Some people eat to live. Others live to eat. No surprise, we’re in the latter camp at PHOENIX. We’ve rounded up 10 ways to live your AZ food life to the fullest, from street food to splurges.
By Nikki Buchanan, Jessica Dunham, Marilyn Hawkes & Leah LeMoine
Indulge in Tasting Menus & Omakase Experiences
Dyed-in-the-wool foodies want it all – $3 tacos from a family-run hole-in-the-wall and lavish, multi-course feasts whose prices are nearly as breathtaking as the meal itself. If you’ve got the urge to splurge in Dionysian fashion, here are four of the city’s top restaurants offering four of the city’s most intriguing menus imagined by four of the city’s most extraordinary chefs. Two are tasting menus, and two are omakase (essentially the same thing). All offer experiences you’ll brag about for years to come.
Of the four super-talents on this short list, Kevin Binkley is probably the most wildly creative. He doesn’t just push the envelope; he rips right through it, revealing a playfulness that makes fine dining fun. A two-and-a-half-hour evening here feels more like an intimate dinner party than a tony event. Diners begin their 10- to 12-course extravaganza (30 fanciful bites in all, $250 per person) at the bar, then mosey out to the verdant terrace next to the restaurant’s garden before progressing to a table that faces an exhibition kitchen, the better to watch Binkley work. Besides optional wine pairings ($200 per person), there are luxurious add-ons such as foie gras ($45 per person), Wagyu beef ($60 per person) and caviar ($125 per person), all ways to make a perfectly executed, beautifully plated Modernist meal even more over the top.
2320 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix, 602-388-4874, binkleysrestaurant.com
Christopher’s at Wrigley Mansion
When you’d like to prove to your snooty out-of-state friends that Phoenix is a sophisticated food town, worthy of international attention, there’s only one place to go, and that’s sleek, sexy Christopher’s, perched on the hill it shares with Wrigley Mansion. Glass walls offer spectacular views of city lights, and the wine list (culled from the best cellar in the state) outstrips any in town. Chef Christopher Gross’s eight-course tasting menu ($275 per person plus optional wine pairings, $230 per person) is just as dazzling, and why wouldn’t it be? Gross, a 1995 James Beard Award winner, has long been one of the city’s great chefs, a French classicist who dabbles in Modernist cuisine. After many small, delightful surprises in both food and service, you’ll leave feeling completely indulged.
2501 E. Telawa Trail, Phoenix, 602-522-2344, wrigleymansion.com
We wouldn’t hesitate to say that an à la carte meal of sashimi and Japanese light bites at recently opened Hai Noon belongs on your bucket list. This hip, dimly lit bar, helmed by 2007 James Beard Award winner Nobuo Fukuda, already rocks. In the months to come, however, Fukuda will stage omakase pop-ups as practice runs for the real thing, featuring hassun (an assortment of small, seasonal dishes), sashimi, fish, poultry, meat and shabu-shabu, the same format he formerly used at Sea Saw and Nobuo at Teeter House. Naturally, there will be rare Japanese fish, a melding of Eastern and Western ingredients and techniques, a selection of premium sake and perhaps a touch of signature gold leaf. Price undetermined, satisfaction guaranteed.
7017 E. McDowell Rd., Scottsdale, hainoonaz.com
An evening at ShinBay Omakase Room ($250 per person) is always otherworldly, and while most of the credit goes to chef Shinji Kurita’s mega-talent and perfectionism, there’s something to be said for the unadorned but elegant space itself, where textured stone and cypress wood elicit a sense of calm. The low-key ambience encourages customers (no more than six to a seating) to focus on Kurita’s extraordinary multi-course menu of Japanese small plates and nigiri sushi. He gives modern interpretation to traditional Japanese ingredients (mountain potato, Okinawan seaweed, dashi gelatin); curates rare, interesting fish (fatty ocean trout, firefly squid from Toyama Bay, seasonal Japanese sea bream); and offers premium wines and sake for an incomparable experience.
