Where to Eat 2019

Editorial StaffDecember 1, 2018
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Ring in the New Year with this mouthwatering maelstrom of hot new restaurants, dining trends, sneak peeks and more!

by Nikki Buchanan, Marilyn Hawkes, M.V. Moorhead & Craig Outhier

There Will Be Food
Before biting into the meat of our top o’ the year dining coverage, whet your appetite with this zesty aperitif of news, notes and lists.

BNR: Bar Edition
You’ll read about the Valley’s best new restaurants of 2018 later in this section, but what about the best new local bars? Three that would get our vote.

Gracie’s Tax Bar: Visit Grace Perry’s Downtown neo-dive and channel your inner Charles Bukowski. Pro tip: Get the chopped cheese. 711 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-366-0111, graciesphx.com

Social Hall; Photo courtesy AWE CollectiveSocial Hall: The one-time home of Minder Binders is reimagined as a food-forward adult playground: Skee-Ball, meet venison burgers. 715 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe, 480-747-3851, azsocialhall.com

Pobrecito; photo by Kyle Ledeboer/courtesy PobrecitoPobrecito: RoRo’s cocktail culture comes of age with the arrival of this lux cantina from the UnderTow braintrust. 901 N. First St., Phoenix, thechurchillphx.com


Save the Date
Some calendar-sensitive f’n’b events to keep in mind.

Strong Beer Festival (February 9): Arizona Beer Week (Feb. 7-16) kicks off with the state’s premier craft brew hoedown, featuring illustrious brands both national (Dogfish Head, Almanac) and local (Borderlands, Historic). arizonabeerweek.com

Arizona Cocktail Weekend (February 16-18): PHOENIX magazine is proud to serve as the official media partner for Arizona’s craft cocktail confab of record, elegantly rejiggered as a weekend festival in Downtown Phoenix. arizonacocktailweekend.com

Devour the World (February 21): PHOENIX partners with Local First Arizona to bring you a selection of the most exciting global eats featured in our magazine, from BNR winner Pa’La to Native dining legend Kai, in Downtown’s beautiful Japanese Friendship Garden. $70 ticket includes unlimited bites and wine samples. devourphoenix.com


Hot & Not; Photos courtesy beefitswhatsfordinner.com; adobe stock imagesHot & Not
Find which foodstuffs are flourishing – and fizzling – in Valley restaurants.

Trending: Vintage Dinnerware
Forget the swooping, ultra-modern plates and bowls of a decade ago – vintage dinnerware is back in vogue, particularly flowered patterns that exude a cozy grandma vibe. Mismatched patterns together? Even better. Get your kitsch on at Welcome Diner (welcomediner.net), the larder + the delta (thelarderandthedelta.com) and Cotton & Copper (cottonandcopperaz.com).


R.I.P. 2018
Valley diners reluctantly bid adieu to these well-known indie restaurants in 2018.

Coup de Tartes: One of the Valley’s top fine-dining spots throughout the aughts, this French BYOB suffered a fatal dip in quality – and public interest – after relocating south of its original 16th Street location.

Casa Añejo: Evening Entertainment Group deemed this taco-cantina concept a poor fit for 7th  Street shortly after its debut, replacing it with a clone of battle-tested Scottsdale day-drinking haunt Bevvy.

Joe’s Midnight Run: Seemingly popular, this drive-thru-liquor-store-turned-gastropub was felled by limited seating and high food costs, sources say. Boo.

Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend: Buried in the back of multi-use drinking compound The Yard, Fox Restaurant Concept’s fine attempt at an East Coast-style oyster house may reopen in another location.

Sassi: Another 2000s classic bites the dust. According to the owners, the sprawling, fatally remote Scottsdale property will be turned into an assisted living facility.

Iowa Cafe: Singled out as Arizona’s top Iowa-centric restaurant in our January 2016 issue, the Mesa mom-and-pop served its last loose meat sandwich in June.

