Food & Drink Editors

Written by Matt Cole Category: Best of the Valley Issue: October 2014
Group Free


Best Breakfast Spot
Perk Eatery
Classic diner fare gets a sassy twist at this Scottsdale breakfast-and-lunch joint. Perk draws crowds as early as 6:30 a.m. for its quirkily named dishes like the Fancy Pants Scramble, the Border Patrol omelet and Chicken on the Coop, a pileup of sausage, sage stuffing, gravy and eggs. Feeling sweet and sassy? Try the Wine Country French Toast. 6501 E. Green-
way Pkwy., Scottsdale, 480-998-6026,


Best French Toast
Nico Heirloom Kitchen

Leave it to James Beard Award-nominated Chef Gio Osso to open downtown Gilbert’s first local, chef-driven eatery – and make breakfast foods the hit of the place. Made with airy slices of locally crafted Noble bread and enough delicious, golden-brown butter to instantly clog an artery, Osso’s French toast would’ve warmed Julia Child’s heart (and stomach) if she were still here. Sticky toffee glaze, cinnamon-glazed fruit and a dollop of creamy mascarpone make for a moist morning starter that’s as homey and sweet as peach pie. 366 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-584-4760,


Best Use of Bacon in a Supporting Role
Cinnamon Roll with Bacon at Phoenix City Grille
Eating a cinnamon roll is cause for celebration – from picking apart the layers and reveling in the fragrance of freshly baked dough laced with cinnamon and butter to melting the sugary glaze on your tongue. Add crisp bits of smoky bacon on top and you’ve got yourself a party. Bacon’s not the star attraction, but on this cinnamon roll it’s a showstopper. 5816 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-266-3001,


Best Off-Label Use of Breakfast Cereal
Lucky Charms French Toast
at The Hash Kitchen
The Hash Kitchen’s Lucky Charms French toast combines two breakfast categories into one sugar rush tour de force. Sprinkled with bits of cereal and crunchy pastel marshmallow pillows, The Hash Kitchen’s French toast will transport you back to your childhood kitchen table. Chef Joey Maggiore first whipped up the cereal-inspired dish for a St. Patrick’s Day special, but now it’s got a spot on the menu. 8777 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-947-3214,


Best Bakery
Jerusalem Bakery

Located just up the street from Taliesin West, Jerusalem Bakery is what you could safely call “tucked away.” Luckily for many, the owners also operate a stand at the Downtown Phoenix Open Air Market, which meets every Saturday morning. Everything is great – however, the Moroccan bread, absolutely smothered with za’atar spices, and the brioche-like Queen Almond Challah bread, strewn with miniature rivers of almond paste, are spectacular. 10953 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Ste. 105, Scottsdale, 480-451-0011,


Best Breakfast Burrito

Breakfast burritos – as breakfast and burritos are, generally – are highly personal affairs. There’s no universal, one-size-fits-all ideal for a dish that is so near and dear to our Southwestern souls. That being said, transcendent ingredients in the form of fluffy scrambled eggs, crispy potato fries, onions, spicy chorizo, a soft and sturdy tortilla, and herb-studded chimichurri crema are all working to Nocawich’s favor – and flavor. 777 S. College Ave., Tempe, 480-758-5322,



Best Sandwich Joint
Noble Eatery

We’d like to be more egalitarian in our sandwich advocacy – spread the love, if you will, to some of the other fine haute sandwich purveyors in the Valley, names like Zookz, Sacks and Worth Takeaway – but if we’re being perfectly, 100 percent honest, our Best New Restaurant of 2015 must hold this spot. You’ll know why after going nose-deep into one of its locavore masterpieces. The only question: Can Noble hold up now that footloose chef Claudio Urciuoli has jumped ship? At least the bread, by master baker Jason Raducha, is safe. 2201 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-688-2424,  


Best Veggie Burger
Café Allegro at the Musical Instrument Museum

Café Allegro’s house-made veggie burger is composed of 10 seasonal vegetables roasted in olive oil mixed with local chickpeas and pinto beans bound with notes of mashed sweet potato. The veggie patty sits atop toasted whole grain bread and is finished with a wedge of melted pepper jack cheese and a knot of sweet potato fries. For vegetarians, it’s perfect harmony on a plate. 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix, 480-478-6000,


Best Grain Bowl
Noble Eatery

Like no-frills house salads topped with weak-arse dressings, grain bowls are – more times than not – a start-to-finish snooze-fest. Not at Noble Eatery. In the hands of Noble’s much-admired chefs, they steal the show, manifested in endless combinations of wheat berries, farro, spelt, kamut, toasted seeds, soy sauces and various vinegars — plus whichever seasonal, cooked-to-perfection vegetables are in rotation. It’s an adrenaline rush... in a bowl. 2201 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-688-2424,


