We don’t need to tell you, but we will anyway: Much has happened since March, when we released our list of the top 100 restaurants in metropolitan Phoenix.
Among other things, some of the beloved eateries on that list have since closed. We mourn their loss. But we must also fill their spots. So, here's a quick rundown of the restaurants, sandwiches shops, cocktail lounges, and lunch joints that are in and out.
One of the earliest COVID closures was Bri, a restaurant in a house on Seventh Street in the Coronado District. The petite eatery was as homey as it looked from the outside and served unforgettable cocktails like the Bri Paloma and Disco Lemonade, and snacks like the honey butter-drizzled potato chips. The small plates, by Chef Vince Mellody, were prepared on a South African-style grill called a braai. Goodbye, Bri.
Delux Grill + Sushi
This Arcadia strip-mall eatery also closed early in the pandemic. “Since the Delux lease has expired, we regret to inform you the decision was made not to renew the restaurant lease,” ownership announced in the spring. The gourmet burger joint — despite the sushi add-on, this place was at its core all about the burgers — had been around for 15 years. In addition to the burgers, the “A La Cart” fries — house fries presented in an actual shopping cart — will be sorely missed.
The 2018-established Jollof King in south Tempe quietly closed sometime this spring. The food was West African, going back generations, with a few personal touches from the cooks and owners. A quick Google search indicates that Jollof King is closed only temporarily, but a lengthier car ride to its former strip mall home reveals the truth: This superb African eatery is no more.
Farmboy Market, Meats, Sandwiches
Another hard-hitting closure. The Chandler market and superior sandwich shop was run by Oren and Diana Molovinsky, who sourced their fruit, eggs, and other produce from their own 3.5-acre farm. Many items were sold farmstand-style inside the restaurant. The hyper-local breakfast-and-lunch spot opened in May 2018, but in mid-July, following a temporary closing, it shuttered for good. Silver lining: The owners hope to open a market this fall at Molovin Farms.
The Dressing Room
This Roosevelt Row cocktail lounge and restaurant was another quiet closure. The Dressing Room was small and served small plates — next-level ones, though, as well as some of the best craft cocktails in town. Food was inspired by the “streets, beaches, carts, and trucks from around the world,” and the menu was proof of that. The happy hour and cocktails at this former drag bar will be hard to replace, especially that South American Sour.
This Barter & Shake stop was an exciting addition, and then, a sad removal from our list of top 100 restaurants, simply because it is no longer a restaurant. While the new and lean Century Grand will remain a high-end and creative cocktail lounge, the kitchen, along with offerings from Chef Sacha Levine, will no longer be part of the transportive experience.
Since opening downtown in fall 2019, Juan Cornejo and Juan Cornejo Jr. have been grilling some of metro Phoenix’s best Sonoran-style carne asada. Over mesquite charcoal from Sonora, Mexico, ruby sails of carne asada spit and crackle on long grill gates, charring, perfuming the eatery with smoke. At Taco Boy’s, a few meats come a few ways, including as tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and vampiros. The grill and graffiti and generous salsa-and-topping bar conjure a backyard grill out — where the Cornejo family recipes come from originally.
The Valley’s first Nepalese restaurant is also one of its best restaurants to open in the last three years. Subash and Chandra Yadav upgraded from their dumpling-starring food truck, Everest Momo, to an intimate brick-and-mortar in early 2020. Those chewy-yet-succulent momos live on, served steamed, souped, and fried, slicked in potent sauces like a tomato-rich curry and gingery chile. There's rare personality and vivacity to Chef Yadav's food, and he also sources deeply from local farms — especially Rhiba Farms in Queen Creek.
One of the great fixtures and masters of resort cooking in Arizona is Charles Wiley. These days, he captains the kitchen in Mountain Shadows: Hearth ‘61. The beauty of Hearth ’61 is that it ensconces you in an elegant, vanished, mid-century world of old, polished, Arizona comfort. Somehow not breaking this enchantment, the food is New American with an emphasis on dramatic plating and the restaurant’s namesake hearth. From the hearth come flatbreads smothered with seasonal produce and playful touches, like artichoke relish and smoked cheddar.
Eric’s Family Barbecue
Hungry for ‘cue in the west Valley? The meats smoked in salvaged propane tanks behind Eric’s Family Barbecue are the best you’ll find. Eric Tanori smokes the old-fashioned way, meaning without the assistance of gas; it's a labor-intensive method that raises the ceiling for how good marquee cuts, like brisket, can be. In his spacious, cafeteria-style dining room and out on a homestyle patio, that brisket adorns just about every platter. The slices come thick — broad folds pungent with the deep smoke of mesquite. They almost dissolve on your tongue like spoonfuls of pudding. This is one of the best briskets and some of the most impressive barbecue in the Valley.
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Some hidden gems are known in certain food circles, and others are more like the Somali eatery Waamo Restaurant: more truly hidden. Marked by a loud green-and-white sign, Waamo buzzes, nevertheless. Inside its yellow-lighted, yellow-painted dining room, there’s multilingual conversation, regulars cradling hot coffee, and often a takeout logjam. Waamo’s food travels from East Africa to across the Mediterranean. It does best, though, when sticking to Somalia. The specialty is Somali-style halal goat, richly satisfying, with plenty of muted gaminess left intact.
To learn how local restaurants are serving customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, explore New Times’ consumer guide to Phoenix Takeout, Delivery and Restaurant Dining.