In just a handful of days, Arizona Restaurant Week, the twice-a-year event put on by the Arizona Restaurant Association, will be in full swing. And this year, the nine-day fall celebration, which runs from Saturday, September 21, to Sunday, September 29, is expected to include over 150 restaurants offering discounted three-course meals, priced at $30 or $40, plus tax and tip.
That's a lot of choices to consider when deciding on where to spend your dining dollars and time.
To help, I've put together my top 10 picks for Arizona Restaurant Week (ARW) based on 10 unique types of dining experiences at restaurants listed on the event's website as of Sunday, September 8. From tropical tastes to gourmet veggies to this year's best-kept secret, there's a little something for everyone. Enjoy -- and make those reservations early!
For a Veggie Adventure: Bink's Midtown
This welcoming new restaurant from James Beard Award finalist Kevin Binkley is the hands-down headquarters for re-imagined local produce in Phoenix. And for $30 during ARW, you can take a run through the gourmet garden with dishes like beet carpaccio, vegetable paella; and a beer-brined chicken thigh with a cheddar biscuit and Brussels sprouts. There's also a sweet potato cheesecake offering for dessert.
For Gourmet Grillin': The House Brasserie
When it comes to the unification of meat and fire, chef Matt Carter (also of Zinc Bistro and The Mission) is a master. Satisfy your desire for cooked flesh at his charming bungalow turned restaurant in Scottsdale for $40 during ARW and you'll get gourmet, flame-kissed offerings like crispy pork rillettes, Berkshire Pork country rib, and braised lambed ragout. Patio seating? Yes, please.
For a Taste of the Tropics: The Breadfruit
This year marks the first time this modern Jamaican restaurant in Phoenix has participated in ARW, and the menu looks Caribbean-licious: yellow yam soup, pimento wood-smoked pork shoulder, and coconut crusted sweet potato pudding, just to name a few dishes. Plus (bonus), your $40 meal comes with a mini-cocktail served with each course.
For the Valley's Best Bento Box: Nobuo at Teeter House
If you're going to do a bento box for ARW, you could do worse than one from James Beard Award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda served up at his historic bungalow home in downtown Phoenix's Heritage Square. For $40, you'll get a choice of one of three boxes (meat, fish, or veggie) filled with gourmet goodies in addition to one of Fukuda's signature mini sandwiches and dessert.
For a Walk on the Wild Side: Renegade by MOD
Ex-Kai chef Michael O'Dowd's new North Scottsdale restaurant is a must-take walk on the wild -- yet still sophisticated -- side of re-invented foods from around the globe. And for $40 during ARW, that means plates like the "Shaken Wedge" with pickled onions and candied pecan "soil," mesquite grilled petite filet mignon and lobster knuckles, and a cherries, rosemary, and bacon bread pudding with Irish whiskey sauce. 'Nuf said.
For a Two-for-One Ethiopian Adventure: Café Lalibela
This very good spot of Ethiopian food in Tempe makes for a exotic culinary adventure best shared with friends. Bring a few along during ARW, and for a price tag of $30 per couple you and your dining companion will be treated to courses such as Lalibela's signature lentil soup, your choice of a loaded veggie, meat, or combo wat platter, and mango mousse cake for dessert.
For a Farm-to-Fork, BYOB Experience: Atlas Bistro
Grab your favorite bottle of vino and head down to this charming bistro in Scottsdale for farm-to-table forkfuls of contemporary cuisine with an international twist courtesy of chef Chris McKinley. A price of $40 will get you plates like a wagyu beef bone marrow duo, a marinated heirloom tomato salad, and Asian-style braised beef short ribs. The BYOB component makes this meal even more of a bargain.
For a Meal from a James Beard Award-Nominated Chef: Binkley's Restaurant
Unlike its more affluent clientele, most of us don't have the means to enjoy the inventive, contemporary American cuisine of James Beard Award-nominated chef Kevin Binkley on a regular basis. But during ARW, just $40 (and gas money to Cave Creek) will get curious diners a seat at the table to experience Binkley's gourmet creations like fried okra with aerated Ranch, braised beef short rib ribs, and a caramel Boston Crème Pie parfait.
For a World Wine Adventure: Kazimierz World Wine Bar
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Take a trip around the globe at this unpretentious wine bar in Old Town Scottsdale and you'll get a choice of an Old World- or New World-style menu with dishes like Iberian chorizo, pork confit sliders with kimchi, and chicken satay. The best part? Each menu is paired with a corresponding wine flight included in the $30 asking price.
For This Year's Best-Kept Secret: Virtú Honest Craft
If you haven't made it in to chef-owner Gio Osso's wonderful cafe in Scottsdale yet, now's your chance. Usually a kind of white board of elegant, ever-changing, Mediterranean-inspired dishes revolving around farmers market vegetables, naturally raised meats, and pristine seafood, the $40 menu for ARW is set for dishes such as prosciutto wrapped pork rib chop, European sea bass, and mascarpone ice cream.