3720 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-361-1021, shin-bay.com
— Nikki Buchanan
More Tasting Menus
At his sophisticated Downtown haven for grownups, chef-owner Ivan Jacobo presents his Modern American cooking via a three-course, prix fixe menu with choices, and the final price depends on the entrée chosen ($55-$100 per person). A seven-course tasting starts at $200 per person. Wine pairings start at $70-$95 per person. anhelorestaurant.com
This romantic Old Town spot offers beaucoup options – an à la carte menu at the bar, a four-course prix fixe menu determined by entrée ($140-$285), and an eight-course chef’s tasting menu (starting at $285 per person, wine pairing an additional $175 per person). cafemonarch.com
Chef-owner Cory Oppold is the guiding force behind sleek, comfy Course, his playground for inspired takes on Modernist cuisine offered three ways: a five-course prix fixe menu with choices ($135 per person, Tuesday and Wednesday only), a 10-course tasting menu plus nibbles ($190 per person) or a seven-course tasting menu ($75 per person) for Sunday brunch. courserestaurantaz.com
For an affordable bit of luxury, pop into J&G, where you’ll get beautiful views and a four-course tasting menu (plus an amuse bouche of black truffle cheese fritters) for $110 per person, with wine pairings priced at an additional $59 per person. jgsteakhousescottsdale.com
The only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star restaurant in the state, Kai pays elegant homage to local Indigenous cultures, offering a $185 prix fixe menu ($330 with wine pairings) that celebrates the ingredients and foodways of the Sonoran Desert. kairestaurant.com
At this intimate Old Town spot, chef-owner Branden Levine makes his Modernist cuisine available two ways – an à la carte menu and a hybrid prix fixe/chef’s tasting menu ($140 per person) with choices for entrées and dessert, and wine pairings for an additional $110 per person. selrestaurant.com
Do a Taco Crawl on 16th Street
Phoenix is undeniably a taco town, and nothing beats a taco crawl along 16th Street in Central Phoenix. Within the 2.5-mile stretch from Jefferson Street (the south end) to Thomas Road (the north end), you can eat exceptional tacos from long-standing, family-run businesses and cruise by an open-air gallery of stunning murals created by local artists for the Calle 16 Mural Project, a grassroots movement to build pride in the community (facebook.com/calle16muralproject). There’s no better way to feed both body and soul.
We had to include this iconic restaurant, founded by Silvana Salcido Esparza, the chef who introduced Phoenix to Mexican fine dining and regional Mexican cooking in 2002 and launched the Calle 16 Mural Project in 2010. Unless you come for happy hour (when potato tacos and fish tacos are offered, $5-$7), you won’t find tacos on the menu. You will, however, find her signature cochinita pibil, Yucatecan pork shoulder, cooked in a banana leaf with achiote and sour orange for 12 hours, and served with pickled onions, pico de gallo and corn tortillas ($30).
2814 N. 16th St., 602-636-0240, barriocafe.com
Housed in a former church with vaulted wooden ceilings, exposed brick and corner frescos, Casa Corazon is one of the prettiest and best Mexican restaurants in town. And the tacos are a revelation ($6 each), whether they be keto-friendly costra de queso (carne asada tucked into a caramelized cheese tortilla), lush tacos de chicharrón (pork rind softened in house-made tomato paste), or the signature quesabirria model called Taco Corazon. Expect an extensive salsa bar, complimentary chips with house-made bean dip, Taco Tuesday specials and a terrific happy hour.
2637 N. 16th St., 602-334-1917, casacorazonrestaurant.com
La Cocina Económica Mexican Kitchen
Although you’ll find many homey, satisfying dishes at Victor Becerra’s winsome café (decorated with a whimsical mural of Mexico’s movie, TV and music icons in caricature), you absolutely shouldn’t miss his puffy tacos, a specialty of San Antonio he brought back to Phoenix. They’re built upon a disc of masa dough, flattened and fried until the masa swells and crisps, then curved into taco shape. The ethereal shells – flaky as pastry dough yet strangely sturdy – are then loaded with meat, lettuce, tomatoes and crema. Try them with dreamy, clove-scented al pastor (three for $15). Outrageous!
