Attending a holiday event in the Valley this December? From Chandler all the way to Prescott, there’s culinary cheer nearby.
Opened: September 2018
“Christmas creep” notwithstanding, the holidays are undeniably here – along with nightly faux snowfalls and horse-drawn carriage rides at Westgate in Glendale, where you can also score some tempting eats at this cocktail-forward gastropub. Burgers and sandwiches stand out: You can’t go wrong with Da’Lola Burger ($14), with provolone, garlic crema, onions and tempura-style bacon heaped over Angus encrusted with peppercorns. The crispy chicken sandwich ($12) has an intriguing tempura-crunch texture, but the peach slaw that tops it has a muted, lackluster flavor devoid of peach. The most intriguing dessert is the pineapple churro ($7), with a delicious honey syrup glaze and crusty, crunchy bits of churro, though the generous portion of pineapple rings were on the sour side.
Must try: The lobster mac ($14) doesn’t skimp on the shellfish, but our vegetarian server assured us that it’s a treat when ordered meatless, too.
6770 N. Sunrise Blvd., Glendale, 623-877-5225, thelolaaz.com
Opened: September 2018
Say you’re in Chandler to check out the illuminated Tumbleweed Tree (starting December 1). Before or after, you might want to fortify yourself with some warming “shabu-shabu” from this elegant new Japanese hot pot joint. For one price ($25.99 per person; $16.99 for weekday lunch) you get all you can eat of thin-sliced meat, which you can blanch yourself in a square pan mid-table – mild broth on one side; spicier on the other. I particularly relished the beef belly, which cooks in seconds and is far less fatty than the trendy pork belly. The selections also include octopus, squid, shrimp, clams, tofu, udon, ramen, veggies and much more. This was, for me, a more user-friendly take on hot pot than others I’ve experienced.
Must try: Be sure to begin with the Hinoki Box course – meat steamed in a box of hinoki cypress – before you start shabu-ing. It’s a slow, patience-trying process, but the meat is wonderfully moist and fresh.
2055 N. Dobson Rd., Chandler, 602-396-2988, jinshabu.net
Raven Gastropub (pictured)
Opened: July 2018
The name is better suited to Halloween than Christmas, but this glug-and-graze hot spot is a cheery place to grab a bite after some holiday shopping at Scottsdale’s La Mirada center. The restaurant’s eponymous Raven burger ($15) is a winner: Angus beef topped with a bourbon glaze, blue cheese, bacon and salty fried pickles for the win. The Cuban sandwich ($13.50) is less successful, structurally unsound and messy, with un-melted Swiss, though it came with a redeeming blue cheese, bacon and apple slaw. A member of our party asked how young you had to be to order the chicken tenders ($8) from the kids’ menu, and our server admitted that he often got them for lunch. Small wonder, too – they were righteously large, plump and, you know, tender.
Must try: The salmon satay ($12) is on the appetizer menu, but the two skewers served with a tangy mango salsa are entrée-worthy.
8900 E. Pinnacle Peak Rd., Scottsdale, 480-219-9334, ravengp.com
North of the Valley
Lynx Lake Café
Opened: September 2009
Maybe nothing will put you in the holiday spirit but a trip to Prescott to see its celebrated downtown light display, kicking off December 1. On your way into or out of town, hit this homey eatery connected to the Lynx Lake boat rental store. Not only does the dining room command a spectacular view of the lake, but the menu is laden with comfort food of the highest order. The most tempting treats tilt Teutonic, including the Lynx Plate ($16.50 for the dinner size), offering a choice of sausages – bratwurst und kielbasa for me, bitte – with sauerkraut, spitzweck rolls and potato salad (German, needless to say). Just as tempting is the Black Forest ($12.50), a plate of spätzle, mushrooms and ham with cheese and garlic. If you need dessert, the German chocolate cake ($6) is good and not too cloying.
Must try: It isn’t easy, but try to save room for the crisp, non-greasy potato pancakes with applesauce ($9).
4505 E. Forest Service Rd., Prescott, 928-778-0720, lynxlakestore.com/restaurant