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EDITOR'S PICKS

BREAKFAST

Best Breakfast Spot
Perk Eatery

Best Pancake Disguised as Health Food
Power Protein Pancake at Morning Squeeze
Anyone who preaches or practices proper nutrition will tell you that eating pancakes probably isn’t the best choice for a healthy breakfast. But sometimes the craving for a pancake dripping with melted butter and drenched in sweet maple syrup is the only fix for a carb craving. Morning Squeeze serves a no-nonsense alternative – pancakes mixed with oats, flaxseed and vanilla protein – worth every carb and calorie. 4233 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-945-4669, morningsqueeze.com

 

Best Unlimited Mimosas
Hob Nobs Café & Spirits
All hail the king of brunch-dom: the bottomless mimosa special. Crazy cocktail concoctions and Bloody Mary bars may be all the rage these days, but nothing beats a glass of Champs with a splash (and we do mean “just a splash”) of juice. You’ll find a ton of options around town, but we’ve found zero deals better than the one at Hob Nobs: $6.99 for bottomless mimosas alongside your breakfast pizza or quiche Lorraine, to enjoy while tucked inside a Hansel and Gretel-esque fairytale cottage. 149 W. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-253-9220, hob-nobs.com

 

Best Authentic Dim Sum Brunch
Phoenix Palace
Don’t do as we did and dine as a party of two in this sprawling East Valley eatery. The more people in your party, the more dishes you can try. And you’ll want to try it all, from the steamed shrimp potstickers to the barbecue pork short ribs to the piles of forest green bok choy. Everything is pre-plated in small portions and zipped around the huge dining room in carts. Don’t miss the pineapple sweet buns. Heaven. 2075 N. Dobson Rd., Chandler, 480-855-4047, phoenixpalacerestaurant.com

 

Best Breakfast Burrito
Tacos Chiwas
Name and hype aside, it’s the gorditas and breakfast burritos that are, arguably, the real stars of the menu at Tacos Chiwas, the latter only offered from 10 a.m., when they open, until noon. So try to time it right: the reward is a burro made with creamy beans and Chihuahua-style meats. We recommend the “Chiwas” combination of ham, beef, cheese, and chiles to go with the eggs and beans. 1923 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-358-8830, tacoschiwas.com

 

Best Place to Eat Pancakes and Watch Planes Take off
Hangar Café at Chandler Municipal Airport
Oftentimes, when a restaurant offers an experience to go along with the dining – like, say, video games, or animatronic musical rodents – the food isn’t good enough to keep you coming back. That’s not the case at Chandler’s municipal airport diner, where you can enjoy a tasty homestyle meal from the patio while watching small airplanes take off and land or sit at rest on the neighboring tarmac. Seating capacity is limited, so get there early or prepare for a delay. 1725 E. Ryan Rd., Chandler, 480-899-6965

 

Four Corners
Chicken and Waffles
Once a soul-food novelty, the holy union of bird and breakfast staple is now a Valleywide phenomenon.

Joe’s Midnight Run
Phoenix - Chicken and waffles go on a Caribbean vacation at Joe’s, where sweet and spicy jerk chicken is sided with crisp, golden brown waffles and juicy mango slices. Drizzles of maple syrup tie the whole unorthodox mess together. 6101 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 480-459-4467,
joesmidnightrun.com

Hash Kitchen
Scottsdale - It’s a toothsome tower of crunchy brunch fun at Hash with the herb-fried chicken and waffles. A pillowy Belgian waffle is topped with a succulent fried chicken breast, thick-cut bacon and a haystack of fried leeks. Two Scottsdale locations; Arcadia and Chandler locations
coming soon. hashkitchen.com

Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles
East Valley - The Valley legend started in Phoenix, but its Gilbert outpost may have the longest wait for Larry White’s signature waffles – flat, not Belgian, the batter lightly perfumed with warming spices – and old-school fried chicken. 366 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-207-6173,
loloschickenandwaffles.com

Modern Round
West Valley - Chicken and waffles at a virtual shooting range? We were surprised, too. MR’s chicken breast and drumstick are marinated in buttermilk, fried and served over a sweet corn “waffle” that more closely resembles bread pudding, all drizzled with jalapeño syrup. 8320 W. Mariners Way, Peoria, 623-388-6900, modernround.com

 

Coffee Extra!
Best Afternoon Pick-Me-Up
Affogato at Peixoto Coffee
Instead of reaching for that fourth cup of coffee when the 4 p.m. doldrums roll around, kick your productivity up a notch by adding ice cream to the mix. The humble affogato – which means “drowned” in Italian and involves espresso poured over vanilla gelato or ice cream – will have you buzzing until the closing bell. At Peixoto in downtown Chandler, pick from a few different flavors of homemade gelato – e.g. Nutella, bourbon-vanilla, salted caramel – and drown your scoop (and your afternoon slump) in their sinfully rich espresso. 11 W. Boston St., Chandler, 480-275-2843, peixotocoffee.com

Best Craft Coffee Menu
Peixoto Coffee Roasters
We’ve sung the praises of Julia Peixoto Peters’ and Jeff Peters’ masterfully roasted coffee, sourced from Peixoto Peters’ family farm in Brazil, since Peixoto opened in 2015. But when the couple hired mixologist/barista Kimhak Em, we did a double-take (and a double-drink). Em has revolutionized craft coffee creations in the Valley, making tonic water from scratch for espresso tonics, using fresh coconut for “coco lattes,” and zinging up mochas with matcha. The specials menu changes seasonally, but Em’s infused tonics (kaffir lime, blood orange) often change daily. 11 W. Boston St., Chandler, 480-275-2843, peixotocoffee.com

Best Coffee Roaster
Press Coffee Roasters
You don’t have to visit a Press coffee shop (there will be seven in the Valley by the end of summer) to enjoy Press coffee; the roaster delivers its thoughtfully sourced, expertly fired beans far and wide, including Luci’s Healthy Marketplace, Binkley’s and the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale. But we like our Press best at Press itself, where the wonky, well-versed baristas make it strong, strong, strong. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Acidity, fruitiness and body are all well and good, but really, we just want to... you know, feel regular. Fluid. You know what we mean, right? Right?! Multiple locations. presscoffee.com

 

Best of the Valley Trio
Infusion Coffee & Tea
1300 E. Eighth St., Tempe, 480-968-2533, infusioncoffeetea.com
Best Tea Service
The queen mum would be pleased with Infusion’s cuppa, which arrives on a cute platter with a tasty sugar biscuit and tea timer to ensure the perfect steep. Just lift your pinky and start sipping!