Best Vegan Treats
Volstead Public House

A coffee shop attached to a music venue (Downtown Mesa’s beloved Nile Theater) wouldn’t be our first guess for where to find the best scratch-baked vegan goodies in the Valley, but life is full of pleasant surprises. In addition to a vegetarian/vegan menu of sandwiches and salads, Volstead’s animal-loving bakers turn out passels of cookie butter pop-tarts, apple hand pies, blueberry-lemon scones and more – delicious even without real butter. 105 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-228-3151,


Best Use of Squash Blossom
Squash Blossom & Huitlacoche Quesadilla at Mercado Y Carniceria Cuernavaca

We’re willing to bet that most culinary encounters with the hyper-seasonal squash blossom have entailed versions stuffed with goat cheese, dipped in batter and deep-fried. How about the Oaxacan way for a change, which is Carniceria Cuernavaca’s way: folded into stringy, melted Oaxacan cheese with huitlacoche (corn smut, a mushroom-like fungus considered a delicacy), between a big, fluffy and folded tortilla. 2931 N. 68th St., Scottsdale, 480-423-5552


Best Falafel
Princess Market

Too many a falafel resemble dark, rubber hockey discs – fried to a crunchy-crisp in large batches, perhaps re-fried to order, bland, tasteless, and anything but appetizing. Thankfully, Princess Market appears to have its head in the Mediterranean cuisine game. Its falafel is fried (lightly!) to order and encrusted in sesame seeds, and each bite reveals a bright green, fresh and herbaceous core, seasoned to perfection. It goes great with some of the best hummus and labneh in town. 2620 W. Broadway Rd., Mesa, 480-894-1499,


Best Hangover Helper
Simon’s Hot Dogs

The next time you’re thirsting for hair of the dog, add a couple of these dogs to your prescription. Simon’s Colombian-style hot dogs have everything you need to soak up the stubborn remnants of last night’s revelry: beef, pork and vegan wieners; fresh steamed buns; and salty, crunchy, carb-y toppings like crushed potato chips, mozzarella, pineapple, chili and teriyaki onions. 4280 N. Drinkwater Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-426-9218,


Best Pizza-By-The-Slice
The Al Taglio
at Pane Bianco
Ordering one of Chris Bianco’s thin-crust pies is an all-or-nothing proposition – you either get the whole shebang, or nothing at all. By-the-slice? You must be kidding… unless, of course, you’re at uptown lunch spot Pane Bianco. The chef’s glorious sandwiches, served on bread baked in a wood-fired oven, are front-and-center here, but off to the side, Bianco doles out rectangular cuts of thick, chewy and generously topped single slices, in the Sicilian style. And he’s been doing it all along. 4404 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-234-2100,


Best Fish Dish
Whole Roasted Branzino at T. Cook’s

Branzino – a just-oily-enough Mediterranean white fish – is trending big-time in Valley restaurants, and Todd Allison may be responsible. A San Diego import, the chef cooks the fish to an artful char, serving it with a sing-songy retinue of shishito peppers and cherry tomatoes, and a tangy lemon vinaigrette called ladolemono. It’s trend-worthy. 5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-808-0766,


Best Steakhouse
Steak 44

Make no mistake – we’d never kick City Hall, Durant’s, Capital Grille or any of those other primo Valley steakhouses out of bed. They’re all foxes. But Steak 44 is truly infatuating. Maybe it’s the exceptionally generous martini pours. Maybe it’s the evil little ramekin of truffle butter that comes with your bone-in rib-eye. Or maybe it’s the swank, multi-chambered floor plan, which lends the place such an enveloping sense of occasion. Who knows? But it makes our hearts race. 5101 N. 44th St., Phoenix, 602-271-4400,


Best Duck Tongue
Great Wall Cuisine

Along with the best pork buns and sticky rice in the Valley, this spacious dim sum palace offers a Cantonese-style plate of duck tongues, harvested from a veritable flock of Donalds and Daffys, still stubbornly lodged in their lower bills. It’s hard work for a small yield of tough, chewy lengua, but the muscular dark-meat flavor won’t disappoint your tongue. 3446 W. Camelback Rd., Ste. 155, Phoenix, 602-973-1112


