What’s the best restaurant in Phoenix? Or the best brunch spot? Or the best Italian joint? We would be delighted to tell you!
Here are all the Phoenix restaurants that won a Best of Phoenix award in 2020.
5594 West Wild Horse Pass Boulevard, Chandler
Almost two decades into its genre-bending, white-tablecloth gastronomic journey through the desert we call home, Kai remains a pillar of Arizona dining. Chef Ryan Swanson, who scored a James Beard Award nomination this year, has the restaurant humming like a sleek vintage car. Still, he keeps driving Kai to new places. Swanson can nimbly hit notes across the gastronomic map, often using hyperlocal ingredients in uncommon ways, such as many kinds of cactus in a “key lime” pie, or Ramona Farms corn in an earthy amuse bouche. Though classics remain (including a “sensory course” that rewires your mind late in the arc of the tasting menu), Swanson routinely decks out the menu with new dishes like bison creme brulee, octopus, smoked squash soup, and compressed lamb on ceme’t. Eating at Kai gives you a powerful sense of what eating in Arizona could be: imaginative, born from the cracks, valleys, and washes of our unique land — and like nowhere else in the world.
The elote and chips and salsa from Vecina.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Best New Restaurant
3433 North 56th Street
This young, Latin-inspired Arcadia eatery already has numerous dishes that feel like Phoenix classics. There’s the hiramasa ceviche, lush and creamy. There’s an elote with about as many ingredients as a corn cob has kernels. There’s a fried ice cream sandwiched on halved concha and impaled with a steak knife. Perhaps most of all, there’s one of the most sneakily excellent chips-and-salsa plates you can find, anchored by an incendiary-but-somehow-subtle salsa loaded with butter. Vecina chefs James Fox and Eric Stone don’t take a single dish off. Cocktails, beer, and wine are just as on point. You could order at random and enjoy a stellar meal.
Emerson Fry Bread’s Navajo newly regular mutton sandwich has become a top seller.
Best Food Truck
Emerson Fry Bread
Roxanne Wilson and Loren Emerson’s mobile purveyor of frybread has long been one of the best meals-on-wheels situations in town. Standing before its pink facade painted with cactuses, you can get a hot, chewy, simple, elegant frybread for $3. The Jazzy, an Indian taco made with little more than carne asada on frybread, has been a satisfying choice for years. This year, though, a new favorite entered the ring: a Navajo-style mutton sandwich. Tucked into fry bread with shreds of lamb leg and shards of Hatch chile, this sandwich has brought a new wave of customers to Emerson Fry Bread. Wash one down with a 32-ounce jar of iced prickly pear lemonade.
Pull up to the bumber at 32 Shea.
10626 North 32nd Street
The drive-thru experience is often a trade-off: You get convenience, and you don’t have to leave your car’s air-conditioned interior, but most of the food that’s available through a window isn’t particularly healthy or tasty. Not so at 32 Shea. The tiny north-central Phoenix eatery began life as a photo mat, and the building retained its drive-thru window even when it transitioned into a cafe. Before the pandemic hit, the window was only open for breakfast and lunch, which was fine with us: We could get our Nutella mocha, avocado toast, or caprese sandwich without leaving our car. Now, the drive-thru stays open until the restaurant closes, meaning that 32 Shea’s fabulous dinner entrees like braised short ribs and the salmon superfood salad also can be ordered from your vehicle. If our drive-thru options are a Big Mac or lobster mac and cheese, we know which we’re choosing.
Cloth & Flame sets up outdoor dining in style.
Cloth & Flame
Best Outdoors Feast
Cloth & Flame
The brainchild of Matt Cooley and Olivia Laux, Cloth & Flame hosts farm-to-table community dinners in scenic spots like the Sonoran Desert and the Superstitions. Attending one of its events is a true multi-sensory experience. There’s the unique flavors; aromas of food mingling with those of the desert air; the sound of new friends’ voices as they tell their stories; the occasional touch as someone asks you to pass the plate; and, of course, the beauty of the table and the great outdoors. “We live at a time where you get rid of fun friends for political views,” Cooley says. “But we believe that if you sit across someone and share a meal with them, you forget your differences.” We tend to agree, which is why we’re so glad Cloth & Flame is helping bridge new connections all across the Valley.