Best Coffee Education
Budding baristas perfect the espresso pull at Infusion’s onsite International Barista and Coffee Academy (IBCA), which hosts classes on roasting and latte art. Their test kitchen is stocked with four professional-grade Sanremo machines so you can put your new skills to the test.  

Best Resto Design Feature
Wood plank walls have jumped the shark, but Infusion invigorates the trend by incorporating a crazy quilt of mismatched teacups. The whimsical focal wall might not impress HGTV design celebs, but Alice and the Mad Hatter would sure love it.

 

Four Corners
Alternative Coffee Shops
We all know which coffee shops rule their respective fiefdoms in the Valley – the Luxes, the Presses, etc.. But have you tried caffeinating with these talented usurpers?

Best Lux Alternative
Phoenix - Midtown’s Lux Central gets lots of love among the works-at-coffee-shops crowd, and rightly so. But Giant Coffee, tucked behind a CVS a few blocks south on Central Avenue, is a worthy competitor, with good vibes, great espresso, single-origin coffee, a killer honey-vanilla latte, tasty pastries, WiFi and far fewer people. 1437 N. First St., Phoenix, 602-396-7215, giantcoffeeaz.com

Best Cartel Alternative
East Valley - Cartel Coffee in Tempe is renowned for its killer beans and cool ambiance. But if you really want a back-to-basics, near-campus coffee experience, head down the block to King Coffee. Using beans from local roaster Cortez Coffee, King delivers insanely good coffee and cold brew in a fun-size location replete with odd art and occasional live performances by ASU jazz students from across the street. 1020 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, 480-307-6557, kingcoffeeaz.com

Best Press Alternative
Scottsdale - We love Press Coffee for its meticulous pour-over technique, and for being maybe 30 yards from the PHOENIX offices. And while North Scottsdale doesn’t really seem like fertile ground for indie coffee shops, Maverick Coffee makes a strong argument for being a Press alternative. With Australian-style meat pies, great coffee and a general lack of hipster pretention, Maverick should win the hearts of all of suburbia’s coffee fanatics. 10269 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-278-4499, maverickcoffee.com

Best Ground Control Alternative
West Valley - Goodyear’s Ground Control has great coffee, gelato and craft brews, but in our experience it’s prone to the occasional off day in terms of service. So if you’re kicking around the West Valley and need a caffeine fix, check out Elevate Coffee instead. It’s not the cheapest option, but we have a hard time saying no to good coffee, crêpes and some tasty savory options. 2530 W. Happy Valley Rd., Phoenix, 602-341-5480, elevatecoffee.com

 

LUNCH & SANDWICHES

Best Use of Spam
Spam Cubano at Geordie’s Steak at Wrigley Mansion
When Jamie Hormel, widow of meatpacking heir Geordie Hormel and owner of the Wrigley Mansion, attended a menu planning meeting for Geordie’s Steak earlier this year, she made an offhanded comment about including a dish using SPAM. Executive chef Jason Diaz went back to the kitchen and experimented with the pink loaf of pork-based lunchmeat. He emerged with a Spam Cubano, to rave reviews, and now sells more than 200 a month. 2501 E. Telawa Trl., Phoenix, 602-955-4079, wrigleymansion.com

 

Best Place to Get Some “Avocado Love”
The Herb Box
Avocado may be the trendiest toast topper these days, but The Herb Box has been doling out “Avocado Love” for about four years now. In fact, they’re so serious about the whole-grain toast topped with a shmear of lime-kissed avocado, rocket arugula, thinly sliced fennel and chunks of buttery avocado topped with sweet hot Serrano glaze, that they’ve trademarked the name. 20707 N. Pima Rd., Scottsdale; and 7134 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, theherbbox.com

 

Best Falafel and Hummus
Princess Market
Hummus shouldn’t be bland and falafel shouldn’t resemble a deep-fried hockey puck. Luckily, neither is true at Princess Market, where biting into the slightly crispy falafel, adorned by decorative sesame seeds, reveals a tender, herbaceous interior and the hummus is the silky, flavorful Mediterranean purée you want it to be. 2620 W. Broadway Rd., Mesa, 480-894-1499, princessmarket.com

 

Best Pizza By The Slice
The Al Taglio at Pane Bianco
Lurking offstage, as Bianco’s famously thin and circular pies bow to a never-ending standing ovation, his thick, saucy rectangular cuts reminiscent of the Roman and Sicilian styles, available by the slice, steal the show. Furthermore, it’s far easier to pop into Pane, more casually and quickly, than any other Bianco spot. 4404 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-234-2100, pizzeriabianco.com

 

Best Secret Menu
U.S. Egg Breakfast & Lunch
If you’re a regular at U.S. Egg, you already know about the secret menu, but for everyone else, here’s the deal: Like U.S. Egg’s Facebook page to get access to the eight-item secret menu with items inspired by customers, including the Durango burrito, stuffed with chicken that’s been marinated in melted butter. You can also ask for the secret menu in person. Psst: Tell them PHOENIX magazine sent you. Six Valley locations, useggrestaurant.com

 

Best Deviled Eggs
Cuff
The menu at this downtown Glendale eatery shows influences from south of the border, as well as Italian and Cajun fare and soul food. It’s also obviously been influenced by the picnic and the church potluck with this spin on the classic appetizer, topping the delectable yolks with bacon bits. It’s as yummy a version of bacon and eggs as we’ve had in a while. 5819 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-847-8890, cuffdowntown.com

 

