Best McMuffin Knock-Off (Or Knock-Up)
In our experience, nothing cures a hangover quite as well as an Egg McMuffin. But since we’re no longer in college, we’re upping our breakfast game by ordering the classic egg sandwich at Downtown brunch haven Vovomeena: fried egg, crispy bacon and zingy pepper jack on an eggy, buttery bun slathered in chipotle aioli. This is hangover food for adults. 1515 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-252-2541, vovomeena.com
Banana Nut at Flapjacks
Fountain Hills diner Flapjacks makes several seasonal versions of its house specialty oven-baked flapjacks, but banana nut is the best. Part of the appeal is presentation. Puffed up like a pillow on the plate, it deflates as it cools. Made with lots of butter, topped with powered sugar and cinnamon, it’s scrumptious, even sans syrup. 16605 E. Palisades Blvd., Fountain Hills, 480-837-2910
Best French Toast
Pecan-Crusted French Toast at Tryst Café
French toast fiends fall into two camps: soggy lovers and crunchy lovers. Tryst Café’s pecan-crusted brioche French toast is a “best of both worlds” miracle that is soft and spongy in the right spots with enough crispy bits (especially if you add almonds for 85 cents more) to keep crunch monsters satiated. Come on Saturday or Sunday for the weekend brunch-only stuffed French toast with warm strawberries, a fruity twist on its weekday wonder. 21050 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix, 480-585-7978, trystcafe.com
For shame! The canal-side Camelback eatery recently discontinued its bottomless mimosa program. Oh, well – we’ll learn to subside on its white sangria pitchers ($25) and elegant menu, which prances gaily from lemon ricotta hotcakes to grilled swordfish tacos. Served until 3:30 p.m. on weekends. 5040 N. 40th St., Phoenix, 602-957-2555, chelseaskitchenaz.com
2018 Best of the Valley Best Macarons
3830 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix
A The “cookie” is chewy with a crisp shell, the way the Gallic gods intended.
A Perhaps a smidge too small and irregularly shaped, but a large variety of flavors.
A Not too sweet; perfect filling-to-cookie ratio. There’s a reason everyone suggests Essence on macaron quests.
6007 N. 16th St., Phoenix 602-274-2253 abakeshop.com
A Big, airy, moist “cookie” with crumbly shell. Very sweet buttercream.
A Beautifully decorated, with inventive flavors like strawberry cheesecake and peanut butter cup.
A The pink, Parisian-chic bakery smells like confectionery heaven.
Best New Coffee Shops
Looking to upgrade your daily driver for caffeine intake? The Valley is full of exciting new coffee pit stops.
Union Coffee Co.
Finally the West Valley has its own hipsterrific coffee bar, complete with white subway tile walls, dangling Edison bulbs, twee succulents and single-origin pour-overs. We love the Babyccinos (8 oz. cups of steamed milk) for the little ones, and grown-ups can sip first-rate cortados. 6750 W. Thunderbird Rd., Peoria, 602-603-2786, unioncoffeecompany.com
Black Rock Coffee Bar
Portland, Oregon-based Black Rock isn’t strictly local, but its commitment to the communities in which it launches outposts is. Each location partners with local charities to give back, so you can drink your Americano or Mexican mocha (with hints of cinnamon, almond and vanilla) with purpose. Four East Valley locations in Mesa and Chandler, br.coffee
The espresso and tea drinks at this boutique coffee shop in Old Town Scottsdale are great, but what keeps us coming back is the limited but impactful food menu. Savory snackers love the avocado toast with sea salt, chile and lemon, and our sweet teeth can’t resist the yeast-raised waffles with Vermont maple syrup and berries. 7051 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale, 480-256-1403, berdenas.com
Dark Hall Coffee
If your love for lattes is eclipsed only by your love for Morrissey, Dark Hall Coffee is your jam. The vegan coffee shop and bakery is the latest offering from the folks behind The Coronado, and the quality is top-notch. Our favorite pairing: nitro cold brew and Fruity Pebbles macaron. 3343 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-277-5507, darkhallcoffee.com
4 CORNERS MAP: BURGERS, CHINESE, PIZZ, SUSHI
Use this handy, quick-reference map to find the finest specimens in four beloved restaurant categories in your neck of the Valley.
