Food & Wine magazine recently published a list called "The 40 Most Important Restaurants of the Past 40 Years." No Arizona restaurants made the cut — not even Pizzeria Bianco. It's a baffling omission, considering that Chris Bianco is widely considered one of the top American pizza makers of the past 25 years.
As with any decent listicle, though, the Food & Wine piece makes for good debate fodder. And it got us thinking about which metro Phoenix restaurants of the past few years have been the most important and influential, locally speaking. In that spirit, I humbly present my picks for the five most important metro Phoenix restaurants of the past five years.
Little Miss BBQ
4301 East University Drive
Naysayers will sneer that Little Miss BBQ is a purely cut-and-paste effort that tries and fails to replicate the Central Texas barbecue experience. These people are joyless blowhards who don't value a good fatty brisket when they taste one. Some people I know calibrate their entire Saturday mornings to wait in line for that brisket, and I don't blame them. Owner Scott Holmes wears his reverence for Franklin Barbecue, Austin's temple of smoked meats, on his smoke-tinged sleeve. Little Miss BBQ, though, is more than an ode to Texas barbecue. It deserves to be known as the modest south Phoenix spot that cracked open Phoenix's barbecue scene once and for all. Little Miss BBQ kicked off a newfound barbecue fanaticism in the Valley that has reinvigorated and inspired dozens of other desert pitmasters. We are all eating better for it.
4525 North 24th Street
A lot has changed since Jason Raducha and Claudio Urciuoli turned the former Stanley's Sausage Building on McDowell Road into one of the Valley's hottest lunch tickets. The old Noble Eatery bakery and cafe has moved on to new quarters, and Raducha and Urciuoli parted ways amicably in 2016. But Noble Eatery's "less is more" ethos lives on across Valley bakeries and restaurants, including Urciuoli's most recent effort, Pa'La. Moreover, the success of the Noble Bread brand, now ubiquitous across Valley menus, has helped spur a deeper appreciation for heritage grains and artisanal bread production.
1923 East McDowell Road
What does this modest Chihuahua-style taqueria have that so many neighborhood taquerias across metro Phoenix doesn't? The restaurant's name is an ode to the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez, Chihuahuenses by birth, have helped introduce scores of Phoenicians to the pleasures of homemade gorditas and montadas, stuffed with fillings like rajas (chile strips wrapped in melted cheese), picadillo (a traditional hash of ground beef, carrots, and potatoes) and deshebrada (shredded beef). The Tacos Chiwas kitchen is an oasis of time-intensive culinary craftsmanship (Holguin is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu), where tortillas are made to order and the beans are made from scratch. Their efforts have gotten many Phoenicians to open their eyes, perhaps for the first time, to the singularity and bold flavors of la cocina norteña. Moreover, the critical and popular success of Tacos Chiwas has led to the new Roland's Cafe Market Bar, a collaboration with Chris Bianco. At Roland's, Holguin's gift for stripped-down, sophisticated modern Mexican cooking is given a bigger stage, and will hopefully inspire a new generation of Mexican-American chefs in metro Phoenix.
2320 East Osborn Road
Dinner at Binkley's Restaurant in midtown Phoenix is not merely dinner. It's a ticketed dining experience that involves an always-changing, multicourse spectacle of cocktails, amuse-bouches, small plates, entrees, and desserts. Will you be snacking on freshly-picked baby radishes wrapped in green goddess dressing foam? Maybe some black-foot jamón ibérico, or locally raised pork fattened up on local dairy whey? Whatever is on the menu, you will feast in a setting so relaxed and hospitable that you almost feel like you're visiting a friend's house. A friend who happens to be a classically trained chef with a penchant for modernist technique. However you feel about paying upward of $160 for a night's dinner ticket, you can't deny that Binkley's Restaurant has offered a quietly bold new vision for fine dining in metro Phoenix.
6824, 67 North Dobson Road #109, Mesa
Stop by Shaanxi Garden in Mesa on the weekend, and you're likely to see traditional Guzhen (Chinese harp) musical performers. You'll also find a menu replete with dishes that, until recently, were almost impossible to find in Valley restaurants. Owners Noel Cheng and Changhai Huang are helping re-shape regional Chinese cooking in the Valley. More specifically, they are introducing the flavors of their home province of Shaanxi, and its ancient capital of Xi'an, to the Valley dining scene for the first time. It is a bold and delicious undertaking that rewards diners with an ambitious menu of more than 50 dishes, including dumplings, rich stews, offal dishes, barbecue, and handmade noodles. Just try and resist dishes like crispy Shaanxi-style chicken, or broad, silky biangbiang noodles served with slow-roasted pork. Metro Phoenix's food scene is a much richer place thanks to Shaanxi Garden.
This story was originally published on September 1.
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