Best Italian Beef
Dazzo’s Dog House
Still smarting because you couldn’t make it back to Wrigley to see the Cubs win the series? Head to this cash-only, no-public-restrooms eatery just west of downtown Glendale for a dose of the moist, luscious Italian beef matriculated in a spicy marinade that leaves your mouth wide awake. It’s only one of the familiar goodies from the City of the Big Shoulders on the menu. 6143 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-934-3536, dazzosdoghouse.com

 

Best Shawarma
Shawarma King
One of the few places in town that does both chicken and beef shawarma, both roasted on vertical spits, is Shawarma King, which makes it one-stop shopping for meat lovers and for those seeking its famous falafel. Grab it in sandwich form, where the roasted meat is loaded up with pickles and a creamy, nutty tahini sauce and served on pita. 4312 W. Cactus Rd., Ste. 10, Glendale, 602-942-5464, shawarmakingaz.com

 

Best Lunch Deal
Le Dinersaur
The gal behind Le Dinersaur – Phoenician Olivia Girard – tapped into our society’s social media stream of consciousness ingeniously, boosting demand of her handmade lunchboxes by posting beautiful photos of sandwiches on Instagram and only making a small number each week. Now she’s moved into pastries, selling her sweets at a few coffee shops around town, but the hand-delivered lunchboxes are still available for minimum orders of 15. At $10 each, treat your staff or friends to a custom sandwich on house potato bun, chips, cookie and sparkling water. Order 48 hours in advance at ledinersaur.com

 

Best of the Valley Battle: Chilaquiles
Breakfast burritos are great on the go, but when we sit down for a leisurely desayuno, we want to dig into a pile of fresh tortillas drenched in zippy salsas and topped with a mess of meats, veggies and cheese. Two of our favorites go mano a mano.

Otro Café
6035 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-266-0831, otrocafe.com

Corn tortillas layered with toppings and sauce and then baked = soft mouthfeel

Tomato-based rojo ranchero sauce

Filled with chicken or veggies –  Oaxaca cheese and two fried eggs

VS.

The MARKET RESTAURANT + BAR by Jennifer’s
3603 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-626-5050, themarketphx.com

Corn tortilla chips sautéed with sauce in a pan = crunchy mouthfeel

Roasted tomatillo verde salsa

Pulled roasted chicken, queso fresco, lime crema, cilantro, shaved sweet onion, Go Lb Salt Sriracha bacon and two fried eggs

 

DINING

Best Wagyu Spread
Roka Akor
Uh, Wagyu tasting menu? Yes, please! Dubbed the Umami Steak Experience, this parade of hypnotically marbled, butter-like beef cuts from executive chef Jason Alford is sure to bring the meat-lover in your life to tears. Served with wafu, an umami-rich onion and apple sauce, the $90 spread can be customized to some extent – for instance, by selecting a less fatty, Wagyu-like Komatsu striploin over the ribeye for more beef flavor. Don’t know what a “marbling score” is? You will. 7299 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-306-8800, rokaakor.com

 

Best Pork Belly
CRUjiente Tacos
If our extensive sampling of pork belly has taught us anything, it’s that it’s clearly a difficult cut to cook. Underdone, it’s a wad of chewy fat. Overdone, it’s a porcine brick. Chef Rich Hinojosa cooks his just right – satisfyingly crunchy pork with a plank of fat that melts immediately on the tongue – and plops it on a fresh corn tortilla with house-made quick kimchi, cilantro and Sriracha aioli. The fresh accompaniments balance pork belly’s signature sumptuousness. 3961 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-687-7777, crutacos.com

 

Most Inventive Pizza
Grand Avenue Pizza Company
There’s a place for pizza traditionalists – and it’s called Phoenix, as our July Pizza City, USA cover story conclusively proved. But sometimes you want a pie with a little more pizzazz. To the rescue: Grand Avenue Pizza Company’s weirdo weekly specials, which have included Brussels sprouts, pomegranate seeds, pickled okra, lamb and beef meatballs, tofu and strawberries as toppings (not all on one pie, blessedly). 1031 Grand Ave., Phoenix, 602-253-6107, grandavenuepizzacompany.com

 

Best Mesquite-Grilled Chicken
Mr. Mesquite Taqueria
Metro Phoenix doesn’t have the strongest late-night food scene, but there are a few gems that shine late into the night, and one is the walk-up stand called Mr. Mesquite in Old Town Scottsdale, where beef and chicken get grilled fresh over mesquite coals, served on flour tortillas and sprinkled with Monterey jack cheese. 7345 E. Shoeman Ln., Scottsdale, 480-758-4859

 

Best Roasted Chicken
Tratto
Tratto trots out a chicken from Two Wash Ranch’s Dave Jordan, the most respected fowl farmer in town. As always, Bianco lets the product shine, grilling it most often and plating it with little to hide under save for a delicious jus infused with herbs like tarragon or bay leaf, and served up with seasonal produce on the side. Roasted chicken is the new steak-and-liver at modern restaurants – which is to say, ubiquitous – and Tratto’s is the best. 4743 N. 20th St., Phoenix, 602-296-7761, trattophx.com

 

Best Food Court
Mekong Plaza
We dare anyone to find another place in the Valley where you can chow down on some of the best bánh mì in Phoenix (Mekong Sandwiches), wash it down with boba Thai tea (Tea, Snow & Coffee) and get a foot massage, all under one roof. 66 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa, mekongplaza.com

 

Four Corners
Valley Barbecue
Profiled in the July 2016 issue of PHOENX, the Valley barbecue scene has grown by leaps and bounds – or should we say drips and groans? Let’s reassess for 2017.