Sing High Chop Suey House: For lack of an heir – and, arguably, anything remotely edible on the menu – this super old-school, 90-year-old Downtown noodle house closed in October.

Cowboy Ciao: The last T-beam in Peter Kasperski’s foundering restaurant empire finally gave way in October, taking with it this seminal Southwestern-Italian eatery in Old Town. Arguably the Valley’s top restaurant of the 1990s.

Rhema Soul Cuisine: Ron and Via Childs moved their scrappy smokehouse out of Chandler over the summer, but the restaurant’s new off-Garfield location was not the cure for what ailed it. Anointed one of the Valley’s top 10 barbecue restaurants two years ago by PM.

Best New Restaurants of 2018
Our Criteria
1. All candidate restaurants must be locally owned.

2. Restaurants must have opened between November 2017 and October 2018.

3. “New” = original name and concept, or new location with expanded menu.

PHOENIX magazine 2018 Restaurant of the Year No. 1

chef Brandon Gauthier and his Nantucket Bay Scallops with red hominy and roasted poblano; photo by Rob BallardConfluence
Opened: July 2018
36889 N. Tom Darlington Dr., Carefree
480-488-9796, restaurantconfluence.com

That Brandon and Tori Gauthier’s French-influenced American bistro, housed in the former Café Bink space in Carefree, is fabulous — far and away the Valley’s best new restaurant of the year — will come as no surprise to hard-core Kevin Binkley fans. Many of them became acquainted with the unassuming couple’s prodigious talents (he cooked, she managed) at the original Binkley’s in Cave Creek years ago. Here in their very own restaurant, which they bought from Binkley and rebranded last summer, they get every detail right, offering thoughtful wines, a rotating selection of swoon-worthy house-baked breads and elegant, globally inflected dishes that reflect the Binkley’s ethos without being slavish to it. Make no mistake, Gauthier’s worldly food is uniquely his own – soulful and deeply satisfying – but that it so eloquently expresses a soupçon of Binkley’s DNA doesn’t hurt, either. The real shocker is that a place this sophisticated also dishes out the best lunch in town at bargain prices, including a melt-y chicken sandwich that will curl your toes.

oysters with jalapeño; photo by Rob BallardDid You Know?
Carefree has the most restaurants per capita of any city or town in Arizona, per the Arizona Restaurant Association.

Trending: Orange Wine
Wine wonks thirsty for the next thrill will love not only its orange color (acquired by leaving white wine in contact with grape skins and seeds) but also its sour, nutty, tannic character. Test out turbo-charged orange juice at Caffe Boa (cafeboa.com) and Virtù Honest Craft (virtuscottsdale.com) or pick up a can of Caduceus Cellars’ new Queen B.


PHOENIX magazine 2018 Best New Restaurant No. 2

Two Wash Ranch spatchcock chicken; Photo by Rob Ballardthe larder + the delta
: August 2018
200 W. Portland St., Phoenix
480-409-8520, thelarderandthedelta.com

While it’s true that Stephen Jones’ the larder + the delta was the best thing going at the defunct DeSoto Central Market, his sleek new version of the restaurant, overlooking the Portland Street greenbelt, is an altogether different – and better – operation: more polished, more laser-focused and more representative of New Southern Cuisine, a nationwide trend that’s had mixed success in Phoenix. (See: Okra, closed.) Jones could change all that, given the soulful sophistication he brings to the table, interpreted in dishes such as crunchy-bottomed Hoppin’ John, low-country perlou (brimming with shellfish), puffy, crisp-edged hoe cakes with bright salsa verde and savory beignets smoothed with green goddess foam. The larder deserves the No. 2 position for its crackling-crisp (and crack-like) hot chicken alone, a spicy-sweet rendition offered for Tuesday night takeout only. Like everything else at this wickedly good Southern outpost, it’s the real deal, honey child.

