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 Banana cream pie at Earnest

2015 Best New Restaurants

Written by Laura Hahnefeld, Marilyn Hawkes, Wynter Holden & Gwen Ashley Walters Category: Food Reviews Issue: November 2015
Group Free

Drum roll, please. Our highlight reel of the year’s most damnably delicious new restaurants is here, including our number one pick. Warning: The images and descriptions herein may cause uncontrollable eating.

How we picked them:
Each of our PM food writers compiled a Top 10 list of their favorite new restaurants in the Valley. We tallied the scores and used a weighted scale to favor restaurants that inspired consensus praise – and disadvantage those that our writers visited, but left off their lists.

OPENED: December 2014
CUISINE: Sandwiches
HOURS: 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. M-F
2201 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-688-2424,

How does a weekday-only, lunch-only, matchbox-size joint stuck in a quasi-industrial strip with limited parking land in the No. 1 spot? Simple. Greatness is not measured in quantity, but in quality. The building has good juju – formerly a smokehouse deli and before that, Stanley’s Homemade Polish Sausage Company – but it’s what’s inside now that matters. When bread maestro Jason Raducha teamed with Italian kitchen stallion Claudio Urciuoli (Prado, Noca), there was no question the result would be noteworthy. Nothing describes Noble Eatery more than, to borrow poet Robert Browning’s phrase, “less is more.” Let’s start with the options, which can be counted on both hands with digits left over. A handful of chalkboard sandwiches are built upon wood-fired bread, Raducha’s riff on the pita-like Turkish pide. A couple of them are open-faced. Urciuoli stuffs them with primo ingredients – Fra’ Mani charcuterie, imported tuna, artisanal cheeses and local produce. There might be a lusty bean soup or a heritage grain salad elevated with more local vegetables. These pious offerings may or may not hang around a few days before – poof! – they’re gone, replaced with something equally delicious, equally ingenious. There isn’t much elbow room in the rustic, 24-seat dining room during peak lunch hours, but it’s a minor quibble. Simplicity has never been so complex.


Second Opinion:
Made every writer’s Top 10 list. However, one writer balked at naming it No. 1. “There’s a limit to how far you can go with 1,000 square feet of space and limited operating hours,” she says, while lauding its “simple, honest cooking.”


PHM1115BNR05No.2 - Barrio Urbano
OPENED: January 2015
CUISINE: Mexican
HOURS: 7 a.m.-close daily; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. daily happy hour
5632 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-287-9000,

When Barrio Café owner Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza sold her interest in Scottsdale’s Barrio Queen in 2014, many wondered if Esparza’s tight grip on her unique brand of innovative Mexican cuisine was loosening. But the concern was short-lived. The indomitable Esparza continued to pump out chef-inspired, high-quality Mexican cuisine at her white tablecloth Barrio Café, and then expanded the brand in 2015 by opening the more buttoned-down Barrio Urbano. With traditional Mexican music playing in the background, street art adorning the walls and the smells of garlic and chile wafting from the exhibition kitchen, Barrio Urbano conjures the energy of a casual roadside Mexican café. Some dishes overlap with Barrio Café’s menu, including the cochinita pibil – Esparza’s signature Mayan-style pork marinated in achiote and sour orange, wrapped in a banana leaf and slow-roasted to fork-tender status – and the chunky, cilantro-laced guacamole. But Barrio Urbano’s menu is less entrée-heavy with a lower price point, and has more casual fare such as burritos stuffed with grilled skirt steak and a bounty of 21 taco choices. While Barrio Café offers Sunday brunch, Barrio Urbano serves breakfast all day long, offering traditional egg dishes like huevos rancheros (fried eggs over moist corn tortillas, with house-made black beans and salsa), as well as torrejas – Mexican-inspired French toast made with fresh bolillo bread served with heat-seeking jalapeño-cured bacon, menudo and posole. Those who worried if Esparza was in danger of losing her brand – get over it. She’s no longer affiliated with Barrio Queen, but she’s still queen of the barrio.

Second Opinion:
Three of our four writers put the restaurant on their Top 10 lists. The one who didn’t says this: “Meh. I respect Silvana Salcido Esparza’s culinary prowess, but there’s a reason it took a half-hour to decide what to order here. Nothing I tried was worth coming back for.”


