Make This Sushi Burrito at Home, Become a Snack Legend
Old Town Scottsdale
If you would have told us that Brussels sprouts nachos were possibly the best thing ever, we would have thought you were playing a mean trick on us. That’s until we tasted Diego Pops' version (it’s topped with a fried egg). The Old Town Scottsdale Mexican eatery is catering to the night owl crowd with its late night menu (think a la carte tacos), but they’ve got plenty to offer during the daylight hours, too. The interior provides the perfect Instagrammable moments, fun wallpaper, retro signs, bright colors, and the like. And when it’s hot, you can (and should) get a snow cone margarita here.
Phoenix isn’t one of America’s great BBQ cities -- yet. But joints like Little Miss BBQ might just put us on the map. The Central Texas-style BBQ is cooked up daily with Arizona oak and pecan on a giant smoker. Here your food is served up market-style on paper with onions, pickles, and a generous handful of white bread. You can get your standard sides, like potato salad, beans, and slaw, but the standout is the jalapeño cheese grits. We advise getting there early. It's open ‘til 4pm, but it runs out of the good stuff by then. Regulars start lining up in the morning hours.
We’ve never encountered a slice of bread we didn’t like. And while all bread is good, Noble’s baked goods are easily some of the best you can find around the Valley. Here you can order salads, sandwiches, and other lunch favorites from their Arizona farm-focused daily changing menus. Although Noble Eatery just swung open the doors to the lunch-focused joint in January of 2015, it's been sharing the bread love with local restaurateurs and farmers markets around the area, making a name for itself and its doughy goodies since 2013. Having Claudio Urciuoli, formerly of Noca (sadly, now closed), Prado, and Chris Bianco’s little Italian restaurant, as well as Jason Raducha at the helm certainly can’t hurt either.
Specializing in breakfast eats, Vovomeena has mastered the art of creating the perfect brunch menu. Here, you can get something sweet, like crepes; something “Phoenix,” like Mexican eggs Benedict; something Southern, like biscuits & gravy; or something downright crazy, like pork chop & waffles (try it, it’s topped with a donut, too). The order-at-the-counter breakfast joint is owned by DJ Fernandes and his wife Jennifer Ruis.
After giving us some of the best restaurants around town, including La Grande Orange Pizzeria and Chelsea’s Kitchen, the folks over at LGO Hospitality introduced us to Buck & Rider, an Arcadia neighborhood seafood eatery and oyster bar. This place has everything fish lovers want: market-priced stone crab claws, freshwater blue prawns, and, of course, oysters -- all flown in fresh every day. There's also a great selection of sushi offerings, Prince Edward Island mussels, snapper ceviche, or halibut. For those craving something a little less surf and a little more turf, take a look at either the New York strip or the grass-fed steak tartare. And don’t worry, you won’t go thirsty: this place has some great cocktail choices, many of which you can try at the weekday happy hour from 11am-7pm.
Whether you’re looking for a quick caffeine fix before the sun rises or a place to sit and enjoy a plate of homemade pasta, this Midtown spot will make your day. It’s just steps away from the light rail, making it a great place for brunch, lunch, or a quick “O to Go” -- which is exactly what the name implies. Ocotillo opened just last fall, but the casual restaurant is already gaining some popularity and becoming a rising star in the Phoenix restaurant scene, possibly because of the java from Sightglass Coffee. And the food. OK, just go.
Let’s be honest: you’re more likely to find big chain restaurants in the East Valley than you are local spots. But, luckily for us, there’s been a recent influx of new places popping up. Downtown Mesa’s pan-Latin bistro, República Empanada, is one we can’t recommend enough. This place offers a diverse menu of different styles of empanadas, from hearty to sweet, ensuring you can get exactly what you’re craving. So whether it’s the sweet Dizzy Fig, made with local Mesa figs, or the food coma-inducing El Capitan empanada (stuffed with ground beef, a boiled egg, and potatoes), it’s not hard to find something good at República. Be sure to try out another favorite, the yucca frita: a heap of cassava fries covered in a cilantro jalapeño ranch sauce.