1550 N. 16th St., 602-817-1111, facebook.com/lacocina.economica
Mariscos Playa Hermosa
You’ll get sensory overload at this loud, lively Mexican seafood restaurant, painted in eye-popping colors, but that’s half the fun. Of the 16 tacos on the menu, nearly half involve meat, but you’re in one of the city’s best mariscos restaurants, so why not go with classic fish tacos ($14), shrimp tacos ($16), lobster tacos ($21), or new and fabulous grilled octopus tacos, smoothed in spicy zarandeado sauce and cheesy with mozzarella ($14)?
1605 E. Garfield St., 602-462-1563, mariscosplayahermosa.com
Asadero Norte De Sonora
Run by the Brava family for more than 20 years, this small neighborhood fixture is famous for its carne asada and pollo asado, which you’ll be introduced to, in tantalizing whiffs, from the parking lot. To build your own tacos, order the parillada, a mixed grill offering three meats of your choice (the cabeza is luscious, too) with grilled onions and jalapeños, spectacular charro beans, pickled onions, guacamole, lime, cucumbers, salsa and griddle-splotched flour tortillas from Sonora (half grill, $20).
122 N. 16th St., 602-253-4010, asaderonortesonora.weebly.com/menu
— Nikki Buchanan
Live Like the Lord of the Manor at TERRA Farm + Manor
It’s tempting to say the staff at TERRA Farm + Manor (928-228-5510, terrafarmandmanor.com) treats guests like family, but has anyone in your family ever cooked you three gourmet meals a day (plus snacks), greeted you with your favorite cocktail at happy hour, guided you through impromptu wine tastings, offered you a fine cigar, taught you how to make pasta, let you hold a newborn lamb, picked you a bouquet of flowers and wrapped you in a blanket to keep you cozy around a campfire under the stars? We didn’t think so.
But that’s exactly how guests are doted on at chef James Porter’s immersive foodie wonderland set on a 100,000-acre historical ranch in Prescott National Forest (the exact location is secret and revealed to guests upon booking). It’s everything Porter dreamed it would be when he was planning the culmination of his culinary career: working farm, cooking school, rustic-glam lodge. Tajima Wagyu cattle, Icelandic lambs, Spanish Ibérico pigs and Nubian goats all roam the property, living their best lives until they make their way to one of Porter’s hands-on cooking classes or intimate dinners around a circular wooden dining table. “I know what makes people happy, and I want to choreograph it,” he tells us during our stay, which includes a farm tour, greenhouse exploration, leisurely meals and communion with a handful of other folks – TERRA caps occupancy at 16 total guests.
This fall, Porter and guest chefs will host food-centric getaways with themes ranging from Food! Fire! Feast! A Celebration of Spain (September 21-24) to Exploration of Wine & Food: Holiday Edition (November 10-12). Three-day, two-night experiences start at $3,600 for single occupancy and $6,900 for double occupancy, and four-day, three-night experiences start at $5,100 for single occupancy and $9,600 for double occupancy. It’s a splurge, but it’s all inclusive – from morning coffee and breakfast to flowing nightcaps around the fire. And, unlike your family, the TERRA staff won’t judge your consumption.
More Farm-to-Table Fun
If a long weekend at TERRA isn’t enough foodie farm immersion for you, check out the Farm to Table program at Arcosanti (13555 S. Cross L Rd., Mayer, 602-791-2367, arcosanti.org). This autumn, late architect Paolo Soleri’s experimental high-desert town – about 70 miles north of Phoenix – will host a five-week experience (September 25-October 31) familiarizing guests with sustainable food production via a “closed-loop” food system, from planting crops to preparing meals. The program includes tuition, two meals a day, lodging and field trips. At $1,750 per person, it’s less expensive than the average monthly rent for an apartment in Scottsdale ($2,092, according to RentCafe.com). Register at arcosanti.org/workshops.
Enjoy Culinary Contrasts
Sometimes, beautiful food is served in beautiful settings. But not always. Here, we showcase some food/setting combos that delight through their differences.