Best Burger Joint
Though not strictly a burger joint, this Verrado eatery makes a Wagyu beef burger with caramelized onions and aioli that’s so good, it eclipses the rest of the menu. 21067 W. Main St., Buckeye, 623-594-6788, tempourbanbistro.com
Wong’s Chinese Cuisine
Sinfully creamy crab puffs, rib-sticking beef chow fun and middle-brow prices keep ’em coming back to this Chinese-American institution in the WV. 10540 W. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 623-877-4123, wongsphoenix.com
La Piazza al Forno
Open a decade now, the Glendale pizzeria helped drive the Valley’s certified-Napoletana craze, picking up a national profile along the way. (Food Network scarfer Guy Fieri is a fan.) La Piazza’s white pizza is still the Valley’s best. 5803 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-847-3301, lapiazzaalforno.com
Ah-So Sushi & Steak
“We are NOT AFFILIATED with the other Ah-So restaurants,” screams the website disclaimer, reminding patrons that when the Ah-So teppanyaki empire fragmented, this Glendale location stayed the course. We can’t speak to the other four Ah-So’s in the Valley, but the hamachi kama (yellowtail collar) here is worth the visit. 6033 W. Bell Rd., Glendale, 602-978-1177, ahsosushiaz.com
Finding spectacular pizza is fairly easy in Phoenix these days, from wood-fired institutions like Bianco to deep-dish people-pleasers like Lou Malnati’s. So we’ll throw a dart and go with this farm-focused Camelback favorite and its gangbuster Margherita, with the biggest damn basil leaves we’ve ever seen. 1916 E. Camelback Rd., 602-248-2480, theparlor.us
Hana Japanese Eatery
Lori Hashimoto is our sushi priestess, and we gratefully worship at the altar of her ikayaki (grilled squid) and succulent and fall-apart-marbled tuna belly. 5524 N. Seventh Ave., 602-973-1238, hanajapaneseeatery.com
Sadly for CenPho, the tsunami of regional Chinese restaurants that swept through the East Valley largely bypassed Phoenix. Still, there’s always China Chili and its incomparable, tangy-spicy Sichuan prawns. 302 E. Flower St., 602-266-4463, chinachilirestaurant.com
Best Burger Joint
Lenny Rosenberg’s Camelback eatery blazed the trail for haute burgers in the Valley when it opened 13 years ago (the signature Delux burger remains a masterpiece of texture and sourcing) and still offers the city’s best one-two punch of burger and craft beer. 3146 E. Camelback Rd., 602-522-2288, deluxburger.com
Paradise Valley Burger Co.
We can’t say for sure that we first tasted peanut butter on a burger at PVBC, but it seems like the kind of genius transgression for which this burlesque treasure has become known. In any case, PVBC’s brûlée burger with candied butter remains a true heart-stopper. 4001 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 602-535-4930, paradisevalleyburgercompany.com
We can’t deny that our conclusions aren’t warped a little by the Old Town taproom’s super-tight collection of Arizona beers, but there’s no mistaking the greatness of their expertly-charred, wood-fired pies. 6922 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-946-0542, craft64.com
The itamaes at this mom-and-pop sushi spot in North Scottsdale make sublime magic with their impeccably sourced fish, and keep the specials board loaded with interesting Asian vegetables and other delicacies, like buttery eryngii mushrooms. 9393 N. 90th St., Scottsdale, 480-314-4215, hirosushiaz.com
Nee House Chinese Restaurant
Stick with the live seafood dishes at this North Valley institution – you haven’t had lobster until you’ve had it stir-fried – and anything with “XO” affixed to it. 13843 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix, 602-992-3338, neehousephoenix.com
Best Burger joint
Haute what? The venerable ASU student hangout is in its fifth decade of serving mouthwatering, mesquite-grilled burgers. Fun challenge: Try to divine the ingredients of the secret “magic dust” sprinkled on all the burgers. 202 E. University Dr., Tempe, 480-968-4712, thechuckbox.com
Northeastern Chinese dongbei cuisine’s current wave of popularity started – and crested – at an unassuming strip-mall spot in Chandler. Must get: steamed juicy pork soup dumplings and green onion pancakes. Two locations, 480-557-8888, chouskitchen.com
No chic decor or blaring rock ’n’ roll. Just a shoebox-sized joint with amazing sushi. Must get:the Citrus Roll. Also: a reservation; cat’s outta the bag on this place. 2051 W. Warner Rd., Chandler, 480-899-7191, shimogamoaz.com
Buddyz A Chicago Pizzeria
Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East and Giordano’s? Fuhgettabout ’em! In the pantheon of Chicago deep-dish imports, Buddyz rules. Three East Valley locations, 480-460-6279, buddyzpizza.com
Best Vegan Restaurant
If you think your vegan options are limited to drive-thru McSalads, think again. The Bodhi caters to diets of every stripe – with salads, yes, but also with delectable grain bowls (try the Greek, with addictive lemon-tahini sauce), overnight oats and juices (the Hangover Fix is particularly yummy and useful). 521 S. College Ave., Tempe, 480-699-0409, thebodhi.com
Best healthy Fast Food
Salad and Go
When Roushan Cristofellis couldn’t find a healthy alternative to fast food in her Gilbert neighborhood, she decided to create her own. Salad and Go, an eco-friendly “drive-through salad bar’’ with a menu of mostly organic breakfast and lunch items, was launched in 2013 and quickly has grown to 15 locations Valleywide. saladandgo.com
Best Chase Field Nosh