Tratto is the latest conception from one of Phoenix’s most notable men in the restaurant game, Chris Bianco, the genius behind Pane Bianco, Bar Bianco, and Pizzeria Bianco -- the best pizza in Arizona. This new place won’t be exclusively tossing pies, but instead, will be serving up pasta... and lots of it. With only 35 seats in the entire restaurant, Tratto pretty much guarantees you a cozy, well-taken-care-of experience. Plus, maybe a little bit of a wait. So make those reservations now!
Located just steps away from the Main St and Country Club Dr light rail stop, this months-old Downtown Mesa spot is one of the new and noteworthy places popping up in the East Valley. Owners Jim and Kelsey are no strangers to the restaurant scene, having started at Postino. You won’t find any bottles here; this restaurant specializes in craft sandwiches built with locally sourced and homemade ingredients. And considering the partnerships with the likes of Proof Bread, Crooked Sky Farms, Danzeisen Dairy, and The Simple Farm, it’s possible this might be the best sandwich you’ll ever have.
From the folks who brought us the award-winning Welcome Diner comes Welcome Chicken + Donuts, a Korean-style fried chicken joint operating out of what was once a KFC in a super-hip area of Phoenix. You’d be surprised how well donuts and chicken go together. It's closed on Mondays, but you can get your fix every other day of the week until 4pm.
While you won’t find tacos on the menu, like at the original Barrio Cafe, you will be able to order up some of the more casual spot’s iconic dishes, like the Chile Nogales, stuffed with apples and walnuts drizzled with a crema sauce and topped with pomegranate. Don’t get too accustomed to the current menu, though: Esparza will be putting together new dishes regularly to keep things fresh. And yes, that’s a very good excuse to become a regular.
Located just off of the 51, this family-owned Phoenix Chihuahuan-style restaurant is deceptively simple from the outside, but its food is pretty damn delicious -- looks aren’t everything people! Order at the counter from the straightforward menu of tacos, burritos, and gorditas (the the carne asada and el pastor tacos are what you’re here for), and then load up at the impressive homemade salsa bar (the chile rojo is quickly becoming one of our favorite in town) while you wait for your food.
If you're looking for egg rolls, you're in the wrong place. Contrary to the big bold letters on the outside of the building, you will only find one single egg roll on the menu here. It is a token of sorts, paying homage to the former joint, an American-Chinese spot. When new owners took over the space earlier this year they did away with the American-Chinese fare, but decided to keep the name. Now, the nationally acclaimed Chandler spot serves up Shaanxi regional cuisine, including dishes like lamb dumplings and handmade noodle bowls.
Craving enchiladas? There's no better place to go to satisfy your ferocious appetite for cheese and red sauce than Gadzooks. Offering a smattering of soups, including a vegetarian choice, and a seemingly endless lineup of build-your-own enchilada options, Gadzooks is sure to fill up that empty spot in your stomach. The 7th St spot is also an exceptional choice for takeout. Good news for those of you in Arcadia: Owner Aaron Pool plans to open up a new spot in your 'hood. Keep an eye out for it.
Located in what looks like a house with a wrap-around porch, this order at the counter-style Greek joint has been pleasing palates since 2014. Epic portions and dishes like lamb souvlaki skewers, gyros, and leafy green Greek-style salads make it hands-down one of the best damn spots for Mediterranean food in Phoenix. Let your Greek flag fly -- and be sure to try the tzatziki.
The Phoenix dining scene is making strides, and it’s evident in Restaurant Progress. Headed by Chef TJ Culp, known for his pop-up dinner series, the Melrose District spot offers a rotating menu that features a lineup of New American entrees and small plates, all of which are artfully crafted and presented. The poached egg is a must-try, and the scallops and blue fin crudo are downright delicious.
