Friday, October 31, 2014


Group Free
BEST MOONLIGHTER
Maynard James Keenan
At this juncture in his singular career, we’re not sure if the iconoclastic Tool frontman prefers to be known as a “rock star who makes wine,” or a “winemaker who rocks.” Knowing MJK – or more accurately, knowing what he wants us to know about him – he’d reject both labels. What we do know: the Caduceus Cellars founder is a seriously talented winemaker (even if that continues to be his lesser claim-to-fame) and a champion of Arizona wine, particularly vino from his adopted home of the Verde Valley.
 
What distinguishes northern Arizona wine country from southern?
It’s a lot more extreme variations up in northern Arizona, a lot more volcanic activity up here. You have a lot more caliche in the soil, a lot more volcanic influence. There’s extreme differences in terms of terrain. Northern Arizona has a lot more extreme versions of plantings here than in southern AZ, as far as the terrain differences. There’s flood plain, frost zone, limestone. If you’re familiar with [wine], it’s Burgundy meets Bordeaux meets Spain. And Mt. Etna.
 
How does all that affect the terroir? People have said it’s very mineral-rich and has high alkalinity.
Yeah, absolutely. I agree. It all comes down to how you’re farming. A lot of people, they crop a little bit heavier – you tend to have more problems with your acids because the vine is working harder.
 
What are your biggest blessings here?
The diurnal shift – the 30-40 degree, night-to-day swing in temperature is what we have going for us here. And a lot of that slope planting, that just Burgundian [landscape]. Speaking in terms of business, just because you have the Grand Canyon and Sedona here, and Jerome the old mining town. You have a destination spot on top of it being a solid wine region. People don’t have as many vineyards here because land is extremely expensive.
 
What inspires your winemaking?
Italian winemakers. I just really enjoy Italian wines. I don’t want to mimic what Italy is doing, of course. We have our own soil, we have our own sets of problems and challenges and strengths here, so we’re not going to try to reinvent Italy here, although I really enjoy the approach. So if I can somehow express Arizona through those eyes, I think we’ll be doing well here.
 
Is your average Arizonan more aware and appreciative of the local wine industry now?
It’s getting there. There’s still an army of people out there that don’t even know that Arizona is producing wine. The people that are supportive are very supportive. They’re a vocal minority for sure.
 
What are your hopes for the future of Arizona wine?
Well, I have some predictions. There’s not a lot of land available in northern Arizona for this because it’s expensive, but there’s a lot of land that’s owned. I’m guessing that eventually grandchildren of the ranchers up here – they own thousands of acres individually, and some granddaughter or grandson is going to go, “Grandpa, can I have 100 acres in the foothills over here that already has water and power to it?” “Yes.” And then all of the sudden there’s thousands of acres of vineyards in northern Arizona.

 

 

 

BEST BREAKFAST SPLURGE
Caramel Apple French Toast at The Henry
If you’re going to splurge, you might as well do it at breakfast. That way, you’ll have the rest of the day to work it off. After one bite of The Henry’s griddled egg bread crowned with cinnamon-spiked apples, dribbles of sweet caramel, powdered sugar sprinkles, brown butter and maple syrup, you won’t be able to stop until you conquer every last morsel. Diets were meant to be broken. 4455 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 480-429-8020, foxrc.com

 

 

 

BEST MONTE CRISTO
Yoli’s Café
Described by one Yelper as “heaven on a plate,” Yoli’s take on the tweaked croque monsieur features a pile of shaved turkey, salty ham and creamy havarti nestled atop Hawaiian French toast. Its buttery bread base is beyond blissful. This Monte Cristo hits the three big S’s of taste – savory, sweet and spicy – thanks to the inclusion of potent citrus marmalade with a tangy after-kick. 241 S. Oregon St., Chandler, 480-726-9654, yoliscafe.com

 

 

 

BEST BRUNCH
Crudo
There is no better reason to get out of bed on a Sunday morning than the prospect of brunch at Crudo (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). The occasionally changing menu may be short, but the dishes are long on flavor. Think bacon risotto with sunny-side-up eggs and Hayden Mills polenta hoe cakes with real maple syrup. Food this good deserves the fresh-squeezed orange juice, or better yet, a breakfast martini with gin and orange marmalade. 3603 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-358-8666, crudoaz.com

 

 

 

BEST CHICKEN & WAFFLES
The Mission
Where chicken-and-waffles favorite Lo-Lo’s offers Southern-fried comfort, The Mission’s version has sensual appeal. Offered only during weekend brunch, pollo a la brasa y waffle pairs beautifully spiced Peruvian broiled chicken with killer pecan-bacon waffles. The bird is moist and tender without the greasiness of its fried counterparts, its natural flavor elevated by zesty aji sauce. A seductive tango on the tongue. 3815 N. Brown Ave., Scottsdale, 480-636-5005, themissionaz.com

 

 

 

BEST JUICE
Juice Core
Birkenstocks are not mandatory to commune with these cold-pressed, 100 percent organic juices. If you’re not sure about shelling out hard-earned green ($10-$12) for a 16-ounce bottle of liquid green (or red or yellow), simply ask for guidance – Juice Core is happy to oblige with a sample taste. Ease into juicing with kale-based Gratitude, scented with pear and ginger, and work up to the hardcore, all-green “Not For Sissies.” 7137 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, 602-524-4030, juicecore.com

 

 

 

