Best of the Valley Dining Scene in 2022

Editorial StaffJuly 1, 2022
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Freshwater eel at Sushi 32. Photo by Angelina Aragon
Freshwater eel at Sushi 32. Photo by Angelina Aragon

Best Eel 

Sushi 32

Eating unagi – i.e. freshwater eel – in the summertime is a tradition in Japan that stretches back to the samurai. Folklore has it that the snake-like fish gives one stamina to endure heat and humidity. Grilled and drizzled with a sticky-sweet soy glaze, it’s damn scrumptious as well. Based on our forays, the best local rendition can be found at Sushi 32, which last year took over a space at the Biltmore Plaza Shopping Center formerly occupied by Delux Burger. Order the eel sushi and, if you’ve got the dough, some top-shelf Japanese Scotch to wash it down. 3146 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-787-4432, sushi32.com

Photo courtesy Chula Seafood
Photo courtesy Chula Seafood

Best Daily Specials

Chula Seafood

Although Chula’s two locations offer their own unique daily specials, both make sure there’s a compelling reason to visit every single day of the week – whether it’s the Sunday-only lobster tacos at the Uptown location, the crab grilled cheese on Mondays and Tuesdays in Scottsdale or the most inspired Hawaiian plate lunch on Earth (Fridays at Uptown). We can’t wait to see what its chefs come up with at their new North Scottsdale location, due this summer. chulaseafood.com

Best Korean Corn Dogs  

Sumo Snow

What started as a boba, slushy and milk tea spot has blossomed into an emporium for all manner of pan-Asian snacks. Our favorite: crunchy, gooey Korean corn dogs, offered in cheese, potato, garlic-Parmesan, ube-cheese, spicy cheese, churro-cheese and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos versions. We’ll never eat a plain carnival corn dog again. Two Valley locations, sumosnow.com

Best Ramen

Yatai Ramen

College student midnight snack stuff, it ain’t. The noodles in the house ramen at this spare but friendly shop west of downtown Tempe are bathed in a rich and comforting broth along with a hard-boiled egg. Try it in the combo with the small teriyaki chicken bowl for a heartier meal. 1101 W. University Dr., Tempe, 480-967-7409, yatairamen.square.site

Photo courtesy Sumo Snow
Photo courtesy Sumo Snow

Best Chicken Pot Pie  

Amadio Ranch  

Amadio Ranch, the farm, country store and bakery in Laveen run by Eric and Christina Amadio, is best known for its sweet pies. But we’ll let you in on a little secret: Its savory chicken pot pie is just as good – if not better. Creamy, well-seasoned gravy, generous hunks of chicken, a good mix of veggies and the flakiest, richest crust imaginable make it un-put-downable for pot pie connoisseurs. 4701 W. Dobbins Rd., Laveen, 602-791-9633, amadioranch.com

Amadio Ranch chicken pot pie. Photo by Mirelle Inglefield
Amadio Ranch chicken pot pie. Photo by Mirelle Inglefield

Best Falafel

Casa de Falafel

Falafel tends to be dry. It’s just one of those sad culinary truisms. But mashed chickpeas are always soft, succulent and glorious when they come from the fryer of owner Ali Mahmood – who, by the way, PHOENIX wrote about before anyone else back when he was slinging his first-rate falafel in a Peoria Shell station. Now he has a proper restaurant – and still the best falafel around. 4920 W. Thunderbird Rd., Glendale, 623-230-2920, cdfalafel.com  

Best Caribbean Food

Ms. Martha’s Caribbean Kitchen

Everything Ms. Martha Laurencin serves in her Christown-area restaurant is homey and delicious, including next-level Caribbean breads – puffy festivals and Johnny cakes – that make fantastic mops for nearly everything else, including spicy-sweet Calypso chicken wings, unctuous oxtails, brown stew chicken and rich curried goat that stings and lingers. 1820 W. Northern Ave., Phoenix, 602-675-2212, facebook.com/msmarthaskitchen

Best Pan-Asian  

Da Valley Grill  

In the mood for Hawaiian loco moco and SPAM musubi? What about Thai chicken curry and veggie spring rolls? Japanese sushi and ramen? Maybe an Indian samosa or a Chinese cream cheese rangoon? You can get all of these Asian delights – and many more – at this bare-bones restaurant near Phoenix Deer Valley Airport in North Phoenix. 2040 W. Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix, 623-587-4706, davalleygrillaz.com

