2020 Best New Restaurants

Editorial StaffNovember 13, 2020
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Chef Yuji Iwasa at Ramen Kagawa; Photo by Rob Ballard
Chef Yuji Iwasa at Ramen Kagawa; Photo by Rob Ballard

Delinquent on your dining this year? You’re not alone. We’re here to help you play catch-up – with this miracle list of deliciousness.

By Nikki Buchanan, Leah LeMoine & Craig Outhier

First, let’s acknowledge the obvious: It was not a record-setting year for new restaurants in Greater Phoenix.
Josephine and Century Grand – two restaurants that were virtually assured of making our annual BNR list – had to shutter permanently and eliminate dining, respectively, due to the pandemic. Others were forced to radically alter and simplify their menus. And who knows how many embryonic restaurant projects were simply cast aside in the face of an uncertain business climate? All that being said: A surprising number of new restaurants did survive, and thrive, in these unprecedented conditions – a fact that makes their efforts even more laudable. Miraculous, even. So we’re doing Best New Restaurants a little differently this year. Instead of ranking our Top 10, we’re listing them unranked, egalitarian-like, in recognition that the playing field was hardly level. We’re also including a generous number of honorable mentions and special awards. Because you have a lot of eating to do.

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The Americano

17797 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
480-573-0001, theamericanorestaurant.com
Opened: February 2020
Before you yawn at the prospect of yet another steakhouse, consider The Americano, a sleek, sexy, Italian-inflected iteration of that done-to-death paradigm that feels fresh and new. True enough, red meat is the strong suit here (dreamy Wagyu beef meatballs, a luxurious burger and an oak- and mesquite-grilled ribeye are cases in point), but crazy-good cocktails, focaccia with smoked butter, pappardelle with milk-braised lamb and beautiful desserts prove that nobody (including you) is sleepwalking through this experience.
— Nikki Buchanan

Ribeye with potato purée and broccolini; Photo by Rob Ballard
Ribeye with potato purée and broccolini; Photo by Rob Ballard
Pulled pork from Eric’s Famiy BBQ; Photo by Kyle Ledeboer
Pulled pork from Eric’s Famiy BBQ; Photo by Kyle Ledeboer
Eric’s Family BBQ

12345 W. Indian School Rd., Avondale
623-248-0148, ericsfamilybbq.com

Opened: January 2020
The legendary ’cue joints of Central Texas have a comrade in this rustic westsider, where friends and partners Eric Tanori and Anthony Garcia turn out unvarnished slabs of mesquite-smoked brisket sporting the kind of crunchy bark and rosy smoke rings that set the hearts of confirmed carnivores aflutter. Spice-crusted spareribs and silky pulled pork are just as good – moist but never mushy. Truth be told, the soupy, pork-laden pinto beans alone are worth the schlep
to Avondale.
— NB

Da’Bayou Creole Kitchen

313 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert
480-704-3405, dabayoucreolekitchen.com
Opened: July 2020
Though the two are routinely conflated, it’s not so hard to distinguish Cajun and Creole cooking. Does it have tomato? Does it have cream? If so, it’s probably Creole, and it’s a distinction exuberantly embraced by chef Ali Biller at this high-toned Gilbert bar and restaurant. Not since the heady days of Chez Bubba has the Valley been treated to pepper sauces this rich, or gumbo this funky with filé and odd, edible crustaceans. Hers is a vast menu (it also includes brunch) that warrants deep exploration. Nice, bourbon-dominated cocktail program, too.
— Craig Outhier

chef Ali Biller at Da’Bayou Creole Kitchen; Photo by Kyle Ledeboer
chef Ali Biller at Da’Bayou Creole Kitchen; Photo by Kyle Ledeboer
salad Niçoise at Francine; Photo by Kyle Ledeboer
salad Niçoise at Francine; Photo by Kyle Ledeboer
Francine

4710 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale
480-690-6180, francinerestaurant.com
Opened: August 2020
Airy, elegant Francine, which sits in the bougie new luxury wing of Scottsdale Fashion Square, exudes the rustic charms of le midi (the south of France), homeland to celebrity chef-owner Laurent Halasz (Fig & Olive). Meanwhile, French-trained homeboy and executive chef Brian Archibald eloquently re-creates specialties of the region, including salad Niçoise, oil-poached tuna, panisse and bouillabaisse. High points: the city’s best steak tartare and most addictive complimentary bread (fougasse) as well as light, pretty plates for figure-watching femmes.
— NB