BEST GENERAL TSO’S CHICKEN
Abacus Inn
Whether batter-fried chicken and chopped veggies in a sweet, mildly spicy sauce was a favorite of Tso Tsung-t’ang (1812-1885) is a matter of debate. Some insist the dish is Chinese-American in origin, and dates back no further than the 20th century. What’s not debatable: This longtime Phoenix establishment does a particularly yummy version, deep brown with a kick that, like a wise General, is strong but not oppressive. 3509 W. Thunderbird Rd., Phoenix, 602-938-0528, theabacusinn.com

 

 

BEST PIECE OF TAIL
Pho Viet Vietnamese Restaurant
Oxtail, that is. Let’s get our minds out of the gutter, people. All the soup choices at this alluring eatery are hot and steamy, but you'll have a real bone to pick with the oxtail pho. A pile of bones, actually – the vertebrae, after you’ve denuded them of that warm, yielding, delectable meat. Wash it down with boba, chock-full of sweet, firm tapioca balls. 4232 W. Bell Rd., 
Glendale, 602-235-0282, phovietkitchen.com

 

 

BEST OKONOMIYAKI
Posh Restaurant
“Okonomi” means “what you want” and “yaki” means cooked. If ever a dish lived up to its name, it’s Josh Hebert’s version of the Nipponese standard (available only on Tuesdays, ramen night, $12). A dashi-spiked pancake batter scattered with minced shrimp and cabbage is seared with two strips of bacon and topped with an obscene amount of kewpie mayo, Japanese barbecue sauce, scallions and bonito flakes. This hot mess is exactly what you want. 7167 E. Rancho Vista Dr., Scottsdale, 480-663-7674, poshscottsdale.com

 

 

Best Neighborhood Chinese
EAST VALLEY
Chou’s Kitchen
Three of the best reasons to visit this humble spot of Dongbei cuisine are dumplings, meat pies and fried buns. Sturdy, smoking hot, and filled with things like ginger-kissed beef and pork, they’re the stuff of dough lovers’ dreams. 910 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-821-2888

WEST VALLEY
Lucky’s King Wah
If you should find yourself hungry and in need of a dining adventure, order the “Chef’s Special” at Lucky’s and let Kwok and Kitty Pat surprise you with a parade of Cantonese dishes ranging from the tame to the offal-ly terrific. 4306 W. Northern Ave., Glendale, 623-937-3960

SCOTTSDALE
Tottie’s Asian Fusion
Chef Tottie Kaya serves up familiar Chinese fare like pork dumplings, shrimp with black bean sauce, and Shanghai pan-fried noodles with Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese offerings, and in portion sizes that mean leftovers for the next day.  7901 E. Thomas Rd., Scottsdale, 480-970-0633, tottiesasianfusion.com

PHOENIX
New Hong Kong
New Hong Kong may still be the best undiscovered Cantonese restaurant in Phoenix, and chef Jian Yu’s fixation on authenticity the reason behind its near-perfect Singapore noodles, salt-and-pepper chicken wings and clay pot specialties.
2328 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-954-9118

 

 

BEST $10 BURGER & BEER
The Attic
Word has gotten around about “The Ivan,” The Attic’s juicy monster of a signature burger. Less well-known is how absurdly cheap it and its meaty brethren are on Wednesday nights, when you can get one of the city’s best burgers, fries and your choice from a long list of excellent craft beers on tap for a measly $10. Fast food prices, steakhouse quality burger, plus great booze? Almost makes you feel guilty. Almost. 4247 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-955-1967, facebook.com/theattic4247

 

 

BEST JAPANESE CURRY
Hana Japanese Eatery
Everybody knows dining at Lori Hashimoto’s family restaurant is akin to dining at home – if your parents were first-rate Japanese cooks. It’s the most intimate, casual setting for traditional sushi and unpretentious Japanese fare in town. One of the most comforting dishes is a frequent special: kare udon – Japanese Curry ($12.95). Fat, chewy udon noodles are right at home in a subtly sweet, mild-flavored soup chock-full of thinly sliced beef, carrots, onions and cabbage. It’s a warm welcome in a bowl. 5524 N. Seventh Ave. 
Phoenix, 602-973-1238, hanajapaneseeatery.com

 

 

BEST POT PIE
Phoenix Public Market Café's Pork Chile Verde Pot Pie
Most of the menu at this market-driven café speaks to the sensible person looking for a farm-fresh, healthy meal, but indulgent splurges are stealthily tucked here and there. The ultra-satisfying chile verde pot pie ($10.50) is one such gem. It’s futile to resist its spicy, cumin-scented hunks of tender pork, roasted green chiles, garlic and onions slipped beneath a flaky, buttery, brown crust. 14 E. Pierce St., Phoenix, 602-253-2700, phxpublicmarket.com

 

 

BEST TURKEY BURGER
Notorious Burgers
Forget that this is a turkey burger. Named after a Mafioso boss (all the burgers in this gangster-themed tavern are), the Bonanno ($11) is a damn good burger, period. Fat, juicy, and tinged with smoked pepper, the 8-ounce, all-white-meat patty deserves respect. Paired with avocado, tangy feta and hickory-smoked, grilled onions, this two-fisted bad boy is to die for. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.  8777 N. Scottdsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 
480-947-3180, notoriousburger.com

 

 

