The Best Restaurants in Phoenix

The largest city in the Southwest is packed with flavor, including cool cocktails, road-trip-worthy burritos and shockingly fresh seafood.

February 03, 2020
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CRUjiente Tacos

Crujiente means "crunchy" in Spanish, and the four crunchy tacos on the menu at this Arcadia hotspot set the stage for a plethora of other chef-driven tacos. Try the Korean fried chicken or Taco de la Semana—their taco of the week. Round it all out with a dessert taco and flight of mezcal, and you'll believe crujiente also means nirvana.

Ghost Ranch

Although opened by Chef Aaron Chamberlin (Taco Chelo, Phoenix Public Market Café, St. Francis), this modern Southwest restaurant is now helmed by Rene Andrade and Roberto Centeno, both Nogales natives who were instrumental in the original menu creation. Get the enchiladas, with their hand-pressed corn tortillas that still crunch despite being dressed with red or green sauce.

Kai

As one of the few restaurants in the country dedicated to Native American cuisine, Kai is an exceptional dining experience. The storytelling ability of the service staff is reason alone to visit — as they weave connections behind tribal lands and the very food you’re eating. Local farms and purveyors help Chef Ryan Swanson create items such as Great Plains bison, cocoa and mesquite-cured duck breast, and Native seed brittle on a hand-picked lettuce salad.

The Larder & The Delta

Chef Stephen Jones hits classic Southern food with a touch of smoke, adds a dash of seasonality and flavor-driven creativity to give you modern Southern cooking at its finest. Jones’ now legendary buffalo cauliflower and hoppin’ john are musts. The biscuits and fried green tomatoes are worth a long journey. Check their social media to see if the elusive fried hot chicken is being offered.

Chula Seafood

The family that owns this fast-casual spot runs a wholesale seafood business in San Diego, so if you’re wondering why Chula is able to serve fresh-off-the-boat seafood in AZ, it’s because they literally just caught it. Poke bowls, fresh oysters and sashimi platters keep things light, while a shrimp po’ boy, swordfish burro and fish & chips show the more indulgent side of the menu.

Century Grand

The words "immersive experience" barely do justice to this turn-of-the-century, train-car-themed cocktail bar in Arcadia. Grab a seat in the station and enjoy food and wine from passing dim sum carts. Then climb aboard Platform 18, a fully replicated train car, where video screens mimic the experience of chugging through snowy terrain, all while you enjoy first-class service and Prohibition-era cocktails inspired by the journey. Then, stop by The Grey Hen bottle shop and take in an educational tour through the largest single-barrel spirits collection in the country. Reservations are nearly a must.

Arizona Wilderness

This nationally recognized, Gilbert-based craft brewery recently expanded to Downtown Phoenix, bringing with them their delicious Arizona grass-raised beef burger and duck-fat French fries to pair with the Arizona-centric beers. Grab a spot on the patio to enjoy a burger and brew while watching the buzz of Roosevelt Row.

Little Miss BBQ

Even if you don’t live in Phoenix, you’ve likely heard about Little Miss BBQ — hailed far and wide as one of the top barbecue spots in the country. Lines stretch indefinitely and daily sell-outs at their original location are still a thing, but local pros know to head north to Sunnyslope, where a second location dishes out the same quality of smoked meats and traditional sides, but also huge barbecue burritos.

Across the Pond

Across the Pond is an intimate, incredibly focused little sushi spot located across the breezeway (or pond) from its parent restaurant, Clever Koi. The menu favors quality over quantity, so close your eyes and savor their delicate nigiri or light and other-worldly sashimi. Luxuriate in the umami of their toro, or enjoy the slight crunch of a soft shell crab roll. The mixology program is as refined as the sushi, featuring a few faves from Clever Koi across the pond.

Trapp Haus

Pitmaster Phil “The Grill” Johnson has won awards and competed on Chopped Grill Masters, but now he runs a fantastic, small smokehouse on Roosevelt Row. He serves up the best burnt ends in town (the charred tips of a smoked brisket) and house-smokes pastrami for Reubens. Trapp Haus’ super-saucy Philly Crack Wings and Phil ‘Em Up Fries (seasoned waffle fries covered in cheese sauce, BBQ sauce, and pico) are two destination-worthy musts.

Ocotillo

Ocotillo has quickly become a household name, and for good reason — the patio evokes Napa Valley, the veggie-heavy menu is somehow beyond savory, and the Sunday brunch is a destination occasion. The entire menu is sharable, so start with crispy falafel or baby back ribs, then move into smoked beets or charred sweet potato, then share the duck Bolognese tagliatelle or mesquite grilled chicken with local honey.

Gadzooks Enchiladas & Soup

Forget everything you know about the enchilada before you head to Gadzooks, a fast-casual spot that "redefines the enchilada." Each one is built to order in a clay dish and finished off in a pizza-like oven so everything's ooey-gooey and the flavors are married like they mean it. We love the "festival chicken" with shredded chicken, cornbread stuffing, in mixed flour and corn tortillas, topped with pickled red onions, slaw and cotija cheese.

Fabio On Fire

For years, Fabio Ceschetti roamed the streets of Phoenix with his mobile, wood-fired pizza oven, cooking at private parties and food festivals. When he opened Fabio on Fire restaurant in 2017, he began cooking everything from rack of lamb to whole lobster in the wood-fired oven. Now, he runs one of the most-lauded Italian spots in town. Handmade pastas and perfect Neapolitan-style pizza keep his place packed nightly.

