2019 Best New Restaurants

Nikki BuchananDecember 19, 2019
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Wood-fired cioppino at Persepshen; Photo by Debby Wolvos
Wood-fired cioppino at Persepshen; Photo by Debby Wolvos

See which tyro restaurants best tickled the fancy of PHOENIX dining critic Nikki Buchanan in 2019. Bonus: A sneak preview of new restaurants for 2020.

Photography by Rob ballard, Isabella Castillo, Mirelle Inglefield, Melissa Valladares, Debby Wolvos

THE CRITERIA

-> Must have opened between November 2018 and October 2019.

-> Must be locally conceived and owned.

-> Must be amaaaazing.

PHOENIX magazine 2019 RESTAURANT of the YEAR
No. 1
ShinBay

3720 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
480-361-1021, shin-bay.com
Opened: March 2019
Best new restaurant? Debatable, I admit. But the food conjured by chef Shinji Kurita at his sleek, streamlined sushi restaurant in Scottsdale is so breathtaking that he handily earns the top spot – even if ShinBay is technically a reboot. Kurita’s two-hour omakase dinner (Japan’s freewheeling version of the tasting menu) is a fish-centric joyride with one of the city’s great talents, a perfectionist who sources rare, top-quality fish, uses age-old cooking methods and applies the Japanese principle of subtraction (akin to “less is more”) to every dish – painstakingly creating beautiful bite-size masterpieces that honor time and place. In Kurita’s capable hands, simplicity looks so easy.
Did You Know?
The original ShinBay ran in Chandler from 2001 to 2007.

ShinBay; Photo by Rob Ballard
ShinBay; Photo by Rob Ballard
No. 2
Century Grand

3626 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix
602-739-1388, centurygrandphx.com
Opened: October 2019
Immersive drinking and dining experiences are white-hot, a trend duly noted by barkeep-restaurateurs Jason Asher and Rich Furnari (of UnderTow fame), who dreamed up this evocative 1920s concept: a restaurant (Century Grand), reservations-only bar (Platform 18) and whiskey shop (Grey Hen) that uncannily replicate a train station, platform and moving train car. Combine all that nostalgic, jaw-dropping razzle-dazzle with the superpowers of chef Sacha Levine (whose “dim sum” carts are laden with beef cheek Wellington, fall fruits Waldorf and other ’20s-inspired dishes), whiskey wizard John Christie (who has curated the largest collection of single barrel American whiskeys in the U.S.) and wine wonk Penny Nichols (whose avant-garde wine list specializes in un-manipulated “natural” wines) and you have the year’s most excitingly original new restaurant.
Did You Know?
To create the sensation of a moving train car, Asher and Furnari shot 100 hours of raw train footage in Colorado.

Century Grand; Photo by Debby Wolvos
Century Grand; Photo by Debby Wolvos
Persepshen; Photo by Debby Wolvos
Persepshen; Photo by Debby Wolvos
No. 3
Persepshen

4700 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
602-935-2932, facebook.com/persepshen
Opened: October 2019
Never mind the goofy, hard-to-remember spelling of “perception.” This rustic, farm-to-table mom-and-pop, owned by Jason Dwight (the butcher, pictured) and his wife, Katherine (the baker), is terrific in every way, handily earning a Top 3 spot for a slew of reasons. Together, this couple pretty much does it all – sourcing from local farmers, curing and aging their own meats (which Jason has cut down from Arizona-raised whole animals) and baking their own breads and desserts. Jason even made the impossibly cool light fixture, further illustrating their all-in approach.
Did You Know?
In its previous life, the Central Avenue restaurant was a Hula’s Modern Tiki location.

No. 4
Hush Public House

14202 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
480-758-5172, hushpublichouse.com
Opened: February 2019
It’s no secret that Dom Ruggiero (pictured) and Charles Barber’s convivial gastropub, housed in a skinny, consistently crowded strip mall storefront, is the best thing that ever happened to the dining wasteland of North Scottsdale. We continue to dig the fun cocktails (Barber’s forte) and Ruggiero’s sophisticated meat- and veggie-centric menu, a reflection of his stints at FnB (with Charleen “Veggie” Badman) and The Meat Market, where he honed his skill with steaks, chops and terrines. Frankly, his reinvented Italian beef alone is worth the ranking.
Did You Know?
Ruggiero’s passion for octopus is not limited to the dinner plate –  one of his arm-length sleeve tattoos is devoted to the cephalopod.

Hush Public House; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Hush Public House; Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Ocean 44; Photo by Rob Ballard
Ocean 44; Photo by Rob Ballard
No. 5
Ocean 44

4748 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale
480-867-0044, ocean44.com
Opened: December 2018
Designed by the Testani Design Troupe to look like a graciously appointed home in California (think Meryl Streep’s Santa Barbara haven in It’s Complicated), this see-and-be-seen seafood restaurant, owned by the Mastro family of steakhouse fame, is more about shock and awe than gentility, which explains why it’s always packed with power players and the plebes who want to mingle in their midst. It’s one of Scottsdale’s hottest new restaurants this year but also one of its best, consistently delivering on premium seafood and perfectly cooked steaks while providing all the little extras (attentive service, fancy scotch) that make for a money-well-spent experience.
Did You Know?
Chef Marc Lupino brought a 30-pound king salmon back from a recent trip to Alaska and served it at the restaurant.