Did You Know?
Before launching Blue Hound Kitchen + Cocktails at the Hotel Palomar, Jones trained under Mark Tarbell at the latter chef’s eponymous restaurant.

Trending: Foraging
Eric Flatt of Tonto Bar & Grill (tontobarandgrill.com) has been foraging for 20 years, but the trend is picking up steam as Brett Vibber of Cartwright’s Modern Cuisine (cartwrightsmoderncuisine.com) and Tamara Stanger of Cotton & Copper (cottonandcopperaz.com)  pick through the forest and chaparral for wild mushrooms, sumac, juniper berries and the like.


PHOENIX magazine 2018 Best New Restaurant No. 3

Mahón cheese and salametto; Navarro bowl with wild Guaymas shrimp; olives and spicy almonds; salad greens; schiacciata; Photo by Blake BonillasPa’La
Opened: November 2017
2107 N. 24th St., Phoenix
602-795-9500, palakitchen.com

Why would we give the coveted No. 3 spot to a tiny pan-Latin tapas restaurant, housed in a bare-bones bungalow where counter service, paper plates and a chalkboard menu are the fast-casual M.O.? Easy. It’s one of the best restaurants to open over the past 12 months, thanks to forward-thinking chef and co-owner Claudio Urciuoli, who puts his money where your mouth is, painstakingly sourcing premium, pristine ingredients and coaxing out the food’s natural goodness without flamboyant manipulation. The seafood is spectacular, and so is Urciuoli’s wood-fired house bread, a chewy, black-at-the-edges schiacciata that serves as the foundation for several of the earthy yet otherworldly dishes on his rotating menu. (One of my favorites: a sandwich of smoked pork loin with creamy mozzarella and red pepper relish.) You could argue that Pa’La, which means “for the people,” is all about making high-end ingredients affordable, and you’d be right. But it’s also a virtuoso performance-art lesson on the virtues of simplicity, making standard restaurant amenities begin to look like extra baggage.

Did You Know?
Urciuoli’s wife, Sara Kafadar, is owner and COO of Denver-based Izzio Artisan Bakery, maker of nutritious bread.


PHOENIX magazine 2018 Best New Restaurant No. 4

brioche French toast topped with fresh whipped cream and raspberry compote; photo by Debby WolvosWelcome Diner
Opened: May 2018
929 E. Pierce St., Phoenix
602-495-1111, welcomediner.net

Just as Old Blue Eyes crooned, love is both lovelier and more comfortable the second time around. Same goes for the occasional restaurant. Case in point: Welcome Diner, the Southern-accented eatery which first earned acclaim in a shoebox trailer on Roosevelt Row, but found true greatness in the new, larger, neon-trimmed building it decamped for last spring. All the better for chef and co-owner Michael Babcock to dish out beloved standbys such as a dreamy grilled cheese (possibly the best in the city) and the belly-busting Big Jim (a towering fried chicken sando served on a golden brown buttermilk biscuit) alongside soon-to-be signatures such as stewed okra with smoked tomatoes, chorizo meatloaf and a handful of Cajun classics that rival anything NOLA can dish out. Factor in cool cocktails, dandy desserts and drool-inducing daily specials, and it’s easy to see how this fun, ambitious reboot deserves consideration as a new restaurant.

Did You Know?
Babcock is also the songwriter-producer of Valley bedroom-pop band SLWLY.

Trending: Cocktail Bar Sustainability
It’s not just for restaurants anymore. Forward-thinking cocktail bars are either composting fruit and veggie waste or using every bit of the fruit (say, pineapple pulp for syrup) as well as recycling bottles and cans and finding compostable straws.
Forerunners in the movement: The Breadfruit & Rum Bar (thebreadfruit.com) and Bitter & Twisted (bitterandtwistedaz.com).