Glai Baan

Step inside the cozy, paper-lantern-lit space of Glai Baan in central Phoenix and be transported straight to Thailand, including the enticing flavors of Thai street food, without the typical Americanization of menu items. The stir-fried Chinese broccoli with crispy pork belly and son-in-law egg is a must (ka na moo grob), as is mackerel fried rice.

Richardson’s

Richardson’s is a magical space that offers a taste of New Mexico in a way even New Mexico can’t quite replicate. Owner Richardson Browne’s small empire of restaurants (Dick’s Hideaway and The Rokerij) has been guided by this flagship since 1988, where likely over 1 million carne adovadas have been sold. It’s an iconic dish, with tender, pull-apart shreds of pork, spicy adovada sauce and side of rice and beans, all on a plate-sized tortilla. Add a green chile sweet potato and house salad on a chilled plate to complete any meal.

Piazza Romana

New Jersey transplant Justin Piazza mastered Neapolitan-style pizza with La Piazza Al Forno, but at his westside Piazza Romana he tackles pizza al taglio, a Roman street food. It looks like focaccia, but it’s much better. Super crispy on the bottom, the rectangles hold toppings that seemingly float above a cloud of air, thanks to a specific flour that makes these slices surprisingly light and, some say, healthier than your average pie.

The Beignet Babe

As woke pastry lovers know, beignets and French crullers are superior forms of doughnuts, filled with airy pockets of magic, surrounded by slightly crispy shells. In Phoenix, the best versions of these desserts are made by The Beignet Babe, a baker who sells at local farmers’ markets — most regularly at the Phoenix Public Market on Saturdays. Get there early and order a couple of everything, because she sells out just about every week. Pro tip: reserve an order for pickup through Instagram @beignetbabe to avoid the soul-crushing sadness of finding her fresh out.

Handlebar Diner

If you’ve never been to east Mesa, it’s a trek. But, now that Chef Adam Allison is operating an 11-seat, Valentine-style diner, there’s good reason to make the journey. At Handlebar, he dishes out amped-up takes on classic American fare, like a mammoth ribeye cheesesteak “whiz wit,” braised short rib mac and cheese, patty melts, wings and tenders, crispy cod tacos and fun surprises for guests, using whatever he has on hand, like apple pie egg rolls.

The Churchill

If a food heaven exists, it’s a place where you can get pizza, tacos and burgers from different local restaurants. At The Churchill in the Roosevelt Art's District, your group can embrace their food-driven differences by hitting up Provecho for tacos, Freak Bros. for Neapolitan-style pizza, and Commander Hamburger for burgers from Chef Bernie Kantak (The Gladly, Citizen Public House). You can also play lawn games, grab a beer or cocktail, or shop in The Churchill’s nifty retail spots. This communal, open-air space is stylishly built out of repurposed shipping containers.

Pa’La

Located in a restored bungalow in central Phoenix, Pa'La strikes a balance between high-end cooking and a casual setting in a way few places are able to achieve. Here, Chef Claudio Urciuoli does "wood-fired Mediterranean"—think grains, veggies, and fresh fish, all cooked in a wood-burning oven. Menu offerings change daily, but there’s always some form of the Navarro Bowl offered, with its bounty of grains and choice of seafood (often shrimp or scallops), as well as “pita” bread sandwiches.

Urban Phoenix

With background expertise in pizza and a beloved local burrito food truck, the owners of Urban Phoenix know a thing or two about amazing food. And by “things,” we mean breakfast tacos with eggs and smashed potatoes with jack cheese and bacon, or spicy breakfast bowls with scrambled eggs, poblano peppers, and locally made Frites St. French fries. Yes, fries for breakfast. It’s Urban bliss.

Tratto

Tratto, a white-tablecloth trattoria by world-renowned pizzaiolo Chris Bianco brings together Italian and Mediterranean cooking with ingredients from local, Southwest-desert farms. If you want pizza, go to Pizzeria Bianco next door. If you want handmade pasta, wood-grilled meats or fresh Chula Seafood fish, plus a bevy of antipasti, this is your place. Pro tip: Order the off-the-menu Cacio e Pepe for your table of any size to share.

La Grande Orange

La Grande Orange literally spurred a real estate revolution, turning the intersection of 40th Street and Campbell into the epicenter of the Arcadia neighborhood. A trendy market, wine shop, coffee bar, pizzeria, cocktail bar and all-day fast-casual destination for salads and sandwiches, La Grande Orange pretty much has something for everyone at all times. It’s also a great place to get a candle, some sushi, a maybe a t-shirt and a scoop of gelato. It’s basically everything, so check it out.

Topo

Imagine you’re on a road trip, craving a burrito, and looking for something quick, affordable, and Instagrammable. That’s the inspiration behind Topo, a burrito stand that harkens to LA’s iconic Bulldog Café — a kitschy roadside spot built to fuel the great American road trip. Topo’s menu consists of soft-serve ice cream and two styles of burrito with pork or chicken as the two options for fillings — choose to have a classic, with beans, cheese and salsa, or a Topo, with Fritos, hot sauce, cilantro, elote, and tomatillo crema.

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