Little Miss BBQ
South Phoenix - Scott Holmes’ ramshackle palace of smoke and char is still the consensus pick for top barbecue in the Valley, legions of talented newcomers notwithstanding. The brisket – a multi-texture miracle of juicy meat, smoky crust and caramelized fat – is the star, but the key to LMB’s enduring appeal is Holmes’ rounded game. From the pulled pork to the smoked turkey, everything is first-rate. 4301 E. Univeristy Dr., 602-437-1177, littlemissbbq.com

Danky’s bar-B-Q
North Phoenix - Of all the regions, this one is the toughest to call, because the North Valley is an absolute bonanza for lovers of the genre. Naked BBQ, Pork on a Fork, Bobby-Q and others crawled from the sprawling WV incubator, but our favorite remains Danky’s for daring, doctrine-defying dishes (green javelina sauce?) and absolutely unbeatable chicken thighs. If any can lay claim to the elusive, undefined label of “Arizona” barbecue, it might be Danky’s. 4727 E. Bell Rd., 602-996-2016, dankysbbq.com

Thee Pits Again
West Valley - Top-flight craft barbecue has been slow to take root west of the I-17, despite anecdotal evidence that the West Valley has the most enthusiastic home-barbecue culture in Greater Phoenix. But there are some rough gems, including this longtime Glendale smokehouse run by Roger Wagner, an old pro who once killed it on the competition scene. Must-order dish: Wagner’s famous smoked turkey. 5558 W. Bell Rd., 602-996-7488, theepittsagain.com

Andrew’s BBQ
East Valley - In the EV, it’s been a horse-race between Andrew’s and Rhema’s Soul Cuisine over the last couple of years. We’ll go with the former in 2017, by virtue of a simple but exquisite menu and a recent uptick in its rib game – the St. Louis-style spare ribs, specifically, grilled and grotesquely good. (Post-script: Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue was a tough geographical fit for this roundup. Find them on page 97). 730 E. Guadalupe Rd., Tempe, 480-244-4227, andrewsbbq.com

 

NIKKI'S NOOK
Embark on a culinary safari with these BOV winners expertly curated by PHOENIX dining critic Nikki Buchanan.

Best Romantic Restaurant
Quiessence
It doesn’t get more romantic than this charming restaurant embedded in The Farm at South Mountain, surrounded by shade trees and vast expanses of lawn, where the city’s bustle seems a world away. Cocktails garnished with flowers or herbs from the garden precede elegant, farm-inspired food capable of making people happy and a little woozy. Go ahead, whisper a sweet nothing: In this tranquil setting, your beloved can actually hear you. 6106 S. 32nd St., Phoenix, 602-276-6360, thefarmatsouthmountain.com

 

Best Chalkboard Menu
Hana Japanese Eatery
You want safe and predictable? You can do that here, but why would you when the chalkboard on the wall offers 1) traditional Japanese dishes you’ve probably never heard of and 2) Chef Lori Hashimoto’s fabulous modern inventions, still rooted in tradition. Mind-blowing cases in point:
Kare Udon (Curry Udon)
Order beef, chicken or shrimp to accompany fat, slippery udon noodles, cabbage, carrot and onion swimming in a mild Japanese curry you will absolutely love.  

Mochi Shingure
Mochi (pounded rice) is more than a sweet dessert; try this savory, comfort food version, deep-fried until it's crunchy outside and gooey within, sprinkled with grated daikon, green onion and a dash of ponzu.

Okonomiyaki
A savory pancake filled with shrimp, pork and cabbage, drizzled with mayo and Bull-Dog (Japan’s sweet, tangy answer to barbecue sauce) and garnished with pickled ginger and fluttering bonito flakes.

Honeymoon Shooter
One Kumamoto oyster with uni, raw quail egg, black tobiko, green onion and sriracha, served in a sake glass.

Onsen Egg
A soft-boiled egg (cooked so low and slow it’s like pudding), slipped into cold dashi and topped with grated ginger, spicy togarashi and matchstick nori.
5524 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix,
602-973-1238, hanajapaneseeatery.com

 

Best Steak Splurge
Dominick's Steakhouse
Two Benjamins, that’s all it takes to score Dominick’s off-menu, 40-ounce Tomahawk ribeye – a deadly blunt instrument if need be, but better enjoyed for the charred, butter-textured meat manna that it is. American Wagyu beef (a cross between American Angus and Japanese Wagyu) probably isn’t massaged or fed beer, but you won’t miss the hype when you dig into this hunka hunka sizzling cow love, all drippy and fatty and delicious. 15169 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-272-7271, dominickssteakhouse.com

 

Best Reboot
Binkley’s Restaurant
Moving his flagship restaurant from Cave Creek to Central Phoenix prompted Kevin Binkley to rethink the delivery system for his James Beard Award-nominated post-nouvelle cuisine, and he and wife Amy certainly came up with something unique: a single multi-course menu featuring 22 to 28 small plates. It’s essentially a three- to four-hour Roman food orgy in which guests migrate from garden to lounge to dining room and from course to thoughtful course in pursuit of the next sensual thrill. Meanwhile, the chef’s cooking seems less complicated and more focused than it did in Cave Creek. This is Binkley’s 2, and it’s a blockbuster. 2320 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix, 602-388-4874, binkleysrestaurant.com

 

Best New Food Philosophy
“Boat to Table” at Chula Seafood
Jon Heflin and Hogan Jamison, the two longtime friends who own and operate this small, clean-as-a-whistle seafood market and restaurant, embrace the same principles inherent in the farm-to-table movement: Food is better when it’s fresh. To that end, they make twice-a-week runs to San Diego, hauling back the catch (swordfish from Heflin’s family fishing boat, as well as other California fish traded with local fishermen) to their Scottsdale outlet, where nothing in their seafood case has been frozen or left to sit for more than two days. Boat to table: a philosophy that’s more than a catch-phrase. 8015 E. Roosevelt St., Scottsdale, 480-621-5121, chulaseafood.com

 

Best Cake
The St. Honoré Cake at Essence Bakery
Named for France’s patron saint of bakers, the St. Honoré cake is an exquisitely rich confection combining light, flaky puff pastry; airy, crispy choux pastry (think: cream puffs); sticky golden caramel and billowy drifts of pastry cream that taste like vanilla clouds — a complicated dessert that requires both time and skill. However, if you give her a little notice, chef-owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos can whip one up in no time because for this pastry pro, it’s a piece of cake ($38, whole; $7.95 individual). 3830 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-296-4958, essencebakery.com

 