Chase Field (née the BOB) has always hawked progressive food for a baseball stadium. We recall once seeing a concessionaire pushing strawberries and whipped cream... not exactly peanuts and Cracker Jack. But weird food is part of what gives the D-backs’ home its charm. This year, we’re digging the Asada Dog – an 18-inch Schreiner’s hot dog topped with fries, queso, carne asada, pico and guac – a mad mashup of Arizona and baseball in a bun. dbacks.com
Best New Resort Restaurant
Mowry & Cotton at The Phoenician
Last year, The Phoenician yanked Il Terrazzo’s starched white tablecloths, retooled the stuffy space to reflect a more casual, rustic-chic atmosphere and put chef de cuisine Tandy Peterson in charge of the seasonally inspired menu centered on open-hearth cooking. Snag a spot on the twinkle-lit patio overlooking the resort pool, order a cocktail and you’ll soon forget you’re not on vacation. 6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, 480-423-2530, thephoenician.com
Best Marriage of Carbs and Booze
Drunk Bread at Local Bistro
Gluten what? Cholesterol who? Put health concerns completely out of your mind and dive snout first into the gluttonous carbohydrate nirvana of Local Bistro’s signature small plate: a loaf of crusty French bread doused in white wine and Swiss fondue and blasted under the broiler to create a cheesy, toasted lid. Add prosciutto, pair with a crisp white wine and settle into your food coma. 20581 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, 480-302-6050, localbistroaz.com
Best Spot for sensual Tapas
Prado, Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
The lights are low, your wine glass is full and you’re cozied up to the tapas bar at Prado with your main squeeze in front of the crackling wood fire. A variation of the chef’s-table concept, this swank little nook lets you enjoy made-to-order small plates of Spanish meats, veggies and seafood between listening to live guitar music and wooing your date. Check, please. 4949 E. Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale, 480-627-3200, omnihotels.com/montelucia
Best Chow Fun
Though it isn’t the only gem on the menu of this south China soul food joint, this regional delicacy of flat, oily noodles wok-ed with veggies and an animal protein of some sort may be the richest and heartiest. Try the “house” version, combining shrimp, beef and chicken. Pair it with DB’s first-rate wonton soup for a comfort-food indulgence. 814 E. Union Hills Dr., Phoenix, 623-869-7668, dragonbowlaz.com
Best Eastern European Food
Soup & Sausage Bistro
In the Valley of the Sun, we don’t need our food to insulate us against harsh winters. But sometimes we like to pretend, so we crank up the AC and get takeout borscht, pierogi, kabanosy sausage, cabbage rolls and hunter’s stew from this sweet slice of Slavic culinary heritage in Moon Valley and watch Doctor Zhivago in bed. 13240 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 480-319-2208, myeurokitchen.com
Best Fast-Food Joint Makeover
J’s Kaiyo Sushi + Bar
Chef Jason McGrath and sushi chef Todd Register had a vision for a former Arby’s near Old Town Scottsdale when they gutted the interior and redecorated in muted blues, gray and brown with wicker and glass accents. Out: Bourbon BBQ Triple Stacks and curly fries. In: chile-cured duck breast and octopus salad, in a comfortable neighborhood hangout that offers sushi and small plates with an Asian twist along with killer cocktails. 4412 N. Miller Rd., Scottsdale, 480-427-2526, jskaiyo.com
New pho restaurants have proliferated around the Valley faster than it takes to think up a risqué pun involving the word “pho” (pronounced fuh). But few can claim to serve a more satisfying bowl of the traditional Vietnamese soup than this unpretentious, low-profile eatery on the edge of ASU. Try Nhat’s pho with wontons for a wonderful Viet-Chinese fusion treat. Locations in Tempe and Mesa, 480-967-1888
Best Weekly Dinners
Romeo’s Euro Cafe
It’s difficult to pick just one dish from this Mediterranean cafe’s huge menu, so why bother? “Taste of Romeo’s Euro Cafe’’ dinners, held every Thursday night, feature a rotating selection of five courses chosen from the regular menu for just $30 per person. You can add a wine tasting with each course for another $10. 207 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-962-4224, eurocafe.com
Best Use of chicken Fat
The Chicken Salad Sandwich at New Wave Market
What makes Sergio Velador’s chicken salad sandwich stand apart from, you know, the gazillion you forced down at church picnics as a kid? A lot of things... but primarily the flavorful, candy-like pieces of toasted chicken fat called gribenes studded throughout an otherwise mild, creamy ether of mayo and braised chicken. Essentially, Velador uses schmaltz like Blue Oyster Cult used cowbell in “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” And we’ve got a fever for it. 7120 E. Sixth Ave., Scottsdale, 602-736-2383, newwavemarket.com
2018 Best of the Valley Trio
5101 N. 44th St., Phoenix 602-271-4400, steak44.com
Best Shrimp Cocktail
Chef Robert Watson has perfected the art of prawn preparation – a nanosecond-critical dance of blanching in which the shrimp are quickly pulled from the boil and shocked with ice water, preserving that all-important snap and firmness.
Best Place to Spot Celebrities
One thing we’ve learned at PHOENIX: If you ask a young millionaire sports star to name his favorite Valley restaurant, four times out of five the answer will be Steak 44.