In deep food-geek circles, Lom Wong carries cachet. The pop-up, which before the pandemic met periodically in a south Scottsdale living room, features regional Thai cuisine, most notably that of the coastal Moklen tribes. The culinary talents behind the intimate dinners are Yotaka Martin, a Chiang Rai native who has cooked at Glai Baan, and Alex Martin, a Chicago native, graduate of Chulalongkorn University, and fluent Thai speaker. The meals and beverage pairings are ethereal. Dishes like pla neung Moklen, whole fish steamed with chili and lime, braid startlingly fresh flavors. You get deeply thoughtful lessons in history and culture as you go. Often, meals end with a surprisingly nice ice cream sandwich bunned, against the odds, on simple white bread.
Shamy’s cheese boat delicacy.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Best Hidden Gem
Shamy Market & Bakery
1110 West Southern Avenue, #8, Mesa
In the back of their Middle Eastern grocery in a Mesa strip mall, the Alimam family, two generations of refugees from Damascus, run a lunch counter. Breads are central. Their flavors lean Syrian, and they are peeled out of a gas-fired oven. You tear into them when they’re just seconds old. Consider safia, canoe-shaped loaves scattered with ground meat in the hollowed middle. Or try manakeesh stretched into an oval and rained with za’atar and salty halloumi cheese. Even the simple pita is pillowy and divine, doubly so when dragged through a side of hummus or baba ghanoush. The secret charms of Shamy extend to everything from sujuk sandwiches to simple sides of fava beans.
Best Bonkers Restaurant Opening
9310 East Vía de Ventura, Scottsdale
Thanks to Harold and Kumar, White Castle hamburgers are now better known as a feast for stoners than comfort food for Midwesterners. But both camps — transplants from the middle of the country and native Arizonans curious about what would make the cinematic duo ride a cheetah in the middle of the night in New Jersey — stood in line together for hours on a warm October morning last year, eager to sample sliders from the first White Castle to open in Arizona. Those who camped out for days to storm the castle ordered hundreds of the tiny burgers at once, causing the 24-hour restaurant to close early on its opening day in order to restock. Some sad latecomers left tired, frustrated, and empty-handed. It would be weeks before the rush of cravers ticked down to something like normal fast-food restaurant levels, but for many, it was worth all the wait.
One of Kevin Binkley’s creations.
Best Place To Take A Foodie
2320 East Osborn Road
You needn’t travel to New York or Chicago for the ultimate foodie experience. Just bring a generous appetite to Binkley’s, where you can marvel at Kevin Binkley’s creations — from his tamarind barbecue octopus to smoked Copper River salmon to sweet corn. When you dine here, you can’t help but feel you are part of something special and, yes, exclusive. There are only 20 spots available for dinner (reservations should be made well ahead of time), the menu is seasonally driven and never stagnant, and patrons get to watch as Binkley and his staff prepare and unveil each small plate. Whether you’re a tourist or a native Phoenician, you’re missing out on magic (and that isn’t an exaggeration) if you don’t have Binkley’s on your bucket list.
The dining room of Rancho Pinot.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Best Authentic Arizona Restaurant
6208 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
For nearly three decades, Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot has married the bounty of Arizona with Italian-leaning techniques and flavor palettes in singular ways. Still, the skill and flavors of Rancho Pinot seem, at times, not wholly understood by the younger generations of Phoenix eaters. There’s no Instagram wall. No neon signs. But there’s damn good food and drink, cooking from the heart and the heart of the arid world we inhabit. Robertson plates panna cotta with local white peaches, a classic caprese-like salad hinging on the quality of top Arizona tomatoes, and a dainty-yet-vigorous roast quail accented with mostarda of fruit in season. Roberston was a 2020 James Beard Award finalist for a reason: Like a cactus wren or Gila woodpecker, her cooking sings a brilliant local song.
Alter Ego, the new hotel restaurant in downtown Tempe, really knows how to put a menu together.
Best Hotel Restaurant
108 East University Drive, Tempe
Alter Ego, located on the ground floor of the also-new Canopy by Hilton Tempe Downtown, impressed us soon after opening in early summer 2020. But it’s not just the student bustle of downtown Tempe or the luxurious dining area that will have us returning again and again to this restaurant. It’s the food. Veteran Valley Chef Ken Arneson oversees the kitchen here, ensuring guests and those picking up takeout are treated to well-executed specialties like the skirt steak chimichurri, the katsu chicken sandwich, and sweet Thai shishito peppers. Don’t even get us started on the goat cheese gelato, mixed with fresh berries and served with the In “The Pot” Cobbler. Part of Alter Ego’s menu is seasonal, so you may not get to try everything mentioned above. But we’re confident most any order here will leave you satisfied. Some of Alter Ego’s food also can be ordered up to the hotel’s rooftop bar counterpart, meaning you can enjoy dishes like the Filipino-style empanadas while sipping the signature cocktails they serve there. But if you’d rather stick to the patio outside of Alter Ego, right on University Drive across from ASU’s main campus, we feel that, too.
