With a year-round average temperature of 75 degrees, it’s easy to see why the Valley of the Sun has mass appeal. The Phoenix-metro area is massive and skews young, with residents anxious to get out-and-about to sample the city’s culinary offerings. Located in the heart of the Southwest, Mexican food certainly reigns supreme. However, with a large population of transplants from other parts of the country, there’s so much more to savor than just chips and salsa.
Guacamole is a divisive subject for Phoenix residents. There are the purists out there (just a squeeze of lime and a pinch of salt), but we’re encouraging you to be adventurous. Barrio Café’s guac is prepared tableside during dinner and, a word of advice, don’t pass-up on any of the accouterment. The fresh pomegranate seeds are the pièce de résistance. The Mission also adds a tableside crunch to their guacamole — this time with roasted pepitas.
The burger section of a restaurant menu is the perfect place to get a taste of regional flair. Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. is known throughout the valley for their inventive beers, but the food is also great. Their Arizona Trail Burger features roasted jalapeños, thick-cut bacon and a sweet n’ spicy sauce that’s made in-house. For a historic, no-frills option, The Chuckbox is a stone’s throw from Arizona State University’s main campus and is crawling with folks in need of a good, old-fashioned cheeseburger.
Perhaps the quintessential bar food, nachos are a crowd pleaser and Phoenix does them right. Four Peaks Brewery’s nachos come with a black bean dip and pickled jalapeños on the side – allowing you to dress them yourselves. Add the blackened chicken (an option not listed on the menu) and you have a feast on your hands. Locals naturally flock to Joyride Taco House for the tacos, but the nachos are the underappreciated star. Fresh chips are topped with Arizona pepper jack cheese, tomatillo salsa and a crema called “white magic.”
The heavy-hitter pizza joint in Phoenix is Pizzeria Bianco. Owner Chris Bianco is a James Beard Award winning chef and led the way on the artisanal pizza front in the Southwest. Both The New York Times and Food & Wine magazine have heralded it as some of the best pizza in the country. The Parlor is also fantastic and it's far easier to get a table there. Their wood-fired pizzas highlight seasonal ingredients like roasted corn and grilled radicchio.
If there’s one thing Phoenix residents miss while they’re away, it’s their favorite neighborhood burrito joint. No matter where you’re staying, odds are there’s an inexpensive and authentic burrito spot a stone’s throw away. The carne asada burrito is always a great place to start and two of the more popular chains include The Burrito Express and Filibertos.
If you only try one new food while in Phoenix, let it be a pasty. Cornish Pasty Co. is unexpected and that’s part of what makes it awesome. Founded by a Cornwall native in 2005, these savory hand pies range from traditional flavors like lamb and mint to signatures such as Cajun chicken and peppered steak. The menu also features a large vegan and vegetarian section and ask for various side sauces — they’re all delicious and made in-house. There’s something for everyone here, so whether you bring your hipster cousin or elderly grandmother, they’re going to find the perfect pasty.
Nearly 300 days of sunshine a year warrants large quantities of ice cream consumption. Topo is a tiny walk-up located in Gilbert’s historic downtown. With only two soft serve flavors and three “dips,” its menu is small, but mighty. The prickly pear soft serve dipped in lime will leave your taste buds tingling. Sweet Republic is known for their edgy flavor combinations, so this should be your pick for an alternative, handcrafted scoop.
It’s hard to make a bad taco, but Phoenix excels in above-average offerings. Located in a historic church, Taco Guild has an interesting environment in which to enjoy high-end tacos. They’re pricey, but are built with fancy toppings like coffee-braised beef and chipotle cherry steak. La Santisima Gourmet Taco Shop is at the opposite end of the spectrum with authentic street tacos and a massive salsa bar.
If you’ve never had a churro, you need to remedy that fact, stat! These elongated, angular treats are fried and rolled in cinnamon-sugar. Barrio Queen makes a great thing greater by filling their churros with housemade cajeta caramel and serving them piping hot alongside vanilla bean ice cream and pecans. (Barrio Queen is also the sister-restaurant to Barrio Café, so you can find the same amazing guacamole at this more casual spot.) Dulce Churro Café lets your dessert-loving imagination go wild. Here you can customize freshly fried churros and choose from various glazes, toppings and seasonal fillings.
We’re bending the rules a bit here, but you would be remiss in coming to Phoenix and not seeking out a refreshing, craft cocktail. Treat yourself after a hot day spent poolside with a trendy tipple at Bitter and Twisted Cocktail Parlour. The drinks look as good as they taste, so dial-up your favorite Insta filter. The historic building is tight on space, so be sure to call-ahead, if possible. The Brickyard Downtown in Chandler has a petite patio space and an extensive cocktail menu. The “Library of Libations” includes dozens of inventive offerings.