Decent Food in Outrageous Settings
The food isn’t bad at these destinations, but it’s not show-stopping. Does it need to be, when the ambience is?
Annexus Social Club at Phoenix Suns Games
Accessible only to courtside “F-seat” ticket holders, this two-level hospitality playground at Footprint Center sports a primo buffet befitting the $1,200 seats: lobster sushi, beef tenderloin, three-layer chocolate mousse and more. But you didn’t come for the food. You came for the private streetside VIP entrance and the lounge’s placement inside the players’ tunnel underneath the arena. If you’re lucky, you might catch a droplet of flying sweat as they brush past you at halftime.
201 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix, 602-379-2000, footprintcenter.com
Fry Bread Tacos at Shash Diné Eco Retreat
We love a fry bread taco as much as the next person. The humble dish of pillowy fried dough topped with taco fillings is quite satisfying after the long drive up to this Indigenous glamping compound on the Navajo Nation, 12 miles south of Page. But it can’t compete with the retreat’s expansive views of owner Baya Meehan’s ancestral land – and the epic stargazing at night, when Shash Diné turns into “a 5-billion-star hotel.”
Directions shared upon booking, 928-640-3701, shashdine.com
Dinner at The Compass
Chef Chelsea Cummings is breathing new life into this old standby at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix hotel. Since 1976, it’s been offering Phoenix diners a panoramic view of the city with its 360-degree rotating floor on the rooftop (floor 24) of the hotel. Historically, the cuisine has been no match for the bird’s-eye views of our beloved metropolis. But with new dishes like spiced cauliflower with pickled blueberries and onions with shishito chimichurri, things are looking up.
122 N. Second St., Phoenix, 602-440-3166, compassarizona.com
Outrageous Food in Bare-Bones Settings
The food: impressive. The locales: not so much.
Chinese Food at Liyuen
There’s nothing more satisfying for a thrifty foodie than finding a good hole-in-the-wall joint. But have you eaten from a literal hole in the wall? This Phoenix “restaurant” is just a takeout window (behind security bars), but it churns out electrifying versions of American Chinese favorites – black pepper beef, lo mein, jalapeño chicken wings.
1602 S. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, 602-238-9688, liyuen-phoenix.com
Sonoran Hot Dogs at El Güero Canelo
Proving you don’t need a building to serve mind-blowing food, Daniel Contreras has been selling Sonoran dogs (wrapped in bacon, grilled and stuffed into a bolillo-style bun with myriad toppings) in Tucson since 1993. El Güero Canelo now has three locations, but the original tiny cart and tent still hold court at the north Tucson location, which netted Contreras a James Beard “America’s Classics” Award in 2018.
2480 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson, 520-882-8977, elguerocanelo.com
Fire-Roasted Chicken at Mercado y Carniceria Cuernavaca
Skip the grocery store rotisserie chicken and head to your local carniceria for superlative whole birds to go – plus the fixings to make a meal. Our favorite spot is this Scottsdale butcher shop and bodega, where you can buy sundries while you wait for your pollo, tortillas, rice, beans and salsa.
2931 N. 68th St., Scottsdale, 480-423-5522
Pay Ultimate Homage to the Prickly Pear
Similar to blueberries, strawberries or raspberries, the prickly pear boasts a respectable culinary versatility. Its sweet flavor, subtle and soft like a watermelon, plays well in syrups and jams, sorbets and ice creams, juices and cocktails. But unlike blueberries and strawberries, harvesting prickly pear requires a little more effort than an afternoon at a u-pick farm. That’s why Tucson’s historic Tanque Verde Ranch (14301 E. Speedway Blvd., 520-296-6275, tanqueverderanch.com) hosts an annual Prickly Pear Harvest for two weekends in August.
The harvest package (from $530/night) includes lodging with three daily meals and a packed schedule of prickly-pear-themed fun, from prickly pear pancakes on breakfast horseback rides to matching T-shirts for the whole fam. Guests partake in food demonstrations, too, such as how to prep the fruit for cooking, but the highlight is arguably the mixology showcase featuring Tanque Verde’s head bartender, Desiree Bennin. Every harvest season for nearly a decade, Bennin has been sharing the secret recipe for the ranch’s famous prickly pear margarita, teaching guests how to mix, blend, shake and impress friends with the drink of an Arizona summer.