BEST MIDDLE EASTERN MARKET
Baiz Market
Adventurous home cooks love meandering the aisles of this spacious market filled with a dizzying array of imported groceries like preserved green walnuts. The tidy market also has a fresh produce section, an old-school butcher counter with grass-fed beef, lamb and goat, and an in-house bakery cranking out fresh pita and baklava. Bonus: The in-store restaurant, Al Hana, carves up the juiciest, most enticingly spiced spit-roasted shawarma (beef and chicken) stuffed in just-baked pitas. 523 N. 20th St., Phoenix, 602-252-8996, baizmarket.com

 

 

BEST SEAFOOD
Bourbon Steak
Not to dis the steaks – which are top-notch – but pristine seafood is the lure here. Chef Chris Curtiss humbly says it’s the quality of the ingredients that matter, but that’s only half the truth. Fresh, primo seafood gets minimal yet precise treatment in the hands of this modern-day King Neptune. Seek off-menu specials for the best catch, like mesquite-grilled octopus, kombu-cured mackerel and seasonal peekytoe crab. 7575 E. Princess Dr. Scottsdale, 
480-513-6002, scottsdaleprincess.com/dining/bourbon-steak

 

 

BEST FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
Southern Rail
Southerners will fry anything and call it supper, including an unripe tomato. Chef Justin Beckett puts a trendy spin on this home-style Dixie staple by pickling the green tomato first and serving it with a scoop of another Southern mainstay: pimento cheese. The result is a sweet-tart bite with a toasted cornmeal crunch, enhanced by the unmistakable creamy, tangy taste of pickled peppers, cheddar cheese and mayo. Have mercy. 300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-200-0085, 
southernrailaz.com

 

 

BEST SWEET & SAVORY MENU
The Revival
It’s no exaggeration to say that practically every single menu item at this new Tempe neighborhood restaurant has a sweet and savory component to it. It’s Chef Kelly Fletcher’s trademark. His other signature stamp is blending global accents into his modern American menu. The result can be thrilling, like caramel-glazed Asian pork belly and seared scallops with Grand Marnier syrup. 603 W. University Dr., Tempe, 480-921-0111, therevivalaz.com

 

 

BEST MENU MAKEOVER
Petite Maison
Chef James Porter is a man who senses when it’s time for change, perhaps even before it is time, but he also knows our nature is to resist. Instead of tossing out his French bistro menu altogether, he merely scraped it to the bone and then rebuilt the classics with modern sensibility and global flourishes. Escargot gets dusted with toasted sumac, frites get curried. Don’t worry; steamed mussels are still deliciously drunk on Chablis. 7216 E. Shoeman Ln., Scottsdale, 480-991-6887, petitemaisonaz.com

 

 

BEST PUERTO RICAN
Millie’s Cafe
Millie Milagros-Ortiz is known as the flan lady for her old-school creamy custards, but her home-style Puerto Rican cooking at this bare-bones café in the East Valley has its own set of devoted fans. Served in Styrofoam with plastic utensils, the food is simple, flavorful and inexpensive – and paid for in cash only. The national dish pernil – slow-roasted garlic pork with rice and pigeon peas seasoned with house-made chile-vinegar sauce, makes expats homesick. 1616 E. Main St. Mesa, 480-223-8217

 

 

BEST CHEF DE CUISINE
Brandon Gauthier, Binkley’s Restaurant
Before there was Binkley’s Restaurant, there was Crew, a hip, early-1990s eatery where Kevin Binkley took a recent culinary grad, Brandon Gauthier, under his wing. They’ve cooked together practically ever since, a rarity in the industry. Gauthier takes care of day-to-day ops at Binkley’s, and is more comfortable stirring pots than speaking to media. James Beard nominee Binkley, arguably the best chef in town, feels grateful for Gauthier and says, “he deserves some recognition.” 6920 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, 
480-437-1072, binkleysrestaurant.com

 

 

BEST BBQ AT A NON-BBQ JOINT
SanTan Brewing Company
Although chef Dennis Martinez’s background is in brewpubs (SanTan hired him away from Prescott Brewing Company in 2009), his passion is barbecue, and he’s gradually added a number of delicious house-smoked entrees – beef brisket, pulled pork, etc. – to the usual brewpub fare of burgers, sandwiches and pizzas. One James Beard Award-nominated chef from a well-known Mexican restaurant in the Valley was overheard remarking at a recent culinary fest, “His pork pibil is better than mine!” 8 S. San Marcos Plaza, Chandler, 480-917-8700, santanbrewing.com

 

 

BEST BEER FESTIVAL
Arizona Strong Beer Festival
As craft beer has exploded in popularity in recent years, so too has the annual kickoff event for Arizona Beer Week in February. The fest began in 2001 with a focus on high-alcohol beers, but has evolved into a nationally recognized celebration of all beer styles. This year’s incarnation at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix drew more than 6,000 attendees who sampled beers from 117 breweries, including 36 from Arizona – all record-setting numbers. arizonabeerweek.com

 

 

BEST RAMEN
Paitan Ramen at Umami
It took nearly 80 years for umami to be declared an official fifth taste (along with sweet, salty, bitter and sour), but just a few months for Tempe’s Umami ramen shop to bowl over locals. The design-your-own concept starts with one of five broth options laden with spinach, pickled bamboo and flower-shaped carrots. Add-ons like pork belly, egg and corn make each bowl unique; our favorite combo pairs savory pork and chicken bone broth with shredded roasted pork and crisp cracklins for a strong bacon-like flavor that delights the brain’s pleasure centers. 21 E. Sixth St., Tempe, 480-625-4565, umamitempe.com  

 

 