PHM1115BNR06No.3 - TEN
OPENED: August 2014
CUISINE: American
PRICE: $$-$$$
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. M-Th; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. F; 2-11 p.m. Sa
2501 E. Camelback Rd., Ste. 40, Phoenix, 602-374-2611,

The antithesis of the typical pretentious Biltmore eatery, chef/owner Jeff Hostenske’s American bistro is as warm and inviting as a Southern home. Walk into a bustling – albeit “cozy” (read: small) – dining room enhanced with soothing neutral colors, rustic mixed woods and star-shaped metallic accents; head to the upstairs mezzanine level for one of a few tables overlooking the bar and seating below. The upscale grub here is inspired by Hostenske’s travels and time spent in the Deep South. If you ask any blatantly friendly server for personal recommendations from the compact menu, hushpuppies, roasted pork shoulder and desserts are likely to make the list. Served diner-style in a paper cone, TEN’s puppies are fluffy and moist, with pungent blue cheese and savory bacon in a crisp, golden brown crust. Chicken à la King and Queen is a rustic, gravy-soaked masterpiece, while pig is also treated like royalty, whether paired with creamy apple slaw in a pulled pork sandwich, slow-roasted and served in thick and fatty slices, or seasoned and nestled alongside ham and snappy dill pickles in one of the tastiest Cubans in the Valley. The tight plating and rustic blondie base of PB&J à la mode is a fine example of what makes TEN a success – comfort food so unabashed, it vaults the restaurant past more self-consciously upscale restaurants on our list.

Second Opinion:
“TEN pumps out well-prepared and tasty pub grub, but No. 3? Maybe there’s something to be said for an uncomplicated and straightforward menu with no surprises.”


PHM1115BNR07No.4 - Welcome Chicken + Donuts
OPENED: November 2014
CUISINE: American
HOURS: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tu-Su
1535 E. Buckeye Rd., Phoenix, 602-258-1655,

The shift away from big-name chefs and overwrought fine dining in favor of homey mom-and-pop shops is wildly apparent in the No. 4 spot occupied by Welcome Chicken + Donuts, opened by Michael Babcock, Jenn Robinson and Sloane McFarland of Welcome Diner. The masculine yang to the Roosevelt Row diner’s adorable red-and-white trailer yin, this repurposed KFC isn’t much to look at. But peer – or rather, smell – beyond the bland digs to find moist, juicy, all-natural Red Bird thighs, legs and breasts with battered skin so crisp it crackles on the palate. It’s richly satisfying alone, but even better when tossed in a slightly smoky and sweet Japanese barbecue sauce or in a cilantro-spiked Vietnamese fish sauce and paired with peppery, addictive miso corn. Doughnuts are a must-order here – not simply because they’re delicious and offered in combos, but also to tame the bite of Welcome’s Korean Chili sauce (the frosting-free version that’s included with the chicken essentially functions as a piece of cornbread). Head baker Casey Hopkins-Johnson takes risks with cake and yeast doughnuts in innovative flavors such as chocolate rose pistachio, chipotle limón and cucumber-lime mojito. Her strangest offerings are often the tastiest – try the chocolate pudding with tangy red wine glaze or savor the exotic carrot- and cardamom-scented halva doughnut, should you find one left in the shop’s glass display case.

Second Opinion:
Narrow expertise notwithstanding, there was no real opposition to Welcome. One writer thought it was under-ranked. “I think it’s remarkable how well they execute a simple concept – just two things – extremely well. Their creativity and passion shine through.”


PHM1115BNR08No.5 - Earnest
OPENED: July 2014
CUISINE: American
HOURS: 5-9 p.m. Tu-Th; 5-10 p.m. F-Sa; happy hour 5-6:30 p.m. Tu-F
4991 S. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-883-3773,