Best Use of Formerly Endangered Meat
Bison Burger at DeSoto Central Market’s DCM Burger
We don’t advocate the hunting of an endangered species, but now that the bison population is no longer in such dire straits, we absolutely advocate for a tasty bison burger. With tomato jam, avocado, fried egg, peppercress and a subtly gamey bison burger, all in a pretzel bun, this is a wonderfully dynamic and interesting sandwich. 915 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-680-7747,


Best Lobster Roll
Crab & Mermaid

Put the “ah” in lobstah roll with the best version of this seafood staple we’ve sampled west of the Mississippi. Their secret is pillowy-soft claw meat, and a founding chef who trained under celebrity chef Todd English. Soaked in butter and smothered in tangy aioli, the crustacean meat is New England – or should we say, New English – cuisine at its best. 4218 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-758-4994,


Best Pig Face
Pig Face Dumplings at The Clever Koi

It sounds like a playground taunt from elementary school. But when the porcine mug meat is this smooth and savory, encased in fried dumplings and presented on a bed of stinging kimchi, there’s nothing insulting about it. Have something cold to drink on hand, though – the scorching-hot kimchi can turn your smile into the Face That Launched a Thousand Sips. 4236 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-222-3474,


Best Place to Score A5
Bourbon Steak

If a steer and a stick of butter had a baby, it might look and taste something like A5 wagyu beef, that mythical grade of meat derived from the world’s most pampered cattle – massaged daily, fed corn and rice straw, trips to the opera, etc. At the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess’ fine-dining flagship, chef Jeremy McMillan operates the Valley’s most accomplished wagyu program, summoning hard-to-find cuts like short rib and rib-eye cap with a flick of his magic cleaver. And it is magic – succulent, buttery, carnivorous magic. 7575 E. Princess Dr., Scottsdale, 480-513-6002,



Best Place for Chocoholics
Everybody Loves Fondue

E.L.F. is basically a kid-friendly, fast-casual version of The Melting Pot – minus the anniversary splurge prices. Peanut and traditional Swiss fondue satisfy, accompanied by a plethora of dippers from carrots to pound cake, but it’s the mouthwatering dark chocolate and salted caramel swirl fondue that leaves us desperately licking dessert off our fingers like a 10-year-old with the cake batter spoon. Hey, don’t judge! 3244 E. Guadalupe Rd., Gilbert, 480-268-9284,


Best Date Shakes
Couscous Express

Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with the Valley’s most beloved one-man Moroccan restaurant, Couscous Express is the indisputable king of date shakes. From the moment he opened the restaurant in 2015, owner Abdul Chaara has offered a complimentary date shake to every patron at the conclusion of his or her meal. He is simply steadfast in his shake chivalry. Mixed with chocolate, cinnamon and peanuts, the shakes are sweet, spicy and perfect for a hot day. 1915 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-252-7777


Best Cookie Shop

Retro-chic baker Heather Smith’s spirit animal must be the Cookie Monster. How else to explain her obsession with the nostalgic treat, which she custom-bakes and decorates in every shape and design imaginable, from quirky cacti to corporate logos? Her Mesa shop doubles as a cookie decorating supply emporium, with bespoke cutters and stencils in the works. “That’s good enough for me,” to quote her cookie compadre. 124 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-969-5816,


Best Pecan Pie

It requires self-discipline (or at least stomach space) the size of Texas, but if you can save room after eating TEXAZ’s famed chicken-fried steak with gravy and mashed potatoes, you will be rewarded, darlin’. Your prize: the most perfectly sticky, sweet, pecan-packed, caramelized-sugar-laden pie filling of all time, melded with a flaky, buttery, golden-brown crust that is the stuff of pie crust dreams. 6003 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-248-7827,


Best Frozen Dessert
Shaved Ice at Snoh Ice Shavery

If you thought the ceiling for shaved ice was flaky chips of pillowy powdered ice doused in artificially flavored syrups, we have good news: It can be soooooo much better. Specifically, it can be Snoh, the Southern Chinese-by-way-of-L.A.-style shaved ice that’s smooth as soft serve and light as air. Even the Asian dessert toppings are better, from crumbled almond cookies to gummy mochi balls. 914 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-888-4063,


Best Ice Cream
Doc’s Artisan Ice Creams

Ice cream shouldn’t be healthy, necessarily, but who says it can’t be free of GMOs, artificial ingredients and common allergens, and be sweetened with sugar cane juice and have half the butterfat content of ice cream, if it’s gelato? Doc Brown wondered the same thing, so he made it that way. But is it tasty? Frankly, it’s delicious. His flavors are spot-on and his understanding of ice cream at the molecular level is immaculate. Doc is the ice cream mas-tah. 1221 W. Warner Rd., Tempe, 602-618-8719,