Shrimp and Phoenix Suns are well and good, but a steakhouse’s mettle is ultimately confirmed by the excellence of its meat, and we’ve not tasted a better bone-in ribeye in the Valley – caramelized to hell outside, damn near bloody inside.
Best New Food Trucks
Chef Wade’s Mac-N-Cheese
Chef Wade Simpson expanded his food truck empire this year, following the success of Chef Wade’s Bistro on Wheels with Chef Wade’s Mac-N-Cheese, where you can choose from more than 10 kinds of mac. We love the Lobstah Mac-N-Cheese and the vegan Mac-N-Trees. chefwadesmac.com
Ma Taylor’s Kitchen
U.S. Navy veteran and former resort chef Dave Taylor opened this down-home mobile mess hall with his wife, Laurie, in early 2018. The Taylors pride themselves on scratch-made everything: meatloaf with gravy, kale and quinoa salad with Meyer lemon vinaigrette, and their signature chicken pot pie (our favorite), with flaky crust and rich chicken stock base. mataylors.kitchen
The Valley’s first Puerto Rican food truck debuted in 2017, bringing mofongo (mashed plantains), empanadillas (deep-fried turnovers stuffed with meat or cheese), tripleta fries (smothered in garlic mayo and topped with meat) and jibaritos (pork sandwiches with plantains in lieu of bread) to the masses. phoenixcoqui.com
Froth Coffee and Tap Truck
The aesthetic of this truck – actually a tricked-out bread van from 1957 – is super cool, as is its menu of caffeinated delights, from espresso and drip coffee to nitro cold brew and kombucha. The “new-school” specials intrigue, particularly the Speedball: four shots of espresso, Mexican Coke and vanilla. frothcoffeetruck.com
The Valley-based taqueria chain does a lot of things right – including their pitch-perfect spicy carrot escabeche, a BOV winner three years ago – and lately we’ve come to recognize the excellence of their refried beans, which are left slightly al dente to preserve that natural, earthy pinto bean flavor. Their beans got game, fer sure. Three Valley locations. 602-371-0111, lostaquitosaz.com
Best Family Mexican
Los Dos Molinos
Yes, yes, we know – this beloved Arizona-based mini-chain is formally New Mexican, with its premium on red and green Hatch chiles and regional delicacies like pork adovada. But once that first, glorious dose of capsaicin hits your soft palate, the fine ethnographic distinctions sort of vanish, no? More to the point, the various LDMs are loud, freewheeling places where your kiddos can be themselves – and where you can condition them to tolerate ultra-hot salsa like any good Arizona child should. Three Valley locations. 602-528-3535, losdosmolinosphoenix.com
Best hardcore Mexican
Admittedly, we’re generally a gabacho crowd at PHOENIX. As such, any eatery with cabeza and tripa on the menu seems hardcore. And when we want it, this Central Phoenix taqueria near Phoenix Children’s Hospital is our first thought – both for its offal selections (so tender!) and its old-school technique of roasting its al pastor tacos in 80-pound batches on a vertical spit, instead of the chopped-fried-meat tactic employed by more labor-averse taco restaurants. There’s only one word for that kind of culinary rectitude: hardcore. 1941 E. Oak St., Phoenix, 480-398-6766
Best Happy Hour Special
$1 Tacos at Sofrita
This locally owned restaurant specializes in Puerto Rican fare, including tortas and tapas. But stop in during happy hour (daily, 3-6 p.m.), sit at the bar and, for $1 each, you get whatever kind of street tacos the chef happens to be making that day. Bean, beef, chicken, fish, something else? They are tasty, dirt-cheap bites of deliciousness. 16848 E. Avenue of the Fountains, Fountain Hills, 480-816-5316, sofrita.com
Best Use of Cactus in a Dish
Huarache con Nopales at El Tlacoyo
Beyond surviving 120-degree heat and the threat of scorpion home invasions, nothing makes one feel like more of a desert-dweller badass than eating cactus. And for our money, the best way to consume the stuff is ordering the huarache con nopales at El Tlacoyo in Tempe. Nopales, or the pads of prickly pear cactus, are cooked down into tangy, vaguely green bean-esque strips and piled atop a masa disk shaped like a huarache sandal alongside beans, salsa verde and queso. So metal. 2535 E. University Dr., Tempe, 480-894,9543, eltlacoyo.com
Still waiting for your own namesake version of this ubiquitous Mexican-food chain to pop up? Us, too. (Jessicabertos has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?) In the meantime, head to Rolberto’s on Seventh Street. It’s the tortillas that make it rise above the ’berto norm – they’re warm and chewy, and best enjoyed encasing beans and cheese in a burrito. 5032 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-274-2616
2018 Best of the Valley Trio
La Santísima Gourmet Taco Shop
Two Valley locations 602-254-6330 lasantisimagourmet.com
Best Free Chips and Salsa
What’s up with all the bougie taco shops taking over the Valley and charging for chips and salsa? Give us the old-school, hospitable charm of a basket of freshly fried, uber-salty chips served alongside complimentary house-made salsa, por favor. The salsas here are nonpareil, with a slew of options from traditional pico de gallo to a sweetly unorthodox strawberry.