In its first few months, Earnest – jointly owned by chef Brian Peterson and pastry chef Danielle Morris – was colloquially known as “the place Cork used to be.” After all, Cork was exceedingly memorable, earning AAA Four Diamond distinction and scoring a coveted spot on OpenTable’s 2013 Diners’ Choice list for its prodigious wine selection. Understandably, East Valley diners were dubious when Peterson and Morris gave it a complete casual-dining makeover and changed the name. Then – after enjoying bites of braised beef short ribs atop buttery egg noodles with a horseradish jus; crisp zucchini cakes layered with crab, asparagus and a champagne-enriched Hollandaise sauce; and a gargantuan double-cut bone-in ham chop with house-made applesauce set atop cheesy sausage-studded potatoes – they realized Earnest’s kicked-up comfort foods were what they were hoping for all along. The place is handsome, albeit decidedly laid-back, done up in dark wood, deep earthy tones, and tiny hanging lights. Craft beers help to round out a drink menu that includes a smaller, but still top-notch, selection of wine. And for those whose taste buds still quiver at the thought of Cork’s famous banana cream pie – a cloud of banana-flavored cream heaped onto an Oreo cookie crust and capped with a brûléed marshmallow topping – Morris has graciously kept her creation on the menu.

Second Opinion:
The restaurant is underrated, opines one critic. “If only restaurants were rated like professional figure skating, with chefs scoring higher for attempting complexity! In all Earnest-ness, this place should’ve been rated above Barrio or five-dish Noble.”


PHM1115BNR09No.6 - Cuff
OPENED: September 2014
CUISINE: New American
HOURS: 11a.m.-9 p.m. M-Sa.; happy hour 3-6 p.m. M-F
5819 W. Glendale Ave., Glendale, 623-847-8890,

For years, the downtown Glendale dining experience has essentially boiled down to four restaurants: Haus Murphy’s, Little Saigon, Touch of European Café and La Piazza Al Forno. The discrete miracle that is Cuff, a pleasant little eatery from longtime neighborhood restaurateur David Chang (Zang’s Asian Bistro), definitely makes it a fivesome. You’ve seen everything on the menu. It’s not cocktail-centric. The most experimental dish is the posole. But it’s gratifying to walk into Cuff’s warm and welcoming room, with its hardwood bar, coffered tin ceiling and lazily spinning ceiling fans, and settle in with a craft beer and a plate of calamari, which is puffy, crunchy and drizzled with a sweet and spicy sauce. Also winning: shrimp and grits in a pool of tangy tomato sauce studded with chunks of andouille sausage. The skills of chef Tom Harvey, formerly of Eddie V’s Prime Seafood in Scottsdale, may lie less in articulating the diversity of well-known dishes like fish tacos, eggplant Parmesan and fried shrimp po’boys, than in simple, straightforward New American cooking. Will you want a bowl of Harvey’s singular posole, which includes a chile-red tomato-chipotle broth and six fried roast-pork pot stickers? You bet your cuff links.

Second Opinion:
For west-siders, it’s a must visit. But is it worth driving across the Valley for? “Nope! I liked it, but a restaurant has to have an outstanding, one-of-a-kind dish I’m addicted to to warrant an hour [commute].”


PHM1115BNR10No.7 - Toro
OPENED: November 2014
PRICE: $$$
HOURS: Breakfast 7 a.m.-11 a.m.; lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner 5 -9 p.m. daily
7575 E. Princess Dr., Scottsdale, 480-585-4848,

There are plenty of reasons to be “bullish” on Toro, the Latin restaurant that replaced the sleepy Grill at TPC. There was nothing wrong with the old-school clubhouse Grill, overlooking the 18th hole at the swank Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, but – ¡Ay, caramba! – Toro is cha-cha-cha by comparison. A modest makeover placed a backlit wall up front to showcase the restaurant’s 151-bottle rum collection – proof that resort dining is as much about the scene and cocktails as it is the food. Celebrity chef Richard Sandoval is the mastermind behind the Asian-influenced South American menu with splashes of old Spain. (He also created Toro’s Mexican sister property at the Princess, La Hacienda.) For Toro, Sandoval leans on Peruvian dishes, specifically those influenced by Japanese and Chinese immigrants, with most plates designed for sharing. That’s why there’s a “suviche” section, a mash-up of sushi and ceviche that’s generally fresh and vibrant. Chifa-style fried rice is a delectable example of Chinese technique put to virtuous use with Latin ingredients. It’s an umami bomb of soy, rice, Spanish chorizo, shrimp, chicken and snow peas, so forget about sharing. Of course, Toro still resides in the resort dining category, so you’ll find the usual suspects – salmon, steak, burger – albeit ones with Latin flair.

Second Opinion:
Ranked too low, one writer says: “I guess no matter how good the food is, golf and fine dining just don’t jibe. If Toro had opened in Old Town Scottsdale, it would be at the top of the list.”