Best Kabob

Kabob Grill n’ Go

There are kabobs, and then there are these kabobs, authentic Turkish delights made with snappy Southwestern herbs. A full pound of mesquite-cooked meat (Angus beef! lamb shoulder!) is skewered with grilled vegetables and served on basmati rice – perfect for the gluten-free and anyone who likes big flavors. 3050 N. 16th St., Phoenix, 602-607-5272, kabobgrillngo.com

Best Porch dining 

Sottise

No patio here, just a deep porch furnished with café tables overlooking a verdant, neatly kept lawn. It’s the perfect spot to chill over carefully curated wine and French café fare (escargots, salmon rillettes, baked Camembert and croque madame), pretending you’re hanging in Montparnasse, not Roosevelt Row. 1025 N. Second St., Phoenix, 602-254-6378, sottisephx.com

Best Housemade Pasta

Agnolotti at Weft + Warp

The folks at Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows got more than just a charming fellow when they tapped chef Dushyant Singh to head their flagship restaurant – they also got a massively skilled culinarian. Among his many intriguing habits: making his own pasta, including these ethereal numbers that sometimes grace the menu, stuffed with delicate morsels of braised beef. 6114 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-368-1234, andazscottsdale.com

Weft + Warp food served at PHOENIX magazine's Dish Fest. Photo by Ryleeann Buss
Weft + Warp food served at PHOENIX magazine's Dish Fest. Photo by Ryleeann Buss

Best Sea Change

Harbor Seafood Super Buffet 

In its former incarnation as Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet, this expansive Asian smorgasbord featured everything from fried chicken to kielbasa. After a closure, it reopened under a new name emphasizing oceanic offerings like crustaceans and clams, in addition to landlubber fare like roast beef and egg drop soup. 10030 N. Metro Pkwy., Phoenix, 602-997-8889, harborseafoodbuffet.com

Best Way to Sneak Crab onto a Sandwich

Crab Cake BLT at Buck &Rider

It’s no secret that fresh jumbo lump crab is a treat unto itself, but fashioning it into a crispy crab cake and pairing it with strips of Applewood smoked bacon takes its magnificence even higher. Anchored by a fluffy LGO Bake Shop bun, the sandwich goes stratospheric with a generous slather of tartar sauce. 4225 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-346-0110, buckandrider.com 

Crab Cake BLT at Buck &Rider. Photo by Grace Stufkosky/LGO
Crab Cake BLT at Buck &Rider. Photo by Grace Stufkosky/LGO

Best Sushi Lunch Deal 

Sushi Vibe 

Tucked into a corner of Uptown Plaza is Sushi Vibe, where the luncheon specials are worth the hunt for parking. Choose from a range of watch-while-they-make-it rolls or choose a bento box. Everything is priced so modestly ($1.75-$12.95) your accountant might even advise you to “eat more sushi.” 100 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-279-5299, Instagram: @sushivibephx

Best Seafood-Beer Bromance

Nelson’s Meat + Fish & The Wandering Tortoise

Nelson’s has ridiculously good seafood. (Honestly, try a crudo special sometime. It’s ShinBay-level.) But it has no booze. Or seating. Next door, Wandering Tortoise has both. So the respective East Phoenix bizzes shrewdly entered into an informal marriage, allowing you to order at the former and sit, eat and drink at the latter. They’re so cute together! meat.fish; thewanderingtortoise.com

Best Ukrainian-Style Pierogi 

Soup & Sausage Bistro

Want to personally show your support for Ukraine in its courageous battle against Russia’s barbaric invasion? Stop by North Phoenix’s Soup & Sausage Bistro, owned by Ukraine expat Oleksii Koshalko, whose family is back in Ukraine. Chow down on some serious Ukrainian-Polish fare – plates piled high with smoked sausage, cabbage rolls and melt-in-your-mouth pierogi. While you munch, check out the posters on the bistro’s walls, with instructions on how you can lend financial support to Ukraine’s fight for sovereignty. Food like this, and the good folks who make it, is seriously worth saving. 13240 N. Seventh  St., Phoenix, 480-319-2208, myeurokitchen.com

Best Transition into a Brick-and-Mortar Restaurant

Hope’s Frybread 

Diné chef Hope Peshlakai spent a decade selling her Navajo tacos and frybread desserts at pop-ups before gathering the funds to open up shop in downtown Mesa. Her new restaurant is set to welcome the public this year and will feature a full menu, art gallery and weekly events. 144 S. Mesa Dr., Mesa, facebook.com/hopesfrybread