Best Place to Go on a Seat Safari
Lux Central

In the Central Avenue corridor’s always-bustling signature coffee spot, hunting for a seat is just as much a part of the experience as Lux’s mixed-berry corn muffins, insanely good lattes and mac and cheese. Bonus points if you snag a spot by an outlet. Double-points if you score a seat next to ex-mayor Phil Gordon. 4400 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-327-1396,


Best Area-Revitalizer
Rebecca Golden and 32 Shea

Opened in January of 2011, 32 Shea has been a café-borne beacon of hope in what was previously a neighborhood devoid of much culinary excellence. Owner Rebecca Golden has turned the small space, situated in the middle of a parking lot, into a local hot spot, serving locally roasted coffee from Matador, sandwiches, desserts, alcoholic drinks and even a rotating selection of tasty dinner offerings in the evenings. 10626 N. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602-867-7432,


Best Food Truck Gimmick
Mustache Pretzels

The mid-aughts brought us mustache contests, handlebar-shaped soaps, and even stick-on ’staches that would do Snidely Whiplash proud. It was only a matter of time before the “lip-sweater” became a culinary trope. The un-ironically named Mustache Pretzels food truck turns the average Joe into a hipster via giant, cartoony yeast bombs. The trend may be so 2008, but the hand-baked and -rolled salted caramel Nutstache and its garlicky parmesan cousin are tasty enough to question if eating one daily could be our Movember goal this year.


Best Restaurant Collaboration
FnB’s Charleen Badman and Welcome Chicken + Donuts

The folks at Welcome Chicken + Donuts have had a busy year since they opened in mid-2015, and have only added to the flurry of activity through a series of collaborations with other local chefs and restaurateurs. The restaurant’s partnership with FnB’s Charleen Badman was so popular it happened twice, bringing Valley diners treats like fried chicken with honey, sherry vinegar, Aleppo pepper, fennel and coriander gremolata. It was the Bowie-Crosby duet of the year. 1535 E. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix, 602-258-1655,


Best Misters
O.H.S.O. at Tatum and Shea

Not to be dramatic, but the summer sun in Phoenix is like the scorching lava of a thousand volcanoes, and sitting outside on a restaurant patio is probably the last thing a sane person wants to do. But! O.H.S.O. Brewery at Tatum and Shea boulevards is an oasis. The misters are intense – and there are 250 of them, creating a wall of water around the covered patio seating area. Dare we say it just about feels like AC? 10810 N. Tatum Blvd., Ste. 126, Phoenix, 602-900-9003,


Best Spice Shop
Carefree Spice Company

Chef Paul Grogger says he can take your chicken breast all around the world. He sources chiles, peppers and other raw materials from the Middle East (he has a current smoky blend from Turkey he wants you to try this instant), Southeast Asia, Africa and of course, the American Southwest. Then he grinds them into 80 or so spice blends he sells by the pound to Valley restaurants and in “try-me” bags at his permanent installment at the Phoenix Public Market. Take his word for it and treat that poultry (or steak or salad or fish or anything else) to a global adventure. 602-957-7423,


Best Local Hot Sauce

If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. But for crying out loud, if you can make the heat, we plead that you stay. Jacob Cutino can make the heat — and Phoenix has been head-over heels for his habanero and jalapeño sauces ever since he launched the business two years ago. He’s since expanded his line to include two fiery new heats – verde hot sauce and ghost chile pepper – and is evidently weighing offers from investors to go “big.” Cutino is the king-in-waiting of the hot sauce capital Phoenix should be.


Most Colorful Italians
Roberto and Luca at Forno 301

The pizza scene in Phoenix has gotten so good, so competitive, we’d be loath to tap one pizzeria as “the best” without a proper committee vetting process. (FYI: Guest judge Sal DiCiccio deemed The Parlor’s margherita pizza the best of its kind in a 2014 blind judging.) But for superlative wood-fired pies and first-rate company, we can confidently choose Downtown’s Forno 301, where the owners – Roberto Dadone and Luca Gagliano – intermingle Old World brio with quick wit and occasional outright flirting. 301 W. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 480-787-5654,


Best Repurposing Project
Postino Highland

For many years, the north end of the building that once housed a Valley National Bank branch sat vacant on prime Scottsdale Road property across from Scottsdale Fashion Square. The low-slung structure, designed in the 1960s by Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice Frank Henry, features rock-studded cast-concrete forms, a spacious patio and a wide array of covered parking. In May, Postino opened its sixth Valley location in the building, refurbishing the space to mirror its mid-century glory days. 4821 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-428-4444,