Best Place to Take a Carnivore
Sizzle
If you consider steaks, chops, burgers and bacon the four major food groups, then this Korean barbecue joint in Desert Ridge Marketplace is going to rock your world. The menu offers 16 cuts of beef (half of them prime) and 10 of pork – all cooked on the tabletop while you sip Korean beer and reap the olfactory reward of meat + fire. 21001 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix, 480-265-9406, sizzlekoreanbbq.com

 

Best Bánh Mì
Bánh Mì Bistro
This friendly mom-and-pop shop specializing in Vietnamese dishes (but not pho) slathers crusty baguettes with aioli and piles on succulent meats such as lemongrass pork and house-made pâté before topping them with tart pickled daikon and other garden dlights. Generous portions, quality food and modest prices ($6-$7) beg the question: Who needs corporate báhn mì when BMB’s sammies are completely off the chain? 2340 W. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 602-843-3637, banhmibistroaz.com

 

Best Non-BBQ Menu at a BBQ Restaurant
Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue
Besides his excellent ‘cue, chef-owner Bryan Dooley offers up one challenging Southern-inspired chalkboard selection per quarter. If you’re up for fried rabbit, wild boar testicles or this summer’s root beer-braised pig ear and fried green tomato sandwich, there may be a free T-shirt in it for you. Get details inside. 6130 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek, 480-575-7155, bryansbarbecue.com

 

Best authentic Italian
Andreoli Italian Grocer
Giovanni Scorzo’s fabulous food is full-blooded Italian – not Italian food as interpreted by an Italian-American. Scorzo makes his own sausage, bread and pasta, and what he can’t make, he imports from the mother land. Who else offers fried anchovies, trippa alla fiorentina, gnocchi alla Romana and calf’s liver? Only this guy. 8880 E. Via Linda, Scotts-dale, 480-614-1980, andreoli-grocer.com

 

Best of the Valley Battle: Resort Restaurants
Attention, hard-core foodists: Sneer at the Valley’s flagship resort restaurant scene at your own peril. You’ll miss epic culinary outposts like the two below.

Kai
5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler, 602-385-5726, wildhorsepass.com

Embedded at the Sheraton Grand on a soulful and isolated Pima weald. Also: blackjack.

Boasts the Valley’s best game menu, including tribal buffalo, high country elk loin and Tucson escargot. (We made the last one up.)

Reasonably priced foie gras add-on will leave you with just enough money to get an ice cream after you liquidate your 401K.

VS.

J&G Steakhouse
6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, 480-214-8000, jgsteakhousescottsdale.com

It’s at The Phoenician, and The Phoenician is piiiiiiimp. Chef de cuisine Jacques Qualin executes celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s menu with just the barest, delicious trace of Gallic resentment.

So, there’s this thing called the caramelized beef tenderloin. All hail the caramelized beef tenderloin.

 

LATIN LOVE
Best Al Pastor
Tacos Huicho
A direct descendant of the Middle Eastern shawarma, true al pastor is pork that’s been marinated and slow-roasted on a spit, which gives it a unique texture and flavor. (Most al pastor pretenders use chopped meat in a similar reddish-orange marinade, and then throw it on the stovetop, bypassing the spit.) Huicho honors the traditional practice by roasting 80-pound batches of pork shoulder on Tuesdays and Saturdays for admiring lunch crowds, including staff from Phoenix Children’s Hospital just a few blocks away. 1941 E. Oak St., Phoenix, 480-398-6766

Best Mexican Food Truck
La Frontera
Anyone who knows Frontera loves Frontera, which sits on an unsuspecting stretch of 16th Street east of Downtown, serving hot tacos and crispy vampiros, which function a bit like tostadas, with meat and melting cheese served on small tortillas that have been freshly griddled until crispy. It’s sometimes parked next door to another Ladera truck serving seafood and Sonoran hot dogs. 209 N. 16th St., Phoenix,
603-434-8867

Best Pollo Asado
El Pollo Correteado
These guys aren’t messing around, grilling dozens of marinated chickens at a time over hot mesquite wood coals. The result is drumsticks that will coat your fingers and thumbs with delicious and smoky chicken fat, served alongside a stack of corn tortillas (DIY tacos). Sides of picnic-friendly foods can be ordered as well, like puréed potatoes and beans. 2904 W. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-278-2381

Best Sonoran Dog
El Caprichoso
Not every Sonoran Dog is made the same – in fact, some are downright terrible, at least compared to the perfectly griddled, bacon-wrapped dogs nestled in toasted buns under blankets of pinto beans, tomatoes, avocado salsa and cotija cheese served at El Caprichoso. Bonus: During the winter they make a hot, spiced drink called champurrado to keep you warm under their tent. 2826 N. 35th Ave., Phoenix, 602-561-3723

Best Machaca
El Horseshoe
Does anyone even make this jerky-like dehydrated beef from scratch anymore? El Horseshoe does, bringing it back to life in a pan and serving it with egg, potatoes or whatever you’d like at this sleepy South Phoenix diner, where time seems to have stopped since they opened in 1994. Come for the machaca. Stay for the fluffy pancakes. 2140 W. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix,
602-251-3135

Best Carne Asada
Asadero Toro
The best carne asada is simple and unadorned, sometimes seasoned only with salt and mesquite charcoal from the grill, foregoing the citrus marinade you find at many Mexican markets and mom-and-pops. So it goes at Toro, which serves asada at its most elemental – grilled meat with the signature tang of mesquite wood. The beans are also grilled before being puréed and served with house-made tortillas. 1715 W. McDowell Rd., Phoenix,
602-340-9310, asaderotoro.com

 

Best Red and Green Chile Burritos
Taquerias El Chino
At El Chino, the cooks ladle red and green chile beef – in addition to a dozen other stews, braises and barbacoas – onto big flour tortillas, pass the pile to you to load up with flavor-boosting accompaniments at the salsa bar, and graciously take the whole mess back to roll into perfect burritos. 1803 W. Van Buren St., Phoenix, 602-254-6808

 

Best of the Valley Battle: Street Tacos
With new additions like CRUjiente and Tacos Chiwas, the gourmet taco era in the Valley is unquestionably upon us. But which old-school, primeval street taco is the best? PHOENIX taco hound Shelby Moore puts two prominent specimens side by side.