PHOENIX magazine 2018 Best New Restaurant No. 5

Chef Rene Andrade (on the ground) and cousin Roberto Centeno revel in their BNR award. Also pictured: braised pork enchiladas, and chicken with polenta and root vegetables (foreground, left). photo by Debby WolvosGhost Ranch Modern Southwest Cuisine
Opened: August 2018
1006 E. Warner Rd., Tempe
480-474-4328, ghostranchaz.com

Restaurateur Aaron Chamberlin has been on fire this past year, opening Tempe Public Market in January, Taco Chelo on Roosevelt Row in March and Ghost Ranch behind Tempe Public Market at the end of August. Of the three, upscale Ghost Ranch is by far the most intriguing, offering a sleek revision of the Southwestern Cuisine of the ’80s, when French technique married with Hatch chiles, pork adovada and other Southwestern staples yielded such highbrow trailblazers as Vincent’s and Cowboy Ciao. Chamberlin’s vision, deftly executed by chef Rene Andrade, brings Southwestern Cuisine down to earth with a mashup of ingredients and cooking styles from Mexico, Spain, indigenous cuisines and cowboys. Silky, sweet pumpkin soup, elegant pollo asado (grilled half-chicken spooned with green chile jus, served with creamy polenta and sweet roasted root vegetables) and chile-chocolate cake with lime and avocado perfectly illustrate what Southwestern Cuisine in 2018 should look like, and it isn’t chocolate tacos or chipotle coq au vin.

Did You Know?
Chamberlin is the uncle of sometime PHOENIX fashion writer Corbin Chamberlin.


PHOENIX magazine 2018 Best New Restaurant No. 6

Veggie pizza; photo by Rob BallardRoland’s Cafe Market Bar
Opened: April 2018
1505 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix
602-441-4749, rolandsphx.com

When taco hot shots Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez of Tacos Chiwas fame partnered with pizza legend and James Beard Award winner Chris Bianco to open a mostly Mexican, vaguely Italian-inflected restaurant in a 100-year-old building along a sleepy strip of Van Buren Street, Phoenix foodies held their collective breath, imagining the culinary explosion such a collaboration might produce. And while rustic but refined Roland’s hasn’t exactly touched off fireworks, it’s a quietly wonderful restaurant turning out homey dish after dish that feeds both body and soul. The menu defies labeling, offering mortadella-topped quesadillas, burnished in a wood-fired oven; hefty sandwiches built on crusty Bianco bread with ingredients such as carnitas, beans, arugula and lemon vinaigrette; and entomatadas (think enchiladas) enveloped in a house-made tomato sauce so consoling you’ll want a pacifier and a nap afterward. It’s not often that the same restaurant slings a mean Mexican-inspired cocktail and cranks out the best breakfast in town, but Roland’s does, suavely making the usual unusually good.

Did You Know?
The Bianco-Holguin-Hernandez troika recently opened their second restaurant: The Normal, located inside The Graduate hotel in Tempe.

Trending: Seacuterie
It’s the charcuterie of the sea: fish or shellfish that’s been smoked, pickled, salt-cured, brine-cured or otherwise preserved. Catch the smoked catfish dip or pickled shrimp at the larder + the delta (thelarderandthedelta.com), smoked fish rillettes at Cotton & Copper (cottonandcopperaz.com) and pickled shrimp at Welcome Diner (welcomediner.net).


PHOENIX magazine 2018 Best New Restaurant No. 7

grilled spanish octopus; photo by Debby Wolvos

Parma Italian Roots
: September 2018
20831 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
480-292-9900, parmaitalianaz.com

If there’s one thing Phoenix has never suffered for, it’s an abundance of Italian restaurants. So young gun chef Chris Gentile (who made a name for himself at Double Standard Kitchenetta in San Diego) isn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel at Parma, where he turns out arancini, Caesar salad, wood-fired pizzas and pasta. That said, Parma earns a place on this list for one undisputable reason: Gentile’s modern, West Coast-inflected spin on Italian food is ridiculously good. Yes, you can find Brussels sprouts anywhere and everywhere, but not like Gentile’s fluffy, crisp-edged iteration, amped up with salty pancetta, sweet sultanas and buttery Parmesan. From his wood-fired oven come sea salt-flecked bread (charred and crusty, served with black truffle whipped butter) and memorable pizzas like the Diavola, topped with soppressata and hot honey. His short rib pappardelle just might be the richest and best in town, making Parma the new-school Italian restaurant any neighborhood would be lucky to have.

