I have lots of dish posts on food in the Valley, searchable via the search box above or by location tags like Phoenix, Scottsdale, or Mesa. But with spring training games about to begin, I’ve revised last year’s post with new recommendations, a few deletions, and some more thoughts on the better places to eat in the Valley, which I hope will allow you to limit your patronage of chain restaurants to the occasional visit to In-n-Out. I’ve also appended a section at the end of this post listing the best places in downtown Phoenix, which really aren’t close to any of the parks except maybe the Giants’ but are all worth checking out.
Scottsdale/Old Town (San Francisco):
* Citizen Public House: I like this place enough that we went there for my birthday last year … and again on Christmas Eve. I love the pork belly pastrami starter with rye spaetzle, shredded brussels sprouts, and mustard vinaigrette. I love the short ribs with a dark cherry glaze. I loved the seared scallops on grits. I loved the bacon-fat popcorn and the chicken-and-waffles starter. The only thing I didn’t love was, surprisingly, the duck breast, which was so rare that I couldn’t cut it. Great beer selection as well.
* Barrio Queen: A spinoff of Barrio Cafe (reviewed below), Barrio Queen is all about the mini tacos, which you order on a piece of paper like you’d get at a sushi place. They range from about $2.50 to $6 apiece and everything I tried was excellent, especially the same cochinita pibil that is a signature dish at the original Cafe.
* FnB/Cafe Baratin: One restaurant with two concepts, a minimalist lunch, where the menu comprises just six items (one salad, one sandwich, one starter, one veg, one potted/pickled item, and one dessert), with more open-ended haute cuisine at dinner. They appear to have retired the Baratin name and merged the two concepts into one space and under one name, FnB. I’ve only tried the lunch here, but I’ve been four times and have been blown away each time, including one vegetarian, Middle Eastern-inspired sandwich that was the best eggplant dish I have ever eaten. Also, I don’t really like eggplant.
* Pig and Pickle: Just outside of Old Town, and only open since November, they do things with pig and with pickles, like the braised pork belly, yam puree, and brussels sprouts slaw starter that was pretty special. I loved the braised duck leg, although the mung bean cake served underneath it was overcooked around the edges.
* Culinary Dropout: A gastropub of sorts, located right near Old Town across from the Fashion Square mall. Definitely a good place to go with pickier eaters, since the menu is broad and most of it is easily recognizable. The chicken truffle hash and the turkey pastrami are both very good.
* Arcadia Farms: Farm-to-table breakfast dishes and sandwiches. Not cheap, but you are paying for quality and for a philosophy of food. I have been there twice and service, while friendly, was leisurely both times.
* ‘Pomo Pizzeria: Authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza. Not as good as Bianco, but better than anything else I’ve had around here. Toppings include a lot of salty cured meats designed (I assume) to keep you drinking … not that there’s anything wrong with that. Full review.
* Grimaldi’s: Local chain, related to the Brooklyn establishment of the same name. Very good (grade 55) thin-crust, coal-fired pizzas, including nut-free pesto, and similarly solid salads in generous portions. Not terribly cost-effective for one person for dinner, although they’ve finally introduced a more affordable lunch menu.
* Distrito: Inside the Saguaro hotel is this cool, upscale Mexican place, an offshoot of the restaurant of the same name in Philadelphia, serving mostly small plates at a slightly high price point but with very high-quality ingredients, including the best huitlacoche dish I’ve had, and an excellent questo fundido with duck barbacoa. I also liked their Sunday brunch … except for the coffee, which was strong and dark enough to dissolve the cup, the table, and the floor en route to causing a singularity and collapsing the entire known universe.
* Searsucker: I’ve had dinner at the San Diego restaurant and have now had lunch at this new location, with nothing but praise for either meal. The lobster roll here is probably the best I’ve had outside of New England, with large chunks of lobster meat and sweet pickled red onions on top, served in a buttery brioche-like roll. The “chocolate bar” dessert is decadent. It’s attached to the Fashion Square Mall, on the north side of Camelback next to Nieman Marcus.