Tacos Tijuana
6710 W. Thunderbird Rd., Peoria, 623-888-1343

The al pastor is authentic, roasted and shaved directly off a spit in a roadside setting – just like in Tijuana.

In an even more legit departure from the purist fresh-tortilla norm, the taco “shells” are rolled, pressed and griddled to order.

On the weekends, a churro cart parks next door. A five-spot gets you a bag of fresh, hot churros. That’s what we call “added value.”

VS.

Taqueria Los Yaquis
727 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, No phone: follow the smell of the grill

 It’s centrally located. Permanently parked at the corner of Camelback and Seventh Avenue, Los Yaquis can be found outside Charlie’s bar.

 The two meat options, chicken and beef, are grilled quickly and chopped finely, piled onto freshly griddled tortillas and topped with a spicy salsa. Cool off with horchata.

 They call them super mega nachos for a reason – this dish consists of a heap of gooey nacho cheese, grilled onions, salsa and the meat of your choice over tortilla chips.

 

SWEETS & THINGS

Best Bakery
MJ Bread
Yeah, yeah, we know – not the most original or insightful pick for this category. After all, breadmaker MJ Coe has gotten pretty good at broadcasting his delicious wares throughout the Valley. But until someone creates a unit of raised and baked yeast more divine than Coe’s signature fruit and toasted loaf, which just caramelizes so nicely on a skillet with butter – the perfect breakfast food, really – we’ll keep him in this spot. Multiple locations, mjbreadaz.com

 

Best Ice Cream
Doc’s Artisan Ice Creams
Just what the doctor ordered: plentiful scoops of ice cream made from scratch, without processed ingredients, artificial flavors, preservatives and the lot. With that level of detail, it’s hardly surprising that Doc whips up some of the most creatively flavored gelato in town. The Ferrero Rocher-inspired gelato is a treat, as is the coconut-lime-lemongrass sorbet, which tastes like a beach vacation to Thailand. 1221 W. Warner Rd.,
Tempe, 602-618-8719, artisanicecreams.com

 

Best Dessert List
Proof Canteen
The Southern-influenced, gastropub-ish restaurant at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale takes special pride in its super exuberant, super sinful selection of post-meal sugar bombs. Highlights include a crazy salted caramel pretzel chocolate cake and a tome-like ice cream and sundae menu, from which you can concoct a variety of demented DIY milkshakes. 10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr., Scottsdale, 480-513-5085, proofcanteen.com

 

Best Chocolate
Zak’s Chocolate
Save for Cerreta, local chocolate-makers seem to come and go too quickly in the Valley, or stay so niche that only habitués of charity luncheons are exposed to them. Not so with Zak’s, which opened just two years ago but has reached widespread popularity in the Valley because of Jim and Maureen Elitzak’s incredible “bean to bar” product and nifty networking. You’ll find Zak’s in the mochas at Peixoto, in the beer at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. and in the virtual minibar at the Found:RE Hotel. 6990 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-607-6581, zakschocolate.com

 

Best Seet Treat Trend
Thai Rolled Ice Cream at Fried Ice & Bubble Tea
As Phoenicians, it’s our civic duty to love ice cream equally in all its forms: scooped, soft-serve, freeze-dried dots, etc. But as the temperatures soar this summer, we’re willing to show a little extra love to the newest, coldest way to eat the stuff: Thai rolled ice cream. At Fried Ice & Bubble Tea, the staff essentially “stir fries” ice cream to order, pouring sweet cream in a range of flavors and with an array of mix-ins (green tea with strawberries is especially refreshing) onto a super cold steel surface. This quickly freezes the concoction, which is then scraped with metal spatulas into rolls that’ll cool you down from the inside out. 1575 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 480-828-2608

 

BEVERAGES

Best Rum List & Cocktails
The Breadfruit & Rum Bar
If it’s rum ye after, The Breadfruit surely has what you’re looking for, matey — no matter how rare or obscure. Careful attention to detail and an adventurous set of Caribbean flavors swirl together in some of the best and most refreshing cocktails in Phoenix. The Wiz Bang, a Rum Bar classic, matches 5-year-aged rum with a guava reduction and an earthy horehound bark tincture. 108 E. Pierce St., Phoenix, 602-267-1266, thebreadfruit.com

 

Best Amaro List & Cocktails
Tratto
Many bars stock the most popular Italian aperitifs and digestifs – fun fact: “amari” is the plural form of “amaro” – but Tratto barman Blaise Faber stocks the obscure, the elusive and even the house-made. Try the dell’Erborista, from Marches, Italy – smoked botanicals, unfiltered, and sweetened with honey. At Tratto, you’ll want to drink like an Italian: slow and steady – before, during and after your pasta. 4743 N. 20th St., Phoenix, 602-296-7761, trattophx.com

 

Most Exciting Wine Program
FnB
Always a champion of Arizona wines, FnB proprietors Charleen Badman and Pavle Milic (pictured) have stepped up their expeditionary efforts recently, traveling the world in search of good vino and cocktails to match. For example: Exploring France’s Loire Valley, and uncovering local delicacies like a sable biscuit shortbread cookie that helped transform FnB’s Old Fashioned cocktail with sweetened almond and orange flower water syrup. 7125 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale, 480-284-4777, fnbrestaurant.com

 

Best Frozen Cocktail
Mezcolada at Ladera Tavern
The jagged edges of a smoky mezcal are smoothed out by coconut, pineapple, lime juice and Angostura bitters. This piña colada play gets turned into a perfectly smooth and chilly rendition, and it churns away in a slushy machine, satisfying our yearning to reminisce about childhood trips to 7-Eleven but, you know, with alcohol. 8729 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-606-2258, laderaphx.com

 

