Thursday, October 18, 2007

Phoenix Restaurant Recommendations -- 2007 Update

I've had to update the Coppersmith family's list of favorite Phoenix restaurants (there's going to be a link on the law firm website once it goes fully functional), but as a public service to the people reading this site who don't know about Chowhound, here's the 2007 update:

The best, and most unique-to-Phoenix, restaurant close to our office is Barrio Café, 16th Street south of Thomas. They may not have started the upscale, authentic Mexican restaurant movement here (I think Such Is Life gets that honor), but they took it to a new level. Tableside guacamole preparation, incredibly flavorful entrees, plus over-the-top desserts. Just like the old Seven-Up ads, you’ll like it, it’ll like you. Unfortunately, they don’t take reservations except for large parties, and it’s not the largest place, so you can wait a while.

If you want a slightly more casual version that is just as good but not as close, but where they take reservations and you can eat outside, then our family's current favorite Mexican restaurant is Los Sombreros, on Scottsdale Road south of Thomas. Order one of the margaritas with the fresh lime juice. The guacamole is made in the kitchen but is just as good as Barrio. Save room for Mexican coffee for dessert.

But the Mexican food our college kids want when home on vacation is a California-based chain called Chuy’s, which has a number of area locations; the closest for us is at 32nd Street and Indian School. It’s modeled after a Baja California beach bar, and is our family’s version of comfort food. It's more fun than Chipolte, plus you get chips, but we now have a Chipolte closer to the house, so our loyalty to Chuy's has been slipping.

If you're on an expense account and want a this-could-be-New-York dinner, then call Sea Saw in downtown Scottsdale and see if you can get one of the dozen seats at the bar for the tasting menu. The per person is a well north of $100 just for food. It's on Stetson just west of Scottsdale Road, and you'll be able to talk knowledgably with Gourmet magazine subscribers about what's going on in Phoenix. The chef is a James Beard award winner who prefers not to speak English; how New York can you get?

Otherwise in old town Scottsdale near Sea Saw, we like Cowboy Ciao for dinner, then dropping two doors town to Kazimeer's which is a funky wine bar that also has interesting appetizers (and is much quieter, so your ears can stop ringing from the noise at Cowboy Ciao). Farther south on Scottsdale Road south of McKellips is Udupi Café, which is a South Indian vegetarian restaurant. It’s the only place in town where I can go to dinner with a vegan and be happy about it.

Good pizza is, of course, a matter of personal preference. Our favorite spot for dinner once Passover finally ended was Grazie Wine Bistro on Main Street west of Goldwater in downtown Scottsdale, which is both reasonable and stylish. They offer both Italian language and wine-tasting lessons, and leave room after the unusual pizzas (including our son’s favorite, named in honor of Dame Edna Everage) for the ice-cream-and-nutella calzone. However, the past couple of times, Grazie hasn’t been as sharp as we recalled, and I’m now partial to Cibo, located at 5th Avenue and Fillmore in downtown Phoenix. Both restaurants have outdoor dining on their patios. (The usual recommendation for pizza in Phoenix is Pizzeria Bianco, but I’ve given up; unless you’re going with the governor, you wait forever and I always seem to get treated like dog poop. Forget it. Cibo is much more pleasant experience and just as good.)

I’ve had two tremendous meals, and one not quite so overwhelming one, at Deseo, which is located in the Westin Kierland resort north on Scottsdale Road at Greenway Parkway. It's "nuevo Latino" food, in a very stylish room. The other pretty unique resort restaurant is at the Scottsdale Princess resort, La Marquesa, which is Catalan food for those with fond memories and/or dreams of Barcelona, and also very good. Both are pretty pricey, and pretty far north if you’re downtown. Closer to our office T. Cook's at the Royal Palms resort on Camelback; the food is good and it’s a lot of fun to sit at the bar and have dinner while watching the passing crowd, guessing who’s natural and who’s enhanced.

The best value for a good dinner in Phoenix is Atlas Wine Bistro on Scottsdale Road, also south of Thomas, pretty much across the street from Los Sombreros. You enter through a wine store, then order your dinner, then go back to the wine store and they help you select a new and different wine that complements the food. The same people have a new restaurant in the same strip center, called Twisted, which is a good alternative if you can’t get into Atlas, which is quite small, only about 24 seats. The other place that's fun and lively (it's apparently the current favorite of the local gay community) is Zest, on 16th Street just north of Indian School.

Other restaurants in downtown Phoenix near our office are Trente Cinque (believe it or not, our local Belgian restaurant), or the Lisa G wine bar next door, both located at 7th Street and Sheridan, about a half mile south of Thomas. Fate, at 4th Street and Roosevelt, is a very nice, and unique, Chinese restaurant; after dinner there, go around the corner to Carly’s on Roosevelt, where they have a selection of 40+ beers, for dessert.

But if you want the truly funky Phoenix foodie experience, go to Ranch Market, which has several locations in Phoenix but the closest to us is at 16th Street & Roosevelt. There’s a nice sit-down restaurant on the 16th Street side called Tradicionnes, which is a classic Sonoran place but with fresh-off-the-press tortillas. But the real deal is to eat in the supermarket. Along the outside walls are food stalls -- fish tacos, tortas (a very good Torta Cubano), plus all the standards. It’s a "1.5 place" -- you need to have 1.5 people in your party per dinner item or you won’t finish, so for 3 people, order 2 large plates and maybe, if you feel really hungry, an appetizer to share. But no more (or it’s at your own risk). You stand in separate lines for each item. It’s like dining in Mexico without having to drive to Mexico; highly recommended for weekend breakfast/brunch.

Keep in mind this list is a trailing indicator; new places should be on the list, but I haven't gotten there yet, and some places on this list probably have slipped and by the time you get there, you'll be wondering about my taste in restaurants (are you listening, Grazie?). It's also highly limited geographically near to our house and office, so your mileage may differ.

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