* Scratch pastries: Oddly enough, their pastries aren’t that special, but they do great sandwiches on very high-quality bread, including a smoked duck with walnuts that I really liked.
* Los Sombreros: A bit of a drive south of Old Town into the only part of Scottsdale that you might call “sketchy,” Los Sombreros does high-end authentic Mexican at Scottsdale-ish prices but with large portions and very high quality.
* I have yet to try the Brat Haus, an artisan sausage-fries-beer place that is on Scottsdale road but is walkable from the Giants’ park and has 30+ beers on tap. They were at the local food truck festival last month at Salt River, but their selection was minimal and their pretzels, apparently a standby at the restaurant, were really tough.
Scottsdale central/north (Arizona/Colorado):
* Soi4: upscale Thai and Thai-fusion, very close to the park. Owned by the same family that runs Soi4 in Oakland. Full review of my first visit. I’ve gotten pad see ew as a takeout item from here a few times and it was always excellent, full of that crunchy bitter brassica (similar to rapini), and smoking hot.
* Il Bosco: Wood-fired pizzas, cooked around 750 degrees, at a nice midpoint between the ultra-thin almost cracker-like Italian style and the slightly doughier New York style I grew up eating. Their salads are also outstanding and they source a lot of ingredients locally, including olives and EVOO from the Queen Creek Olive Mill. I’ve met the owner and talked to him several times, and he was kind enough to give my daughter a little tour behind the counter and let her pour her own water from their filtration machine, which she loved.
* Wildflower Bread Company: I’d say “think Panera,” but this place is so much better than Panera in every aspect that I hate to even bring that awful chain (which now owns the Paradise Bakery chain) into the discussion. Wildflower is a small chain, but their salads are very fresh and filling, and the sandwiches are solid. There’s also a location in Tempe that’s attached to my favorite local bookstore, Changing Hands.
* True Food Kitchen: I’ve been to a TFK in Newport Beach and enjoyed the menu’s emphasis on fresh produce, not always healthful per se but more like healthful twists on familiar dishes. There are two in the Valley now, one downtown, and one located at the heart of a shopping center on the east side of Scottsdale Road, just north of Greenway and across from the Kierland mall. The same complex includes Tanzy, a Mediterranean (mostly regional Italian) restaurant and cocktail bar that gets strong reviews for its lengthy menu of salads, sandwiches, and pricier dinner entrees.
* Press: In that same shopping center is a small coffee shop where they roast their own beans and will make you a cup of coffee using your method of choice (vacuum, French press, pour-over), as well as the usual run of espresso-based options. There’s apparently also a location at Sky Harbor in Terminal 4 by the B gates (USAirways), although I haven’t visited that one.
* Butterfields: The lines are crazy on the weekends, but if you like a basic diner and want good pancakes or waffles this is one of the better options in the Valley.
* Sweet Republic: I actually find this place to be a little overrated, but if you prefer traditional New York ice cream to gelato or custard, then it’s a good bet, and not far north of the park, just east of the 101 on Shea.
* Perk Eatery: West of Scottsdale road and the Kierland mall, on Greenway, probably stretching the definition of what’s near Salt River Fields, but Phoenix doesn’t have a ton of good breakfast spots and this is one of the few. It’s a diner by another name, open for breakfast and lunch, with a slow-roasted pork option along with the regular array of breakfast meats, and rosemary potatoes that are a must with any egg dish.
* Hillside Spot, Ahwatukee (Phoenix). My favorite place to eat in the Valley, right off I-10 at the corner of Warner and 48th. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I recommend the pulled pork sandwich, the chilaquiles, the grilled corn appetizer, the house-cut French fries, the pancakes (best in Arizona), and the coffee from Cartel Coffee Lab. The Spot sources as much as they possibly can from local growers or providers, even providing four local beers on tap, and you can get out for under $15 including tax and tip. I’ve written about it more than once; here’s one of my posts, which talks about that pork sandwich. They’ve also added an evening menu called “Cocina 10,” including (on some nights) a really great take on fried fish tacos. For breakfast and lunch they’re outstanding, but I have found dinner service to be a little less consistent – but still usually great.
