast beef sandwich at My Mother's Restaurant. Hearty pasta dishes, soups, and salads are some of the other good eats offered here. This family business has been going for more than 30 years and has the feel of dining in a good friend’s kitchen. A daily mix of homemade pies makes a trip to My Mother’s even more enticing.
New Wave Market and Super ChunkCountry and Sergio Velador
7120 East Sixth Avenue, #20, Scottsdale
This airy and colorful spot in Scottsdale’s Old Town is great for thoughtfully crafted sweet treats, delectable savory eats (New Yorkers will approve of these chewy bagels), and highly craveable egg sandwiches. Bonus: as the name suggests, music is a passion for the owners of New Wave Market and Super Chunk, and you're likely to hear some great tunes as you peruse the curated selection of goods.
Republica EmpanadaJinette and Edmundo Meraz
204 East First Avenue, Mesa
Downtown Mesa got considerably tastier about seven years ago when Republica Empanada opened, selling South American-style empanadas featuring Latin American flavors. These doughy delights are stuffed with a variety of fillings and come in both savory and sweet varietals. Of the former, try the Cubano, featuring slow roasted pork, ham, and cheese. A tasty choice for the latter is the Republica Chicken, with seasoned meat and veggies. The Dizzy Fig is a heady sweet choice, loaded with local figs, dulce de leche, and mozzarella cheese.
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Texaz GrillSteve Freidkin
6003 North 16th Street
This homey place in Uptown Phoenix serves chicken fried steak plates on the daily — crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and buried in a thick country gravy. Ribs, pork chops, and chicken are also on the meat-heavy menu at Texaz Grill, overseen by "pop" Steve Freidkin. You can get that chicken-fried steak for breakfast, too, if you are so bold.
A Touch of European CaféWaldemar and Margaret Okula
7146 North 57th Drive, Glendale
This west Valley destination for Eastern European dishes was opened in the early 2000s by this husband-and-wife team from Poland. He handles the cooking, and she tends to the customers. Pierogis and stuffed cabbage rolls are menu favorites at A Touch of European Café, alongside hearty dishes like Hungarian pork goulash.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 28, 2016. It was updated on August 22, 2020. See what Valley restaurants are offering takeout, delivery, and dine-in services in our Phoenix Restaurant Directory.