No.8 - Shabu Fondue
OPENED: September 2014
HOURS: 5-9 p.m. Tu-Th; 5-10 p.m. F-Su; closed M
7822 N. 12th St., Phoenix, 602-870-3015,

Fans of hot-pot dining cheered when Valley restaurateur Johnny Chu opened Shabu Fondue in north Central Phoenix last year. As one of the only hot-pot restaurants in the Valley, Shabu Fondue delivers an interactive dining experience where guests get to flex their culinary muscles while eating fresh Asian cuisine sans heavy oil, breading and an onslaught of overly sweet and salty sauces. Shabu Fondue gets points both for its distinctive cook-at-the-table format and diversity of ingredients and helpful service. Servers guide patrons through a selection of more than 50 raw choices – proteins, vegetables, starches and nine broths – and then instruct them how to properly cook their concoctions. You can select a heady coconut-curry broth and fill the bubbling pot with juicy scallops, thick udon noodles, slivers of napa cabbage and chunks of broccoli; or dunk razor clams, straw mushrooms, bamboo and spinach in a mild herbal Chinese broth. For the uninitiated, cooking your own food at the table can be mildly intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be elbowing your tablemates out of the way. Soon you’ll be swishing thinly sliced tender Waygu beef through the steamy, spicy lemongrass broth like a boss and pairing it with crisp baby bok choy and delicate rice noodles while dribbling soup across the table. Bring on the chopsticks.


Second Opinion:
One writer balked at awarding a Top 10 spot to what is essentially a clone of Chu’s since-shuttered Tien Wong Hot Pot.


PHM1115BNR13No.9 - Couscous Express
OPENED: December 2014
CUISINE: Moroccan
PRICE: $-$$
HOURS: 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. M-F; 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sa
1915 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, 602-252-7777

Tiny, nondescript Couscous Express edges out more polished, ambitious eateries like The Upton and Yacht Club thanks to owner Abdul Chaara’s captivating Moroccan cooking skills. The exterior is a bare-bones white stucco shack, making the tented fabric ceilings, carved wood trim and delicate period artwork found inside a welcome surprise. Food ranges from hummus and couscous to fragrant stews cooked in clay tagines. While a set menu is advertised, Chaara is a whiz at designing meals after coaxing a few preferences from his patrons. Order a single dish and prepare to be presented with aromatic and invigorating mint tea, plates of vinegary Mediterranean olives, and fresh-baked bread with spicy carrots and perfectly marinated peas. Kebabs are a safe bet – juicy, flavorful chunks of beef, lamb or chicken coated in spices and grilled. Delightfully fatty meat chunks and hints of coriander and cumin make beef couscous a rich and flavorful entrée, while both lamb and chicken tagine pack a lighter punch, with soft-cooked carrots and potatoes to soak up the savory broth. Chaara made date shakes in Yuma before opening Couscous Express, so it’s no surprise that his signature dessert – made with dates, milk, peanut butter and a dash of nutmeg – is a meal-ender that shouldn’t be missed.

Second Opinion:
One writer hesitated to include the Moroccan restaurant in the general best restaurant population, dubbing it a better fit in “neighborhood honorable mentions.”


PHM1115BNR14No.10 - yardbird + the larder
OPENED: April 2015
CUISINE: Southern
HOURS: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. M-Th; 11 a.m.-midnight F-Sa; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Su
915 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-680-7747,

With not much more than a flattop and a deep fryer, Stephen Jones and his rebel band of cooks crank out head-turning, ever-changing Southern vittles with a fancy chef’s flair – well, as fancy as you can get with paper plates and plastic forks. Still, it’s mind-boggling what yard bird + the larder is able to do in its 350-square-foot stall at the hip DeSoto Central Market food hall. Jones seems to have finally found his groove, breaking free of the hotel-dining shackles that hemmed his creativity at Boulders and Blue Hound Kitchen at the Hotel Palomar. His food has never shined so bright. Spicy, tangy, fried cauliflower and crisp pig ears dusted with “Cheetos” powder have their own goo-goo-eyed foodie following, but don’t overlook the excellent shaved catfish (an ode to a storied Louisiana restaurant) with charred kohlrabi kraut or the playful fried chicken skin “po’boys” with jalapeño apple slaw and Crystal Hot Sauce aioli. OK, so the soft Hawaiian bread rolls don’t mimic true po’boy bread, but there isn’t a more perfect foil to ecstatically fatty, crunchy skins. Weekend brunch is stuffed with sweet and savory culinary dreams, like market hash, Noble French toast with seasonal fruit compotes and an insanely good chicken fat biscuit sandwich. No matter what’s shaking at yard bird, you can bet the farm it’s ridiculously delicious.