They get wild with breakfast at Hash Kitchen.
The Maggiore Group
When you and your breakfast club can’t decide between a solid, hearty meal or a trendy, Instagrammable feast, go to Hash Kitchen, which is the best of both worlds. We must first mention the bloody mary bar, which boasts over 50 toppings to mix and match. Then, there’s the DJ spinning tunes in the corner, starting the party early — a wakeup call, if you will. The menu has traditional items like corned beef hash and buttermilk pancakes, but we usually go for the stuff we can’t get at many other places, like Lucky Charms French toast or a lobster Benedict. Portions are large; at least two people can split the S’mores pancakes or the carnitas hash. You can also get a friend to share the cereal shooter flights (you read that right) or down them all yourself. We won’t judge.
A brunch spread from Prep & Pastry.
Prep & Pastry
Prep & Pastry
7025 East Via Soleri Drive, Scottsdale
A stone’s throw from the canal in downtown Scottsdale, this Tucson import has been drawing the hungry morning hordes since its first days. It’s easy to see why. When you open the front door to the cavernous dining room and look left, your eyes land on a pastry bar. This isn’t your 200-year-old Parisian emporium of long bread and pain au chocolate. Rather, at this counter you can score gigantic cinnamon rolls, croissant doughnuts, and brioche stuffed with “Mexican hot chocolate.” The pastry case’s whimsy also runs through the sit-down menu, replete with a PB&J French toast on Japanese milk bread and a duck confit hash with cherries. Also nicely weird at Prep & Pastry: a deep morning cocktail selection.
Best lunch spot? It’s got to be Pane Bianco.
Best Lunch Spot
4404 North Central Avenue
Lunch is for sandwiches, and it is our belief that the quality of a sandwich is ultimately determined by the quality of its bread. Ergo, ipso facto, by the transitive property, etc.: The best lunch spot in Phoenix is Pane Bianco, because that’s where the best sandwich bread is served. Specifically, these are sandwiches served between round cuts of wood-fired focaccia that resemble a half-roasted marshmallow, or the surface of the moon. Between these doughy masterpieces are simple combinations of ingredients that pack explosive flavor. Mozzarella, basil, tomato. Provolone, sopressata, relish. And if, by some bizarre circumstance, sandwiches aren’t your thing, Pane Bianco has you covered: The house-made mozzarella salad is just as juicy and fragrant as the sandwich version; the albacore tuna salad is filling without being heavy; and the pizzettes are like the younger cousin of Bianco’s famous pies. Most things you eat that deliver this much joy tend to weigh you down, either with guilt or whichever combination of chemicals that causes food comas. Not so with the food at Pane Bianco. We’ve yet to detect any slumping in our work productivity after devouring them. And we would know: The Van Buren location, which will close soon to make way for the new location of Bianco’s other restaurant Tratto, is just a few blocks away from the New Times office, and we’re in there constantly.
The son-in-law eggs at Glai Baan.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Best Restaurant Patio
2333 East Osborn Road
You walk onto the patio through a wrought-iron door. The greenery, the string lights, and a cozy smattering of tables grab your attention. Red oilcloths with blue floral patterns cover the tables. The trees have colorful sashes tied around their trunks reminiscent of prayer flags. The intimate, beautiful patio at Glai Baan is just the first wonderful part of your experience at the popular eatery that specializes in Thai street food. We go back again and again for well-executed dishes like the juicy kanon jeeb (pork dumplings) and the fragrant, comforting panang curry. We don’t overlook the drinks menu, a hidden jewel of the local cocktail scene; choices like the spiked Nham King Hot Tea stand on their own merits, but pair well with the food. And of course, we always ask for patio seating.
The steak sandwich at 12 West Brewing Co.