Kaizen

515 E. Grant St., Phoenix
602-432-0752, kaizenphx.com
Opened: June 2020
Housed in the warehouse district’s Lawrence Building and owned by Troy Watkins and Kyu Utsunomiya of former The Dressing Room/monOrchid fame, this irreverent sushi restaurant, which lacks a sushi bar, may be the sweetest find of the year. Chef Gustavo Muñoz takes a freewheeling approach with the menu, offering Latin-inflected seafood dishes (think crudo-like Peruvian tiradito) as well as traditional nigiri, signature rolls, elegant sashimi and luxurious crab-stuffed wontons that eclipse any Chinese restaurant versions in town.
— NB

Chef Gustavo Muñoz at Kaizen; Photo by Rob Ballard
Chef Gustavo Muñoz at Kaizen; Photo by Rob Ballard
short rib, potato and carnitas tacos at Mochilero Kitchen; Photo by Angelina Aragon
short rib, potato and carnitas tacos at Mochilero Kitchen; Photo by Angelina Aragon
Mochilero Kitchen

6791 W. Happy Valley Rd., Peoria
623-440-5588, mochilerokitchen.com
Opened: April 2020
Like a Riviera Maya ocean breeze, Mochilero Kitchen drifted into the northwest Valley this spring. The colorful, Latin chic restaurant is the brainchild of siblings Jorge Cota and Meliza Miranda, who had the dandy idea to bring regional Mexican cuisine to an underserved area of town. Even those farther afield should visit to feast on Yucatán-inspired guacamole with crispy plantains, Michoacán’s succulent carnitas and Baja’s famed fish tacos, all in one place. Bring it all home to the Sonoran Desert with a prickly pear paloma.
— Leah LeMoine

Pizzeria Virtù

6952 E. Main St., Scottsdale
480-663-9797, pizzeriavirtu.com
Opened: February 2020
Casual, family-friendly sibling to chef-owner Gio Osso’s Virtù Honest Craft, this masterful Old Town pizzeria provides the antidote to bland commercial pie, turning out no-flop oven-blistered VPN pizzas with next-level toppings such as smoked scamorza, King Oyster mushrooms and soppressata. Osso’s menu has evolved to include two weekly pasta and two weekly main course specials, as well as frequently changing bruschetta and seasonal burrata, the mind-blowing selection of the moment paired with brown sugar walnuts, roasted butternut squash and prosciutto.
— NB

chef Gio Osso at Pizzeria Virtù; Photo courtesy Pizzeria Virtú
chef Gio Osso at Pizzeria Virtù; Photo courtesy Pizzeria Virtú
Paitan ramen at Ramen Kagawa; Photo by Rob Ballard
Paitan ramen at Ramen Kagawa; Photo by Rob Ballard
Ramen Kagawa

111 W. Monroe St., Phoenix
602-675-0833, ramenkagawa.com
Opened: August 2020
Downtown restaurants geared toward the working stiff aren’t required to be great – quick and cheap will do. That fact makes this bare-bones ramen shop all the more exceptional for being all three at once. Although dashi-fragrant ramen is this restaurant’s raison d’être (don’t miss the tori paitan or spicy miso tonkotsu), Japanese comfort food classics such as takoyaki, korokke (potato croquette), curry rice and gyudon (beef and rice bowl) whisk you off to the homey, inexpensive restaurants of Japan.
— NB

Sherpa Kitchen

1533 W. Elliot Rd., Gilbert
480-687-1187, sherpakitchenaz.com
Opened: January 2020
Born of Everest Momo, a popular food truck, this small, spare Nepalese restaurant, beloved for its delectable dumplings known as momo in the native tongue, straddles the culinary cultures of India, China and Tibet. You’ll find excellent samosas and tikka masala, as well as seriously spicy chow mein and Nepal’s most beloved dish, daal bhat (lentil soup with rice and veggies), all so picture-pretty and delicious you’ll surely beg for mo’ – with momo.
— NB

samosas at Sherpa Kitchen; Photo by Rob Ballard
samosas at Sherpa Kitchen; Photo by Rob Ballard
chef Alex Stratta; Photo by Rob Ballard
chef Alex Stratta; Photo by Rob Ballard
Stratta Kitchen

The Village at Hayden
8260 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale
480-597-9195, strattakitchen.com
Opened: August 2020
Alex Stratta – the chef who put Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician on the culinary map before making an even bigger name for himself in Las Vegas – has executed a 180 from the glitz and glam (not to mention fat and calories) of his fine-dining days to open a cheerful, charming fast-casual eatery devoted to healthy eats. His colorful, elevated salads, wraps, kebabs and grain bowls are exquisite to behold and easy to eat, while his splendid $6 desserts are a lesson in irony.
— NB

2020 Best New Restaurants

Extras

By Craig Outhier

Daruma

1116 S. Dobson Rd., Mesa,
480-590-3794, darumabyrie.com
Opened: August 2020
One in a prodigous groundswell of sushi-plus-X Japanese restaurants this year, this chef-driven Mesa favorite excels in cold noodle dishes alongside immaculate maki roll presentations. Try the black mayu tonkotsu ramen, with bewitching eddies of burnt garlic oil floating over a rich pork broth.

