Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.
This week, we’re heading into that western metropolitan area called the “Valley of the Sun.” That’s right, it’s time to spend a spell in the Phoenix/Scottsdale region. While you’re in town, it’s very tempting to while away the day in one of the many museums (holla, Musical Instrument Museum and Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art), parks, and gardens. Seriously, the Desert Botanical Garden is the jam. But, we’re here to chow down. And, who better to spearhead this action than James Beard award winner Christopher Gross, the Executive Chef of the historic Wrigley Mansion and former owner of Christopher’s & Crush Lounge?
Chef Gross is one of the most distinguished chefs in Arizona. In 2016, he was given a lifetime achievement award by the Scottsdale Culinary Hall of Fame. Food & Wine named him one of America’s ten best new chefs. And, he was the first chef in the state to receive the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence.
He also rubs elbows with the best of the best, working with chefs like Jacques Pepin and Julia Child on panels at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. It’s not unusual for him to step in and make dinner for Martha Stewart. And, politicians line up to eat his food. He has cooked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Al Gore, and Presidents Ford, Bush, and Reagan.
Look at this food. Is it any wonder people are begging for it?
Now, get ready to be tempted into reserving a flight to Phoenix/Scottsdale just so you can eat all this amazing fare Chef Gross has to recommend:
Base Pizzeria is my go-to place for delicious organic pizza that is thin and crispy and full of quality organic farm-to-table product. The menu also has a nice number of appetizers, fantastic salads, and house-made dessert. It’s a small local place, centrally located on 32nd and Lincoln. They have a solid wine list, great beer choices, and even some ciders. On Tuesdays, after 3 pm, they offer their regular menu pizzas at half off. The owners are from Australia and now living in Arizona, and it is a family run restaurant, which I always like to support. This delicious restaurant is another reason I spend so much time at the gym.
This is an authentic, family-run Mexican restaurant with the hottest chili sauce in town! I thought I once read a tagline that said, “It’s so hot, it burns twice.” I recommend all of the food here but be careful if you don’t like it hot. You’ll need to request the chili sauce on the side and not on your food. The margaritas are also fantastic and will knock you on your butt. It’s a really comfortable place to eat and they can accommodate large groups. I love the fun decorations.
They have four locations in Phoenix and the surrounding areas. I stop by at least two times a week at the Camelback location. Everything is made by the owner Victoria Chaves and her daughters.
China Chili is a long-standing Chinese restaurant in the valley that consistently has excellent food and service. It’s set up in a huge room, and it’s nice that they can take a small table or a large group. It gets packed on the weekends, so we go early. If we are feeling lazy, we do take out. The menu is a mix of Hong Kong, Cantonese, and Szechwan styles. The Peking Duck is fantastic and is a must-get dish. I also like the salt and pepper pork chops, spicy garlic eggplant, and the pot stickers.
Rito’s Mexican Food is located in the downtown neighborhood of Garfield. This restaurant is another family-run restaurant and has been open since 1977. There is no indoor dining, just out on the curb, or you can grab one of the few picnic tables. The tacos and the burritos enchilada style with red sauce are my favorites. Everything is served on paper plates for easy cleanup. They don’t have a liquor license, so it’s just the usual non-alcoholic choices. They now take credit cards, which is convenient. I think of this place when the weather is beautiful, which is often in Phoenix.
Essence Bakery has the best croissant and pain au chocolate in the state. In 1994, Eugenia and Gilles launched Essence Catering, and in 2007, they opened Essence Bakery Café in Tempe. Then, they expanded to a second location in Phoenix. This is a favorite spot that I eat at on the weekends or take something to go. I often stop there on the way to work to pick up croissants and pain au chocolate for my staff. Essence Bakery also makes some of the best macarons in town, and it’s a great place for all breakfast items as well.
