Phoenix’s 12 Greatest Restaurants

Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants around the country that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Phoenix Greats.

The Valley of the Sun is fast becoming a sought-after dining destination. People once came to the Sonoran Desert looking for saguaros and sunshine; today, they’re just as likely to be scouting out the perfect spare rib hoagie or sticky buns from a certain resort restaurant. Here is a microcosm of the Valley’s resilient and imaginative spirit—a dozen of the best and beloved lunch and dinner spots in Phoenix and its surrounding cities.

Lon’s at The Hermosa (Paradise Valley)

Credit: Lon’s at The Hermosa

Set smack dab in the middle of a residential Paradise Valley neighborhood, the Hermosa Inn, a consistent crowd pleaser in the Valley, is just as famous for fine dining as it is for offering shelter to weary travelers. Lon’s, the inn’s comely courtyard restaurant, opened in 1941 and quickly made a name for itself thanks to prickly pear cocktails such as the Stetson; the stellar wine list here is a multi-time recipient of Wine Spectator’s Best Award of Excellence. Standout dishes include lobster tempura and a chopped salad dressed with lemons grown on the property. Steaks and scallops are among many traditional house specialties and Mexican-inspired fare includes duck confit empanadas and machaca beef tacos. The roasted turkey sandwich is served year-round, as are several gluten-free options, such as the excellent roasted carrot bisque. 

Dining at the restaurant: Lon’s is open for indoor dining in a pretty adobe-clad room—for a more private option, reserve the trestle table (which seats up to 12) in the restaurant’s wine cellar. 

Takeout: The restaurant doesn’t offer takeout or delivery.

The Mission (Old Town Scottsdale)

Phoenix-born chef Matt Carter, whose other popular area restaurants include the Paris-flavored Zinc Bistro and Italian favorite Fat Ox, offers a modern take on traditional Latin cuisine at this seductive lounge. Tuck into Carter’s polla a la brasa and a Peruvian clam stew made with rock shrimp and chorizo. Spicy is a fair description for much of The Mission’s fare, though milder and equally tasty entrees include roasted pork shoulder and griddled cauliflower, prepared Veracruz-style with charred pepper, tomato, and olives, that make excellent appetizers, too. A mix of contemporary and old-style Latin music provides a pleasant dining soundtrack. 

Dining at the restaurant: The Mission is open for indoor dining; private dining rooms are available. Diners can choose from cozy al fresco fireside tables, intimate indoor four tops, or the lounge’s roomy community table.

Takeout: Order curbside pick-up from the restaurant’s website.

Toca Madera – Scottsdale (Old Town Scottsdale)

There’s no going to this Mexican-inspired favorite, part of the Noble 33 hospitality group (whose trendy lineup includes a Toca Madera outpost, Cafe Fig, and Sparrow in Los Angeles), without trying the street corn, a signature dish that enhances every meal. Mod interior architecture and hot house music provide a buzzy backdrop for plates of tangy queso and sea bass tacos. Sides of rice and beans are large enough to share, as are entrees such as chicken served over lava stones and a Yucatan whole fish steamed with lemon. Margaritas are party-sized and crafted with top-shelf tequila, and servers are experts at matching wines and other libations with each course.

Dining at the restaurant: Toca Madera is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Order takeout and delivery via the restaurant’s website.

SumoMaya Mexican-Asian Kitchen (Central Scottsdale)

Credit: SumoMaya Mexican-Asian Kitchen

The petite plates at Scottsdale’s SumoMaya are small, but flavors—a fusion of Mexican and Japanese cuisines—are as big as the sky. Shareable fusion-style favorites include a traditional white fish ceviche and a pork-belly pozole that’s served ramen-style. Tiradito is punched up with olive oil and soy sauce and pairs well with simpler fare, such as a wood-fired chicken spiced with chile. Sushi-bar style seating is shaded by an indoor tree; gracious servers expertly describe the origins of each dish and can recommend wine pairings.

Dining at the restaurant: SumoMaya is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: The restaurant offers takeout. 

El Chorro (Paradise Valley)

This local legend is tucked into the base of Camelback Mountain and surrounded by lush greenery—its setting is nearly as magnificent as its Southwestern-inspired cuisine. The former Judson School for Girls has been a restaurant since 1937 and is known for perfecting personalized service; the owners seem to always be onsite shaking someone’s hand, and waiters are likely to remember your name from your last visit. It’s also synonymous with its sticky buns, buttery brioches rolled in cinnamon, available at both brunch and as an after-dinner dessert. Regulars know to ask about the special seasonal cocktail menu before plunging into a pile of appetizers such as the crab and tuna tower, studded with pico de gallo, and the flash-fried lobster bites served with a spicy chipotle lime sauce. Red-wine braised beef short ribs are a house specialty, and the center-cut steak filet served with chimichurri is always well executed. 

Dining at the restaurant: El Chorro is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: Delivery and takeout are available.

Cafe Monarch (Old Town Scottsdale)

New American cuisine takes center stage at this well-loved Old Scottsdale spot. Elegant table settings, linens, chandeliers, and wall tapestries set a stylish tone, as does the one’s-enough signature drink, the Monarch, made with gin, clove and lime liqueur, raspberry purée, fresh mint, lemon juice, and bitters—after which you can make your way through a comprehensive wine list, courtesy of servers who have been trained through the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers program. Specialties on Café Monarch’s seasonal menu include an Argentinian chilled corn soup spiced with toasted almonds and a pork belly salad heaped with charred romaine and smoked goat cheese. The duck breast served with seared foie gras isn’t to be missed. Nor is the bananas foster cake, served with banana mousse and candied walnuts.