Best Place to Have a
Meet-Cute Songbird Coffee & Tea House Porch Swing

Pick a breezy afternoon, perfect your best flirty expression and choose a couple of books to conspicuously read within eyeshot of passersby. Done? Good. Now head over to the Downtown coffee shop’s just-so, mossy green swing. Even if you strike out in love, Songbird’s spicy chai latte is a reliable home run. 812 N. Third St., Phoenix, 602-374-4192,


Best Bar Décor
Valley Bar

The assemblage of art on the mustard yellow walls at Valley Bar looks like somebody walked into a thrift store and cleaned the place out, from 1970s clocks and clown paintings to 1950s pinups and abstract black-and-white sketches. But it’s all by design – Tucson-based Patch & Clark Design, specifically. The firm, which also decorated the R Bar at the Rialto Theatre, decked Valley Bar in a zingy Arizona kitsch that celebrates the state’s daffy side. A custom portrait of Arizona’s beehive-bearing former governor, Rose Mofford, hangs in the namesake Rose Room lounge, and the elaborate metal mobile above the bar was made to tell the state’s story through a shadowy display of horses, guns, trains and cars. 130 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-368-3121,


Best Place to Watch a Cardinals Game
The Skybox at Half Moon Sports Grill
Half Moon Sports Grill is a comfortable melting pot of armchair athletes, families and die-hard sports fans, with myriad TV screens and plenty of seating at booths, tables and bar stools. But to find ground zero for Valley sports-viewing, stake out the bar’s Skybox room, or its almost-as-awesome counterpart, The Loge. The private rooms are equipped with comfy chairs and couches that seat more than a dozen guests comfortably, and the manager won’t relax until he finds the game you are looking for, and then cranks up the audio. A perfect place to drink in the Cards – or Cleveland, if that’s your bag. 288 E. Greenway Pkwy., Phoenix, 602-993-6600,


Best Place to Steal Restaurants From

Phoenix-based Cubs fans are taking over. First there was Portillo’s Chicago-style hot dogs, with locations in Scottsdale and Tempe. Lou Malnati’s followed suit in May (be mine, deep dish) and fellow pizzeria Gino’s East is set to open in Arcadia by the end of the year. We’re not complaining. We love your food and your people, Chicago. Just keep your cursed Cubs to yourself, please. Portillo’s: 10574 N. 90th St., Scottsdale, 480-451-2888 and 65 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe, 480-967-7988,; Lou Malnati’s: 100 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-892-9998,; Gino’s East (coming soon): 3626 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix,


Best Nonprofit Restaurant
The Refuge

We’d never knock half-off frappés, but if you’re a Phoenician hanging out at Starbucks, we’re judging you. Refuge Café, a local coffee roaster owned by Catholic Charities, has the comfy chairs and occasional live music of a hometown coffee house, but with a conscience, too. Your dollars – be they spent on Refuge’s private label, locally roasted coffee or one of the handbags made by local refugees – go almost entirely to the needy.  The Café gives jobs to veterans, helps kids who’ve aged out of the foster system and even plays art gallery to pieces by refugees. If that’s not enough, they make their own mayonnaise. 4727 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-265-1725,


Best Mobile Barbecue
Mass Appeal Barbequ
By day, Reggie Allen delivers packages all around the Valley in his work for a major shipping service (hint: He wears a lot of brown). By night – and on weekends – he delivers pounds and pounds of tender brisket, pulled pork, ribs and chicken smoked to perfection with his own blend of spices. Candied bacon, peppery beans, greens and corkscrew mac and cheese gild the barbecue lily.



Best Mocktail
“The Natural” at True Food Kitchen

Pregnant ladies and abstainers rejoice: True Food knows how to fake a cocktail. It’s not on the menu anymore, but use your best puppy-dog eyes to convince your server to bring you “The Natural,” a crisp and bubbly mix of soda water, lime, fresh ginger and honey. It’s refreshing, it’s sweet (but not too sweet), and you can still drive home and/or continue gestating a healthy baby. You can even drink it while going Paleo, fer the love of Pete. 2502 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-774-3488; 15191 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-265-4500,


Best Oyster Happy Hour
Walrus & The Pearl at DeSoto Central Market

Take the happy hour escape as close to the shore as possible in Phoenix and post up at one of the Walrus & The Pearl’s 10 bar stools. DeSoto Central Market’s seafood bar shucks its shellfish for 50 percent off every Tuesday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. You  can suck ‘em down like a sea otter at those prices. 915 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-680-7747,