Then, of course, there’s the harvest itself. Guides from the ranch’s nature center lead guests on a foraging adventure among the property’s 60,000 acres of Sonoran Desert, pointing out how to identify the prickly pear cactus by its broad, flat pads and stepping folks through the process of safely gleaning the fruit. They also share the history of this deeply Arizonan tradition, most significantly, among the Indigenous tribes of the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico.
With fingertips stained magenta and the fruit’s pulpy juice sweetening the palate, you’re likely to find that Tanque Verde’s prickly pear harvest is a heady – and tactile – experience. A mash-up of cooking classes, nature walks, ranch living, bartending 101 and a journey of discovery with one of the desert’s ancient food sources.
— Jessica Dunham
Prickly Pear Primer
Soaking up the heat and sun, prickly pear ripens all summer, plumping up and morphing in color from green to red. As soon as you see the fruit’s ruby hue – usually in August – it’s time to harvest.
What you’ll need:
Tongs (long grill tongs work best)
Bucket or bowl
How to harvest:
Using the tongs, gently pluck the fruit from the cactus. It should release easily; if not, use a knife.
Take caution with the cactus spines and the invisible barbed hairs called glochids on the fruit itself. This is where gloves and a long-sleeve shirt come in handy.
As you harvest, drop the fruit into a bucket or bowl.
Leave at least one fruit per pad for birds and other desert critters. They like the taste, too. Plus, they help the plant reproduce.
Prep the fruit for eating by removing the spines and glochids. Peel the surface of the skin with a vegetable or potato peeler or burn the skin by holding the fruit with tongs over an open flame.
Once all spines are removed, slice off the top and bottom of the fruit. Cut it lengthwise, just through the skin, to make a slit. Then, use a paring knife to peel off the skin. It’s ready to enjoy!
Dine in the Desert… Or on a Farm
Take al fresco up a notch by getting out there – really out there. From lavender fields to olive groves, there are magical settings for superlative outdoor dining throughout Arizona.
Cloth & Flame
Cloth & Flame delivers magical farm-to-table community dinners in unexpected locations in Arizona and beyond. The innovative event company has staged meals amid the red rocks of Sedona and stretched tables across fragrant lavender fields in the Verde Valley. On Friday, September 29, Cloth & Flame will present a five-course prix fixe dinner on the lawn of Flagstaff’s High Country Motor Lodge in conjunction with the Flagstaff Fadeaway music festival. The menu reads like a food lover’s dream, with purple sweet potato gnocchi, coffee-rubbed ribeye and chipotle chocolate cake. At $260 per person, a reservation includes a general admission ticket to the festival.
Accommodations at the High Country Motor Lodge are available for an extra charge. clothandflame.com
Queen Creek Olive Mill
If an Italian vacation isn’t in the cards, you can still get a taste of la dolce vita at Queen Creek Olive Mill from autumn through spring. Using many of their own recipes, the Rea family presents monthly Tavolo Dinners celebrating Italian regional cooking at their olive farm. Guests will enjoy a multi-course, family-style feast with optional wine pairings in the olive grove, weather permitting. Past dinners have highlighted Sardinian, Sicilian and Calabrian cuisines, with dishes ranging from fresh gemelli pasta in chile-spiked tomato sauce to suckling pig spit-roasted over olive wood. Check the website for dates for upcoming Tavolo Dinners. The olive mill will also host a Valentine’s Day 2024 Dining Under the Stars event, along with other outdoor experiences throughout the year.
25062 S. Meridian Rd., Queen Creek, 480-888-9290, queencreekolivemill.com
Christina and Eric Amadio are launching monthly farm-to-table dinners this fall, nestled in the leafy fruit orchard of their Laveen farm. The rustic gatherings will showcase the Amadios’ seasonal fresh vegetables and hand-made products, and will be limited to no more than 30 people for a more intimate experience. While the Amadios will prepare most of the dinners, the husband-and-wife duo will feature the occasional guest chef.