Best Bar Food
12 West Brewing Co.
12 West Main Street, Mesa
This two-story former event venue in downtown Mesa is now 12 West Brewing Co.’s second location, which, unlike the first spot, offers cocktails and full meals in addition to craft beer. If a few beers make you exceptionally hungry, or if you’re looking to get dinner before a show at Mesa Arts Center, the menu at 12 West exceeds the usual bar food expectations. Food options start with shareables like smoked mac and cheese, Southwest avocado hummus, the Blap! Blap! Fries, and the Bretzel. That last one is a hefty-ass Bavarian pretzel paired with a generous portion of Belgian wheat beer cheese. There are flatbreads like ricotta-mushroom, bacon jam and fig, and caprese. And salads range from power greens to a poke bowl. But the best thing on the menu will be whatever sandwich you order. Maybe the katsu chicken sandwich — a spiced, extra-crispy fried chicken thigh topped with Thai chili aioli on a warm bun. Our pick is definitely the steak sandwich — grilled flank steak with beefsteak tomato, baby arugula, chimichurri, and pickled red onions, all piled on grilled flatbread. The smell alone should be a Yankee Candle.
The bar at Welcome Diner.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Best Late-Night Restaurant
929 East Pierce Street
The food’s great, but the hang may be even better at Welcome Diner — and the later, the better. With its eclectic tables and chairs, Welcome’s front patio is perfect for kicking back with friends and a beverage in hand, and there’s quite a selection of comforting late-night eats on the menu for soaking up a night of drinking and debauchery. The jackfruit po’boy is a showstopper, as are the peanut butter bacon burger, fried chicken biscuit sandwiches, and mac and cheese topped with torched breadcrumbs. Or keep the party going and order an Old Fashioned or Welcome’s own French Lady at the retro-diner counter. The fun times here don’t have to stop until 2 a.m.
Cafe Monarch brings the romance.
Best Romantic Restaurant
6934 East First Avenue, Scottsdale
Quaint and intimate, Café Monarch is the perfect setting for flirting, romance, and the intimate exchange of inside jokes between lovebirds. (Others have noticed: TripAdvisor voted Café Monarch the second-most romantic restaurant in the entire country.) The charming courtyard, modeled after a European landscape, has fountains and whimsy, and the staff pays close attention to the details. Gluten, vegetarian, and vegan requests are warmly accommodated here, and if it’s your birthday, anniversary, or some other special occasion, your dessert will likely arrive with a sparkler stuck in it. The four-course menu highlights farm-to-table ingredients and includes some sumptuous entrees, including Chilean sea bass, New Zealand lamb rack, and duck breast. With everything so well taken care of for you, it’s easy to sit back, relax, and focus on your darling companion.
The majestic landscape of Luci’s at The Orchard.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Best Restaurant to Take Your Kids
Luci’s at the Orchard
7100 North 12th Street
There are plenty of brunch spots around the Valley where you can take your youngsters, but how many of them have a splash pad? Luci’s at The Orchard can make that boast. Here, you can grab a protein-packed power bowl or catch up with friends over mimosas without worrying about where to stick your kids. If you want to lean into family time, swing by the gourmet market, pick up a book from the Little Free Library, or grab some tasty gelato over at Splurge, the restaurant’s in-house sweet shop. By then, though, your kiddos might be tuckered out from all the outdoor water play (you’re welcome).
Old Town Scottsdale’s Maple & Ash.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Maple & Ash
7135 East Camelback Road, #130, Scottsdale
What makes a steakhouse? One, good steak. Old Town Scottsdale’s Maple & Ash has just that. You can polish off an affordable steak frites at the opulent bar, or steadily demolish an exorbitantly priced dry-aged tomahawk ribeye, which meets your teeth as a near-cloud of funk and umami. Two, the sides. Here, they are thoughtful, from silky egg agnolotti in decadent truffle butter sauce to a coal-oven crisped octopus. Three, drinks. You get a complimentary tipple when you sit down here. Cocktails are thoughtful for a steakhouse, and Japanese whisky bottles flash hiragana from behind the bar. Finally, the vibe. The juju here is all swank and chandeliers and high ceilings and mirrors. Having satisfied all the criteria, we declare Maple & Ash a complete, notable addition to our steakhouse scene.
The always cozy Roosevelt Diner.
Arturo’s Roosevelt Diner
924 East Roosevelt Street
Greasy spoon. Hash joint. Whatever you want to call it, Arturo’s Roosevelt Diner in the Garfield District is a gem. This petite eatery has gone by several names over the years, starting with the Hi-Way Diner, which is what it was called back in 1982, when a man named Robert Young had the building moved from Winslow and plopped onto a corner lot in Phoenix. (It’s been Arturo’s Roosevelt Diner since 2018.) On the menu are the usual diner items — hot coffee, breakfast dishes — but also eight styles of gourmet hot dogs. Arturo’s wasn’t built for pandemic times — it’s a nine-seater inside, and quarters are close — but there’s an airy, lawn-like patio out front with picnic tables where you can spread out a bit and enjoy this tiny slice of Arizona history.