No. 6
Vecina

3433 N. 56th St., Phoenix
602-675-2000, vecinaphx.com
Opened: September 2019
Vecina, which means “neighbor” in Spanish, is the perfect name for this small, incredibly appealing Latin-inspired New American restaurant housed in the former Kitchen 56 space. The brainchild of chefs and co-owners James Fox and Eric Stone, it’s already the best restaurant in Arcadia and one of the most sophisticated yet down-to-earth spots in town. Every detail – the aroma of wood smoke, the lush flower mural and soundtrack of Latin rap artists – is spot on, making Vecina the place to hang out over gorgeous cocktails and shareable small plates of shrimp aguachile, fingerling papas with house-made green chorizo and pork belly tostadas.
Did You Know?
For several years, Fox was the head chef at Valley barbecue hot spot Bootleggers.

Vecina; Photo by Debby Wolvos
Vecina; Photo by Debby Wolvos
No. 7
MODERN OysterBar Chophouse

10050 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
480-531-1400, modernoysterbarchophouse.com
Opened: February 2019
Owned by industry veterans Frank Schneider and Cat and Randy Frankel – who’ve cooked or served in dozens of local restaurants for decades – swanky MODERN reminds us what high-end restaurants used to be: quiet retreats (not meat markets) for grownups who expect gracious, professional service when they’re spending beaucoup bucks on dinner. Of course, seafood figures prominently here – especially oysters, a half dozen varieties offered in classic preparations at the oyster bar or your table (try them grilled, they’re awesome).
Did You Know?
A live oyster can filter 1.3 gallons of water per hour.

MODERN Oysterbar Chophouse; Photo by Rob Ballard
MODERN Oysterbar Chophouse; Photo by Rob Ballard
No. 8
Fellow Osteria

1455 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
480-207-1864, fellowosteria.com
Opened: December 2018
It’s hard to put a finger on any one thing that’s endearing about this modern Italian restaurant in SkySong – owned by Clever Koi confreres Nicholas Campisano and mixologist Joshua James – when there are so many valid reasons to love it: its massive windows, for one, pulling the sunlight and greenery of the outside in; the aromatic garden just beyond those windows, its fresh herbs used in creative cocktails at the bar and on pizzas and pastas in the kitchen. And, of course, its straightforward menu offering good, simple food you can afford to eat often.
Did You Know?
Campisano and James have plans to open a ramen shop at SkySong this summer.

Fellow Osteria; Photo by Rob Ballard
Fellow Osteria; Photo by Rob Ballard
No. 9
La Marquesa

1915 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix
602-252-7777
Opened: May 2019
Felipe Guzman and his wife, Cristina Meillon (of La Santisima fame), have never settled for the usual Mexican restaurant tropes, which partially explains why their new Jalisco-style Mexican restaurant, specializing in birria de chivo (earthy, funky goat meat stew), lingers so mightily in our subconscious. Fabulous Mexican art and a good tequila selection set the tone for rustic, thrillingly different dishes such as tuétanos (garlicky bone marrow, eaten in tacos), chamorro (adobo-marinated pork shank, wrapped in maguey leaves) and chilindrinas regias (a tostada-like situation topped with pork cheek and Chihuahua cheese).
Did You Know?
Goat meat is the most consumed meat per capita worldwide.

La Marquesa; Photo by Isabella Castillo
La Marquesa; Photo by Isabella Castillo
No. 10
The Hidden House

159 W. Commonwealth Ave., Chandler
480-275-5525, hiddenhouseaz.com
Opened: August 2019
Alliterative, adorable Hidden House is last but not least on our list. In fact, it’s Chandler’s coolest new hangout, offering a pretty, plant-filled patio and outdoor bar in the front, an event-friendly hangar and bar in the back and a cozy restaurant within the original 1939 cottage itself. Inviting spaces aside, what makes this winsome place work so well are both the confident cocktail program, ranging from Prohibition to Tiki and beyond, and the approachable New American menu, offering well-executed crowd-pleasers such as beet salad, tuna tataki, grilled octopus and butternut squash ravioli. Chandler just got a little hipper.
Did You Know?
This bustling eatery is from the same folks who brought you Chandler hot spot The Brickyard Downtown.