Best Toasted Taco
No, Mable, this isn’t your typical, crunchy-or-soft-shell taco scenario. La Santísima’s signature toasted taco is chewy yet crunchy, saucy but not too spicy. And there’s only one on the menu. Slow-cooked beef brisket braised in a spicy, Jalisco-style broth with guajillo chiles is stuffed inside a thick, corn masa shell, drowned in the same meat broth and onions, then griddled to perfection. When ordering à la carte, don’t skip it.
It’s that masa again. La Santísima uses the hominy-based flour to make its ridiculously good quesadillas (called quesas at the restaurant). Available with 11 different fillings from mole chicken to a mushroom mélange, they’re umami-packed gems with a singular, tamale-like texture thanks to the masa tortilla. Masa is our master.
Pick through this assortment of small-blurb delicacies from PHOENIX lead dining critic Nikki Buchanan.
Best Restaurant with a Spanish Accent
Talavera at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
Thanks to chef de cuisine Samantha Sanz, Talavera has become the city’s best restaurant for sexy, approachable nuevo Latino food, a place where Spanish classics such as grilled octopus, seafood paella and jamón Ibérico de bellota (arguably the world’s best ham) share menu space with Peru’s sashimi-like tiradito and Colombia’s carb-and-cheese classic pan de queso. It’s a delicious lesson in peaceful coexistence. 10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr., Scottsdale, 480-513-5085, talaverarestaurant.com
Gnocchi alla Romana at Andreoli Italian Grocer
Chef-owner and pasta purist Giovanni Scorzo has no patience for provincial Americans who want tomato sauce on everything, but for his knockout gnocchi alla Romana – Roman-style gnocchi, formed into buttery disks of dough with semolina flour, Gruyère and Parmigiano Reggiano – he makes one concession. After they’ve baked to a light, crispy finish, he spoons them with Gruyère fondue, making a rich dish even richer for Yanks who love it that way. Call ahead to request an order. 8880 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, 480-614-1980, andreoli-grocer.com
Best “Bar” Food
The Binkley’s experience – an hours-long, multi-course odyssey that moves, like a progressive dinner, from space to space – is fantastic from first to last, but the geekiest fun often happens at the bar, where Binkley and crew sling enhanced pub grub like Wagyu beef pastrami sliders, black truffle tacos, feather-light fish and chips with carbonated tartar sauce, and pork rind covered in concentrated bacon fat powder. This is how you raise the bar on bar food. 2320 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix, 602-388-4874, binkleysrestaurant.com
Best Raw Bar
Is Phoenix a food town? The Gladly’s raw bar, presided over by fish-whisperer Donald Hawk, sure makes us look like one. Cases in point: silky scallop crudo with preserved lemon, meaty yellowfin tuna dappled with brown butter and a rotating selection of East and West Coast oysters that belies our desert location. 2201 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-759-8132, thegladly.com
Best Thai Restaurant
Chef-owner Cat Bunnag had me at mackerel-fried rice, but every dish at this charming, intensely personal Thai outpost, specializing in street food and the specialties of Bunnag’s native Isan, tastes like the fresh, vibrant real deal. Kanom jeeb (juicy pork dumplings) and Pattaya Beach chicken with sticky rice prove that Thai food doesn’t have to be blazing hot to light your fire. 2333 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix, 602-595-5881, facebook.com/glaibaanaz
Best Happy Hour
Still yummy after all these years. That’s the Paul Simon-ized verdict on Bar Crudo’s stellar happy hour, where 23 perfectly crafted classic cocktails ring in at $7 and six-dollar small bites eclipse everything in town for price and sophistication. A plate of crispy pig ears sparked with Fresno chile vinaigrette is the shining star in a constellation of brilliant offerings, including smoked olives and exceptional fresh cheese courses worth twice the price. 3603 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-358-8666, crudoaz.com
Chef Tony Snyder learned to make mozzarella from Chrysa Robertson at Rancho Pinot, which explains why his made-to-order mozzarella is so ridiculously good. Served warm with room-temperature celery slices and slippery strips of roasted red and yellow bell peppers (marinated in red wine vinaigrette), it’s so smooth, creamy and supple, it will spoil mozzarella for you almost anywhere else. 5609 E. McKellips Rd., Mesa, 480-300-5404, osteriausa.com
Best Panna Cotta
Lots of restaurants serve panna cotta, a chilled Italian dessert made with sugar, cream, vanilla and gelatin, but none to rival Chrysa Robertson’s shimmering version, perfumed with lemon verbena and served with seasonal fruits such as candied kumquats, mulberries or apricot-persimmon sauce. Rich but light, elegant but simple – it’s the perfect dessert prepared perfectly. 6208 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-367-8030, ranchopinot.com
Best Chicken Livers