BEST FOOD FESTIVAL
Devoured Culinary Classic
Born as the West of Western Culinary Festival in 2005, this two-day outdoor event in March has picked up a new name, a new organizer (Local First Arizona), a new home (Phoenix Art Museum) and a new focus (mostly Downtown Phoenix restaurants) over the years, but remains the must-have ticket for Valley food and drink enthusiasts, who enjoy unlimited samples while rubbing shoulders with Arizona’s top chefs, brewers and winemakers. devouredphoenix.com

 

 

BEST CHEESE SHOP
Wedge & Bottle
Since opening their Ahwatukee shop in 2011, Troy and Krista Daily have been offering not only a huge selection of cut-to-order cheeses but also all the accoutrements, such as wine, craft beer, charcuterie, bread and more. Can’t wait to get your cheese home? Wedge & Bottle also has a dine-in menu of appetizers, salads, melted cheese sandwiches and, of course, cheese plates. Wine and beer tastings and other events are held several times each month. 4025 E. Chandler Blvd., Ahwatukee, 480-704-1255, wedgebottle.com

 

 

BEST CHILAQUILES
Horseshoe Restaurant
Too often marginalized as a stand-in for soggy nachos, chilaquiles shine when done simply, as they are at Horseshoe Restaurant, a homey, family-run workman’s lunch stop just west of Downtown. Tortillas torn and fried to order, simmered in red or green salsa, and topped with tart, crumbled queso cotija, these delightfully chewy, lightly crisped chilaquiles want for nothing, except perhaps a runny fried egg. Luckily for you, Horseshoe serves those, too. 2140 W. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix, 602-251-3135

 

 

Best Neighborhood Salad/Vegetarian
EAST VALLEY
Green
From the buffalo “wings” to the Drunken Mongolian “beef” bowl to the BBBQ “bacon” burger, even diehard carnivores will have their palates satisfyingly tickled by chef Damon Brasch’s creative menu of vegan and vegetarian comfort foods. 2240 N. Scottsdale Rd., Tempe, 480-941-9003, greenvegetarian.com

SCOTTSDALE
Fresh Mint
The bold flavors of Vietnam enliven the meatless menu of owner and chef Mai Ly’s certified-kosher eatery, which also offers many vegan and gluten-free dishes. Highlights include the lemongrass curry and five-spice pho. 13802 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-443-2556, freshmint.us.com

PHOENIX
Chelsea’s Kitchen
Kale salads are a dime a dozen these days, but Chelsea’s Kitchen’s shredded kale and quinoa salad sits a cut above. Dressed in light champagne vinaigrette and punctuated with sunflower seeds and red grapes, then topped with Parmesan cheese and preserved lemon, these greens are golden. 5040 N. 40th St., Phoenix, 602-957-2555, chelseaskitchenaz.com

WEST VALLEY
Vogue Bistro
Chef Aurore de Beauduy transforms the traditional Waldorf salad into the Waldorf Wedge by mingling Bibb lettuce with crunchy walnuts and celery and bits of apple. Instead of old-school mayonnaise, she uses a creamy shallot vinaigrette. 15411 W. Waddell Road, Surprise. 623-544-9109, voguebistro.com 35 W. Thomas Rd., Phoenix, 602-263-1915, persiangardencafe.com

 

 

BEST RAW FISH DISH
Tsukuri Six at ShinBay
ShinBay’s Chef Shinji Kurita may be soft-spoken, but this dish is a screaming six-point rebuttal to the myth that you can’t get great seafood in the desert. His Tsukuri Six, a cornerstone of the nightly chef’s menu, is a virtuosic display of sashimi creativity. Kurita employs deft knifework and a graceful marriage of Eastern and Western accents to produce six unique tastes as stunning to the eye as they are to the palate. 7001 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-664-0180, shinbay.com

 

 

BEST RAW BEEF
Bò Tái Chanh at Pho Avina
Where Europe gives us steak tartare and carpaccio, Vietnam gives us bò tái chanh, a raw beef salad beautifully prepared at Pho Avina. Thin slices of eye of round are lightly bathed in fresh lime juice and plated with shaved onion, peanuts, and piles of fragrant herbs. Spooned onto crisp shrimp crackers and topped with a dab of mam nem - a sauce made with pineapple and anchovy - it’s a vibrant and tongue-tingling treat. 4920 W. Thunderbird Rd., Glendale, 602-439-2547, phoavina.com

 

 

BEST LATE-NIGHT BITE
The Welcome Diner
You can’t beat sitting in the neon glow of The Welcome Diner at a picnic table on a beautiful night, hurricane in hand, with a heap of poutine and a monstrous fried chicken and biscuit sandwich piled with pickles and drizzled with honey. The entire menu might as well fall under the heading “Late-Night Cravings,” and the definition of bliss is chowing down at midnight, then heading home to drift away into gravy-smothered dreams. 924 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 602-495-1111, marthandmary.net/welcomediner

 

 

BEST PLACE TO BUY A WHOLE CHICKEN
Wing Lee Poultry
No, no... the whole chicken. Wing Lee Poultry’s retail outpost in Mesa gets daily shipments from their farm in Chino, Calif., and offers nearly a dozen different breeds of beautiful, fresh chickens and roosters (and ducks), which they’ll butcher to order – whole or in pieces, head and feet on or off – at remarkably modest prices. It’s also a great place to pick up eggs – chicken, duck, goose and more. 111 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, 480-668-1060

 

 

