Today, February 14, is (also) Arizona Statehood Day — i.e. our beautiful land’s 108th birthday. You’re most likely celebrating with a hike, maybe a trip north. But hopefully, an authentic Arizona restaurant or an eatery with some Old West charm is on your radar as well. If you haven’t got a clue where to go, consult this handy compilation of our Best of Phoenix winners from the past 10 years for Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant and Best Old Arizona Charm.
Kai Restaurant5594 West Wild Horse Pass Boulevard, Chandler
Award(s): Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant 2017, 2018
As a AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star restaurant, Kai at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass Resort is one of the most highly praised restaurants in Arizona. What really makes Kai uniquely Arizonan, though, is its singular menu of Native American-influenced fare. Chef de cuisine Ryan Swanson's menu weaves elements of Pima and Maricopa culture and tradition into an uncommon menu that you won't find anywhere else in the country. Many of the dishes feature heirloom Arizona ingredients, game, and vegetables that have been sourced locally from the Gila River Indian Community. The menu changes seasonally, but don't miss staples like the grilled tenderloin of buffalo, a gorgeously cooked, lean steak paired with a saguaro blossom syrup.
FnB Restaurant7125 East Fifth Avenue, Scottsdale
Award(s): Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant 2016
Lots of chefs talk about farm-to-table dining, but few do it as well as chef Charleen Badman at Scottsdale's award-winning FnB Restaurant. At the cozy Old Town eatery, Badman continually creates new menus of seasonal fare, showcasing locally grown produce while taking inspiration from an array of global cuisines. Deceivingly simple plates like sumac-roasted tomatoes with i'itoi onion quark and dukka are both rooted in the Valley and capable of transporting diners far beyond the Southwest — all while retaining a sense of rustic familiarity that's helped make the restaurant one of metro Phoenix's top dining destinations. The wine list also exposes Arizona's terroir with dozens of locally made options by the bottle and a well-curated list of choices by the glass. Not familiar with the state's winemakers? Just leave the decision-making to FnB front of house manager and beverage director Pavle Milic, who's as least as charming as he is knowledgeable about the selections.
Rancho Pinot6208 North Scottsdale Road, Paradise Valley
Award(s): Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant 2014, 2015
Dining trends have come and gone over the past two decades, but through it all, Rancho Pinot has remained. So what gives this Scottsdale restaurant its lasting power? Well, there's the restaurant's always-polished American comfort fare, as well as owner Chrysa Robertson's enduring dedication to using local produce and ingredients. As a founder of the local chapter of the international Slow Food organization, Robertson's been showcasing Arizona-inspired cuisine since long before "local" became a foodie buzzword. But it's more than that. Rancho Pinot also gives diners a memorable experience untethered to fads or trends. Friendly service and honest hospitality are the name of this restaurant's game, and that's one characteristic that never goes out of style.
The Stockyards5009 East Washington Street
Award(s): Best Old Arizona Charm 2010, Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant 2013
Most folks in these parts know the name Tovrea because of the castle or the murder (or both) but did you know about the Tovrea Stockyards? Operated in the shadow of the hill that holds the castle, Edward Tovrea's feedlot was once the largest in the country. Not far away, the family later opened a restaurant, named, naturally the Stockyards. Despite decorating upgrades over the years, The Stockyards still has an authentic Arizona feel, from the black and white photos to the leather booths to the menu, Today the steaks may not be quite as fresh — they have to go farther for the meat, of course — but you can still get a damn good piece of beef here.
Frank & Albert's2400 East Missouri Avenue
Award(s): Best Old Arizona Charm 2011
When you think of old Arizona charm, the first thing that comes to mind is likely the Wild West and the kitschy cowboy aesthetic. Fair enough. But in its ninth decade of existence, the Biltmore resort — and its Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture — is inextricably linked to old Phoenix, too. It truly is a jewel in this desert city, one worth visiting every now and then to appreciate the beauty and history of the Biltmore's environs. For excellent food without sky-high prices, Frank & Albert's is a worthy addition to the fine Biltmore tradition. Wright's understanding of design and lighting carry over in this comfortable restaurant, where diners can enjoy the Biltmore's longstanding tortilla soup, Mexican grouper, dry-rubbed pork spare ribs, and such comfort foods as grass-fed burgers, steak and potatoes, meatloaf, barbecued pork, and a couple of different pizzas. The meats and produce are locally grown and cooked with an attention to detail that one would come to expect from a restaurant with Wright's legacy attached to it. We recommend saving enough room for dessert, specifically the Tableside S'Mores, billed as "a Biltmore tradition." You'll receive a plate full of graham crackers, marshmallows, and two Hershey bars, along with a miniature grill, complete with open flame and two skewers.
Of course, going back 10 years, some restaurants are bound to close — including last year’s Best of Phoenix winner for Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant. In the spirit of inclusivity, here are our since-closed winners from the past decade.
Cartwright’sAward(s): Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant 2019
Ever had an au jus made with preserved ocotillo flowers? How about White Sonora wheat pasta tossed in miso, made from Gambel oak acorns foraged from the forest near Payson? Scallops and fermented blueberry paste? No? How about pickled palo verde sprouts with a tang to sub for capers? When you order correctly at Cartwright's in Cave Creek (hint: tasting menu), you eat in a radical, galvanizing sphere apart from what we expect from our dining scene, but one vital to eating in our state in 2019. Whether it's ga'ivsa and Navajo steamed corn mingled under line-caught fish, or an artful composition squiggling through a smear of saguaro jam, Chef Brett Vibber's creations wheel you through the groves, washes, and pine forests far beyond town. He leads his kitchen crew out into the backcountry to forage for ingredients like sumac and wild grapes. Many are pickled, jammed, dried, or otherwise preserved for select use well beyond their seasons. In recent years, Vibber has grown and fine-tuned his foraging program, which is exciting for this pioneer of New Arizonan cuisine. Eating at Cartwright's is eating Arizona.
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Note: Vibber closed Cartwright's in late 2019 — only to make way for his new restaurant endeavor, WILD, coming in 2020.
House at Secret GardenAward(s): Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant 2012
Don't blame us if this historical, Spanish-style South Mountain mansion built in 1929 is one you never want to leave. Outside, the tucked-away gem surrounded by stately trees and lush vegetation boasts a barn turned wine bar, perfect for al fresco dining by a roaring fireplace under a star-studded sky. Inside, the cozy, wood-floored dining area, with a stately wooden bar, coved ceiling, and subdued lighting, is sit-back-and-relax perfect. And thankfully, its contemporary American cuisine, made with local and organic ingredients courtesy of chef Dustin Christofolo (who owns the restaurant with mom Pat, who operates the Farm at South Mountain), is impressive enough to justify frequent visits.
Note: House at Secret Garden closed in 2014.