4701 W. Dobbins Rd., Laveen, 602-791-9633, amadioranch.com or facebook.com/amadioranch.
— Marilyn Hawkes
Take a James Beard Tour
Arizona’s culinary community has produced many a star chef and restaurant, but only 11 luminaries have won a James Beard Award, at the yearly ceremony that’s often called the “Oscars of the food world.” If you want to add Beard-level dining to your bucket list, here’s a head start, with the six winners still cooking in Arizona (jamesbeard.org).
The chef and co-owner of Scottsdale’s FnB restaurant won the coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2019 after five years as a semifinalist. Known as the “Veggie Whisperer” for her exquisite handling of local and seasonal produce, Badman also founded the Blue Watermelon Project, an educational program that teaches K-12 students about healthy eating. Her FnB menu changes often depending on what’s available locally, but with luck, you’ll catch some of Badman’s signature dishes: braised leeks with mozzarella and egg with mustard-spiked breadcrumbs; crispy Peruvian chicken spring rolls; and peerless butterscotch pudding.
7125 E. Fifth Ave., Scottsdale, 480-284-4777, fnbrestaurant.com
Named Best Chef: Southwest in 2003, Bianco is renowned for his glorious, blistered, wood-fired pizzas. The humble pizzaiolo opened Pizzeria Bianco at Heritage Square in 1996, and lines quickly snaked out the door. He’s since opened a second Pizzeria Bianco, Pane Bianco, Tratto and Bar Bianco in Phoenix and two restaurants in Los Angeles, earning him a 2022 James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur. At Pizzeria Bianco, don’t miss the Rosa pizza bedecked with red onions, Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary and Arizona pistachios; Pane Bianco’s fresh mozzarella sandwich stacked with ripe local tomatoes on flame-kissed focaccia; and Tratto’s lamb ragù with house-made pasta.
Multiple locations, pizzeriabianco.com
Hailed by Food & Wine magazine as one of America’s Best New Chefs in 2003, Fukuda was named Best Chef: Southwest in 2007 for his work at Scottsdale’s Sea Saw, the since-shuttered Japanese tapas restaurant. The Tokyo-born chef opened the beloved Nobuo at Teeter House in 2010, closing in 2021 due to the pandemic. His latest rebirth: Hai Noon in south Scottsdale, where he’s crafting creative Japanese fare, from softshell crab with rice noodles to seared bigeye tuna with roasted beet purée, and Asian-inspired cocktails, including the cleverly named Hai Ball, a brew of Japanese whiskey, soda water and lemon.
7017 E. McDowell Rd., Scottsdale, hainoonaz.com
Throughout his career, Gross has cooked for many celebrities – including Julia Child on the PBS show In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs – bringing national attention to the Phoenix culinary arena even before he opened since-shuttered Christopher’s and Crush Lounge in 1990. But his magnum opus, Christopher’s at Wrigley Mansion, opened in 2021. From a stunning dining room with sweeping views of Camelback Mountain, Gross delivers first-rate French food, from foie gras to chocolate souffle, and features a wine list fit for the gods. He has racked up many culinary awards, including a 1995 James Beard Award for Best Chef. In 2022, he was a semifinalist for Outstanding Chef.
2501 E. Telawa Trail, Phoenix, 602-955-4079, wrigleymansion.com
For more than 35 years, Guerithault has charmed Valley diners with his unique brand of French cooking with Southwestern flair at Vincent on Camelback and Vincent’s Market Bistro. In 1993, he was the first Arizonan to win a James Beard Award for Best Chef. Since then, he’s garnered a nomination for Outstanding Service and was a 2008 semifinalist for Outstanding Chef. Hankering for a duck tamale or an Anaheim chile stuffed with lobster, wild mushrooms and goat cheese? Make a beeline to Vincent’s.