BEST DISH WHEN IT’S 115 DEGREES OUTSIDE
Naeng Myun at Café Ga Hyang
PHOENIX magazine does not endorse dunking your head in the naeng myun at Café Ga Hyang, but this Korean dish is so cool and refreshing that you might consider it. A tangle of chilled buckwheat noodles joins brisket and slices of crisp fruits and vegetables in a sweet-sour beef consommé so icy cold that the surface is slushy. Finished with a stinging dash of hot mustard, this is all you’ll want to eat until November. 4362 W. Olive Ave., Glendale, 623-937-8550

 

 

BEST SEAT FOR A HOMESICK CHICAGOAN
Dazzo’s Dog House
On the patio at Dazzo’s Dog House, beneath historic downtown Glendale’s vintage streetlamps, you bite into a natural-casing Vienna Beef frank dressed in the old Depression-dog style. With the cooks’ chatter and the smell of the steam table wafting through an open kitchen window, you half expect to see Jake and Elwood roll by in a 1974 Dodge Monaco. All due respect to Dick Portillo, but the desert doesn’t get any more Chicago than this. 6143 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-934-3536, dazzosdoghouse.com

 

 

BEST PLACE TO KNOCK OUT SEVERAL “BEST OFS” AT ONCE
Andreoli Italian Grocer
The crown jewel of Scottsdale’s Italian scene is so full of bests, it’s impossible to pick just one. Best Proprietor? Giovanni Scorzo, sipping espresso and watching soccer. Best Pork Belly? The spicy, house-cured pancetta. Best Calamari? The smoky, tender calamaretti del sacrestano. Best French Fries? The not-so-French patatine fritte with crispy leeks. Best Way To Get Hammered Without Actually Drinking? Have a few of the booze-soaked baba al rhum... and bring a designated driver. 8880 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, 480-614-1980, andreoli-grocer.com

 

 

BEST CULINARY USE OF COLA  
Pan-Seared Scallops at The Gladly
If you’ve sworn off soda, but still crave the sweet taste, order up a plateful of Chef Bernie Kantak’s pan-seared scallops tickled with cola gastrique. The sugary cola laced with vinegar mixes well with the silver dollar-size scallops, smoky bacon and sautéed pea tendrils resting on a heap of sticky corn grits. Of course, there’s nothing like drinking a fizzy, sugar-laden soda, but feasting on Kantak’s cola-kissed scallops might help you get your fix. 2201 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-759-8132, thegladly.com

 
 
BEST FAUX RIBS
Fresh Mint
Bathed in fresh citrus-ginger sauce, the vegetarian citrus spare rib at Fresh Mint so closely resembles the real thing that a dyed-in-the-wool meat eater might even be fooled. Served “off the bone” and spiced up with onions, bits of lemon and ginger, the faux rib meat (fashioned from soy protein) has the texture of pork, but without the artery-clogging fat and calories. Add  a pile of steamed zucchini, cauliflower, carrots and red peppers and you’ve got yourself a meatless miracle. 13802 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-443-2556, freshmint.us.com  
 

 

Best Neighborhood Vietnamese
EAST VALLEY
Saigon Pho & Seafood
Think soup when ordering from the lengthy menu peppered with an occasional Chinese dish in this bustling, boxy storefront. Try Vietnamese curry, traditional pho and Vietnamese-style fish hot pot. 1381 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-786-8828, saigonphoaz.com

SCOTTSDALE
Saigon Nites
Located in an Air Park strip center, this tiny mom-and-pop is tidy, tasty and fast. Pho is strong but so are the appetizers, especially crisp egg rolls. 15111 N. Hayden Rd., 480-609-1116, Scottsdale, saigonnites.com

PHOENIX
Pho Thanh
Stark florescent lighting and cafeteria-style seating belie the nuanced flavors coming out of the busy kitchen. The classics are cogent, especially the pho and spring rolls. 1702 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-242-1979

WEST VALLEY
Pho Avina
Order the banh xeo (pork and shrimp crepe) as soon as you sit down – it takes 20 minutes – while you decide which crisp, generously stuffed banh mi to order. 4920 W. Thunderbird, Rd., Glendale, 602-439-2547, phoavina.com

 

 

BEST PERUVIAN RESTAURANT
El Chullo
Every homey meal whipped up by Peruvian-born chef Omar Velarde is served with crunchy, popcorn-like maiz chulpe – and a complimentary cultural lesson. Patterns on the woolen “chullo” hats from which the eatery derives its name are unique to each wearer, and the toffee-flavored lucuma fruit is native to the Andes. The delectable fare runs the gamut from classic lomo saltado, a mashup of lean beef and fries that’s like poutine on steroids, to more exotic offerings such as tender, well-spiced anticucho (cow hearts). 2605 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-279-8425, elchulloperu.com

 

 

BEST TAX BREAK FOR THE LITTLE GUY
Waldo’s BBQ Express
Order the brisket from the Waldo’s drive-thru for four bucks, and guess how much you’ll owe them at the window? Four bucks. Pulled pork? Three bucks, not three bucks and change. A combo plate, with both meats plus a couple of ribs? Nine bucks, on the dot. Waldo’s Express springs for the tax, so you can relish the zeroes after the decimal points almost as much as the savory meat. Three Valley locations. waldosbarbeque.com

 

 

