Nikki's Top Four Picks for Arizona Restaurant Week

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See also: Kevin Binkley on Loving In-N-Out Burger See also: Noca Owner Eliot Wexler on Chef Claudio Urciuoli

Restaurant Week begins September 15 and runs through September 23. And while it smacks of Black Friday, Christmas in July and all the other bargain bonanzas that attract the great unwashed, I have to admit -- there are some mighty sweet deals out there, deals even the snootiest of foodie-ists won't want to miss.

It's definitely not too early to make reservations.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the three-course $40 menus. For an extra $10, you usually get way more bang for the buck. Here are my four favorites (one of them coming in at $30) with their menus included.

Binkley's Restaurant You don't have to be a math whiz to figure out that a $40 three-course dinner at Binkley's is probably about three to four times cheaper than the usual Binkley's blowout would be. If your wallet's thin but you've always dreamed of going, this is it -- your golden opportunity to eat at one of the city's most celebrated restaurants with one of the city's most celebrated chefs on a proverbial dime.

Sure, the menu says three courses, but this is Binkley's where success and excess are often one and the same thing. Your measly 40 bucks will get you something closer to 12-13 courses, including four amuse bouche (one of them: savory doughnuts with bacon butter); two intermezzos, a two-part PRE-dessert (because, of course, the two designated desserts will not be enough) and mignardises (tiny cookies, chocolates and other sweet bites) to push your already fabulous meal into over-the-top territory. Make reservations pronto. Binkley's is already 60% booked.

First Course

Amuse Bouche: Savory Doughnuts with Bacon Butter, Parsnip Soup with Chipotle Oil, Fried Okra with Ranch Foam, Flash Frozen Peach Arnold Palmer

First Course Wild Mushroom Risotto leeks , parmesan Second Course

Intermezzo: Mango Bomb with Ver Jus and Chili Oil, Grapefruit & Guava Soda

Second Course Pork² bacon wrapped tenderloin, cider braised cheek, butternut squash, roasted apple, haricots verts Third Course

Pre Desserts: Mint Chocolate Lava Lamp & Miniature Cinnamon Toast Soufflé

Third Course Red Wine Poached Pear white chocolate mousse, pistachio, mint

Mignardises Cork Charming, wine-centric Cork offers sophisticated contemporary American cuisine with French influences in Chandler, and yep, it's worth the drive. Their three-course $40 menu offers lots of yummy possibilities, especially the second course options, which all sound complicated and unabashedly upscale. This isn't bargain-basement comfort food by any stretch. Do I want pan-roasted halibut with sweet potato and duck confit hash and pomegranate beurre blanc? Or roasted Berkshire pork belly (never going to get sick of this, so la la la not listening) with bacon/Gorgonzola risotto, confit onions and peppercorn-Port reduction? Or braised veal cheek with potato Dauphinoise and wild mushroom ragout. Hmmm, maybe all three. Just reading this menu makes my mouth water.

First Course

SWEET CORN BISQUE/Crab & Zucchini Fritter, Devonshire Cream, Herb Oil or BABY ARUGULA SALAD/Fried Goat Cheese, Prosciutto, Marcona Almond, Melon, Champagne Vinaigrette or SEARED YELLOWFIN TUNA/Poached Shrimp Escabeche Salad, Cilantro, Watercress, Olive Oil Second Course

PAN-ROASTED HALIBUT/Sweet Potato & Duck Confit Hash, Pomegranate Beurre Blanc or ROASTED BERKSHIRE PORK BELLY/Bacon and Gorgonzola Risotto, Confit Onions, Peppercorn Port Reduction or BRAISED VEAL CHEEK/Potato Dauphinoise, Wild Mushroom Ragout, Grilled Endive, Braising Jus Third Course

FLIGHT OF HOUSEMADE SORBETS/3 Different Fruit & Wine Combinations or YOGURT PANNA COTTA/Port-Poached Figs, Hazelnut Crisp, Sugar Corkscrew or CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING/Nutella Crème Anglaise Petite Maison James and Wendy Porter's cozy French bistro in Old Town is definitely petite, so even though the lush, flower-filled patio may be completely do-able (as in comfortable) in another week, be smart and make a reservation soon. You won't want to miss Porter's playful spin on French classics when possibilities include Lobster Thermidor profiterole; house pappardelle "Croque Madame" with lardons, Gruyère de Comté and shirred duck egg; and heirloom tomato tarte tatin with chevre. This little piggie imagines saying "oui, oui, oui!" all the way home.

First Course

Lobster Thermidor Profiterole


Vegetable Mosaic Terrine with Yellow Tomato and Extra Virgin Avocado Oil Second Course

House Pappardelle "Croque Madame" with Lardons, Gruyère de Comté, Shirred Duck Egg


La Boucherie: Housemade Duck Boudin, Beef with Béarnaise and Lamb with Currants Third Course

Heirloom Tomato Tarte Tatin with Chevre


Fried "Nutella" Twinkie Noca Eliot Wexler's Contemporary American restaurant has always been Italian-inflected, but now that Slow Food follower and Super-Italian chef Claudio Urciuoli is on board, the place has a truer ring than ever before, offering a three-course $30 menu that represents real value. The prosciutto-wrapped, fennel and cheese-stuffed Bershire pork loin, served with roasted sweet potatoes, green tea powder and tomato jam plus dessert would be worth the 30 bucks alone --especially when said dessert is triple chocolate flan (think super-rich chocolate pudding with praline rice crispy). But no one wants to miss a tempting selection of first courses, including the artisanal cheese board with mostarda and rustic flat bread. As is true at Noca's Sunday Simple Suppers, tempting add-ons are also offered, so watch out if you're trying to stick to a budget.

First Course

Chilled Cucumber Soup Yogurt, Lime

Artisanal Cheese Board Mostarda, Flat Bread

Spicy Sausage Sea Island Red Peas, Spicy Caponata

Simple Salad Endive, Apples, Almonds, Garrotxa Cheese, Forum Cabernet Vinaigrette

Supplements: Roasted Prawns Controne Beans, Chili

Giovanna's Meatballs Polenta, Tomato Sauce

Second Course

Chitarra San Marzano Tomato Sauce, Smoked Scamorza

Maccheroncini Beef Shortrib Ragu

Berkshire Pork Loin Prosciutto Wrapped, Fennel & Cheese Stuffed, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Green Tea Powder, Tomato Jam

Cioppino Monterrey Calamari, White Seabass, Aji Panca, Shellfish Broth

Supplement: Prime Ribeye Steak Roasted Potatoes, Abalone Mushrooms, Spicy Chimichurri Third Course

Ricotta Fritters Apple Jam, Caramelized White Chocolate

Triple Chocolate Flan Praline Rice Crispy

Compressed Fruit Soup Dairy-Free Vanilla Ice Cream Additional Offering

3 Course Menu $30 4 Course Menu: add pasta as 2nd Course - $40

On Sunday September 16, Monday September 17 & Sunday September 23 receive a glass of Champage or Moscato when ordering the four course meal.

I just hit the highlights here, so for more info and juicy details, go to www.arizonarestaurantweek.com.

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