Offal freaks mourned when Tony Andiario left Tratto for Pennsylvania, taking his ethereal chicken liver mousse recipe with him, but successor Cassie Shortino soothes the bereft breast with her wonderfully rustic rendition, spooning buttery, sautéed chicken livers over crusty toasted bread and adding sweet globs of lemon verbena-strewn strawberry jam. The dish is earthy, elemental and every bit as swoon-worthy. 4743 N. 20th St., Phoenix, 602-296-7761, trattophx.com
Best Use of Urfa
Charleen Badman may be the Earth mama who forces us to like vegetables, but she’s also the trend-sniffing adventuress who exposes us to exotic flavors we never knew before. Take urfa biber, for example – a salty, sweet and smoky Turkish pepper she adds to butter to drizzle over fresh corn, grilled okra with hazelnuts, fresh fish with Meyer lemon and manti, her legendary Turkish dumplings. Yeah, so she’s the urfa mama, too. 7125 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale, 480-284-4777, fnbrestaurant.com
Best Dinner on Paper Plates
Claudio Urciuoli’s new venture with Omar Alvarez (Tortas Paquime) is truly a gift – impeccably sourced, premium ingredients, minimally manipulated and offered up as tapas, wood-fired breads and sandwiches, sublime burrata and ricotta, pristine seafood, healthy grain bowls and daily specials so perfectly imagined you’ll swear you’re in a fine dining restaurant. And it all arrives on paper plates, one of a handful of smart strategies to keep Urciuoli’s fabulous food affordable. 2107 N. 24th St., Phoenix, 602-795-9500, palakitchen.com
Nobuo at Teeter House
Sitting at Nobuo Fukuda’s intimate bar as he quietly prepares your seven-course, $180-per-person dinner right in front of you is always a thrill, as well as an opportunity to learn more about Japanese cuisine and culture. The first course (pictured), an ode to vegetables, is always stunning, followed by a second course of sashimi, served in spoons, that inevitably elicits oohs and aahs. By the time you’ve swooned your way through cooked fish, fowl, red meat (often Wagyu), seafood shabu shabu and dessert, you’ll be awed by Fukuda’s ability to seamlessly bridge East and West, satiated beyond your comfort level and grateful for the other-worldly experience. 622 E. Adams St., Phoenix, 602-254-0600, nobuofukuda.com
THE LIQUID ARTS
Roland’s Cafe Market Bar
We’re very seriously considering sponsoring a paloma tournament, given how many creative, expressive versions of the Mexican grapefruit soda cocktail have appeared on Valley cocktail lists lately. Our current favorite: Roland’s revved-up masterpiece, which adds sherry and tamarind paste to the soda-tequila tango, adding a bit of brooding texture to the backyard favorite. 1505 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix, 602-441-4749, rolandsphx.com
Best Place to Drink Hard Cider Year-Round
With brother Josh Duren, retired U.S. Marine Jason Duran started brewing hard cider as a therapeutic outlet after suffering traumatic brain injuries during a tour in Afghanistan. In 2017, the duo opened Cider Corps, Arizona’s first cidery and taproom in an 1800s-era building that once housed a Mesa police station. They currently boast 15 ciders on tap and a cider slushie that changes weekly. 31 S. Robson, Mesa, 480-993-3164, cidercorpsaz.com
Best IPA Even a Hops-Hater Might Like
Camelback IPA at Phoenix Ale Brewery Central Kitchen
If you typically hate IPA craft brews because they contain enough hops to embalm a corpse, give this local one a try. It’s smooth. Judicious use of Nugget, East Kent Golding and other bittering hops is balanced with strong malting, and finishes with a lightly sweet caramel taste, just as the servers promise. Get them for $4 each during “Hoppy” Hour. 5813 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-313-8713, centralkitchenaz.com
Best Champagne Hang
Bubbles Vegan Champagne Bar
Vegans aren’t known for their luxurious food and drink options – kale and cold-pressed juice don’t exactly scream, “Party!” Bubbles is aiming to change that with its ambitious menu of Champagne, cocktails and snacks, including “faux gras,” nondairy cheese plates and artisanal toasts. Now you can raise a cruelty-free toast, darlings. 6990 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-484-4674, bubbleschampagnebar.com
Best Place to Drink a Beer and Watch Planes Take Off
Barrio Brewing Co.
A mainstay of the Tucson craft beer scene, Barrio opened a taproom in 2017 just off the runway at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, where you can enjoy a pint of Copperhead Pale Ale and a signature Diane Burger while watching aircraft ranging from commercial airliners to military fighters and bombers take off and land. 5803 S. Sossaman Rd., Mesa, 480-988-7171, barriobrewingmesa.com
Best Non-Hipster Bartender
Tommy Lancione at Scottsdale Marriott at McDowell Mountains
Lancione’s been slinging drinks for nearly 20 years at Agave, the lobby bar with sunset-soaked views of the TPC. He’s served famous peeps Reggie Jackson and Sean Penn in town for Barrett-Jackson and the Waste Management Phoenix Open, as well as locals who come to partake in Lancione’s impromptu trivia nights, expertly made cocktails and ability to remember everyone’s name. 16770 N. Perimeter Dr., Scottsdale, 480-502-3836, marriott.com
2018 Best of the Valley Best cocktail bar
3620 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix 602-753-6504 undertowphx.com
A Located underground, in a converted lift-pit made to look like the hull of a ship.