Best Mint Julep
Okra
One of the oldest and most enduring American cocktails gets a section to itself and its many variations at Okra, where Southern cuisine reigns supreme. Owner Micah Olson picked his own single barrel bourbon from the Four Roses distillery for his version, and combines it with the requisite sugar and mint, piled high with crushed ice. Another version with pineapple rum and lime isn’t traditional, but it is tropical. 5813 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-296-4147, okraaz.com

 

Best Mai Tai
UnderTow
The UnderTow crew researched, tinkered and toiled to tailor its version of an oft-maligned mainstay of tiki culture, the Mai Tai. The goal: to create something both historically accurate and true to the mixologists’ vision, imitating a nearly extinct Nicaraguan rum by employing their own proprietary blend. There is none better in Phoenix. 3620 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-753-6504, undertowphx.com

 

Best Adult Snow Cone
Rosé Snowcone at Mora Italian
Forget those corn syrup concoctions of your childhood (what does “red” or “purple” even taste like?) – you’re a grown-up now. Summon rosy summer memories of youth while simultaneously savoring the perks of adulthood with the Rosé Snowcone at Mora Italian. Rosé Provençal, grapefruit and pink peppercorn tincture served over shaved ice is a refreshing remembrance of things past with a buzzy twist. 5651 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-795-9943, moraitalian.com

 

Most Bottle-able Arizona Beer
Four Peaks’ White Ale
The European white ale is a champion of good wheat, citrus and coriander – and this unfiltered, purist rendition from Four Peaks is a creamy blend of Arizona’s rekindling of heritage wheat grains and its famous citrus. Living large on the taps, it isn’t canned or bottled just yet, but we’ll be first in line when the day comes. 1340 E. Eighth St., Tempe, 480-303-9967, fourpeaks.com

 

Best of the Valley Trio
Casa Añejo
5600 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 480-588-2908, casaanejo.com

Best Cantina
Chips and salsa? That’s a prerequisite at any Mexican joint. An excellent bowl of posole isn’t. This cantina has good grazing beyond chips and dip, like chile powder and cheese-lathered street corn, as well as green chile stew with a fried egg, to soak up all that extracurricular mezcal.

Best Tequila/Mezcal List
Casa Añejo’s search for good agave spirits takes them high and low across Mexico, well beyond the highlands and lowlands of Jalisco’s various tequila operations.

Best Use of Grasshoppers
Known as chapulines in Mexico, they’re one of 12 unusual add-in options on Añejo’s build-your-own guacamole menu. They’re crunchy and a little nutty, sort of like roasted sunflower seeds. We like them with pineapple and roasted corn for a truly buggy-licious guac.

 

SCENE/LOCAL PRODUCTS

Most Hotly Anticipated New Restaurant
Taco Chelo
Aaron Chamberlin is the driving force behind Valley favorites Phoenix Public Market and St. Francis. Now, he and former St. Francis chef de cuisine Suny Santana will enter the ultra-competitive haute taco market with Taco Chelo, boldly planting the restaurant on the turbulent corner of  Fifth and Roosevelt streets where Flowers Craft Beer and Wine formerly stood. Chamberlin knows how to handle a lunch rush with style and ease, so we’re excited to see how a new taco shop – scheduled to open this summer – will fare in a neighborhood in flux. 501 E. Roosevelt St., tacochelo.com

 
Best Meal Freebie

Mexican Art Calendars from Rosita’s Place
The wall calendars found at mall kiosks are surprisingly expensive, while the pretty scenery freebies you get from your plumber or insurance agent are a snore. The solution? Stop in to Rosita’s (McDowell location only) during the holiday season and score one of the cool Mexican chromo-style calendars they give out to diners at that time (free with a meal; $5 without). Festive señoritas, caballeros, bullfighters and Aztecs deities abound. 2310 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-244-9779, therositasplace.com

 
Best-Looking Waitstaff

Casa Añejo
It says something about the aesthetics of a restaurant’s wait staff when you covet the hostess’ uniforms: very “now” off-the-shoulder chambray dresses and Frida-esque fringe necklaces. We suppose we should expect nothing less than the finest, trendiest (cough youngest) servers and bartenders to serve us Pop Rocks-studded guac at the latest dining concept to spring forth from the minds of Valley nightlife impresarios Les and Diane Corieri of Evening Entertainment Group. Located in the white-hot food corridor of Seventh Street, Casa Añejo may mean “Old House,” but “Casa Caliente” would be more appropriate. 5600 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 480-588-2908, casaanejo.com

 
Best Spring Training Stadium Food

Salt River Fields
The springtime home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies is not so much about baseball as it is about showing off tans and drinking Arizona craft beer on the cush lawn. And blowing your summer diet. The Mega Dog lives here – a foot-long hot dog topped with green chile mac and pulled pork – as well as Cold Stone Creamery, Salty Señorita and more. 7555 N. Pima Rd., Scottsdale, 480-270-5000, saltriverfields.com

 
Best Use of Jalapeños

Arcadia Brand Vodka: Jalapeño
It may seem counterintuitive to craft a summer cocktail around a spicy pepper, but dang if the jalapeño-infused Arcadia Brand Vodka doesn’t make for a refreshing spin on a Moscow Mule. Brewed by O.H.S.O. Distillery and available at Tops Liquors in Tempe and most Total Wines and BevMos around the Valley, the vodka is distilled and infused with both fresh and dried jalapeños, giving it a complex flavor reminiscent of green chile that’s more warming than spicy. It pairs perfectly with crisp lime juice and biting ginger beer – or in Bloody Marys, if you’re getting started early. O.H.S.O. Distillery, 15681 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, 480-948-3159, ohsobrewery.com

 
Best Hidden-Treasure Grocery Store

Tempe Farmers Market
One thing Tempe Farmers Market is not: a farmers’ market, at least not in the traditional sense. What it is: 1) located on Farmer Avenue, and 2) a small but expertly programmed grocery store with Arizona-produced goods. It’s a great place to get organic groceries and hyperlocal – as in, grown in some person’s backyard around the corner local – produce. With a small deli and coffee shop built in, it’s a win-win in terms of coolness and quality. 805 S. Farmer Ave., 480-557-9970, tempefarmersmarket.com