Did You Know?
Soppressata is a type of dry salami from Southern Italy, often spicier than classic salami, with larger, less distributed pieces of fat.


PHOENIX magazine 2018 Best New Restaurant No. 8

Lagman soup; an assortment of kebabs; chuchvara (dumplings with chile sauce); kebabs (lamb, skirt steak and chicken); and fatir bread; photo by Debby WolvosCafe Chenar
: August 2018
1601 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix

Of all the restaurants on this list, snug Cafe Chenar felt the most out-of-the-blue. No publicists, no Instagram food-porn barrage – just the wildly eclectic Bukharian Jewish cooking of chef-owner Mazal Uvaydova, whose ancestors’ proximity to the Silk Road in Central Asia helped them perfect one of the world’s earliest fusion cuisines. Imagine a vibrant menu that brings together Persia’s kebabs and pilafs, India’s tandoor-baked breads, China’s hand-pulled noodles, Turkey’s manti, Korea’s spicy carrot slaw and Russia’s dumplings and dill, and you’ll get a glimmer of how exotic but strangely familiar Chenar’s dishes can be. Lagman (soup brimming with beef, noodles and vegetables) and fatir (layered, green onion-flecked flatbread) make a good jumping-off point for the timid, and for the slightly more adventurous, there are smoky sweetbread kebabs and chuchvara, meat- and onion-stuffed dumplings sided with a tongue-tingling red chile sauce that brings China to mind. Hard to make a mistake here – just close your eyes and point.

Did You Know?
Uzbekistan is one of only two doubly land-locked countries (surrounded only by other land-locked nations) in the world. The other is Euro-duchy Liechtenstein.

Trending: lowercase chic
In the perennial struggle to separate oneself from the pack, new restaurants are stylishly forgoing upper-case letters in their branding, à la will.i.am and vitaminwater. Cases in point: Downtown bakery petit jo (opening in spring) French all-day eatery josephine (opening in fall), and BNR winner the larder + the delta.


PHOENIX magazine 2018 Best New Restaurant No. 9

Orgía de mariscos; photo by Isabella CastilloAndes Peruvian Cuisine
: July 2018
6025 N. 27th Ave., Phoenix
602-368-9205, losandesphx.com

Chef-owner Oscar Graham, who spread the Peruvian-cuisine gospel in California before moving to Phoenix, earns rave reviews wherever he goes. Local aficionados will likely remember his outstanding food at dearly departed Contigo (where he was chef) and Tumi (of which he was chef-owner) before he opened this plain-Jane but comfy little spot just west of the I-17 in July. His menu here showcases the same Peruvian classics he’s always prepared – vibrant ceviches, smoky anticuchos, papas a la Huancaina smoothed in a pale yellow sauce that pays homage to the sun, Chinese-inspired lomo saltado and blackened pollo a la brasa – and they’re just as lip-smacking as ever. Graham deserves an award for his desserts alone, particularly alfajores (powdered sugar-dusted shortbread cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche) and airy, sweet potato-stuffed picarones (fritters served with a molasses-like dipping sauce).

Did You Know?
Though the potato originated in Peru, the country does not rank in the Top 10 worldwide in potato consumption. Belarus is No. 1, consuming about 390 pounds per capita annually.