3930 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, 602-224-0225, vincentsoncamelback.com
Barrio Bread owner Guerra won the 2022 James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker, after two prior nominations. The Tucson baker offers a dazzling assortment of crusty breads using locally sourced heritage grains, organic flour and natural leavening. And now you don’t have to drive two hours to get his seeded baguettes and birotes. Recently, Guerra announced a collaboration with the East Valley’s Hayden Flour Mills, where he’ll bake and sell bread every Tuesday, and a partnership with Valleywide Chompie’s to make a Sonoran-style bagel.
Multiple locations, barriobread.com
— Marilyn Hawkes
Cocktails to Crow About
Century Grand, Barter & Shake Cocktail Entertainment’s experiential cocktail compound with three turn-of-the-century-inspired bars, was recently honored at the 2023 Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s 17th annual Spirited Awards as Best U.S. Cocktail Bar. In the afterglow, we asked Barter & Shake’s Kailee Asher to recommend a craft cocktail from each concept.
• At Platform 18, designed to resemble a moving Pullman train car, try Always Quiet in the Graveyard, a clarified milk punch with rum.
• At Grey Hen Rx, a space reminiscent of a New Orleans apothecary, sip a Little Li Shou vodka cocktail infused with pho spices.
• At UnderTow, Barter & Shake’s original, nautically themed bar, order up a Sunrise Over Baja spicy margarita with habanero.
3626 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix, 602-739-1388, centurygrandphx.com
Fly to Dinner at Arizona’s Best Airport Restaurant
Ask any private pilot about airport restaurants, and they’ll snark about “the $100 hamburger.” This general aviation trope earned its moniker from the pilot practice of flying a short distance, eating a basic-at-best meal and then flying home, fuel cost – and culinary satisfaction – be damned. “Av geeks” will use any excuse to get up in the air, even if it means eating at the countless shoddy airport diners that dot this nation.
Which makes Mesa Grill (1185 Airport Rd., Sedona, 928-282-2400, mesagrillsedona.com) all the more impressive. Perched atop its namesake formation at Sedona Airport, the restaurant boasts arguably the most breathtaking runway view in all of Arizona – an amphitheater of rust-colored rocks and azure sky. It’s gorgeous seeing it from above as you fly into Sedona and land, but it also makes for stunning viewing from Mesa Grill’s semi-enclosed patio. And the menu, blessedly, has much more to offer than a bush-league burger.
Chef-owner Mercer Mohr (who has three other restaurants in Sedona) draws inspiration from his North Carolina upbringing, his Southwest surrounds, his global travels and seasonal local produce for his ever-changing dishes, which range from lobster cakes with green chile crème to dry-rubbed pork ribs with jalapeño slaw and borracho beans. Fall and winter menus bring more braised dishes, soups and the annual pig pickin’, a whole-hog nod to his Carolina roots. Mohr’s fare is so popular with locals that visitors would be wise to make reservations – the wait time for a table can be up to an hour on weekends. There’s even a dedicated food menu for canines to enjoy on the dog-friendly patio, in case you packed your pooch in your Piper Cherokee.
Don’t have your own plane? You can charter a custom flight through private operators such as Westwind Air Service (732 W. Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix, 480-991-5557, westwindairservice.com/private-charters), which is based out of Phoenix Deer Valley Airport. Call or email email@example.com for a quote. Not in the budget, or concerned about airsickness? Just drive. You can still dine on the Mesa Grill patio, cocktail in hand, and take in the striking juxtaposition of sleek modern aircraft and sublime ancient sandstone.
Eat Dinner at 8,000 Feet
Can you really call yourself a foodie if you haven’t gone to the ends of the Earth for a memorable gastronomical experience? For dedicated gourmands, there’s the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room, a restaurant perched on the remote North Rim. We’re not being hyperbolic when we say “ends of the Earth.” Highway AZ-67 dead-ends at the lodge, the immense maw of the canyon plunging behind.
Designed in 1928 by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who also designed The Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon Lodge reflects the landscape with its Kaibab limestone walls and ponderosa beams bolstering the sloped roof, and stands in deference to it with a rustic, modest aesthetic. The structure embodies Underwood’s design ethos: Let the building serve as a vehicle for the spectacle of scenery.