“There’s no good seafood in Phoenix” is a statement that is overused and highly inaccurate. Chula Seafood, a San Diego-based company that opened up shop in Scottsdale in 2016, considers itself a fish market first and distributes fish to many local restaurants including F&B, The Gladly, Twisted Grove, and many more. On top of that, Chula has the hands down best poke bowl in the area -- try the Hawaiian, which is equally as colorful as it is beautiful.
This modern oysteria headed up by celebrity chef and Food Network personality Scott Conant swung open its big, sexy doors in February. Here, you can order his famous polenta or get yourself a swirl of Scarpetta-style pomodoro pasta. Both are solid choices, but our favorite is the rolling bread cart with its tableside guacamole servings.
Housed inside of Gilbert’s Barnone, the brainchild of Joe Johnston shares the space with nearly a dozen other makers, including the experimental winery Garage East, and the brick-and-mortar version of the vegetarian food truck The Uprooted Kitchen. The community-focused order-at-the-counter pizza shop uses rustic cooking methods, including a wood-fired oven that makes for perfect crusts. Many of the ingredients are sourced directly from Gilbert’s community farm at Agritopia, so you’re always guaranteed some fresh tastes on your hot pie.
Notable for its brunch and impressive ambiance, Nico Heirloom Kitchen was brought to life by Valley chef and James Beard nominee Gio Osso, who’s also known for Scottsdale’s Virtu. Diners can expect to find West Coast-inspired Italian dishes on the menu like lasagna al forno, rigatoni with slow-cooked pork sugo, house-made ricotta, and bistecca tagliata -- a 40-ounce Niman Ranch tomahawk ribeye intended for two.
Local meets global at MATCH Cuisine & Cocktails, the modern restaurant tucked inside FOUND:RE, the city’s newest arts-driven hotel. Belly-up to the chef’s table for a close-up look into the kitchen, with its wood-fired oven and open-fire grill. Many of the menu’s dishes are prepared over the flames, like selections of pizzas and plates like baked gnocchi and meatballs.
Street tacos aren’t exactly hard to come by in Phoenix, but it’s unlikely that you’ll come across ahi poke, Korean fried chicken, or duck versions that often -- unless you’re at CRUjiente. Executive Chef Rich Hinojosa opened CRU in 2016 with co-owner Jason Morris, and the restaurant offers soft and crunchy options that bring street tacos into the modern dining scene with delicate plating and interesting ingredients.
Hailing from Flagstaff, SoSoBa found its second home in Phoenix in the Roosevelt Row neighborhood. Noodle-lovers here in The Valley can slurp up ramen and cocktails ‘til their heart’s content, but there’s more than noodle dishes on the menu. The restaurant offers shareable plates and bites like the pork belly salad, kimchi tostadas, and creative weekly mashups including a ramen-meets-gumbo dish.
Fàme, which also means hungry in both Northern Spain and Italy, can satisfy your rumbling appetite with a selection of eats ranging from breakfast tacos and French toast to burgers and BLTs. With a focus on “French Mexican food,” Chef Ivan O’Farrill blends the best of both worlds at the Central Phoenix cafe. While Fàme is currently serving breakfast and lunch all day, fans can expect to see the cafe open for dinner service soon.
Don’t be so quick to write off Tempe as a culinary dead zone. The college town has some of the best eats in Phoenix, including Tampopo Ramen, which boasts some of the most slurpable Japanese-style ramen you can find in The Valley. Fill your belly with braised pork belly, steamed buns, homemade Japanese dumplings, grilled octopus, and Japanese fried chicken. For ramen, choose from favorites like a bowl of Tonkotsu with slices of pork, black wood fungus, or go all-out and order the ultra spicy version with Tampopo hot sauce, chili oil, roasted pork, and seaweed.
Sushi and burritos collide at Chandler’s Pokitrition, and it’s a mash-up we’re stoked about. The East Valley resto swung open its doors a little while back, but it’s already a hit with poke lovers across The Valley, as it’s the first spot to roll up poke-style wraps in Phoenix. Most notably, it sources its fish directly from Hawaii, so it’s got many of its local competitors beat in the “fresh” category.