Best Nigiri

ShinBay

An omakase dinner prepared by sushi savant Shinji Kurita brings a series of many-splendored things, but the most spectacular part of this two-hour journey comes in the second half, when 10 courses of nigiri – austere masterpieces constructed from rare, top-quality fish and pads of perfect sushi rice – illustrate the elegance in simplicity. It’s one of the top three dining experiences in Arizona. 3720 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-361-1021, shin-bay.com

Nigiri at Shinbay. Photo courtesy Tim Chow/RKDA Media
Nigiri at Shinbay. Photo courtesy Tim Chow/RKDA Media

Best 4/20 Menu  

Paradise Valley Burger Co.  

We’ve lauded PV Burger Co.’s stoner-rific food before, but owner Bret Shapiro really outdoes himself every April 20. A special menu drops a few days before that most hallowed day of pot-dom, with dishes including Nugs (sugar- and spice-dusted deep-fried Brussels sprouts), Pre-Rolls (Southwestern egg rolls on steroids) and a Fat Blunt (pepperoni hash pizza roll-up). Best of all: You don’t have to partake to enjoy these munchies. 4001 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 602-535-4930, pvburgercompany.com

Best Dinner on the Run

Eat Up Drive In

Working late with no time to cook dinner? Do Whoppers and Chalupa Supremes make you queasy? Check out Eat Up Drive In. The Arcadia Lite drive-thru offers a menu of sturdy crowd-pleasers – including citrus chicken, flat iron steak, barbecued short ribs and one of the best fried chicken sandwiches in the Valley – all available in single-serving or family-style sizes. Order online and your dinner will be ready in 15 minutes. Queasiness unlikely. 4001 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-441-4750, eatupdrivein.com 

Photo courtesy Eat Up Drive In
Photo courtesy Eat Up Drive In

Best Upscale Late-Night Restaurant 

Society by EVO 

You can’t beat the vivid floral décor and rose quartz bar – or the generous serving hours – at this campus-area offshoot of the popular Scottsdale trattoria. Toss in an inventive Mediterranean menu (whipped feta dip, handmade meatballs, scallop risotto, et al) and you’ve got yourself a go-to open till 1:30 a.m. Conveniently located in the same center as The Improv. 920 E. University Dr., Tempe, 480-550-7801, societybyevo.com

Best Salad Variety  

½ and ½ Salads at Postino  

Do you ever get halfway through an entrée salad and find yourself fatigued? Us, too. Banish greens boredom by ordering two different salads at Postino, where they’re offered in half sizes. Our fave pairing: Hannah’s Field and the Brussels sprouts salads. Interesting to the last bite. Multiple locations, postinowinecafe.com

Best Little Restaurant that Somehow Made it Through the Pandemic

The Farish House 

This cozy, family-owned and -operated bistro held on through the pandemic with takeout business and by doubling down on back-of-the-house labor. The crew returned to regular service with the same tasty comfort food (mac and cheese and cassoulet are house specialties) and wine-tasting parties in the same charming turn-of-the-century setting. 816 N. Third St., Phoenix, 602-281-6659, farishhouse.com

Photo courtesy Farish House
Photo courtesy Farish House

BEST OF THE VALLEY TRIO

Little Miss BBQ

Two Valley locations, littlemissbbq.com 

Best Pastrami 

No deli in the Valley even comes close to Little Miss’ smoky, pepper-crusted brisket pastrami. The cooking process – from curing to smoking over pecan and white oak – takes two and a half weeks, and each succulent bite reflects the time and care pitmaster Scott Holmes puts into his barbecue. It’s a showstopper available only on Thursdays. 

Best Burritos 

We didn’t think you could improve upon LMB’s juicy, velvety brisket and pulled pork, but then Holmes gilded the meaty lilies with smoky red chile and green chile, respectively. Add ranch-style beans and cheese to the green chile pork, order either burrito enchilada-style or just leave them as-is. Every which way is wonderful. Sunnyslope location only. 

Best Dad Gift

That would be a LMB-designed barbecue smoker from Holmes’ side-hustle, Camelback Smokers. Fashioned from disused propane tanks by Valley fabricator John Rippel, the sleek cylindrical beauties start at $4,500 and are a dream gift for any enthusiast with pitmaster-level ambitions.