PHOENIX magazine 2018 Best New Restaurant No. 10

Sashimi platter; Photo by David B. MooreSushi Nakano
: February 2018
4025 E. Chandler Blvd., Ahwatukee

As the driven-to-succeed head chef and owner of this lovely sliver of a sushi bar, Leo Nakano casts a wide net, offering the Philly and Las Vegas rolls that appeal to a general crowd right alongside the superlative nigiri-zushi that so handily earns him a spot on this list. Having worked for years under his father Hirofumi Nakano (of Scottsdale legend Hiro Sushi), he honors tradition while breaking with it, turning out obscure Japanese classics such as crunchy surf clam (aoyagi), velvety magurozuke (tuna marinated in soy and brown sugar) and flights of fancy like raijin – a deep-fried, nutty-tasting rice patty stacked with spicy tuna, avocado, jalapeño and garlic chips. His individualized-by-price omakase is already his claim to fame, and now that Nakano has rolled out a new “tapas” menu – which might include soft-shelled crab or the egg custard dish known as chawanmushi – the Nakano experience just gets better and better.

Did You Know?
Leo Nakano started working in his dad’s restaurant at age 14 and attended Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain High School.


Honorable Mentions

Osteria owner/cook Alec-Lauren Golzio with bucatini aglio e olio; photo by Debby WolvosOsteria
Opened: February 2018
Full disclosure: This winsome modern Italian trattoria, led by executive chef Tony Snyder, would have made the Top 10 list if not for a spate of lease disputes in the fall, followed by a brief closure and a modest remaking of the menu we reviewed in the summer. Is the current grilled octopus as good as the version we originally raved about? Probably, but the recent uncertainty makes our praise a bit less full-throated. 5609 E. McKellips Rd., Mesa, 480-300-5404, osteriausa.com

Taco Chelo
Opened: March 2018
Yelpers who complain that Chelo’s $3.50-$3.75 tacos are pricey (in what universe?) aren’t looking at the big and far more elevated picture: crispy house-made chicharrones, a lovely citrus and jicama-studded salad with Meyer lemon vinaigrette and tiny but terrific quesadillas served in a whimsical, upscale setting that accurately reflects Roosevelt Row’s gentrification. 501 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, 602-368-5316, tacochelo.com

Cotton & Copper
Opened: July 2018
Mixologist-owner Sean Traynor and chef Tamara Stanger are the talented twosome behind this Arizona-centric neighborhood hangout, offering great cocktails (try the Agua Caliente) and elevated bar food, including tepary bean hummus, corn dumplings, a juicy charbroiled burger and unforgettable smoked fish rillettes. 1006 E. Warner Rd., #113, Tempe, 480-629-4270, cottonandcopperaz.com

Trending: Fast-Casual Plus
The “plus” translates to “cocktails, beer and wine,” in this case. Joining Illegal Pete’s in 2019 will be George Lopez’s Chingon Kitchen and Taco Bell Cantina (page 98) – both quick-order concepts where the kid at the register can legally ask: “You want beer with that?”


Best New Restaurants Extras

The No-Shows
Don’t see your favorite new restaurant on Nikki Buchanan’s Top 10 list? There might be a reason.

Bar Pesce
Chef Cullen Campbell’s kinda-sorta reboot of Crudo opened after our deadline. We’ll keep it in mind for next year.

Starlite BBQ
Buchanan was ambivalent about Walter Sterling’s Scottsdale barbecue café. On one hand, she liked the sides and “winsome” ambiance. On the other, it didn’t “smell like smoke,” her smokehouse test.

“A culinary conundrum” is how Buchanan characterized this ambitious Seventh Street bistro, which “tackles French, Italian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese and Korean dishes with varying degrees of success,” she wrote in July.

Jalapeno Buck’s
Earned a rave from Buchanan in August, but we were a little late to the party: The scrappy barbecue joint opened in 2015.