BEST STEAM KETTLE COOKING
High Tide Seafood Bar & Grill
Steam kettle cooking – using a boiler to pump pressurized steam to a series of stainless-steel kettles – is rare, but its proponents insist it cooks food faster and more evenly than conventional methods. And then there’s the exhibition factor. High Tide, which debuted earlier this year, has six gleaming steam kettles ($3,000 apiece!) mounted to its horseshoe-shaped bar for creating steaming bowls of everything from cioppino to gumbo in three minutes or less. 2540 S. Val Vista Dr., Gilbert, 480-821-9950, hightideseafoodbar.com

 

 

BEST FROG LEGS
Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend
Kermit would be hopping mad if he spotted cuisses de grenouille on Little Cleo’s menu, but after tasting the froggy bottoms, he too would be hooked. Chefs here forgo the dish’s staid garlic-butter origins in favor of Thai spices and chopped peanuts, making for a crunchy-sweet nosh reminiscent of an exotic hot wing. They’re crisp, pungent and swarming with flavor. As an added bonus, Sam Fox’s cute vintage-inspired eatery presents the amphibious appendages in a refined silver bowl, like a bottle of Cristal served at a fancy French bistro. 5632 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-680-4044,  foxrc.com

 

 

BEST THIRD-DATE RESTAURANT
Angry Crab Shack
First dates are the time for polite conversation, fork-and-knife foods and dainty bites. By the third date, you want to know what skeletons are hiding in your prospective partner’s closet. At Angry Crab, guests are forced to get down and dirty with dinner, shelling Cajun spiced shrimp, crab and lobster with their bare hands. Seafood is offered in five spice levels from zero to Angry Ghost, served in plastic baggies unceremoniously dumped on the table. It’s the perfect opportunity to gauge your date’s manners – as well as his or her willingness to look like a complete slob in front of you. 2740 S. Alma School Rd., Mesa, 480-730-2722, angrycrabshack.com

 

 

BEST EMPANADAS
Sydney’s at Tempe Marketplace
It’s no coincidence that multiple cultures came up with the idea of meat- and veggie-stuffed pastries: Britain’s pasty, Spain’s empanada, America’s Hot Pocket. Sydney’s combines the best of all worlds with globally-inspired recipes ranging from Peking duck to Korean BBQ beef. Favorites include smoky Argentinean gaucho beef and “Zuri” chicken with mushrooms and gooey Swiss in creamy white wine sauce. 2000 E. Rio Salado Pkwy., Tempe, 480-967-1171, sydneyscafe.com

 

 

BEST OAXACAN
La 15 y Salsas
Anyone venturing into Elizabeth Hernandez’s cheery Oaxacan restaurant in Sunnyslope is most likely craving her rich and intricate red and black moles spooned over chicken enchiladas sprinkled with cheese, or generously applied to thick, banana-leaf-wrapped Oaxacan tamales. Adjacent to a Oaxacan market, La 15 y Salsas also serves impeccable versions of enfrijoladas smothered in an anise-kissed black bean sauce, crackly tlayudas, and homey amarillo soup. 1507 W. Hatcher Rd., Phoenix, 602-870-2056, facebook.com/La15YSalsas

 

 

BEST CULINARY THEATER
Kitchen Counter at Eddie’s House
To add a little more entertainment value to your night out, grab a seat at Eddie’s kitchen counter to eyeball the masters in motion. Like choreographed dancers, the chefs sway to the rhythm of the busy kitchen, juggling plates, spooning sauces and pan-searing proteins. And if you’re lucky, Eddie will be manning the grill and will provide a running commentary while he sizzles and sautés your dinner. 7042 E. Indian School Rd., Scottsdale, 480-946-1622, eddieshouseaz.com

 

 

BEST FOOD TRUCK
Frank.
Globally-inspired gourmet hot dogs and sausages piled high with ingredients like lemongrass pickled carrots and daikon radishes, smoked Spanish onions, and chipotle lobster mac and cheese have hot dog hounds chasing this food truck wherever it goes. Choose from creations like the Asian-inspired Mr. Bahn Mi-Yagi and the Apache Junction, a lively south-of-the-border crowd-pleaser heaped with fire-roasted poblanos, pinto beans and Schreiner’s chorizo. Pro tip: Go with the pretzel bun. frankfoodtruck.com

 

 

BEST KIDS MEAL DEAL
Phoenix Public Market Café
Casual enough for kids but pH-balanced for hip parents, this urban eatery offers the perfect two-fer for the budding philanthropist in your family. Through the Kids Feeding Kids program, every time your youngster gets a $3 kid’s meal – say, grilled cheese, an AB&J sandwich or a veggie plate – they provide two meals to hungry Valley children. 14 E. Pierce St., Phoenix, 602-253-2700, phxpublicmarket.com/cafe

 

 

BEST SMALL BITES
The Tavern
We cannot fathom what mad science Mark Tarbell has going on in his new gastro-wine bar. What is the mysterious herby-cheesy alchemy in the polenta fritter dip? Is it possible that merely marrying truffle oil and comté cheese in a sandwich creates the taste equivalent of gold? How does he make kale chips sinful? And what diffusion-defying hocus pocus gives the chickpeas – mixed with nano-particles of parmesan and rosemary – their audible crispiness? 3209 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, tarbellstavern.com

 

 

Best Cocktails!
BEST GIN COCKTAIL
Milano Gimlet at Bar Crudo
Mixologists often preside over the marriage of gin and grapefruit, but  Micah Olson adds spice and depth to the union in the form of grapefruit-cinnamon syrup, Fernet Branca bitter liqueur, and a kiss of lime. 3603 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-358-8666, crudoaz.com