Second Opinion:
Jones stretched himself thin at DeSoto, one writer thought, performing an impressive feat as the executive chef at the seven-venue foot court, but only “at the cost of his restaurant inside it.”


OPENED: July 2015
CUISINE: Gourmet sandwiches
HOURS: 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. M-Sa
777 S. College Ave., Tempe, 480-758-5322,

Snagging a James Beard Award nomination for the now-shuttered Noca and working with notable Valley chefs like Chris Curtiss (Bourbon Steak), Claudio Urciuoli (Noble Eatery) and Matt Taylor (Gertrude’s at Desert Botanical Garden) did wonders for Eliot Wexler’s CV. Indeed, Nocawich elevates sandwiches the same way FnB’s Charleen Badman deified vegetables. The hoagies at Wexler’s sleek, understated Tempe eatery are sturdy, sophisticated creations, put together with top-notch ingredients like dry-cured country ham from Edwards Virginia Smokehouse; dense and chewy bagels from New York’s H&H Midtown Bagels; and intensely flavored house-made sauces. You can expect an upscale patty melt, built around a well-seasoned Snake River Kobe beef patty, or the What the Cluck?, a towering triumph of a chicken sandwich that will make fans of the infamous fried fowl served at Noca’s once-monthly Sunday Suppers wax nostalgic. But what’s more surprising are the near-perfect, thrice-cooked French fries – served for volume-consumption in a small punch bowl – and rich, succulent Wagyu pastrami, in which the pleasures of the coriander- and pepper-seasoned meat are paired with a potato knish imported from New York’s Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery and splashed with a wine-enriched bordelaise. Nocawich is still finding its identity through breakfast and lunch, but when Wexler adds dinner to the menu, watch out.

Second Opinion:
“Honestly, I was not a fan,” says one writer who visited about a month after the opening. “They didn’t have two things I tried to order. The muffin was OK, but the turkey cranberry sandwich was dry and overly sweet.”


OPENED: November 2014
CUISINE: Mexican
PRICE: $-$$
HOURS: 11 a.m.-midnight. M-Th; 9 a.m-2 a.m. F-Sa; 9 a.m.-midnight Su
1011 N. Third St., Phoenix, 602-368-2487,

Paz may not have cracked our Top 10, but genius-level taco design and the cantina’s now-legendary $3 margaritas certainly made it close. Located in the former Canvas art building on Roosevelt Row, the eatery is as colorful as a Mexican fiesta, with juicy citrus and teal highlights accenting vibrant, local Chicano artwork adorning white walls. Previous tenants The Local and Scratch didn’t last long; conversely, Paz enjoyed such a prosperous inaugural year that it took over the two adjacent restaurant spaces. Founders Michael Reyes (Otro Cafe), Joseph Aguayo and Brian Webb (Hey Joe! Filipino food truck) have engineered a tidy but terrific menu of tacos, tortas and burritos incorporating well-spiced meats such as tangy chicken tinga slow-cooked with chipotle, and pork belly braised for hours using Webb’s original food truck recipe. Nopales pads are sliced thin and combined with tomatoes and cotija for a glorious vegetarian taco that tastes like fajitas without the smoky cast iron tang. Drinks, brunch and sides are among the best items in the house. Pair the tequila-and-bourbon-based Dangerous Liaison with spongy telera bread French toast, or spice things up with a savory michelada alongside a hearty breakfast sandwich. And for you D-backs fans: Free tacos when the home team wins.

Second Opinion:
No haters in the bunch, but one writer – who lauded Reyes, Webb and Aguayo as “technically adept” – felt there was some talent overload. “With three cooks in the kitchen, a single culinary vision takes time.”


