The 50 Finest

Phoenix is no desert of culinary talent. From star-powered signature eateries and elegant neighborhood bistros to happening hot spots and cozy cafes, here are 50 of our favorite reasons to celebrate the Valley’s epicurean highs. Consider yourself served.

The Spanish octopus with almond gazpacho, cucumber, black olives and aged grapes at T. Cook’s

Photo by Heather Gill

THE 10 MOST EXCITING NEW RESTAURANTS

1. Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend
Attached to The Yard (a hot hangout by serial restaurateur Sam Fox), Little Cleo’s looks like an old-fashioned East Coast oyster bar, replete with gleaming white tiles and bivalves on ice. But oysters should be the prelude to standouts such as housemade sturgeon “bacon,” crispy frog legs in Thai chili sauce and grilled loup de mer. 5632 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602.680.4044

2. Market Street Kitchen
Thanks to the Southern swagger Executive Chef Matt Taylor has given his New American menu (think shrimp and grits and fried green tomatoes), MSK has become a convivial North Scottsdale gathering place, beloved for its modern-rustic decor, curving center-stage bar and creative cocktails, courtesy of resident mixologist Rich Heider. 20825 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale, 480.278.7044

3. Otro
Born and raised near Mexico City, chef-owner Doug Robson channels his childhood at this clean-lined North Phoenix cafe, offering the upscale tacos, tortas and guacamole that made him famous at Gallo Blanco. This time, however, he’s mixing things up, adding an irresistible dried cranberry-studded quinoa salad, earthy mole and a Spanish-style tapas plate you’ll be tempted to lick clean. 6035 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602.266.0831

4. Phoenix Public Market Café
Aaron Chamberlin has invited locals to make his airy, brick-walled cafe a downtown hub for superior coffee, stellar baked goods and elevated three squares (which often incorporate rotisserie meats). The fireplace-furnished patio and the indoor-outdoor bar are huge draws. 14 E. Pierce St., Phoenix, 602.253.2700

5. T. Cook’s
California’s loss is our gain, because chef Paul McCabe has had tongues wagging ever since he returned to Arizona last year. Formerly at L’Auberge Del Mar Resort and Spa in San Diego, the Sedona native has taken T. Cook’s in new directions, putting updated Southwest spins on the menu’s Spanish themes and showcasing pristine local ingredients and bold composition. The resulting dishes are modern yet classic, edgy yet accessible. Royal Palms Resort and Spa, 5200 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, 602.840.3610

6. Pig & Pickle
Housemade charcuterie, braised pork belly and pork-shoulder tostadas are the raison d’etre at this funky neighborhood joint, where chef-partners Keenan Bosworth and Josh Riesner (both former chefs at Atlas Bistro) bake their own breads and make their own pickles. After 9pm, the place is packed with restaurant-industry folks, who flock for scrapple and wood oven-roasted bone marrow. 2922 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale, 480.990.1407

7. Renegade by MOD
Here chef-owner Michael O’Dowd’s (of Kai fame), unconventional modern style takes the shape of a quirky, bicycle-themed resto in North Scottsdale. Expect brass and whimsy from this renegade, who serves amuse-bouche on a skateboard deck, and India-inspired chips and dip from an ashtray. 9343 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, 480.614.9400

8. The Gladly
The talented trio who brought us the Valley’s best iteration of a gastropub (Citizen Public House in 2011) recently opened this bustling New American in the Camelback Corridor. Here, chef Bernie Kantak’s menu wanders the map. Don’t miss cumin-fig-glazed lamb riblettes, coffee-charred short ribs or heady chocolate pot de creme, flavored with smoky lapsang souchong tea. 2201 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, 602.759.8132

9. The House Brasserie
Apparently, chef-partner Matt Carter can do anything: classic French (Zinc Bistro), Latin American (The Mission) and now, wildly creative New American fare that encompasses pork belly with kimchee, udon noodle and fried egg; red wine-braised beef tongue with scallion crepe and Sriracha aioli; and pastrami brisket with polenta. 6936 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480.634.1600

10. Virtù Honest Craft
Anyone who’s followed Gio Osso’s career (Sugo, Luc’s, Estate House) knows he has talent. But now, at the intimate Virtù, his soulful but elegantly plated food is quite simply off the charts. Order anything—plump diver scallops, Moroccan-inspired lamb, seared branzino with Marcona almond butter. Osso never misses. 3701 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale, 480.946.3477

Click here for our digital edition for The 50 Finest full story.