A Foodies Guide to Phoenix, AZ
Known for being one of the sunniest cities in America and home to more than 200 golf courses, Phoenix already has its selling points. But as the city is also becoming one of the fastest growing “foodie” destinations in the West, its restaurants, bars and “hidden gem” neighborhood spots are worth adding to the list of reasons to visit.
In partnership with Phoenix Chef Aaron Chamberlin, we’ve curated a list of our favorites:
Starting with just a dream in a local grocery store over 25 years ago, James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Bianco took his passion for artisanal pizza into what is now four incredible Italian restaurants around Arizona. His Phoenix locations are known for more than traditional pizzas and melt-in-your-mouth homemade pastas – in downtown Phoenix, the Pizzeria is located in a former Machine Shop from the 1920s that still shows off its original red brick and display windows. In the central Phoenix location, a beautifully faded Persian rug is from the chef’s childhood home and all the artwork is hand painted by his father. Locals and regulars that fill Bianco’s restaurants admittedly “crave” the homemade Italian food, but admit that it’s also the restaurants’ rich, interesting history and warm, family atmosphere that keep them going back.
This well-known breakfast joint sneaked on to “must visit” lists through insiders and word-of-mouth before making it on Food Network and becoming what is now three locations. Originally tucked into a quiet Phoenix neighborhood, diners quickly discovered this restaurant did everything right – perfect black coffee, thick-cut toast, crispy bacon, bright, fluffy eggs and buttery waffles. It was everything they wanted in a quick, casual breakfast with an added plus – the restaurant’s purveyors were all local, organic or small-batch producers which meant feel-good food both through the ingredients and giving back to the farmers and family companies. Locations were added as the lines for Matt’s grew up to two hours or more, as people waited in excitement and showed up before the restaurant opened to secure a table. What else? Don’t be dissuaded by just a short layover in Phoenix, Matt’s Big Breakfast is one of the many local restaurants with a location at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and voted as one of the best bites for frequent flyers.
Located on the outskirts of the city surrounded by mountain and golf course views, Kai, meaning “seed” in the native Pima Indian Tribe language, offers a truly creative menu. Rich in Native American history, the menu incorporates locally farmed ingredients from the Gila River Indian Community along with impressive highlights like mesquite smoked caviar and saguaro lacquered quail breast. For adventurous diners, the 13-course tasting menu presents a taste of nearly every signature menu item, along with the perfectly-timed amuse and intermezzo courses. As the only AAA Five Diamond/Forbes Five Star restaurant in the state, Kai is a worthy visit for any foodie that wants to cross it off their list.
This cute and classic vintage diner is set in the heart of a downtown Phoenix neighborhood offering a soulful Southern edge to the “Farm to Table” style cuisine. It operates out of a traditional “Valentine Diner” originally located on Route 66 in Winslow, Arizona and moved to its current location in 1979. Valentine Diners were mass produced, mobile restaurant built and shipped to independent owners in the 1940's, made with the intention of giving the American Dream of business ownership to anyone with the passion to own a restaurant. After the diner was shipped to Arizona, however, it never opened and sat quietly to rust until being renovated by a local artist and entrepreneur and opened as the Welcome Diner the in 2003. Now boasting a cozy outdoor patio and a soulful Southern spin on the classic American diner far, this vintage restaurant is “welcoming” to any foodie, or diner-lover.
Short for “Outrageous Homebrewer's Social Outpost,” OHSO Brewery presents an ever-rotating menu of small batch brews and delectable pub-style food. Located in the popular Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix, the nano-brewery offers seating that surrounds kettles and tanks, giving diners a view of the brewing process or outside on a sprawling patio with elevated booths and plenty of water bowls for the four-legged guests that join most diners. The menu features everything from a spin on classic bar bites like the Pretzel Board complete with corn nuts and pickles, to twelve different burgers and sandwiches like the AZ Burger with jalapeno and poblano aioli or their take on a grilled cheese with tomato marmalade, prosciutto and two types of melty cheese. Looking for a different kind of weekend meal? Try the Beer Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays to have a great excuse for getting frosty draft before 10am.
As the Head Chef of this restaurant, Aaron Chamberlin says it’s all about “a respect for simple and honest food.” St. Francis, located a brilliantly refurbished 1950’s office building, is a family-owned restaurant that welcomes diners for lunch and dinner during the week, but also tacks on weekend brunch with some of the best dishes in the city. The exposed restaurant kitchen allows a peek into cooks busy at work producing seductive scents of bacon and cinnamon rolls. Baskets of freshly baked bread that frame the kitchen also top the menu choices with a simple side of homemade jam. A selection of traditional dishes from eggs benedict to mushroom omelets resonates with the restaurant's simple focus are straightforward and perfectly prepared. “We focus on seasonality, freshness and quality of ingredients,” says Chef Chamberlin, “and because of that, our dishes are ultimately more vibrant tasting.” For a restaurant that places such a high regard for simplicity in their food, it makes the output of ever-changed yet consistently delicious food even more remarkable.
Since most visitors to the city might assume Phoenix will have amazing Mexican food, and they're right, here is just one of the dozen authentic spots to choose from in the city. Los Dos Molinos, to be regionally specific, specializes in New Mexico cuisine in respect for the owner's family heritage. But locals and guests alike will both agree that this place brings not only the traditional flavors from south of the border, but also the heat. "Be prepared for spice," countless reviewers say. This restaurant's house salsas (yes, the complimentary ones served as you're seated) are not for the faint of heart - the owners even note on their website that they apologize but they "do not know how to make it mild” so we recommend having an ice cold cerveza or frozen margarita close at hand.
Located in the heart of central Phoenix, The Parlor offers yet another example of amazing food in a unique architectural building adaptation. As a former mid-century beauty parlor, the restaurant bar features real salon chairs – complete with the ability to raise and lower your seat – as a fun throwback to the original building. The touch of history is beautifully woven into the rest of the Parlor with its exposed brick, warm wood beams and covered patio, while the on- site garden showcases blooming herbs and ingredients used in the dishes and cocktails. The rustic, casual menu boasts two sizes of thin crust pizza from their wood-fired oven, along with handmade pastas and traditional Italian-inspired dishes like fritto misto, arancini and amatriciana. Chef Chamberlin, however, will attest to the incredible wine list. Despite the Italian roots, this restaurant prides itself in showcasing everything from French and Slovenian reds to a selection of our own Arizona winemaker's best bottles.
A special thank you to Chef Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis and Phoenix Public Market Café.