A Specializes in rich, intricately conceived tiki cocktails. Conversation-stopper: Mallory’s Treasure, made with 18-year-old rum and served in a treasure chest with billowing, aromatic smoke.
A Owner-mixologist Jason Asher: muscular, tattooed, American.
Bitter & Twisted cocktail parlour
1 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix 602-340-1924 bitterandtwistedaz.com
A Located in the lobby of a vintage 1920 skyscraper, with a graphic-novel-style menu.
A Specializes in gorgeous global libations with a hint of humor. Conversation-stopper: Duck Bath Punch, a gin cocktail served in a mini-bathtub with cucumber air bubbles.
A Owner-mixologist Ross Simon: slender, suave, Scottish.
SWEETS & THINGS
Best Ice Cream shop
Sweet Republic deservedly gets most of the craft-oriented accolades in the Valley, but for overall quality of experience, this after-meal offshoot of The Windsor gets our vote. The portions are generous, the ice cream is butterfat-heavy, and the shakes and sodas hark back to America’s malt-shop heyday. Also: lots of places to sit and relax while your kids ruin their clothes. 5223 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-279-8024, churnaz.com
Best Banana Stand
Shanny’s Frozen Bananas + Ice Cream
“There’s always money in the banana stand,” as we learned from Arrested Development patriarch George Bluth Sr. At Shanny’s, there’s also cold brew, homemade ice cream and, of course, frozen bananas, embellished with white and dark chocolate, sprinkles, Fruity Pebbles, coconut, matcha and more. Look for a brick-and-mortar storefront to open later this year. facebook.com/shannysfrozenbananasandicecream
SCENE & PRODUCTS
Best Place to Get Your Grass-Fed Beef Fix
Arcadia Meat Market
The focus is on all-natural meats at this Arcadia butcher shop owned by Nick Addante, who offers only pasture-raised, grass-fed beef and lamb, non-GMO pork and free-range organic chicken. The staff hand-carves on-site and offers more than 30 cuts of beef from Arizona farms and ranches across the West. It gives meat market a whole new meaning. 3950 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-595-4310, arcadiameatmarket.com
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Like the Moulin Rouge, there’s a whole lot of cheesiness served alongside the showtunes at Arizona Broadway Theatre. But sometimes, that’s just what the doctor ordered. And though Peoria certainly ain’t Paris, the food is surprisingly good here, with options like filet mignon, butternut squash ravioli, vegan tofu steak with quinoa and a decent wine list. August shows: Catch Me If You Can, through Aug. 12; Altar Boyz, Aug. 24-Sept. 16. 7701 W. Paradise Ln., Peoria, 623-776-8400, azbroadway.org
Best Local/National Retail Collaboration
Flower Child and Williams Sonoma
Just when we think Phoenix restaurateur Sam Fox has done it all, that wily minx surprises us again. This time, it was the spring launch of his collaboration with upscale home goods retailer Williams Sonoma on a line of Flower Child-branded grain bowl starters (aka sauces) and vinaigrettes. We’re partial to the sesame ponzu starter and lemon avocado vinaigrette, but all five products ($12.95 per jar) will have Williams Sonoma fans feeling groovy and eating healthy. williams-sonoma.com
Best New Grocer
West-siders Sandra and Dylan McKee know firsthand how hard it is to eat a plant-based diet in the land of Outback Steakhouses and Chili’s. So they opened Veggie Rebellion in downtown Glendale in February, importing hard-to-find veg-head stuff like vegan cheese and deli meats, boxed mac and cheese, and salad dressings under one roof. 5717 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 602-888-1265, veggierebellion.com
Best House-made Condiment
Sriracha at Clever Koi
There’s a whole hell of a lot to love about Clever Koi, from Josh James’ prim yet potent cocktails to chef Anthony Dang’s seasonal menu additions, like his brooding, gojuchang pepper-braised ssam chicken. And if that’s not enough – the Koi crew also make their own red and green srirachas, which they’ll provide at the table upon request. Both tangy, spicy and so, so stealable. Two Valley locations, 602-222-3474, thecleverkoi.com
Best Restaurant Staff Hiring Practice
Not Your Typical Deli
This socially conscious deli and bakery lives up to its name with award-winning sandwiches and baked goods, but that’s only half the story. NYT Deli also offers a training and employment program for adults with developmental disabilities – about half of its staff – preparing them for jobs at local restaurants and food-related businesses. 1166 S. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-794-1116, nytdeli.coms
2018 Best of the Valley Best Tea Shop
Pop ‘N Tea Bar
550 W. McDowell Rd., Phoenix 602-253-6310 popntea.com
A They treat tea like: a component in frenzied non-alcoholic mixology – blended into a fruit-filled slushie, sweetened in a traditional milk tea or shaken with fruits and jellies
A Vibe: spin class in Koreatown
A Fun add-ons: honey green boba, aloe vera, peach bits, lychee jelly, whipped cream
Two Valley locations (with a third in Downtown Phoenix soon) teaspressa.com
A They treat tea like: craft coffee or espresso – you can order your Earl Grey to be made with a French press, as a pour-over or as a “tea shot” in a latte.