M.V.’s Top 5 Best New Restaurants
Mom-and-pop specialist M.V. Moorhead – who pens the Four Corners page in Eat Beat – names the five restaurants he “most enjoyed while obsessively crossing and re-crossing the Valley throughout 2018.”

Wraps N Curry; photo by Angelina Aragon
Wraps N Curry

Improbable concept, improbably wonderful results, including tikka masala wrapped in naan, with crinkle-cut fries. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a new American classic. facebook.com/fastindianfood

Raven Gastropub; photo by Sydney Brown
Raven Gastropub

Hungry nevermore! Everything from superb burgers to tasty salmon satay can be had at this nascent nook in North Scottsdale, named for Poe’s favorite avian. ravengp.com


If you need courage to brave the steel hipster sanctum of The Churchill at First and Roosevelt streets, think about this from-scratch sandwich shop. It’s my favorite of the lot of The Churchill’s sundry food kiosks. breadwinnerphx.com

Urban Margarita
Urban Margarita

It might sound like heresy, but one could argue that New Mexican cuisine is the single most beloved food style in Arizona –
and this cheery Glendale gastropub continues the tongue-tingling tradition. urbanmargarita.com

Cool Vybz Jamaican Restaurant
Cool Vybz Jamaican Restaurant

Get ready for some succulent island eats at this Caribbean joint in the Christown Spectrum area of north-central Phoenix – as long as you get there early enough; otherwise they might be out of everything. coolvybz-jamaican-restaurant.business.site

Trending: Cooking/Tasting Classes
Chefs around the Valley – including those at Match Restaurant & Lounge, Marcellino Ristorante and Mora Italian – are turning their kitchens into classrooms, a way to both monetize non-peak hours and get eyes on their food. Classes are the new wine dinner.

Trending: Wineries in Old Town
Scottsdale’s original tasting-room trailblazer, LDV Winery, has relocated to a bigger tasting room at the Waterfront with a new line of wine-infused spreads and sauces; meanwhile, Carlson Creek Vineyard, Salvatore Vineyards and Aridus Wine Company have all recently opened tasting rooms.


Best Reboot
Although it hummed along successfully for more than a decade under the tutelage of executive chef Mel Mecinas, this flagship resort restaurant took a spectacular leap toward brilliance when chef de cuisine Samantha Sanz took the reins and gave the menu a dramatic pan-Latin makeover last winter. Try the dreamy, garlic-scented gambas al ajillo (huge, almost fluffy prawns bathed in bright, tomatillo-based mole verde) and the single best paella (crunchy-bottomed and brimming with fresh seafood) you’ll likely ever have. Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North. 10600 E. Crescent Moon Dr., Scottsdale, 480-513-5085, talaverarestaurant.com

Best Import
Illegal Pete’s
It was a Keira Knightley-thin year for blue-chip restaurant imports. No Roka Akors or Lou Malnati’s in the bunch, and Halal Guys didn’t quite live up to the hype, to be perfectly honest. So we’ll go with this disarming Denver-based taqueria for our out-of-market pick. It’s like a Chipotle with booze, or a fast-casual Joyride Taco House, with the most shatteringly crispy Baja fish tacos in town. 525 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, 623-233-4311, illegalpetes.com


Sneak Peeks 2019
These in-development eateries have Valley food fans licking their chops.
by Marilyn Hawkes

Agave del Scottsdale
Located in the old McCormick Ranch Butters Pancakes & Cafe location, this multi-regional Mexican concept (Yucatán Peninsula, Mazatlan, Puebla and Veracruz) will feature five types of scratch-made mole. 8390 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale (Early 2019)

coup de grâce/josephine
From Grace Unger of Tuck Shop comes this Gallic-themed Downtown lounge-restaurant featuring absinthe service, French whiskies and 1970s décor on one side; and modern French cuisine via all-day dining menus with small and large plates, charcuterie and artisan cheeses, and French wines on the other. Sounds like an exciting de facto heir to French Grocery. 218 E. Portland St., Phoenix (Fall 2019)