Best breakfast Beer
Jomax Oatmeal Stout at Wren House

Ruling societal norms dictate that beverages stay within their assigned daily territories: coffee in the morning; beer and wine after 5 p.m. You know the drill. But Wren House, one of the new stars of Phoenix’s revitalized brewery scene, is having fun mixing things up with a coffee- and oatmeal-infused beer that, God forbid, you might consider drinking before noon. 2125 N. 24th St., Phoenix, 602-244-9184,


Best New Brewery
Wren House Brewing Company

Don’t be fooled by the spartan décor – just a couple of couches and eight black metal bar stools facing a white-tile wall, packed into a tiny 1922 row house. Truth is, Wren House has one of the most sophisticated beer programs around. Open about a year, the brewery has amassed some impressive accolades, winning medals at AZ Beer Fest for their ginger pale ale and dry-hopped IPA; garnering a “Best Local Beer” nod from the Arizona Republic for its Jomax Oatmeal Stout (made with Ethiopian coffee beans roasted at local Press Coffee Roastery); and cracking Thrillist’s list of “Top 10 Breweries in Arizona.” So we deem thee Best of the Valley, and raise a glass of that delicious stout toward that shiny white-tile wall. 2125 N. 24th St., Phoenix, 602-244-9184,


Best Place to Drink, Box and Play Cornhole
The Duce
There wasn’t a whole lot of competition for this category, and that speaks to the Duce’s singular quality – with old gym equipment, boxing classes, ping-pong, cornhole and a delightful assortment of comfort food and cocktails, the Duce has everything one could want out of a night out in one place. 525 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-866-3823,


Best Shop for Discriminating Tipplers
Arcadia Premium

Those who love living local will find something to amuse themselves at Arcadia Premium, which sells a delightful mix of craft beer, wine, cheese and charcuterie, along with local products like Hayden Flour Mills crackers and Homeboy’s Hot Sauce. To top it off, the place delivers to your door. 5618 E. Thomas Rd., Phoenix, 602-464-9000,


Best Piña Colada
The Breadfruit & Rum Bar

If you like piña coladas – but wish you loved piña coladas – then taste the Caribbean hospitality that flows out of this Downtown drinking spot like so much Bacardi gold. The bar isn’t satisfied merely chasing cocktail innovation to its rum-soaked extremes; it also pays careful mind to re-invigorate the classics, be it the mojito, daiquiri, or, in this case, the piña colada. It uses buttery-rich coconut liqueur – its own recipe – to make your love come alive. 108 E. Pierce St., Phoenix, 602-267-1266,


Best Mint Julep

The mint julep is the original Old Fashioned – just some herbal mint muddled in a cup with a dash of sugar, two fingers of bourbon (even more old-school: brandy), loaded up with ice. That’s all. But similar to the Old Fashioned, many are good and few are great. At Okra, both are great, and there’s a handful of variations to keep the tinkering tipplers happy. 5813 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-296-4147,


Best Tiki Drinks
Market Street Kitchen

As tiki rose to prominence among the Valley’s craftier cocktail spots, few were looking in the direction of North Scottsdale for the next innovative takes on daiquiris and Mai Tais. But they should have been, because North Scottsdale is home to Market Street Kitchen – and mid-summer its crew made it their mission to debut a seasonal Treasure Island-themed tiki menu that checked off all of the boxes. A green Chartreuse swizzle, combined with mint and pineapple and dashed with Angostura bitters, is a highlight. 20825 N. Pima Rd., Scottsdale, 480-278-7044,


Best Use of Slushie Machine
The Agua Caliente Cocktail at Counter Intuitive

So icy. So drinkable. So perfect for a day when the sun’s done a number on you — it’s a shame spiked slushy cocktails were so cloyingly sweet and artificially flavored for so long. Luckily, the craft cocktail community is picking up that beach ball where the rest of us left off. Case in point: the Agua Caliente, the star of C.I.’s seasonal cocktail menu, which mixes lime juice, tequila and blackberry liqueur into to an ice-cold slurry. 7133 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale


Best Wine Hangout
Sorso Wine Room

How do we love thee, Sorso? Let us count the ways: 1) Your Wine Emotion dispensing system gives us 32 wines on tap to choose from, along with 15 by-the-glass beauties and more than 150 by-the-bottle options. 2) Your industrial-chic yet comfy shop invites lingering over 2-for-1 happy hour drink specials. 3) Your bruschetta and Brussels boards are nonpareil among wine-bar fare. 15323 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-951-4344,


Best of the Valley Battle: Sushi/Japanese Cuisine

Hana Japanese Eatery
5524 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix,
1. Lori Hashimoto’s stash of off-menu goodies – including the shabu shabu orgy bowl – imbues every visit with the thrill of the unknown.
2. It’s BYOB, a cost-saving virtue that allows you to feel better about splurging for tuna belly.
3. In addition to hard--to-find fish breeds and veggie delicacies like the wonderful eryngii mushroom, they have stuff for boring people, like Philly rolls. Everybody wins!