The lunch counter at Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Best Soul Food
Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café
808 East Jefferson Street
It’s almost like time doesn’t exist outside Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café, which has changed very little since Elizabeth White opened the place in 1964. Over the last half-century, this family-owned eatery has served Southern comfort and soul food to notable people like the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Phoenix Suns legend Charles Barkley, former heavyweight boxer Earnie Shavers, and the Godfather of Soul himself, the late James Brown. Substantial portions of meals like meatloaf, pork chops, and fried chicken with steaming sides of collard greens, buttery corn on the cob, and rich mac and cheese are filling crowd-pleasers, and the cornbread is so deliciously sticky and studded with whole kernels of sweet corn that the cafe sometimes runs out. Desserts like peach cobbler, sweet potato pies, and banana pudding can push people over the gastric edge — but are well worth feeling stuffed.
The signature item from Cornish Pasty Co.
Best English Pub
Cornish Pasty Co.
Cornish Pasty, the beloved local chain, has everything we want in an English pub: a cozy atmosphere, a great selection of booze, and hearty food options. The interiors are warm and welcoming; the downtown Phoenix location in particular has a vintage public house vibe. The beer list is full of local, national, and international options, and if beer isn’t your thing, wine and cocktails are also represented on the menu. The cornerstone of the food lineup is of course the pasties (we think of them as British calzones) stuffed with a variety of fillings ranging from the traditional Oggie with steak, potato, onion, and rutabaga, to vegan Guinness stew and veggie tikka masala. Also on the menu are English favorites like the Scotch egg and the Ploughman’s Plate (kind of a British charcuterie board). Cornish Pasty has expanded to five metro Phoenix locations, plus outposts in Flagstaff and Las Vegas, so we’re clearly not the only ones who love to grab a pint here.
Fish and chips Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub & Restaurant.
New Times Archives
Best Irish Pub
Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub & Restaurant
906 East Camelback Road
We were psyched to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at Rosie McCaffrey’s this year, as we do every year. Then, the pandemic hit, and — cruelly — March 17 happened to be the day Governor Doug Ducey told the bars they had to shut down by 8 p.m. Since then, there haven’t been many days we’ve been able to visit the best Irish pub in town. We miss the quaint interior of Rosie’s, with its dark wood and Ireland-themed decor. We miss the beer lineup, which includes local favorites, European classics, and more. And we miss the food, both the Irish-leaning items like the potato boxty and Harp-battered fish and chips, and the more standard bar fare like chicken wings and hamburgers. We’re crossing our fingers that next St. Paddy’s Day, we’ll be back celebrating at Rosie’s.
Haus Murphy’s in Old Towne Glendale.
Best German Restaurant
5739 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale
Despite its mixed moniker, Haus Murphy’s restaurant in downtown Glendale is pure, authentic German. Dirndls and lederhosen are part of the aesthetic, and not just during Oktoberfest. Chef Brett Hoffmann’s traditional Bavarian dishes have been praised by Guy Fieri on the TV show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and include seven kinds of sausage, from German bratwurst to Hungarian sausages, five variations of schnitzel, and house specialties like beef roulade, stuffed cabbage roll, and Eisbein (beechwood-smoked pork shank). Yes, giant Bavarian pretzels are available, too, along with a selection of authentic Deutsch beers on draft and in bottles. Bonus: On Friday and Saturday nights, the Haus Oompah Band performs in the biergarten on the outside patio.
Croissants at the Camelback Market at Vincent on Camelback.
Vincent on Camelback
Best French Restaurant
Vincent on Camelback
3930 East Camelback Road
Most large cities have a great French restaurant. What makes Vincent on Camelback particularly special is the eatery’s Southwestern twist — a distinctly Phoenix touch. A dining institution in the Valley, this no-jacket-required restaurant, operated by Chef Vincent Guerithault since its establishment in 1986, has an ever-changing menu. But you can usually rely on soups and salads, starters like the duck tamale, and mains like rack of lamb with spicy bell pepper jelly and beef tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce. Like the true white-tablecloth joint it is, Vincent on Camelback boasts a wine list with more than 500 individual selections. There’s a few other branches of this operation, too, including the more casual Vincent Market Bistro — our favorites there include a smoked salmon quesadilla, duck confit, and steak frites with a bit of wine — as well as Catering by Vincent and the Camelback Market. À ta santé, Vincent!
