Desert character. It can’t be conjured, landscaped or kindled with twinkling bulbs. John Ford knew that. So did Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis L’Amour. Spend a few days in Greater Phoenix and you’ll understand, too. America’s sixth-largest city still has cowboys and red-rock buttes and the kind of cactus most people see only in cartoons. It is the heart of the Sonoran Desert and the gateway to the Grand Canyon, and its history is a testament to the spirit of Puebloans, ranchers, miners and visionaries. This timeless Southwestern backdrop is the perfect setting for family vacations, weekend adventures or romantic getaways. Each year, 14 to 16 million leisure visitors travel to Greater Phoenix. They enjoy resorts and spas infused with Native American tradition, golf courses that stay emerald green all year, mountain parks crisscrossed with trails, and sports venues that host the biggest events in the nation. The best way to learn about America’s sunniest metropolis, of course, is to experience it firsthand. The following information will give you a snapshot of what to expect before your visit and provide sound reference material after you leave.
Greater Phoenix encompasses 2,000 square miles and more than 20 incorporated cities,including Glendale, Cottsdale, Tempe and Mesa. Maricopa County, in which Phoenix is located, covers more than 9,000 square miles. Phoenix’s elevation is 1,117 feet, and the city’s horizon is defined by three distinct mountains: South Mountain, Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak.
With a spectrum of cuisine that ranges from signature Southwestern dishes to exotic international fare—plus weather that’s perfect for patio dining under the desert sky— Greater Phoenix has all the ingredients to leave diners feeling a warm, after-dinner glow. Passionate foodies will find fine cuisine created by James Beard Award-winning chefs, pizza a New York Times critic deemed the “best in America,” and the only Five Star/Five Diamond restaurant on the continent owned and operated by Native Americans.
The highlight of Greater Phoenix cuisine is its Southwestern fare. After first drawing upon the traditions of American Indians, Southwestern cuisine was spiced up by Spanish colonists, Mexican settlers and U.S. pioneers. This international convergence eventually led to the modern Southwestern cooking Phoenicians and visitors have come to know and love. Aside from the region’s expected mastery of Southwestern cuisine, diners in Greater Phoenix enjoy a wealth of traditional steakhouses and American fare, as well as international cuisine from Asia, Europe, Japan and Mexico.
Many restaurants in Greater Phoenix offer unique dining experiences, including views of breathtaking sunsets, majestic mountains and serene desert landscapes. Beyond the dining room, back in the galley, several larger-than-life chefs ply their craft:
• Chris Bianco brings exquisite Italian flavor to Phoenix with his locally and nationally cherished restaurant, Pizzeria Bianco. Born in the Bronx, Chef Bianco began his culinary career by working in a pizzeria at 13 years old. He has since been named the Best Chef in the Southwest (2003) by the James Beard Foundation.
• Douglas Rodriguez, a James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef award winner, is regarded as the inventor of Nuevo Latino cuisine. He has owned restaurants in Philadelphia and Miami and is now the inspiration for Deseo restaurant at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, where he is a Signature Chef.
• Phoenix’s own Vincent Guerithault is a master of Southwestern cuisine. Famous for applying his classic French technique to the indigenous ingredients of the Southwest, Vincent was named the Best Chef in the Southwest by the James Beard Foundation in 1993. Vincent was the first chef ever to receive a Citation of Excellence from the International Food & Wine Society. Guerithault’s restaurant, Vincent’s on Camelback, is a Phoenix favorite.
• Nobuo Fukuda, winner of the James Beard Foundation’s 2007 Best Chef in the Southwest Award, creates wine-friendly sushi and Japanese tapas at Nobuo at Teeter House in Downtown Phoenix.
• Beau MacMillan, the Executive Chef of Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain and its signature restaurant, elements, is a Food Network star who also has served as the personal chef for Wayne Gretzky and cooked for U2. These are just a few of the talented chefs plying their trade in Greater Phoenix.
