Dining Debate

Craig OuthierDecember 19, 2019
Share This

It started out convivially enough. Just a half-dozen colleagues, seated around a table, enjoying some wine and Southwestern-style baked oysters in a restaurant of good, sturdy repute.

But the tensions quickly surfaced.

“Hmm, I don’t know. [Redacted] in the Top 100? A little corporate-y, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s good… but no way it should be ranked above Virtù.”

“I don’t care if everybody is tired of [redacted]. I love it.”

And so on. I was grateful there were no broken pool cues around, because it was headed in that direction, friends.

Ultimately, this agonizing six-way negotiation is how the PHOENIX editing and food writing crew formulated the January cover story you’re about to read: Top 100 Restaurants in the Valley of the Sun, our definitive list of the most indispensable dining institutions in Greater Phoenix.

Photo by Angelina Aragon
Photo by Angelina Aragon

“There was a lot of passion assembled at the table that day in early October. People who care deeply about the Valley food scene, partake of it often and cogitate regularly on the nature of tossed-around foodie terms like ‘local’ and ‘chef-driven.’”

There was a lot of passion assembled at the table that day in early October. People who care deeply about the Valley food scene, partake of it often and cogitate regularly on the nature of tossed-around foodie terms like “local” and “chef-driven.” So we didn’t embark on the project thoughtlessly. We wanted to honor the city’s most spectacular, transcendent restaurants, obviously, but we were just as concerned about including the essential, idiosyncratic offerings that give a city its dining texture. The moms and pops. The novel ethnic eateries. Cool, chef-owned operations getting by on a song and pupusa.

In other words: We didn’t want this “best” list to be dominated by high-dollar steakhouses. So we laid down a ground rule: No out-of-market chain restaurants, no matter how illustrious and locally focused. (For example: One of us fought hard to include Roka Akor, and I admit, it was painful to leave that one on the curb.)

Ultimately, for lack of a better trope, this is our “desert island” list: the 100 restaurants we’d want to take with us if they were the last places in which we’d ever eat. So, yes, we shoehorned some surprises in there, because who can imagine an eternity without palak paneer?

So enjoy perusing this list, along with dining critic Nikki Buchanan’s picks for the year’s best new restaurants and a sneak peek of 2020 restaurant openings.

And if you object to the list, you know where to find us. Bring your pool cue.

For more than 50 years, PHOENIX magazine's experienced writers, editors, and designers have captured all sides of the Valley with award-winning and insightful writing, and groundbreaking report and design. Our expository features, narratives, profiles, and investigative features keep our 385,000 readers in touch with the Valley's latest trends, events, personalities and places.