A Vibe: millennial ladies who lunch
A Fun add-ons: Artisanal sugar cubes and sugar sticks (vanilla, salted caramel) and luxe elixirs (London Fog, rose)
2018 Best of the Valley Best Cheesecake
Lincoln – A JW Steakhouse at JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa
5402 E. Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale 480-905-7979 marriott.com
A Taste: Creamy, rich and dense in a good way (like fine custard, not a brick), this cheesecake is tall and striking, with an ample graham cracker crust and lightly tangy sour cream topping.
A Claim to fame: Dubbed the “million-dollar cheesecake,” it was developed by the kitchen staff at the first JW Steakhouse in London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, which sells more than $1 million in cheesecakes annually.
A Cost: $14
Prado at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
4949 E. Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale 480-627-3020 omnihotels.com
A Taste: The Spanish-style quesada pasiega cheesecake is downright heavenly. Light and fluffy, it substitutes ethereal homemade ricotta for the cream cheese. A raspberry coulis lightens and brightens.
A Claim to fame: Chef de cuisine Belal Rajab churns out this unorthodox but delicious version of the American classic, which the kitchen staff envisioned as an homage to the Omni’s Spanish and Moorish influences.
A Cost: $11
2018 Best of the Valley Trio
Super Chunk Sweets & Treats’ Cakes
7120 E. Sixth Ave., Scottsdale, 602-736-2383, superchunk.me
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Country Velador is a confectionery magician. We keep inventing holidays to justify purchasing weekday cakes from her and husband Sergio’s adorable Old Town bakeshop and New Wave Market Café. Our favorites:
Best Tres Leches
Crank a traditional tres leches cake up to 11 and you get the John & Yoko, a cinnamon tres leches-soaked honey cake with mascarpone whipped cream and honeycomb candy.
Best Chocolate Cake
Are you a cocoa fiend? If so, you’ll jones big time for the Blackout, an insidious conglomeration of black cocoa cake, chocolate ganache and black cocoa cookie crumbs.
Best Concept Cake
The most visually arresting of Velador’s cakes is the Arizona Sunset, which re-creates – in edible form – the highlights of a desert dusk: cactus, mountains, sun and desert flora, all atop a brown butter cake with Swiss meringue buttercream and Arizona pecans.
Build your own perfect picnic from the ground up with these Best of the Valley winners.
1. Best Place to Spot Killdeer
Fountain Park in Fountain Hills
Pay a visit to Fountain Hills’ famed water feature to observe these cute little birds with the black and white bands around their necks. They’ve perfected a broken leg act to distract predators (and humans) from their eggs. Works every time. 12925 N. Saguaro Blvd., Fountain Hills, fh.az.gov
2. Best Children’s Clothier
Tiny vintage ’72 Pink Floyd concert tees. Micro gingham rompers. Mini fedoras. Acid wash denim. Oversize candy necklaces. Too cool, kid. Too cool. 7144 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale, 480-556-6900, garageboutique.com
3. Best Food Blog
Melissa Stadler (see page 126) and her family enjoy our all-local picnic.
4. Best Chicago Expat Food Item
Da Bears. Da Bulls. Da Pizza. Our sizeable Chicagoan population rejoiced when Lou Malnati’s brought its deep-dish deliciousness to the Valley. Two locations, loumalnatis.com
5. Best Apple Fritter
The Local Donut
Choosing just one donut at The Local Donut is an impossible task, but don’t pass up the glorious apple fritter. Get there early and snag one just out of the fryer for the ultimate sweet, melty, apple-rific morning treat. 3213 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, 480-500-5236, thelocaldonutshop.com
6. Best Bread
So obvious this shouldn’t even be a category. Noble Bread, full of naturally leavened, organic flour and wild yeast, makes you rethink every PB&J you’ve ever had. This is how bread should taste. Check website for locations, noblebread.com
7. Best Artisanal FnB Gift Basket
Stuff your basket with local provisions, from charcuterie to Cutino Sauce Co. hot sauce to hooch from Superstition Meadery. 5618 E. Thomas Rd., Phoenix, 602-464-9000, arcadiapremium.com
8. Best Place to Get Vintage Stuff
Need a framed lobby card of the Raquel Welch roller-derby drama Kansas City Bomber – under its Spanish title Brutal Belleza – for your hombre hermitage? Find it at this two-story junkshop, which recently took “man” out of its name. 11649 N. Cave Creek Rd., Phoenix, 602-997-1381, azmancave.blogspot.com
9. Best Over-the-Top Dog Treat
Green Bone Bakery
Embrace your inner dog mom with a puppy birthday cake from Green Bone Bakery inside Smelly Dog marketplace. Hand-made, human-grade and stupid-cute. In the process of moving. Check website for current address. smellydogaz.com/bakery