* Cornish Pasty Company: Just what the name says – large, hearty Cornish pasties with dozens of traditional and non-traditional filling options. I’ve eaten one for lunch and then skipped dinner. Second location in Mesa isn’t too far from the Cubs’ park and is bigger with more parking. Convenient to the A’s ballpark.
* Four Peaks Brewery: One of our best local microbreweries with surprisingly solid food as well. You’ll see their beers all over the place, but the restaurant is absolutely worth hitting. Parking is very difficult on Friday through Sunday nights, though. Also very convenient to the A’s ballpark. Disclaimer: One of their employees is a reader and you’ll see me tweeting back and forth at him (@fourpeaksmike) from time to time, but I’ve received no compensation for this mention.
* angel sweet: Well, not the best gelato I’ve had out here – that honor belongs to Frost in Gilbert – but the second-best, and the one that’s closer to a ballpark. I recommend the super dark chocolate and the coconut, assuming you don’t feel like a nut.
* Cartel Coffee Lab: Among the best coffee roasters in the Valley, and now in an expanded place that doesn’t feel so much like a fly-by-night operation. They’re also in the C wing of Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbor.
* Urban Picnic: In downtown Mesa, south and slightly west of the ballpark, and my favorite spot near the Cubs’ facility. They do a small selection of sandwiches on some of the best crunchy French bread you’ll find out this way, with the Caprese sandwich (fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil) and the roast beef with horseradish my two favorites. I will say that while the lavender lemonade might sound intriguing, it tastes like perfume.
* Chou’s Kitchen: Just over the line in Chandler, at the intersection of Alma School (north-south) and Ray (east-west), this hole-in-the-wall place does dongbei cai, the cuisine of northeastern China – what we used to call Manchuria – which is heavy on dumplings, mostly fried and generally delicious, with large portions designed for sharing and vinegar on the table for dipping. I also love their lao hu cai or “tiger salad,” a vinegary mix of shredded vegetables, scallions, cilantro, jalapenos, and peanuts.
* Pros Ranch Market: A Mexican/Latin American grocery store south of the ballpark (at Stapley and Southern) with a large quick-service department offering some of the best burritos (including, hands-down, the best carnitas) I’ve had in Arizona. The enchiladas are solid, my daughter loves their quesadillas, they make great aguas frescas in eight to twelve flavors, and there’s an extensive selection of Mexican pastries. You can stuff yourself here for under $10. There’s another location near the A’s ballpark in Phoenix as well.
* Thai Spices: In a strip mall of Asian restaurants, Thai Spices is among the best Thai places I’ve found around here, just doing a great job with the basics of Thai (or perhaps Americanized Thai) cuisine. I really loved their soups, both tom yum (clear, sour/spicy soup with lemongrass) and tom ka (sweeter, with coconut milk, and also lemongrass), as well as the green curry.
* my arepa: The weirdest place I’ve eaten out here – it’s actually a Rosati’s Pizza place that also serves authentic Venezuelan food, very cheaply. You’ll feel like you’re eating in the kitchen of a double-wide but the arepas are good and the cachapas are even better.
* Rancho de Tia Rosa: A bit east of the ballpark, Tia Rosa has a large, upscale yet family-friendly Mexican restaurant with a smaller take-out taqueria located on-site as well. I wouldn’t call it high-end, but it’s expensive relative to the typical crappy chain faux-Mex restaurants that seem to be everywhere out here (Macayo’s, Arriba, Garcia’s … avoid all of those).
Everything in Tempe is pretty close to here as well, and you’re not that far from Old Town Scottsdale either.
* Pros Ranch Market: Mentioned above in the Mesa section – from the Oakland park, just hop on the 202 west, get off at 24th, head south (left), right on Roosevelt. Also very close to the west exit from the airport – my old Fall League tradition was to get off the plane and head right here for lunch before going to my first game.
* Honey Bear’s BBQ: Just under the highway when you head west from the ballpark, they offer solid smoked meats but below-average baked beans. There’s not a lot of good Q out here – the best I know of is Bryan’s in Cave Creek, which is a hike from the closest stadium – so Honey Bear’s gets a little overrated.