: April 2015
CUISINE: American
HOURS: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tu-Th; 11 a.m.-midnight F-Sa; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Su; happy hour 4-6 p.m., 10 p.m.-close daily.
2601 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-374-7585,

Slip into this small plates venue from the FEZ folks – they of the Downtown-dining empire of Switch/Bliss/ReBar/Pizza People Pub – and it feels comfy, like the nap on a pair of corduroy jeans. Dark and cozy with retro remnants of the 1928 brick building where it sits, Corduroy doesn’t ask much in the way of effort as you slide into a booth and bask in the warm glow from a smattering of table lamps. The globally-inspired food – dressed-up pub grub – won’t attract the town’s trendy gastronauts, and the bar program isn’t designed to titillate mixology groupies, but like an old friend, there’s something about it that fits like a glove. With its something-for-everyone menu and drink program, modest price-point and unfailingly friendly service team, Corduroy serves its neighborhood hangout mission smashingly well. Friends meet up after work to decompress with a solid cocktail, like the mezcal and pineapple-shrub Rooster, or a glass of ruby Garnacha. There’s nothing complicated about the delicious Cuban “cigars,” deep-fried wontons filled with slow-roasted pork shoulder, ham, caramelized onions and Gruyère. Weekend brunch paired with breakfast cocktail carafes make for a smooth transition from work to play. What else can you ask of a neighborhood haunt?

Second Opinion:
Corduroy got “shunned,” according to one voter who ranked the restaurant first overall: “FEZ has a strong reputation, so I’m shocked that its little sister didn’t make it to the Top 10 for its smoky trout tartine and dreamy desserts.”


OPENED: March 2015
CUISINE: Seafood
PRICE: $$$
HOURS: Dinner 4-11 p.m. F-Sa, 4-10 p.m. M-Th and Su; happy hour 4-6 p.m. daily
4231 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-368-2088,

The latest captain to leave dry-dock for the Valley’s burgeoning seafood scene – crowded with the likes of The Montauk, LGO Hospitality’s Buck and Rider and the upcoming Crab and Mermaid – is Yacht Club chef/owner Aaron May. Best known for gimmicky grub like waffle dogs and grilled-cheese-sandwich-bun Sasquatch Burgers, May (Over Easy) strikes a somewhat more disciplined tone at this easygoing Arcadia eatery, one that highlights a knack for sourcing quality seafood and the ability to create the kind of winning dishes fans might associate with former May ventures like Iruña and Sol y Sombra. Overall, it falls in the upper-middle of the Valley’s current roster of seafood restaurants. The cocktails are tagged with clever names like Mast Appeal and Land Ho, but are still finding the kind of technically adept execution that matches the sophistication and depth of water-borne delicacies like miniature Connecticut- and New England-style lobster rolls; perfectly prepared halibut in a silky, herb-laden broth; and May’s spicy Arizona clam chowder studded with bits of corn, chorizo and poblano chile. Perhaps to show he hasn’t lost his sense of humor, May contrasts the nautical-chic decor of weathered oars, ocean-blue glass orbs and polo-shirt-attired servers with a healthy dose of – what else? – yacht rock.

Second Opinion:
According to multiple sources, the restaurant has encountered some chop during its first few months, including a water leak that forced it to shutter for an evening, and some less-than-stellar reviews. “Apparently, they might be in trouble,” one writer opines.   


OPENED: November 2014
CUISINE: Italian
HOURS: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. M-Su
7500 E. Pinnacle Peak Rd., Scottsdale, 480-513-9000,

Opening to little fanfare in late 2014, Spiga Cucina Italiana has quietly inched its way onto Valley diners’ radar. Restaurateurs Fernando and Paula Estevez of Toronto transformed a 4,000-square-foot North Scottsdale commercial building into a sleek modern space with rustic overtones – wide wood-plank floors and washed-brick walls combined with contemporary lighting and an expansive exhibition kitchen. Executive chef Mark Martinez, late of North Italia, has designed a stellar Italian and Mediterranean menu stacked with antipasti that includes grilled Moroccan octopus and a stunning array of meats and cheeses; robust house-made pastas like pappardelle Bolognese with a thick sauce of veal, beef and pork; an assortment of wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas scattered with San Marzano tomatoes; whole Sicilian-style roasted fish stuffed with fresh herbs and lemon slices; and slow-roasted and grilled meats, including a tender braised short rib. Lunch fare is a little lighter, with panini and a variety of salads in addition to pasta and pizza. The restaurant also boasts an impressive wine list with more than 2,300 bottles and features some rare finds from Spain and Portugal. With a menu that reads like a trip to the Mediterranean, a kitchen that executes the food on point, an attentive wait staff, and an inviting dining room with a stunning desert view, Spiga is a bright new navigation point in the sprawling North Scottsdale food scene.