Tagliatelle with lemon from Tratto.
Best Italian Restaurant
4743 North 20th Street
With Cassie Shortino as chef and Blaise Faber as beverage director and GM, Chris Bianco’s trattoria remains the best Italian restaurant in town by a wide margin. You can count Tratto’s superiority in so many ways: drinks, including obscure amari, cocktails made with house-steeped liqueurs, and hard-to-find deeply regional wine vintages from the boot. Pasta, from wheaty tagliatelle shaped from freshly ground grains to a simple off-menu cacio e pepe that is hands-down the best pasta in town. Or even a simple starter: the bread, olive oil, and olive plate that opens your meal is nirvana, a harbinger of all the nirvana to come. And yet, there are still so many other facets to this jewel of a restaurant. Eating here is an escape to a better world. (Note: The address for Tratto will change soon; it’s moving to what is currently the Pane Bianco space at 1505 East Van Buren Street later this autumn.)
Plated entrees from Puerto Rico Latin Grill.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Best Puerto Rican Restaurant
Puerto Rico Latin Grill
2714 West Thomas Road
The menu at Puerto Rico Latin Grill bursts with the flavors of the Caribbean — especially the carnivorous ones. Owner Wesley Andujar’s kitchen staff works magic with meat, and pork in particular. To wit: the pernil, slow-roasted shredded pork that melts like manna on the tongue, and chuletas fritas (fried pork chops) crisped to perfection in piquant adobo seasoning. Chicken dishes like pechuga del pollo with sauteed onions linger pleasantly on the palate. Fish get a Puerto Rican twist with bacalaitos (salt cod pancake-like fritters) and whole red snapper. Plantains, a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine, shine in the mofongo (fried plantains mashed with spices) and jibarito de pernil (a sandwich combining savory pulled pork with mashed green plantains). Another prominent Puerto Rican dietary staple, rice, is available in both white and traditional yellow (arroz con gondules) versions.
Glendale’s Fe La Cubana.
Best Cuban Restaurant
Fe La Cubana
5821 North 67th Avenue, #110, Glendale
Great Cuban food? About as scarce in these parts as deep-sea marlin. But the food at Glendale’s Fe La Cubana fits the bill. The restaurant is a classic cafeteria-style cafe with old-school versions of Cuban favorites. In a small, stark dining room with not much more than a TV that magnetizes the eyes of the regulars who fork at full plates, customers pick what they want from hot metal tins. Stewed oxtails. Yuca with a perfect balance of tenderness and glide. Rich red bean soup. One of the pinnacles of Cuban gastronomy is also a standout here: ropa vieja, a dish of pork stewed until supernally tender. Fill your plate, melt into your firm chair, and when you’re done, nab a guava-stuffed pastele for the road.
The perfect lunch: pho at Little Saigon in historic downtown Glendale.
Best Vietnamese Restaurant
7016 North 57th Avenue, Glendale
Historic Downtown Glendale and the Catlin Court Historic District are known for cozy house eateries. And while they’re all delightful, a favorite is Little Saigon Restaurant. This cozy cottage restaurant surrounded by antique stores and small businesses seems fitting for its offerings of Vietnamese comfort food. The family-owned Little Saigon first opened in Christown Mall in 1998 before relocating to downtown Glendale in 2005. Here, power lunchers feast on more than seven choices of pho, including the classic pho tai (aromatic broth with sliced pieces of tender beef). Regulars also go for the crispy rice-flour crepes packed with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, and combo plates like the grilled shrimp and pork with steamed white rice under a sunny-side-up egg. Little Saigon is also vegetarian-friendly, thanks to dishes like bun chay tofu (tofu rice vermicelli salad bowl), dau hu sot ca chua (stir-fried tofu with tomato and onions), and canh cai xanh (bok-choy soup with ginger and onions).
Filled with classic Thai dishes, as well as signature creations, Chanpen is a hidden gem in south Phoenix.
Best Thai Restaurant
Chanpen Thai Cuisine
2727 East Broadway Road
The two locations of Chanpen Thai Cuisine aren’t too far apart geographically, but they look quite different. The Broadway location is a cozy building that has seen better days; the Baseline restaurant is fancier, with yellow walls, Buddhist art, and a kind of set-apart area reminiscent of a temple. What’s exactly the same at both outposts is the food: well-crafted versions of Thai classics like pad see ew and panang curry. Our favorites are the spicy, savory drunken noodles with peppers and broccoli, and the creamy, slightly sweet massamun curry with potatoes, carrots, and peanuts. The other commonality between the two Chanpen locations? Service that goes above and beyond. The welcoming staff members often offer us water or soup or ice cream while we wait for our takeout. That’s the type of thing you don’t forget, and it’s part of what makes Chanpen the first place we think of when we’re in the mood for Thai.