The Hidden House; Photo by Melissa Valladares
The Hidden House; Photo by Melissa Valladares
Honorable Mention Best Import
FLINT by Baltaire

2425 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix,
602-812-4818, flintbybaltaire.com
Opened: October 2019
Open barely a month at press time, FLINT by Baltaire (pictured) – the glittering new Mediterranean-inflected American restaurant owned by the team behind Baltaire Steakhouse in LA – is on fire. And why not? The gleaming, glass-enclosed kitchen that dominates the raised dining room turns dinner into theater. The good news is FLINT’s boldly flavored food – sparked with harissa, Aleppo peppers, Calabrian chiles and Middle Eastern herbs – doesn’t require propping up, offering plenty of drama of its own in the form of Mediterranean dips and spreads, wood-fired pizzas and wood-grilled meats. Restaurant imports seldom survive our fickle, finicky market, but this concept has legs.

Flint By Baltaire; Photo courtesy Flint By Baltaire
Flint By Baltaire; Photo courtesy Flint By Baltaire
M.V.’s TOP 5 Best new Restaurants

Mom-and-pop specialist M.V. Moorhead – who pens the Four Corners review section in Eat Beat – names the five restaurants he most enjoyed while obsessively grazing in 2019.

1. Tempura Takeover

Delectable battered lobster rolls and shellfish served out of a Gilbert Mobil station convenience store. Be still, my heart. tempuratakeover.com

2. Los Arbolitos de Cajeme

The Mexico City chain makes its U.S. debut in west-central Phoenix. The seafood is particularly fine; try the filete florista. mariscoslosarbolitos.com

3. Agave del Scottsdale

Finely tuned Mex in a high-end setting. Don’t miss the tlacoyos de huitlacoche: masa topped with scrumptious corn smut. agavedelscottsdale.com

4. La Esquina Argentina

It’d be easy to overlook this nondescript Mesa nook on Broadway Road, but the smell will draw carnivores right in. Wonderful empanadas. made-in-argentina-la-esquina-argentina.business.site

5. Topo

Yeah, it’s just a walk-up with burritos and ice cream. But they’re delicious. Plus, there’s a giant gopher on the roof. topoarizona.com

2020 Sneak Peeks

These in-development eateries have local food aficionados licking their chops.

By Marilyn Hawkes

Arrive Phoenix

Billed as Uptown Phoenix’s first neighborhood hotel, ARRIVE will also offer fanciful food and drink, including Lylo Pool Bar, featuring Asian-influenced small bites, and cocktails by local drink maven Ross Simon of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour; Don Woods’ Say When penthouse cocktail lounge inspired by 1971’s Playboy’s Host & Bar Book; and flagship restaurant Let’s Eat, offering “straightforward, uncomplicated food” from chef Alex Resnick. (First quarter 2020)

Barrel & Bushel

Chef Chelsea Cummings (Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen at Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows) will lead the kitchen at Barrel & Bushel in the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Phoenix, which features an indoor/outdoor bar space. Look for modern American comfort fare, a stellar roster of cocktails and 16 beers on tap. (January 2020)

Broth & Bao

Scottsdale SkySong’s newest fast-casual restaurant, Broth & Bao, will serve up Clever Koi-inspired build-your-own ramen bowls, bao buns, togarashi fries and soft serve ice cream. Brought to you by Joshua James and Nicholas Campisano of Clever Koi and Fellow Osteria. (Summer 2020)

Farmhouse

This California-based farm-to-table concept uses produce and grains from “executive farmer” Nathan Peitso’s family farm and other regional farms with an emphasis on responsibly farmed meat, poultry and sustainable seafood. Located outside of Scottsdale Fashion Square’s luxury wing. (Late 2020)

Ilegal Modern Cocktail Kitchen

Bitters Bar & Food’s Erika Rode will open a rooftop restaurant and bar in downtown Gilbert focusing on ingredients and flavors found in Arizona and the Sonoran Desert. The cocktail program will showcase agave spirits, smoke-infused and CBD-infused drinks. (Early 2020)

Josephine/Coup de Grâce

The Roosevelt Arts District will be home to Josephine, a new restaurant from Grace Unger of Tuck Shop featuring globally inspired fare by executive chef Ryan Pitt. Also in house – Coup de Grâce, a 1970s Parisian-inspired back bar. (January 2020)

Kin Dai Kin Dee – New Thai Cookhouse

Jeff Fisher and Courtney Luengthada will debut a contemporary Thai concept grounded in family recipes with global influences. The restaurant, whose name translates to “eat good eat well,” will have an outdoor patio and full bar. (March 2020)

Mochilero Kitchen

Chef and co-owner Jorge Cota, along with chef Justin Banauch (Chelsea’s Kitchen, The Mission), will offer their take on traditional and contemporary Mexican cuisine in resto-starved Peoria. (January 2020)

Nobu

The long-awaited restaurant from Japanese celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa will open in Scottsdale Fashion Square’s luxury wing and wow guests with world-class sashimi and sushi, plus a few dishes unique to the Scottsdale location. (Spring 2020)

Stratta Lifestyle Kitchen

Michelin-starred chef Alex Stratta enters a new dining arena with a fast-casual restaurant centering on “plant-leaning” cuisine based on the Mediterranean diet. Diners will find traditional dishes with modern flair and bold flavors, at the Scottsdale address previously occupied by The Melting Pot. (March 2020)

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