Nobuo at Teeter House
622 E. Adams St., Phoenix,
1. Now that Shinji Kurita’s ShinBay has closed – again – Nobuo Fukuda is the unchallenged omakase overlord of all creation.
2. Set in an unbeatably charming historic building Downtown. Skip on over to Bar Bianco for drinks afterward.
3. Fukuda’s grapefuit/yellowtail number with white truffle ponzu has been scientifically proven to brighten your mood.



Best Neighborhood Thai

Find the finest khas and pads in your neck of the woods.

East Valley
Nunthaporn’s Thai Cuisine

This Mesa favorite is glossy and well-appointed, and there’s not a dud among its extensive menu. Seafood in particular sings, from the seasonal Shrimp Paradise to deep-fried catfish with spicy tamarind sauce. And if you love garlic as much as we do, don’t skip the aptly named Garlic Lover dish of noodles and veggies in an abundantly garlicky soy sauce. 17 W. Main St., Mesa, 480-649-6140,

Malee’s Thai Bistro

Old Town Scottsdale’s beloved Thai spot is an institution for a reason: Its signature dishes, from Siamese Kisses (shrimp and chicken dumplings with scallions and crispy garlic) to the Evil Jungle Princess (chicken and straw mushrooms in a velvety coconut cream sauce) have their own cult followings. Deirdre’s fried rice is a can’t-miss fusion dish, with jalapeños jazzing up traditional fried rice. 7131 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-947-6042,

Sala Thai

Hot-as-sin Thai fare reigns supreme at this North Phoenix gem tucked in a strip mall – when they ask if you want it “Thai spicy,” exercise caution. The usual suspects are all delicious, but specialties like drunken noodles, salmon pineapple curry, duck curry and pumpkin curry keep its rabid devotees clamoring for more. Bonus: It’s BYOB, so you and your noodles can be “drunken” – just schedule a post-panang Uber. 10880 N. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602-971-1293,

West Valley
Touch of Thai

This multi-generational, family-owned spot captured the heart of its ‘hood with generous portions of Thai classics at extremely reasonable prices – most dishes hover around $10. Curries, noodles and fried rice are tops, but show-stopping dishes like chili catfish and tom yum gai – hot and sour chicken soup kept scorching-hot in a tureen with an actual flame in the middle – notch it above your average mom-and-pop shop. 16816 N. 35th Ave., Phoenix, 602-896-9009,



Best New Mexican Restaurant
Tacos Chiwas

No, child, not New Mexican – “new” Mexican. Owned by a former protégé of Chris Bianco, Tacos Chiwas is exactly the jolt of adrenaline the crowded Valley Mexican scene needs. It specializes in Chihuahua-style Mexican street food, with tacos, burritos and an excellent salsa bar, and its meats are slow-roasted and smoked courtesy of a smoker left behind by a barbecue restaurant that previously occupied the space. Try the namesake Chiwas taco: beef, ham, cheese, jalapeño and Hatch chile. It’s gourmet-good. 1923 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-358-8830,

Best tortillas
Otro Café

It’s a tall order in Phoenix, but we think we’ve found them: Otro Café really has the best tortillas. Warm, soft and no bigger than your hand, the tortillas are made with organic flour and vegetable oil instead of lard – and they’re made to order, according to chef and owner Doug Robson. Otro, which opened in 2013, keeps winning at the Arizona Taco Festival, and not to knock their protein – the pork belly is heaven – but we’re thinking it’s the tortillas that put them over the top. 6035 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-266-0831,

Best Late-Night Tacos for Hospital Patients
Tacos Mich

Phoenix has more than one Tacos Mich, but the one on 16th Street and McDowell Road is the best and most centrally located. With 75-cent tacos, cheap burritos and drinks, Tacos Mich blows your local –bertos out of the water, and stands on its own as high quality. Plus, it stays open until the wee hours of the night, and is within IV-dragging distance of Banner Good Samaritan. 1602 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-253-1699