* Barrio Cafe: About 15 minutes west of Phoenix Muni via the 202/51. Best high-end Mexican food I’ve had out here, edging out Los Sombreros in Scottsdale. Table-side guacamole is very gimmicky (and, per Rick Bayless, suboptimal for flavor development), but the ingredients, including pomegranate arils, are very fresh. Great cochinita pibil too. There’s now a location at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4, past security near the D gates.
* Pizzeria Bianco: Most convenient to Chase Field. Best pizza I have ever had in the United States. No reservations, closed Sunday-Monday, waits for dinner can run to four hours, but they’re now open for lunch and if you get there before twelve the wait usually isn’t too bad. Parking is validated at the Science Museum garage.
I’ve got more downtown suggestions below, after all of the other ballparks, most of which are better for after a game at Phoenix Muni than before.
* Just remember this: Even the Brewers don’t want to be in Maryvale. You don’t either.
(Update: I’ve never been to Tacos Atoyac, just east of I-17 at Glendale and N 19th Ave, but it is rated one of the best taquerias in the Valley and is maybe 15 minutes from the Brewers’ stadium – and it’s not in Maryvale.)
* Raul and Theresa’s: Very good, authentic, reasonably priced Mexican food, really fresh, always made to order. The guacamole is outstanding. It’s south of the stadium and doesn’t look like much on the outside, but I would call it a can’t-miss spot if you’re going to a Cincinnati or Cleveland game, since there isn’t much else out here that isn’t a bad chain.
Glendale (Dodgers/White Sox):
* If you’re headed here or even to Goodyear, swing by Tortas Paquime in Avondale. They do traditional Mexican sandwiches, with the torta ahogada – literally a “drowned” sandwich – covered in a slightly spicy red sauce, although that was a little over-the-top heavy for me. Solid aguas frescas here as well.
* Also in Avondale, just across the border from Goodyear, there’s Ground Control, a coffee shop that offers a solid selection of fresh salads and sandwiches as well as house-made gelato.
* You might also try Siam Thai, which is in Glendale on Northern but is at least 15 minutes away from the park, heading east. It is, however, superlative Thai food, perhaps the highest-rated Thai place in the Valley.
* Two places I haven’t tried in Glendale but that come recommended: La Piazza Al Forno, thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas that are reportedly good but not as good as Bianco’s or Cibo’s; and Arrowhead Grill, new American food at a moderate price point.
* It’s a wasteland of chains out here; the best options I know are both very good local chains, Grimaldi’s and Blu Burger. The latter is a family favorite of ours, since there’s something for the picky eaters of the family (hint: not me), and there’s a Blu Burger very close to our house; they offer several kinds of burgers with an impressive list of build-your-own options. My daughter loves their grilled cheese and zucchini fries.
* I’ve got one good rec out this way, the new-ish Vietnamese place Saigon Kitchen up on Bell Road just north of the ballpark. There’s good Vietnamese food to be had out here if you work to find it, and this is the best, especially in presentation – the menu is familiar, the food is a little brighter and fresher, and the place is far more welcoming. I’ve yet to try Amuse Bouche, probably the best-reviewed restaurant in Surprise, which does a more casual sandwich/panini menu at lunch before shifting to fine dining for dinner.
Away from the parks: Downtown Phoenix and Camelback East
* Bianco’s Italian Restaurant: Off route 51, tucked back in a strip mall near a Trader Joes, this is Chris Bianco’s third restaurant in Phoenix, with an emphasis on fresh pastas made in-house from Arizona-grown wheat, including the best bolognese sauce I’ve had in Arizona (and really one of the best I’ve had anywhere). Their farinata, a crispy savory crepe made with chickpea flour, seems to have moved from a regular menu item to an occasional special. One of the owners told me they’re expanding into the neighboring space and installing a pizza oven so they can offer the same produce as Pizzeria Bianco without the insane waits, a project that may already be finished by now – I haven’t been since December.