Chula Seafood
The boat-to-table maestros will bring their snapping-fresh poke bowls and kick-arse salmon bagel sandwiches to Central Phoenix’s resurgent Uptown Plaza alongside Huss Brewing and Lou Malnati’s. (First quarter 2019)

Fellow Osteria & Pizzeria
The folks behind Clever Koi (Born & Raised Hospitality) bring casual Italian-style, all-day dining to SkySong, with grab-and-go breakfast items and coffee, pizzas, pastas, craft cocktails and an extensive global wine list. 1455 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale (Late December 2018/January 2019)

Hidden Kitchen
Pop-up dinner and catering chef Ivan Jacobo will open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the historic Heritage Square building formerly occupied by Rose & Crown Pub. From the pictures, we’re guessing “modern Mediterranean.” 628 E. Adams St., Phoenix (February 2019)

Keeler’s Neighborhood Steakhouse
Reasonably priced, high-quality steakhouse from Keeler Hospitality Group (Liberty Station) with rooftop bar and energetic happy hour. 7212 E. Ho Hum Rd., Carefree (Opened December 2018)

Little Rituals
Mixologists Ross Simon (Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour) and Aaron DeFeo (Tucson’s Casino del Sol) transform a space on the fourth floor of the Residence Inn by Marriott into Downtown’s newest cocktail mecca. 132 S. Central Ave., Phoenix (Late December 2018/January 2019)

Chef Danny Grant of Maple & Ash; photo courtesy Maple & AshMaple & Ash
Chicago-based steakhouse Maple & Ash will move into the vacated Scottsdale Waterfront Wildfish Grille space with a menu crafted by two-Michelin-star chef Danny Grant and a whopper wine list. 7135 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, mapleandash.com (Early 2019)

Monroe’s Hot Chicken
Soul food mogul Larry White (LoLo’s Chicken & Waffles) works his magic in a related genre: the trending art of Nashville-style fried chicken. Will join Bitter & Twisted in Downtown’s historic Luhrs Tower (Late spring 2019)

Ocean 44
The latest offering from steakhouse legends Jeff and Michael Mastro is a fish-focused affair in the Scottsdale Fashion Square area and presumptive BNR candidate in 2019. 4748 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale, ocean44.com (Opened December 2019)

Press Coffee
The local coffee mavens at Press Coffee will build a flagship roasting facility with public viewing areas and a fully functioning café at 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard in north Phoenix. 10443 N. 32nd St., Phoenix, presscoffee.com (Spring 2019)

Toca Madera
West Hollywood-based Toca Madera will replicate its upscale Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale Fashion Square’s new luxury wing where the emphasis will be on locally sourced and organic ingredients. Menu studded with vegan and gluten-free dishes. 7014 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale, tocamadera.com (Summer 2019)

The Phoenician Tavern
New gathering spot at The Phoenician promises local craft beers and cocktails with polished pub grub and an indoor-outdoor bar patio with views of the resort’s newly designed golf course. Open for lunch, dinner and happy hour. 6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale. (Early spring 2019)

Taco Bell Cantina
Beta-tested in Chicago in 2015, this adult-beverage-licensed imprint of the popular fast food chain features a beefed-up menu with shareable appetizers, plus booze slushies, beer, wine and sangria. (Late December 2018/January 2019)

Untitled Barter and Shake Project
Mixology maestro Jason Asher and co. will open a cocktail/gastropub concept in the shuttered former home of Gino’s East, just down the sidewalk from their celebrated Undertow tiki lounge. (Early 2019)

Trending: Crazy Milkshakes
Why settle for a perfectly nice cupcake when you can stuff it into a milkshake? That’s the philosophy behind a new generation of ultra-obscene, ultra-Instagrammable trophy shakes popping up in Valley restaurants. The most accomplished offender: ZuZu at the Hotel Valley Ho.

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