Other local restaurants of note include:
Barrio Cafe Phoenix is filled with amazing Mexican restaurants, but the one deemed best in the city by The Arizona Republic (seven years in a row) is the Barrio Café. Don’t expect burritos and combination plates here. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza specializes in creative regional cuisine from central-southern Mexico, and the bar houses one of Phoenix’s best collections of tequilas and Mexican wines. www.barriocafe.com
Beckett’s Table Chef Justin Beckett’s restaurant in the Arcadia/ Biltmore area showcases seasonal American cooking. Here, homey classics made with inventive flourishes. Think creamy grits and andouille sausage with mustard jus, pork osso buco confit with butternut squash spätzle, chicken ’n’ dumplings, green chile stew with cornbread and lobster ’n’ boursin enchiladas. Guests can expect a casual neighborhood restaurant where friends and families gather for a quick supper, a celebratory dinner or maybe just a couple of beers and a snack. beckettstable.com
Cibo Located inside a 1913 bungalow with intimate dining rooms and a great patio, Cibo is one of the best restaurants in Roosevelt Row. This urban wine cafe and pizzeria offers a selection of authentic Italian cuisine prepared fresh from locally grown organic produce and imported Italian products. www.cibophoenix.com
Durant’s This upscale steakhouse has classic 1940s décor, and the low lighting and quiet surroundings make table talk easy. The namesake of this iconic restaurant is Jack Durant, whom local legend paints as a gambler, gangster, drinker, and grandpa with a gold heart. Patrons who ask one of the tuxedoed wait staff about Durant may learn that he loved his dogs more than his wives, that his taste in décor was influenced by bordellos, and that one of Phoenix’s most notorious murders was planned in his lounge. These days, that lounge serves what Phoenix locals have deemed the “Best Martini in the Valley.” www.durantsaz.com
noca At noca (whose name is derived from its “north of Camelback” location), owner Eliot Wexler and Chef Chris Curtiss have created a menu that features local purveyors and sustainable produce. Their idea was to take old-school fine dining and tweak it for a new generation, presenting sophisticated food in a more relaxed environment. The James Beard Foundation took notice, selecting noca as a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2009. The menu changes frequently and features daily specials, and the restaurant’s Sunday Simple Suppers are a hot ticket among the Phoenix foodie set. www.restaurantnoca.com
The Grind The Grind is an Arcadia neighborhood staple created by George Monzures and Allen Thompson. Their stylish bar and restaurant features a sophisticated yet classic menu filled with American cuisine and classic cocktails. The Grind uses organic meats and vegetables whenever possible, and the kitchen houses the only 1,000-degree, coalburning oven of its kind in the United States. www.thegrindaz.com
T. Cook’s Readers of The Arizona Republic have named T. Cook’s the city’s “Most Romantic Restaurant” and the “Best Place for a First Date.” Its atmosphere mimics the colonial Spanish architecture of the Royal Palms Resort and Spa (where it is located), and the its a la minute Mediterranean cuisine is the brainchild of Executive Chef Lee Hillson. A nominee for the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame, Hillson is a prodigy who enrolled in culinary school in his native England at the age of 16. He has since appeared on the Food Network and cooked for the likes of President George W. Bush, Barbra Streisand and Princess Diana. www.royalpalmshotel.com/restaurant
Tarbell’s Tarbell’s friendly neighborhood atmosphere is defined by light woods, white tablecloths, a bird’s-eye maple bar and an exhibition kitchen. Mark Tarbell, the restaurant’s owner, studied in Paris, receiving wine training at the l’Academie du Vin and earning a Grande Diplome d’Etude Culinaire from La Varenne Ecole du Cuisine. Tarbell was the youngest Food and Beverage Director of any Five Diamond property in the world when he went to work for The Boulders resort at the age of 23. Nominated for “Best Chef – Southwest” by the James Beard Foundation in 2001, he has cooked for the Dalai Lama, Muhammad Ali and Clint Eastwood (among others). www.tarbells.com
For additional information about Greater Phoenix restaurants, visit www.visitphoenix.com/where-to-eat/index.aspx and www.thehotsheetblog.com.
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