Second Opinion:
Says a dissenter: “The Italian dishes here are okay, but nothing like you would find at Andreoli Italian Grocer, Pizzeria Bianco or Crudo. The 4,000-square-foot space seems to get more attention than the food.”


5 That Didn’t Make It...
and Why

The Montauk: Banal cocktails and the driest, most unappetizing lobster we’ve ever tasted. The Torquemada of the Valley’s current “seafood renaissance.”

The Upton: Despite the Petite Maison pedigree, our writers were un-blown away. Says one: “Few diners appreciate blubbery pork or giant chunks of bitter turnip. Brunch is amazing; dinner still has a few ingredient missteps.”

The Beverly: We like the cocktail-driven, small-plates concept (see: Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, Counter Intuitive) as much as anybody, but you gotta give us more than “French dip sliders.”

Bistro du Lac: It doesn’t exist anymore. The high-profile French bistro on the McCormick Ranch waterfront rebranded as Peter’s Cuisine, possibly because “they did not have their act together,” according to one writer. “Front or back of house.”

The Ivy: Possibly for lack of exposure, the wine-and-dine Mediterranean lounge in Chandler barely missed the cut. The seafood dishes are “stunning,” according to one reviewer.


Five to Watch in 2016
Okra: Cullen Campbell’s uptown ode to the Southern cooking of his childhood just missed our editorial deadline for 2015. Look for our review next month.   

Citrine: Finally, House of Tricks gets some company in the “Tempe fine dining” category. Think of it as “EVO South.”

Buck and Rider: The LGO Hospitality group (La Grande Orange, Ingo’s) wades into the Valley’s crowded seafood scene. Due this winter at the old Havana Cafe location on Camelback.

Stock and Stable: The Clever Koi boys are installing this “Italian-American gastropub” inside the soon-to-be-completed Colony food hub in Phoenix. Mixologist Josh James will run a cocktail lounge upstairs.

Nico: More good news for Gilbert food buffs. Virtù owner/chef Gio Osso will launch his “West Coast-inspired” Nico concept in the East Valley city this winter.


Best Food in Supporting Role
Counter Intuitive
Led by Crudo wunderkind Micah Olson and Valley mixology godfather Jason Asher, this Old Town quarterly-menu concept is the rare restaurant where the food is built around the cocktail menu, not the other way around. So you might hear something like, “What pairs well with this Sazerac?” before the bartender presents a jar of dreamy rabbit rillettes. 7133 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale

Honorable Mention v2
Adobo Dragon
If we could have squeezed one more restaurant onto the honorable mention list, it may well have been yard bird + the larder’s pan-Asian counterpart at the DeSoto Central Market. With fusion delights like ceviche in aji amarillo sauce and grilled-chicken bao dumplings gilded with mango salsa, it’s a must-visit for Downtown day-trippers. 915 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-842-2694,

PHM1115BNR21Best Kinda-Sorta New Restaurant
The Scottsdale restaurant – which opened in the summer of 2013 – didn’t make our BNR list when it was eligible two years ago. But that was before the owners recruited vagabond culinary genius Peter DeRuvo to retool the menu, transforming a simple Old Town osteria into a destination ristorante. Call it the Best Reboot. 4175 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-265-9814,

Best Vino-Centric Eatery
Sorso Wine Room
It didn’t quite have the votes to make our BNR list, but no one had anything bad to say about the Scottsdale Quarter sip-and-nibble concept. In addition to its “wine on tap” – an upscale vending-machine-like vino dispenser displaying 32 bottles – there are 14 crafts on draft and a tidy menu of scrumptious small bites like bruschetta and charcuterie. 15323 N. Scottsdale Rd., Ste. 150, Scottsdale, 480-951-4344,


Top 5 Readers’ Choice
For the first time ever, we asked readers which eateries made their Best New Restaurants list. Here are your picks.
1. Barrio Urbano
2. Noble Eatery
3. Welcome Chicken + Donuts
4. Fàme Caffe
5. Paz Cantina and Rhema Soul Cuisine (tie)