BEST WHISKEY COCKTAIL
Im-Port at Citizen Public House
Drinks in the sultry Sonoran Desert skew refreshing and, well, girly. Not so this stiff cocktail, a masculine mix of whiskey, port, tobacco bitters, Guinness foam, and smoked sugar. With its depth, brawn, and chivalrous sweetness, it’s everything we want in a manly drink. 7111 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale, 480-398-4208, citizenpublichouse.com

BEST TEQUILA COCKTAIL
Blood Orange Margarita at Mission
Typically we’re traditionalists when it comes to tequila, but we make an exception for this knockout margarita, made with tequila, lime, Grand Marnier, and blood oranges. It’s a tart, sassy sunset in a glass. 3815 N. Brown Ave., Scottsdale, 480-636-5005, themissionaz.com

BEST CUSTOMIZED COCKTAILS
Lux
It’s difficult to find a cocktail menu you’re compatible with. Some are terse and pretentious, others sweetsy-cutesy. The mixologists at this java mecca are more like matchmakers, confecting cocktails customized to your tastes, be it lavender, gin, rosemary, rum, peaches or coffee. 4402 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-327-1396, luxcoffee.com

 

 

BEST ASIAN FROZEN TREAT
Snoh Ice Shavery
It’s easy to image baobing as a kind of icy bliss by way of China: frozen mounds of flavored shaved ice covered with things like lychee jelly, mochi balls and almond pudding drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Snoh in Central Phoenix lets you put together grown-up and not-so-grown-up versions of this cold and sweet creation, offering toppings from boba and mangos to Oreos, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and butterscotch syrup. 914 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 888-488-1693, snoh-ice.com

 

 

BEST GELATO
Cool Gelato Italiano
It’s not the easiest place to find, tucked discreetly in an alley across from the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, but its genuine Italian gelato is worth seeking out. Husband-and-wife team Alberto della Casa and Letizia de Lucia collaborated with a champion Italian gelato artisan to develop their small-batch offerings of 20 flavors. From classic pistachio to modern coffee crunch, the silky smooth gelato is molto delizioso. 7373 E. Scottsdale Mall, Scottsdale, 480-941-3100, coolgelatoitaliano.com

 
 
BEST HOLIDAY DESSERT
Panettone Bread Pudding at Cuttlefish
There’s something inherently comforting about bread pudding; perhaps it’s the endorphin-boosting carbs, or the fact the sauce is often potent enough to raise your blood-alcohol level a few notches. Last December, Joey Maggiore’s new seafood joint cooked up a fruit-studded version using Panettone, the Milanese sweet bread that’s a staple at holiday feasts. Moist and rich, with a creamy amaretto sauce, the decadent dessert tasted like Christmas on a fork. 8777 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-947-3214, cuttlefishscottsdale.com 
 

 

BEST WILD CATCH
Thresher Shark Tacos at SoCal Fish Taco
Jaws had better beware, because there’s a new apex predator in the waters of Old Town Gilbert: hungry diners. Dry and pungent, with a texture reminiscent of pork loin, thresher shark is a sturdy base for tacos topped with bright and refreshing mango salsa. Originally added as a temporary special, SoCal’s newest catch proved so popular that owner Pablo Reynoso Jr. (also of Seafood Market) granted the tail-heavy sea creature a permanent spot on the menu. 219 N. 
Gilbert Rd. Gilbert, 480-807-6225, socalfishtacos.com

 

 

BEST HAPPY HOUR
Barrelhouse American Kitchen
There are three main reasons to frequent a particular happy hour: vibe, cheap drinks and food quality. Barrelhouse hits the trifecta with a mellow environment, solid cocktail specials and $6 appetizers that score high marks with gourmands. From 4-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, score a buck off beer, $2 off wines by the glass and $3 off cocktails. Two-dollar Sonoran sliders pair well with craft drafts, while foie gras bread pudding mingles best with an Iberian Kiss of port, housemade pomegranate cordial, mole bitters and crème de cacao. 2050 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-857-8877, 
barrelhouseaz.com

 

 

BEST PINT-SIZE BREWERY
Owl’s Orchard Brewery
Taking the idea of a microbrewery to its extreme, Marty Gerhart opened Owl’s Orchard last year in his Queen Creek garage – or at least a fenced-off portion of his garage, one of many requirements for federal and state licenses. Gerhart produces 10-gallon batches of beer and usually has two or three styles available for sale. You can bring your own growler or buy one of Owl’s Orchard’s, but Gerhart recommends you call first to make sure he’s around. 20518 E. Orchard Ln., Queen Creek, 480-254-4070, facebook.com/owlsorchardbrewery

 

 

BEST AZ WINE LIST
FnB
Pavle Milic championed Arizona wine long before it was hip to do so. FnB’s 2009 trailblazing all-Arizona wine list paved the way for the current state: Most restaurants offer at least one or two Arizona wines. These days, 28 or so Arizona wines (from approximately 12 wineries) are poured at FnB to pair with Chef Charleen Badman’s local farm-intensive menu. Diners who want to take a bottle home can pop into the Bodega next door. 7125 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale, 480-284-4777, fnbrestaurant.com

 

 

Best Neighborhood Brewpubs
EAST VALLEY
Four Peaks Brewing 
Company
Award-winning ales, great food, historic building, kick-back courtyard patio... color us happy. The state’s largest brewery now operates four sites, but for 17 years its original Tempe location has been the gold standard for Valley brewpubs. 1340 E. Eighth St., Tempe, 480-303-9967, fourpeaks.com