When you dine there, it’s always a surprise, since the menu changes nightly and is customized to each guest. The seasonal cuisine is impeccable and utilizes incredibly high-quality products. As a guest, you are putting yourself in the chef’s hands; however, his 16-course tasting menu never disappoints.
Postino’s is a nice restaurant for casual dining because the food is fresh and the service is consistently good. They have several locations throughout the valley, so you are never very far from a good meal. It can get very busy, so we usually go on an off time to beat the crowds. I like to get a variety of bruschetta and a bottle of red wine, but they also have a lot of sandwiches and salads. Here’s a tip: Ask them to cut the bread for the bruschetta extra thin; it’s great that way!
Postino is the Italian word for “postman” and the restaurant was named this because it was started in a vacant post office.
Green New American Vegetarian restaurant in Scottsdale on the border of Tempe is a great place to bring your vegetarian and vegan friends. The chef at Green really cares about his products and has a very creative menu that is just as good for meat eaters because it is so tasty. There are cheeses, mock meats, soft serve, and it is all 100% plant-based. They make great house-made drinks and a fantastic veggie burger. Bring your kids for the nice kids’ menu and delicious desserts. I like to sit outside on their little patio, but when it’s too hot I’ll sit inside.
A great brunch spot is at The Mission in downtown Scottsdale. The group that owns this restaurant is incredibly talented, and you can tell the quality of the setting, the drinks, and the food. They have two patios, one with a fireplace, if you are interested in outdoor seating. Chef Matt Carter made an interesting modern Latin menu, and the brunch is a great place to explore some of it. They have huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, and some fantastic waffles.
Don’t forget to have one of their many awesome margaritas or a mimosa, which is always a great start to brunch.
Iconic Food of the City
Durant’s opened in 1950 and has been a family-owned restaurant the entire time. You feel like you have stepped back in time when you go for dinner, and the experience is enjoyable. To get into the restaurant you enter in the back door, and you walk through the kitchen where everyone greets you. The dining room has red leather booths, and they start their service by bringing you a relish tray. Durant’s is known for their prime rib and martinis, as well as their 48-ounce porterhouse challenge; if you finish it, then you get your name inscribed on their wall.
Dress up in 1950s wear and have a great time!
Odd Culinary Experience
We don’t have any genuinely odd places to dine in Arizona. Buffalo Chip is about as odd as I can come up with because it has live bull riding, which is quite a site to watch! It is a really fun place to go to get some BBQ and beer with a group of friends or go for their fish fry on Fridays. On weekends, they have a live band and dancing, so there is a lot to do!
It’s located in Cave Creek which is beautiful and a pleasant drive, and it can get pretty fun on weekends.
My guilty pleasure is eating at 5 and Diner. We have several locations in the Valley, but I like the original location on 16th street. I generally order the King Kong chicken fried steak with a chocolate shake and French fries, but sometimes, I can’t resist a plain hamburger. They also do a really good breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hash browns. The place has a fun 1950s vibe, and you can sit inside or outside.
It’s also open 24 hours, 7 days a week so it’s a great late-night place to grab food after you’ve been out drinking! It’s enough to up your Lipitor to 80 milligrams.
Joe’s New York Pizza is a fun little hole in the wall in the heart of the entertainment district in downtown Scottsdale. It reminds me of eating pizza late at night in New York, especially after a long evening of enjoying the city. Grab a slice or a whole pie! They also have plates of pasta and cheesesteaks. They are open until 4 am and have great people watching from the patio. They don’t sell alcoholic drinks, so the best time to go is around 3 am, after a fun night, to soak up all the alcohol!
You can bring the leftovers home with you for your morning hangover cure.
Thank you, Chef Christopher Gross, for taking us on a culinary tour of the Phoenix/Scottsdale Region!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Washington D.C., Dallas, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Napa Valley, Asheville, Charleston, Columbus, Kailua-Kona, Monterey, San Antonio, Louisville, Nashville, Raleigh, San Diego, Cambridge, Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Return to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!