Tacos in Tucson, sashimi in Scottsdale – the food scene in Arizona refuses to be pigeonholed. Here’s our guide to some of the best restaurants in the state.
Arizona is a vast paradise if you have a thirst for adventure, and more recently it has gained a reputation among those with a more literal thirst: for craft draughts and fine wines. Accompanying the growing number of wineries and breweries in Arizona is a thriving food scene, sculpted by centuries of cultural influence from Mexico, Spain, and, of course, the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. With the already impressive number of James Beard nominations among talented Arizonan chefs growing yearly, it’s no wonder the state is becoming as well known for its eats as it is for its peaks. Here’s our pick of some of the best local-loved spots in the Grand Canyon State.
Sonoita, at the intersection of Routes 82 and 83, in southern Arizona, is one of the state’s oldest wine-growing regions. Here, you’ll find sweeping vineyards, rugged ranches, and paths to towns such as Tombstone, Tubac, and Bisbee. You’ll also find Sonoita institution The Cafe, which was opened by chef Adam Puckle in 2010 and has been serving no-frills New American dishes – non-traditional variations of classic comfort food – ever since. On a scenic stretch of Route 82 overlooking virtually untouched desert landscapes, this small roadside diner is the place for you if you cherish friendly service, beautiful views, and heartwarming dishes. Don’t leave without trying the APE Burger, short for Adam Puckle Experience. It changes regularly depending on what local ingredients are in season, but it is always sensational.
In Old Town Scottsdale, hidden in a swinging speakeasy above the Citizen Public House, Benjamin’s Upstairs serves mouthwatering sharing plates paired with natural wines in a low-lit setting. You’d be forgiven for thinking this all sounds a bit too hipster-y, but don’t worry. Chef Ben Graham has made sure that for all the buzzwords, music, and stylish setting, what really stands out and gets the locals’ tongues a-wagging is the food: cornbread waffles with maple whiskey butter, yellowfin tuna sashimi with curry butter, white anchovies with speck and dill crème fraîche – it’s all outstanding. Particularly notable is Benjamin’s fried chicken with bourbon honey.
The food scene in Phoenix is worthy of its own book. And worthy of an entire chapter in that book is Vecina, a Latin-inspired gem in the heart of the vibrant Arcadia neighborhood. The rotating seasonal menu is all killer and no filler. Think salmon tacos served with an addictive yuzu kosho aïoli, and tlayuda Oaxaqueña topped with manchego and smoked chicken. Taking center stage is the Chula hiramasa ceviche – yellowtail amberjack with grilled pineapple, coconut, Peruvian leche de tigre, and a crispy tortilla. The fried-chicken sandwich provides a strong supporting performance and is quite frankly the best in the Valley.
More than just a pitstop en route to the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff has a bustling food scene that has been quietly expanding, one chic eatery at a time, for years. One such place is Proper Meats + Provisions on iconic Route 66, which opened in 2014. Half butcher’s shop, half restaurant, Proper Meats was created by Paul Moir, whose mission was to make locally reared meat more available to Arizonans. The cheesesteak, roast beef, banh mi, and burgers are all popular options, but the local favorite has to be the warm pastrami sandwich, which comes with grilled onions, Swiss cheese, and Carolina mustard – the pastrami is, of course, cured and smoked in-house.
In the heart of historic Wickenburg, this small sandwich shack is about as Arizonan as it gets. The Local Press has an extensive sandwich selection, with highlights including the Mojo Cubano (roasted pork loin, capicola, white cheddar, pickled onions, mustard seeds, and mojo sauce) and the Muffaletta-ish (soppressata, prosciutto, capicola, chèvre, roasted red pepper, arugula, and artichoke tapenade). If by some miracle you’re still hungry after the sandwich, they also have freshly baked cookies that are sinfully good.
In Cornville, two hours north of Phoenix, wild grapes grow abundantly along a riparian green belt known as the Verde Valley. It is in this valley of grapes that you’ll find Javelina Leap Vineyard, a beautiful, family-owned vineyard and bistro, which features a rustic tasting room and an excellent menu created by chef Michael Collier. Tuck into a signature charcuterie board with homemade tomato jam, or one of the fabulous flatbread pizzas, and enjoy it all on the private patio with a bottle of 2018 Rockslide. For a standout dish, try the Caesar soup – all the classic flavors of a Caesar salad condensed into a soup. Sounds bizarre, tastes amazing.
Tucson is a cultural melting pot, with deep Spanish and Mexican roots. It’s an outstanding place to visit if you want to try Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, and a meal at El Guero Canelo should be mandatory. The cheap and cheerful small chain is famous for its James Beard award-winning hot dogs, but deserves equal praise for its tacos, tortas, and caramelos (Tucson’s take on a quesadilla). Expect a fun, party atmosphere inside, with Mexican music blasting from the speakers and casual diners enjoying the undeniably delicious Sonoran-style hot dogs.
Learn more and start planning your trip to Arizona at RediscoverAZ.com