Best Pollo Asado
El Pollo Correteado

If you’re picturing a crisply golden rotisserie chicken at your grocery store, dripping sizzling chicken fat onto another chicken below it — you’re halfway there. Pollo Asado is barbecue, but on Mexican terms, cooked over the embers of mesquite wood from the Sonoran Desert. Call it what you want – Sonoran barbecue or Tucson-style barbecue. Just know this West-side spot does it better than anyone else in town. 2904 W. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-278-2381

Best Sonoran Dog
El Caprichoso

Dogs wrapped in bacon, topped with pinto beans, diced tomatoes and crumbly cotija cheese — those are the bare minimum requirements for a proper Sonoran Dog. Most roadside purveyors, with their tents, foldable furniture and late-night hours, stop at the bare minimum. El Caprichoso goes the extra mile: The bacon shines brighter and the impossibly fluffy Mexican-style buns get kissed on the grill, achieving a Texas toast-like texture. North 35th Ave., Phoenix, 602-561-3723

Best Machaca
El Horseshoe

Spare us the menu verbiage – everything is “house-made” these days. What we want to know: Where is it possible to get real scratch cooking? El Horseshoe is one spot. This tiny Sonoran cocina in industrial South Phoenix does homemade flour tortillas, barley horchata (called cebada) and an irresistible machaca – preserved, dried and shredded beef, re-hydrated with chiles and spices. And almost nobody does truly homemade machaca anymore. 2140 W. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix, 602-251-3135

Best Green Chile Burrito
Taqueria La Hacienda

There’s no textbook example of the green chile burrito – versions of the New Mexico-related classic vary wildly from restaurant to restaurant, including spice levels, volume and freshness of the chiles, braising time, etc. La Hacienda’s formula achieves the Platonic ideal, by our reckoning: ample amount of chunkily chopped, teeth-sinkingly al dente green chiles, and not too much beef. The green chiles, you’ll be pleased to find, are the rightful stars. 254 E. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix, 602-616-3801

Best Mariscos Restaurant
El Pacifico

Come for the fresh, lively ceviche. Stay for the less-lively atmosphere – at least compared to the over-the-top craziness at some of the more established mariscos (seafood) restaurants, where the party never stops. At El Pacifico, you’ll find super-high-quality ceviche, oysters and aguachile (spicy shrimp ceviche) – and a respectable michelada (beer and tomato juice) – without all the algarabia (hubbub). One caveat: It can get a little wild on karaoke nights. 3311 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-277-5639

Best Al Pastor
Taqueria El Fundador

Al pastor – true al pastor, the kind shaved off of a vertical, rotating spit crowned with rings of roasting pineapple – is nearly dead in the Valley. Most spots marinate their pork in similar spices, grill it on the flat-top, and call it a day. It’s a culinary tragedy of truly heartbreaking proportions. Our savior: El Fundador, west of Downtown Phoenix. At this hopping Mexican eatery, the spit never stops spinning. 3245 W. Van Buren St., Phoenix, 602-233-9818


Best of the Valley Trio: Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
1 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix

Best Late-Night Bar Food
A night of excellent drinking shouldn’t end with subpar bar snacks. Led by chef Bob Tam, the B&T kitchen’s spicy Hurricane popcorn, mongo-decadent ramen-bun “Momo” burger and darkly delicious Yum Yum noodles would look good on any high-end menu.

Best Sharable Cocktail
The Duck Bath Punch – a black tea- and lemon-flavored cocktail contained in none other than a miniature, table-top bathtub – overflows with with bubble-bath-like, cucumber-flavored foam that not only could but should become a bubble beard (if you’re doing things right).

Best Ice Program
Shattered, cubed, cracked, shaved, smacked – oh, and nano-filtered, so it’s perfectly clear. B&T’s ice may come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s always perfect.


Best of the Valley Battle: Coconut Water

Coconut water reached its zenith with hyperbolic hype – hangover cure! miracle hydrator! detoxifying delight! – and, like kale and açaí before it, rapidly jumped the shark from health food to big-box omnipresence.
To the rescue: two Valley-based sippers.

1. Spritzy, Scottsdale-based beverage is certified organic, non-GMO, vegan and kosher.
2.  Available in three flavors: cherry pomegranate, blood orange and limón Pick up a case at your local Costco.
3. Sparkly, refreshing and makes a fab mixer with gin or vodka.

Coco 21
1.  Conceived and invented by Chapparal High graduate Brian Kaplan after meeting some folks from Brazil.
2.  Available in big-box stores like Total Wine and Safeway. Kaplan hopes to market it in California, Washington and Hawaii.
3. Did we mention it has vodka in it? It has vodka in it.