Origami Ramen Bar

4810 E. Ray Rd., Phoenix
480-940-4455, origamiramenbar.com
Opened: August 2020
An oh-so-close BNR finalist, this dialed-in Ahwatukee cafe specializes in paitan, i.e. chicken-broth ramen, bowls of revved-up umami so delicious, you’ll never want to see another dainty dashi in your life. Uncommon mastery of other Japanese staples, too.

Kabob Grill N’ Go

3050 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-607-5272
Opened: May 2020
Prepped in a marinade that tastes subtly of citrus and coriander, the Cornish hen that comes off the charbroiler at this Coronado-area kabob-ery might be the Valley’s most dangerously succulent. Wonderful roasted veggies, too. A no-frills, genius-level Middle Eastern takeout joint like every neighborhood needs.

Da Pan

1919 W. Main St., Mesa, 562-219-6582 
Opened: June 2020
The best in a lavish assortment of food-court eateries at Mesa’s new H-Mart Asian superstore, this purveyor of Korean fusion fare offers glorious oddities like bulgogi risotto and pekka topokki (sausages, spring rolls, rice balls and fat, chewy cords of rice pasta swimming in sticky, sweet tomato broth).
Yeehaw.

Origami Ramen Bar; Photo by Samantha Chow
Origami Ramen Bar; Photo by Samantha Chow

Special Nods

Best Restaurant-Within-a-Restaurant

Benjamin’s Upstairs
Chef-owner Bernie Kantak has never known quite what to do with the attic at Citizen Public House. (A former PHOENIX editor once had a going-away party there.) His latest solution: Let his talented chef de cuisine, Benjamin Graham, have the run of the place. Meticulously sourced oysters and seafood, plus finely crafted cocktails and a killer natural wine list, highlight a tidy little menu. If the vegetable crudo is on the menu, get it, and we hear the fried chicken is none too shabby. 7111 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale, 480-398-4208, benjaminsaz.com

Best Part-Time Restaurant

Hint of Soul
Full disclosure: We never actually ate at this South Phoenix soul food restaurant, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Attempt No. 1: Couldn’t leave the office on time (it’s only open four days a week, noon to 6 p.m.). Attempt No. 2: Though the restaurant is typically open on Thursdays, it was closed the one particular Thursday we wanted to go. Attempt No. 3: They ran out of food. All told, the evidence suggests owner-chef Lynn Minor knows her way around smothered chicken. And the scarcity principle, definitely. 3801 S. Central Ave., Phoenix, 480-712-2580, hintofsoulcatering.com

Best New Bar

Highball Cocktails
As badly as restaurants took it on the chin this year, bars had it even worse. But from devastation, comes life – or, at least in the case of this Willo-area cocktail tavern, exultant cocktails and a marvelously epicurean bar snacks menu from chef Sacha Levine (Ocotillo, Century Grand). Picking up in the upstairs space  where SideBar left off after closing earlier this year, mixology pros Libby Lingua and Mitch Lyons, both formerly of UnderTow, are single-handedly giving hope to Downtown tipplers. A must-visit. 1514 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-675-4244, highballphx.com

Highball Cocktails; Photo by Chanelle Sinclair courtesy Highball Cocktail bar
Highball Cocktails; Photo by Chanelle Sinclair courtesy Highball Cocktail bar

Maybe in 2021?

These promising Valley restaurants didn’t open in time to make our 2020 BNR window.

Ghost Street Asian Taqueria

Char siu al pastor tacos, taquito dumplings and other mutant delights grace the menu at this Scottsdale fusion restaurant.

Chantico

Restaurateur Walter Sterling (Ocotillo, Starlite BBQ) gives Mexican a go at this upscale Camelback eatery.

Harbor Seafood Cajun House

It’s a clam-bake-cum-lobster-boil every night at this South Phoenix seafood joint. We’re intrigued.

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