* The Grind: The best burger I’ve had out here, far superior to the nearby Delux, which is overrated for reasons I don’t quite fathom. (Maybe people just love getting their fries in miniature shopping carts.) The Grind cooks its burgers in a 1000-degree coal oven, so you get an impressive crust on the exterior of the burger even if it’s just rare inside. Their macaroni and cheese got very high marks from my daughter, a fairly tough critic. They have photos of local dignitaries on the wall, including Jan Brewer and Mark Grace, which might cause you to lose your appetite.
* Chelsea’s Kitchen: I’ve only been to the airport location, in the center of Terminal 4 before security, where the food was excellent but the service a little confused. The short rib taco plate would feed two adults – that has to be at least ¾ of a pound of meat. Their kale-quinoa salad sounds disgustingly healthy, but is delicious despite that. Both this and The Grind (and North Fattoria, an Italian restaurant from the Culinary Dropout people) are near Camelback and 40th, about 6 miles/13 minutes west of Scottsdale Stadium.
* crudo: There isn’t much high-end cuisine in Phoenix – I think that’s our one real deficiency – but Chef Cullen Campbell does a pretty good job of filling that void here with a simple menu that has four parts: crudo dishes, raw fish Italian-style, emphasis on tuna; fresh mozzarella dishes, including the ever-popular burrata; small pasta dishes, like last fall’s wonderful squash dumplings with pork belly ragout; and larger entrees, with four to five items in each sections. The desserts, like so many in the Valley, are from Tracy Dempsey, the premier pastry chef in the area. Like the previous two spots, it’s about 12-13 minutes west of the Giants’ ballpark.
* Zinburger: Not the top burger around here but a damn good one, especially the namesake option (red zinfandel-braised onions, Manchego, mayo), along with strong hand-cut fries and above-average milkshakes. Located in a shopping center across the street from the Ritz. Try the salted caramel shake if you go. There are also two locations in Tucson, and two in New Jersey that are licensed but independently owned and operated.
* cibo: Maybe the second-best pizzas in town, with more options than Bianco offers, along with a broad menu of phenomenal salads and antipasti, including cured meats, roasted vegetables, and (when available) a superb burrata.
* Federal Pizza: Rivals cibo for that title of second-best pizzas, including a Brussels sprout pizza that I adored (with lardons of bacon, aged Manchego, and a spritz of lemon), as well as an impressive board of roasted vegetables if you want to add something healthy to the table.
* Pane Bianco: Sandwiches from the Bianco mini-empire, just a few options, served on focaccia made with the same dough used to make the pizzas at Pizzeria Bianco. My one experience here was disappointing, mostly due to the bread being a little dry, but the cult following here is tremendous and I may have just caught them on a bad day.
* Gallo Blanco: Tucked into the Clarendon hotel, this spot, owned by the same group behind the Hillside Spot and the various Bianco restaurants, is my favorite gourmet taco place in the area, even though it’s more upscale and a touch pricier than you’d expect a taco place to be – the target market here is the business crowd, whether at lunch or at happy hour. They make their own tortillas, they offer a solid selection of fillings, and the flavors are all big and bright. And it’s way better than the highly overrated La Condesa, where they spend too much time on their absurd salsa bar while they’re using prefab corn tacos that feel like those rubber pads you use to open the lids on glass jars.
* Matt’s Big Breakfast: Oversight on my part in the original post – one of the top 2-3 breakfast places in the Valley, now with a second location to handle the overflow from the first one (they’re a block or so apart). They do the basics, but they do them extremely well, with high-quality inputs.
* Beckett’s Table: Seasonal American dishes, largely built around comfort foods, with a heavy emphasis on fresh ingredients and one of the best kids’ menus in town.
Other places that I’ve read or heard great things about, but haven’t tried yet, all in Phoenix or Scottsdale unless otherwise noted: Lux, O.H.S.O. Eatery and nanoBrewery, Roaring Fork, Posh, The Herb Box, Litchfield’s (Litchfield Park, just west of Camelback Ranch – fine dining with menu by Chris Bianco).
I’ll update this post with any new places I try over the next two months, and of course, feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments below.