SCOTTSDALE
Fate Brewing Company
This pint-sized brewpub barely has room to accommodate its seven-barrel brewing system and wood-fired pizza oven, but has made a big impression – and won national awards for its beers – since launching in 2012. 7337 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-994-1275, 
fatebrewing.com

PHOENIX
OHSO
Much to love about this Arcadia-area nanobrewery, from the canalside patio to its proprietary line of Praying Monk Belgian-style brews. And the brewer-for-a-day program: awesome sauce. 4900 E. Indian School Rd., 602-955-0358, 
ohsobrewery.com

WEST VALLEY
Freak'N Brewing Company
This small – 16 seats – but mighty newcomer (left) is open only Friday-Sunday, and they don't serve food (yet), but they're filling a huge gap in the West Valley's craft beer scene with tasty, inventive brews like the Habanero Chipotle Starz 'N Stripes IPA. 9299 W. Olive Ave. Ste. 513., Peoria, 623-738-5804, freaknbrew.com

 

 

MOST CUCKOO COCKTAIL CONCEPT
The Perch
If your vision of paradise includes vine-covered patios, frosty cocktails and exotic birds, you’re in luck at The Perch. Part lounge, part bird sanctuary, this quirky Chandler restaurant opened by former neurosurgeon Rebecca Lavenue is home to more than 50 tropical rescue birds, including Amazon parrots, macaws and twittering love birds. It can be difficult to concentrate on conversation – or The Perch’s delicious artichoke grilled cheese – with all the squawking, but the rooftop bar and lush tropical greenery more than make up for the cacophony. 232 S. Wall St., Chandler, 480-773-7688, perchpubbrewery.com

 

 

BEST MOJITO
Green “Magic” Mojito at Sumo Maya
Sumo Mayo beverage director Bill DeGroot is a wizard with mixed drinks. His signature cocktail combines cinnamon-spiked frozen horchata, rum and coconut with Nigori, a milky white sake that contains unfermented rice solids. Fresh mint, a must for any mojito, is layered in for added brightness. The result of DeGroot’s mad science experiment is a creamy, dessert-like confection best compared to Nabokov’s Lolita: sweet and dangerous. 6560 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-397-9520, sumomaya.com

 
BEST SEASONAL BEER
Rice Pudding Porter at Huss Brewing
Jeff Huss knows his beer. After getting the seven-year itch during his stint as head brewer for BJ’s in Chandler, Huss and wife Leah opened their cozy brewery and tap room in Tempe. Leah’s culinary school background comes into play with their seasonal Rice Pudding Porter, a smooth and silky dark lager with undertones of clove and nutmeg. At 5 percent ABV, it’s light and refreshing yet potent enough to keep the winter chill away. 1520 W. Mineral Rd., Tempe, 480-264-7611, hussbrewing.com
 

 

BEST COCKTAIL MENU
Bitter & Twisted
Bitter & Twisted’s 22-page Book O’ Cocktails is like a Playbill for the martini-drinking jet-set, with rum, gin and vermouth in starring roles. The Bohemian dirty martini gets jazzed up with caper berry juice, while retro drinks like mint juleps and Sazeracs utilize the traditional well to top-shelf liqueur-quality tier and are poured in economy, business and first-class models – the latter suitable for alcohol label-whores. Other crowd pleasers include a tart and tangy Lovefruit Medley of fresh juice and dual vodkas, and market caipirinhas made with organic cachaca and local produce. 1 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, 602-340-1924, bitterandtwistedaz.com

 

 

BEST SANGRIA
Steak 44
If you’re looking for a light and breezy sangria, better look elsewhere. This is not your mother’s jug wine spiked with fruit. This luscious little number ($9) goes down easy, but watch out – it’s potent. Full-bodied red wine spiked with brandy, limoncello and a spritz of citrus, it’s just sweet enough to complement a playful appetizer list that includes sweet crispy shrimp, prime beef meatballs and Thai sweet chili-glazed pork belly. 5101 N. 44th St. Phoenix, 602-271-4400, steak44.com

 

 

Best Neighborhood BBQ
WEST VALLEY
Pork on a Fork
Co-owner Justin Erickson was born with barbecue in his blood – his father was an award-winning competitor – and he smokes all-natural pork from his family’s Nebraska farm at his small eatery near Deer Valley Airport. 1515 W. Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix, 623-434-1794, porkonafork.com

EAST VALLEY
Joe’s Real BBQ
Joe Johnston’s cafeteria-style barbecue joint has been Gilbert’s most famous culinary destination for 16 years. Menu must-haves include the pecan-smoked turkey breast, BBQ pit beans, habanero sauce and housemade root beer. 301 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-503-3805, joesrealbbq.com

PHOENIX
Little Miss BBQ
Since opening earlier this year, Scott and Bekke Holmes’ shoebox eatery has become famous in food circles for its central Texas-style ’cue. Doors close when the day’s supply of meat runs out, usually just after lunch. 4301 E. University Dr., Phoenix, 602-437-1177, littlemissbbq.com

SCOTTSDALE
Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue
Chef Bryan Dooley’s cowboy-themed restaurant prepares its delectable meats with a Memphis-style dry rub before smoking with pecan wood. Sides include dill-infused baked potato salad and cole slaw with black and green olive pieces. 6130 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, 480-575-7155, bryansbbq.com

 

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