A spread from Manna Korean BBQ.
Best Korean Restaurant
Manna Korean BBQ
1135 South Dobson Road, Mesa
A bevy of Korean barbecue options have cropped up in the Valley in the past few years. Some are sleek and fancy. Others are low-key. Manna, which has another location in San Diego, falls more in the latter camp. Its food comes all-you-can-eat for $25 at dinner and $18 at lunch. Meals begin with an armada of banchan and then shift to the gas grill plate, where you cook galbi and diaphanous brisket slices yourself. You can go as hard as you want: veal intestine, baby octopus, or pork chops. Your tong and scissor hands will get a workout. At meal’s end — after somehow making space for a mochi — you’ll see that Manna can hang with any Korean barbecue joint in town.
Hana Japanese Eatery has some high-end sushi.
Best Japanese Restaurant
Hana Japanese Eatery
5524 North Seventh Avenue
So much stands out about this tried-and-true Japanese restaurant, where Lori Hashimoto has earned and maintained the respect of Valley eaters. The key to it all might be range. She’s a master of simple Japanese preparations expertly done. At Hana, we recommend delicate fried oysters breaded in panko, or osuimono, a lightly flavored soup that’s pretty much all consomme, both satisfying with quiet flavors. The massive, complex dishes shine as well, like a tempura sampler of seasonal fish and vegetables, or the Hana Pride Roll, which, with touches like pickled burdock and togarashi, feels like a completely new sushi creation.
Twice-cooked pork, eggplant, and Chonqing chicken from Old Town Taste.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Best Chinese Restaurant
Old Town Taste
1845 East Broadway Road, Tempe
The second most interesting part about Old Town Taste is that it’s not actually in Old Town Scottsdale. It’s in a strip mall in Tempe, easily spotted by its bright-red sign. The most interesting part, obviously, is the food. The family-owned Chinese restaurant has a lengthy menu with a Sichuan bent, promising dishes like braised eggplant, mapo tofu, and Szechuan-style blood curd. But what brings us back again and again is the Chongqing-style platter. This house special is offered as chicken or fish, and both options are fantastic, thanks to chunks of meat coated in that thin, crunchy batter and topped with string beans and chile. It’s never a bad time to slide into one of Old Town Taste’s bright turquoise booths and dig into a meal of authentic Chinese cuisine.
It’s a big menu, but you’ll find your usual in no time at Chennai Chettinaad Palace.
Best Indian Restaurant
Chennai Chettinaad Palace
2814 West Bell Road
A hallmark of a great Indian restaurant is great naan, and at Chennai Chettinaad Palace, it’s warm, fluffy, and buttery soft — a perfect companion to the chicken tikka masala or daal makhani. Entrees carry the richness of traditional spices like cumin, garam masala, and coriander, without overpowering with a pants-on-fire spiciness. Don’t leave without tasting the biryani; the rice is loose and tender, with a blend of vegetables or a meat of your choosing. It rivals biryani you might find in a restaurant in India. The menu is vast, with almost 200 items to choose from. Start your meal with a cold glass of mango lassi, sample some of the hot pakoras as an appetizer, and move on to entrees from virtually every region of India. Finish off with desserts like gulab jamun or milky rice kheer.
The lamb tongue sandwich at Haji Baba in Tempe.
Best Middle Eastern Restaurant
1513 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe
Set in a nondescript strip mall just east of the Arizona State University campus, Haji-Baba doesn’t look like much from the outside. But the restaurant-market has been feeding students — and everyone else who likes great Middle Eastern food at a ridiculously low price point — for decades. The chicken shawarma platter, crammed with spiced meat, basmati rice, hummus, tabbouleh, and a pungent, addictive garlic sauce, is one of our favorite dishes in the entire city. But anything on the menu is a good pick, from the gyro sandwich to the creamy baba ghanoush to the Greek salad studded with huge chunks of tangy feta cheese. Leave enough time to roam the market half of the space, where you can pick up fragrant spices, exotic coffee, and other Middle Eastern groceries.
Waamo’s food travels from East Africa to across the Mediterranean.