Dining at the restaurant: Cafe Monarch is open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Takeout: The restaurant doesn’t offer takeout or delivery.

Tomaso’s – Phoenix (Central Phoenix)

Some will claim that anyone can create a perfectly cooked veal chop—but these are people who have never eaten at Tomaso’s. This longtime fixture on midtown’s Camelback Corridor was the brainchild of late patriarch Tomaso Maggiore, known for launching 50 restaurants across Arizona and California. Tomaso’s has dished out ossobuco and lobster ravioli since 1977, enticing diners with its excellent gnocchi and an old-school bar so comfortable, you won’t mind waiting for a table. Primo Italian food is hustled to your table by a waitstaff eager to make wine and dessert suggestions. The photogenic antipasto platter is a fine starter, and the Caprese appetizer pairs well with any of Tomaso’s house-made pasta dishes. Red meat lovers will enjoy the Tuscan mixed grill, a petite filet mignon and lamb chop served with sausage on a bed of truffle risotto. 

Dining at the restaurant: Tomaso’s is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: The restaurant offers takeout.

Kai Restaurant at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass (Chandler)

Credit: Kai Restaurant at Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass

This Forbes five-star restaurant is an East Valley destination for excellent entrees made from indigenous ingredients grown on local tribal farms. Kai’s cactus mélange offers a tasting platter of prickly pear-pitaya tovas, nopale lime sabayon, and a saguaro seed macaron paired with a prickly pear mead, followed by a bowl of cactus sherbet for dessert. Kai (which means “seed” in the Pima language) also offers a seasonal menu that can include a duo of Hudson Valley duck and citrus and chile-glazed sea trout, or grilled tenderloin of tribal buffalo with smoked corn puree. The chorizo and scarlet runner bean chile is a popular recurring favorite, as is the loin of pecan-crusted Colorado lamb.

Dining at the restaurant: Kai is open for indoor dining; private dining rooms are available.

Takeout: The restaurant doesn’t offer takeout or delivery.

Pizzeria Bianco (Downtown Phoenix)

Not long after chef Chris Bianco opened up his pizzeria in the corner of an old grocery store in 1988, word got out that his wood-fired pies were something else: Oprah mentioned it on her show; Rachael Ray referred to it as “the best pizza in America.” And winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southwest in 2003 didn’t hurt Bianco’s business or his thin-crust gourmet pies. The casual brick-walled spot downtown offers artful combos, such as the signature Rosa (red onion, parmesan, rosemary, and pistachios); the Sonny Boy (mozzarella, salami, and Gaeta olives); and a solid margherita. The list of starters, salads, and red wines is short but thoughtful and includes fontina wrapped in prosciutto. But listen to Oprah—order the pizza.

Dining at the restaurant: Pizzeria Bianco is open for indoor dining; the restaurant’s Town & Country location takes reservations.

Takeout: Pizzeria Bianco offers takeout.

Citizen Public House (Old Town Scottsdale)

Although it wasn’t invented at this upscale gastropub, the Arizona chopped salad—so popular that it has its own Facebook page—is a local classic that’s tossed tableside here while your server describes its ingredients (smoked salmon, couscous, arugula, and pepitas, among others) and its history. There are other reasons to visit Citizen, a contemporary take on a traditional public house. Like the buttermilk chicken with corn-butter bean succotash and the amaro meatloaf, drizzled with porcini cream. Or the impressive list of craft beers and ever-changing house cocktails. Even for Old Town Scottsdale, where good wine lists are commonplace, Citizen’s is spectacular, featuring wines both domestic and imported from places such as Argentina, Italy, and Chile. Entrees here are large enough to share, though even the appetizers are substantial enough to make a meal.

Dining at the restaurant: Citizen Public House is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: The restaurant offers takeout and delivery.

Buck and Rider (Central Phoenix)

When someone calls out, “your money or your life!” at this Arcadia steak and seafood staple, they’re not robbing the place — they’re ordering Buck and Rider’s signature bourbon cocktail. Tequila fans can opt for the Diego Rivera, though both drinks go great with white fish ceviche and voodoo fried rice, spiked with red fresnos and gochujang paste—fine examples of the award-winning fare that’s been served here since 2011; the restaurant is particularly known for super-fresh seafood, which is flown in here from all three U.S. coasts on a daily basis. Gluten-free house specialties include a Thai king crab salad with avocado and mango chunks, cooked-to-order ribeyes, and filet mignon. Tuck into it all at the comfortable bar or the swankier dining room, decked with an inviting stone fireplace.

Dining in the restaurant: Buck and Rider is open for indoor dining; outdoor dining is offered on the lushly landscaped patio.

Takeout: Place pick-up orders through third-party apps.

Durant’s (Downtown)

There are Phoenix restaurants, and then there’s Durant’s, a mainstay with a reputation for superlative steaks, chops, and magnificent service. The dark dreamy interior is lined with red wallpaper and crimson banquettes, and its menu teems with expertly prepared standards such as fried chicken livers with garlic aioli and a crusty chicken piccata. Servers will tell you that the Durant’s Caesar is the best salad in town, and they’ll also share stories about the late Jack Durant, who launched his namesake restaurant in 1950 and has since been the subject of a book, a play, and a motion picture starring Tom Sizemore as the infamous steakhouse owner.

Dining at the restaurant: Durant’s is open for indoor dining.

Takeout: The restaurant doesn’t offer takeout or delivery.

Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Robrt Pela in an NPR affiliate correspondent whose writing has appeared in Psychology Today, The Advocate, and for 30 years in Phoenix New Times.

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