 
Best Sanctuary for Night Owls

The Grand
Described by its creators as “steampunk meets Harry Potter,” The Grand was created in response to the cellphone zombie phenomenon sweeping java chains everywhere. Actual in-person conversation is encouraged by plush seating in dark corners, liberally poured cocktails with coffee chasers and vampire-like hours. It’s all too easy to imagine Anne Rice or H.P. Lovecraft swilling a Strange Brew with gin and falernum here. 718 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-795-8552, grandcentralcoffeecompany.com

 
Best Retro-Looking Sign

La Piñata
This is the new location of a Mexican favorite founded in 1969. The bold mid-century sign that looms over the place, with its name in red letters above the legend “MEXICAN FOOD AND COCKTAILS,” and an arrow of lights urging you to turn into the parking lot, makes you feel like it’s still 1969. 5521 N. Seventh Ave., 602-279-1763, lapinatarestaurantaz.com

 
Best Place to Score Local Product

Arcadia Premium
We couldn’t have designed a better local beer, wine and snack shop ourselves: dozens of craft beer options, a deep wine cellar, scads of local snacks (Zak’s Chocolate, Iconic Cocktail Co. mixers, Press Coffee Roasters Cold Brew and Nut Sacks mixed nuts, to name a few), a bounty of cheese and a cornucopia of charcuterie. Did we mention they deliver? 5618 E. Thomas Rd., Phoenix, 602-464-9000, arcadiapremium.com  

 
Best Local Hot Sauce

Homeboy’s
Creator Jacob Cutino doesn’t need any more press, after shoutouts from the likes of Bon Appetit, but we’re glad to give him more: In the Southwest, where hot sauces are a dime a dozen, Homeboy’s has flare to match the flame. What impresses us most is the texture of the habanero sauce, pureed until smooth, and its bright yellow color pops on anything. Except orange rinds. But why would you? homeboyshabanero.com

 
Best Local Dairy Product

Danzeisen Dairy’s Flavored Milks
Like Zak’s, Danzeisen – a third-generation family dairy in the West Valley – is now omnipresent. You can stock up on its regular and flavored milk (chocolate, strawberry, cold brew coffee), half and half, and heavy cream in its throwback glass bottles at your local grocer, or stop by the dairy for old-fashioned ice cream. 6024 W. Southern Ave., Laveen, 623-478-9494, danzeisendairy.com

 
 Best of the Valley Four Corners X2

Best Cocktail Bars
Our traditional four-region roundup simply doesn’t cut it when it comes to craft cocktails.

Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
1 W. Jefferson St., 602-340-1924, bitterandtwistedaz.com
We loved this high-wire cocktail show before it was nominated twice as Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar at the annual Tales of The Cocktail competition. Everything is cleverly reimagined.
Must-Try: Jefferson Milk Punch. A “milk-washing” technique renders rum, spices, and milk crystal clear, with a velvety mouthfeel. Spicy. Luscious. Elegant.

Bar Crudo
3603 E. Indian School Rd., 602-358-8666, crudoaz.com
Though part of a modern Italian restaurant, with the main entrance through the back alley of a strip mall, the partitioned Bar Crudo area has always felt like one of the best-kept drinking secrets in a rapidly changing Arcadia neighborhood.
Must-Try: Shot in the Arm. Passionfruit, chocolate and grapefruit don’t just (surprisingly) go well together, they sing. Buzzy. Tart. Deep.

Clever Koi
Two Valley locations, thecleverkoi.com
Koi’s Asian/American mashup cuisine has always crept into owner Joshua James’ cocktail program, which explores the flavors of the Orient through the use of hard-to-find sake and green tea flavors.
Must-Try: House Martini. Seaweed-infused gin, garnished with brined water chestnuts that are way better than jarred olives. Briney. Coastal. Elevated.

Counter Intuitive
7133 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale
New Orleans estate sale, Picasso-in-Cuba and Prohibition-era Tijuana racetrack – these are a few of the revolving themes adopted by the groundbreaking Old Town cocktail hangout. We’ve heard rumors that it’s not long for its original location. Wherever it lands, it’s a winner.
Must-Try: Heart of Stone. Tiki plays well with most flavors. Why not red bell pepper? Zesty. Tropical. Veggie vibes.

The Ostrich
10 N. San Marcos Pl., Chandler,
480-917-4903, crustrestaurants.com/ostrich
Owner Brandon Casey shook things up during his days at Citizen Public House and decided to bring some cocktail flair to the East Valley, where he grew up. Located in a cool hotel basement, it gets as busy as any cocktail bar in the Valley, serving up classics and a touch of tiki.
Must-Try: This Conflagration Nation. Making our forefathers proud with bourbon, two types of brandy, and a minty amaro. Boozy. Pipe tobacco. Cooling.

La Bocca North
5415 E. High St., Phoenix, 480-840-1799, laboccanorth.com
Playing to its, ahem, “mature” North Valley audience, the northernmost outpost of the Valley wine bar chain has made mixology its avocation, with cocktail flight tastings led by bartender Tony Pharis and a decent selection of Latin spirits.  
Must-Try: The Machu Picchu. Pisco brandy with lemongrass-infused Aperol, ginger, honey and lemon. Frothy. Grapefruit zest. Heady.

Market Street Kitchen
20825 N. Pima Rd., Scottsdale,
480-278-7044, marketstreetkitchen.com
The north of Scottsdale meets the American West (with a bit of Polynesia thrown in for good measure), which means meals from the rotisserie and whiskey, rum and tiki drinks that flow like the Colorado.
Must-Try: The Pig Old Fashioned. Whistle Pig whiskey, in a twist, gets stirred with maple syrup. Oaky. Robust. Nostalgic.

Cuff
5819 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale,
623-847-8890, cuffdowntown.com
Cocktail competition isn’t stiff on the west side, but the drinks at Cuff are. They put their spin on familiar drinks that do wonders to spice up an evening in downtown Glendale.
Must-Try: Cuff’s Copper Cup. Not your typical Moscow mule, made with citrusy Aperol and fig-infused Tito’s vodka. Spicy. Fruit-forward. Vibrant.