Best African Restaurant
5050 East McDowell Road
Officially a Somali restaurant, WaaMo also exhibits strong influences from other east African countries, like Ethiopia and Eritrea, not to mention Mediterranean flavors. Braised goat is one of its core Somali specialties. Owner and dining room fixture Basheir Elmi heartily recommends this to diners who aren’t regulars. Sambusas, deep-fried pastries, are another Somali favorite. But you can also grab Greek salad and kebab sandwiches here if you want. The vibe in WaaMo is unlike anywhere else in town, generated by the warmth of spiced coffee and that of Elmi meeting and greeting the diners, of watermelon juice and deep-fried chicken leg. WaaMo is a true unsung gem.
Beautiful dishware from Cafe Chenar.
Jackie Mercandetti Photo
Best Kosher Restaurant
1601 East Bell Road, Suite A-11
Our greatest kosher restaurant happens to be a north Phoenix establishment you could eat in without even knowing it’s kosher. But young Bukharian stalwart Café Chenar obeys the laws of kashrut through and through. Tashkent native and chef Mazel Uvaydov makes tweaks to keep kosher, some so deft they slide under the radar. For one, manti, a kind of dumpling, are often dipped in sour cream. At Café Chenar, they come with tomato sauce. The restaurant’s wide-ranging menu contains plenty of treasures to discover, including the Uzbek plov (a meat and rice dish), kebabs, hanum (a steamed pasta roll filled with potato and onion), and roasted Cornish hen. They even unveil specials for Jewish holidays, like sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) for Hanukkah.
Best Jewish Deli
23425 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Here, the mien is friendly, reading the deep menu is like falling into a wormhole, and the portions are grand — and it all adds up to make this New York-style Jewish deli a worthy stop for breakfast, lunch, or a gargantuan cinnamon roll for the road. JJ’s boils more than 20 kinds of bagels every morning. They’re of the giant, fluffy variety, and they do best under a mountain of whitefish salad or lox. Hot sandwiches on rye with stacks of pastrami or corned beef are also top-notch. An underrated nook on the menu is the robust knish selection, which includes a glorious doughy knob perfumed with bacon. And if you’re ever feeling under the weather, we suggest picking up a bowl of Jewish penicillin, a.k.a. a hearty, comforting bowl of JJ’s matzah ball soup.
Exploring lower Seventh Avenue in the Coronado District must involve a trip to Green New American Vegetarian.
Best Vegetarian Restaurant
Green New American Vegetarian
2022 North Seventh Street
Chef Damon Brasch was the first restaurateur in the Valley to seduce herbivores and carnivores alike with meatless variations on burgers, chicken, crab puffs, po’ boys, cheesesteak, and those legendary Buffalo wings. Green’s mock meats could fool even the most anti-veggie meat-eater, and hearty sides like chili fries, soy-free samosas, fried Brussels sprouts, and eggless rolls make it a meal that leaves just enough room for dessert from next-door sister business tSoynami (at the Phoenix location), where soy-based ice cream treats in 18 varieties await — including popular flavors like cookies ‘n’ cream, mint, peanut butter and chocolate, rocky road, peach cobbler, and chocolate chip cookie dough. Green’s two locations stand out as the places in town where we miss meat the least.
The lentil pancakes from Giving Tree Café.
Giving Tree Café
Best Vegan Restaurant
Giving Tree Café
2024 North Seventh Street
“Delicious AF” is how Giving Tree Café describes its banana bread with macadamia butter, but that moniker could be applied to lots of things on its all-vegan menu. The fare includes an all-day breakfast menu (the spinach-packed vegan quiche is especially good), spicy-leaning starters like blistered shishito peppers and turmeric cauliflower, soups, pizzas, and sandwiches. (There’s a juice bar, too.) We’re partial to the “Main Events” entrees — savory, inventive dishes like mole tacos made with lion’s mane mushrooms and vegan seafood gumbo studded with okra and jackfruit.
Pastries from Jewel’s Bakery & Cafe.
Best Gluten-Free Restaurant
Jewel’s Bakery and Café
4041 East Thomas Road
Gluten-sensitive and food allergy sufferers will find much to love at Jewel’s, but so will regular consumers of gluten — a true test of how tasty a gluten-free restaurant is. When we dine here, we don’t miss the gluten in the famous chicken and waffles, or the hot chicken sandwich, or the green chile pork grilled cheese sandwich. Definitely not at the bakery counter with brownies, muffins, cakes, cookies, and more — all of which are made sans gluten. The homey neighborhood feel, friendly staff, and bright, airy dining room add to the good vibes. Go for breakfast or lunch and order freely; you won’t be disappointed.