And it’s in the dining room where the panorama really astounds. The floor-to-ceiling windows face south and southwest, and every white-linen-clad table is primed for sunset views. Chef Treyvon Brack’s Grand Canyon-inspired menu shows off hyperlocal delicacies, such as Lees Ferry trout, and Arizona breakfast staples like huevos rancheros and burritos. But it’s the 16-hour smoked brisket that’s a must-order. The meat is juicy and tender and sided with fresh grilled corn and a warm, flaky biscuit.
As the sun sinks, shadows ripple over the canyon, revealing its striated colors, then hides them just as quickly. You’ll be tempted to gape. Go for it. Just don’t let your food get cold.
— Jessica Dunham
Before You Drive Six Hours… a few tips:
• The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
• Reservations are required for dinner.
• You don’t have to be an overnight lodge guest to dine at the restaurant, but you should treat yourself and book a room (from $171/night), anyway.
• Grand Canyon Lodge closes for the season on October 15.
• 866-499-2574, grandcanyonnorth.com
Get a Delicious Education in Modern Indigenous Cuisine
With its fine-dining expression of Native American ingredients, Kai at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass (pg. 135) in the East Valley deservedly makes all manner of “best” lists. It’s worth visiting, again and again. But don’t stop there.
Drive a few hours northeast to Whiteriver, the largest settlement of the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Navajo County. There, operating out of a disused gas station, is Café Gozhóó (5624 N. First St., Whiteriver, 928-338-1010, cafegozhoo.com). White Mountain Apache and Diné chef Nephi Craig – a James Beard Award 2023 semifinalist and alumnus of the late Mary Elaine’s at The Phoenician – runs the kitchen at this bright, casual spot, incorporating Native ingredients like corn, beans, squash, chocolate and chiles into accessible and affordable, yet thoughtfully conceived and plated, dishes like sandwiches, burritos and salads ($6-$9) for the community and visitors. But it’s even more than a cute spot to learn about Indigenous foodways while sampling their bounty.
“The whole point is that this is a place that supports recovery, supports people’s sobriety,” Craig says. He opened the eatery in October 2021 with the Rainbow Treatment Center as a hands-on facility for its Working to Wellness program, providing folks in recovery with career skills and community. For Craig, it’s personal. “I got sober in 2011,” he says. “It’s really fortunate that this project has happened, and I get to distill all those experiences and create this combination of health, vocational training, Native foods and Apache-ness here in the kitchen… I hold that with a lot of respect and humility.”
And humor. While Café Gozhóó’s goals of relapse prevention, Indigenous reclamation and self-empowerment, and education about Native foodways are lofty, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The bestselling Quit Cold Turkey sandwich is a tongue-in-cheek reference to recovery. Tha Show Guy sandwich – a meat- and cheese-loaded riff on Italian delis’ The Wiseguy – is named after the Apache slang for a person who’s “kind of arrogant, ignorant, a loud-mouth… like you’re ‘acting show,’ you know?” Craig says. “That’s a big part of our culture, our sense of humor.”
Some dishes are more straightforward. “Our Three Sisters salad, that’s our kind of nod to companion planting, always using corn, beans and squash,” he says of the classic crop trio, here showcased in a salad with seasonal vegetables, mixed greens, hominy and heirloom beans (cranberry and Anasazi during our visit) with avocado crema and chile-lime vinaigrette. It’s one of the tastiest and most satiating vegan salads we’ve had. Rotating vegetables for the homemade-ranch-drizzled Apache Farm steak salad come from Ndée Bikíyaa just down the road. Craig and his staff forage for wild tea, acorns and sumac berries, ingredients he grew up with in Whiteriver and Window Rock.
“We grow up eating our traditional foods and doing things you hear in stories, you see in ceremonies, you hear in songs. In the back of my mind, I wanted to do something like that,” he says. “I’ve always wondered how and if it would ever be possible to be able to come home and do something like this. But it’s here, and this is what it looks like. I used to travel the world in search of the secret, in search of X, Y and Z, but I had to come home to create it.”