I've lived in Phoenix for more than 10 years — here are 8 of the best places where you should actually eat
Phoenix's dining scene has something for everyone, from cocktail bars to Mexican and Italian cuisine.
Here are a local's favorite places to eat and drink in town, including the latest local openings.
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One of the biggest misconceptions I've heard from visitors in Phoenix is that they expect the majority of the good restaurants in the city to put some a spin on traditional Mexican or Southwestern fare, thanks to the city's destination in the American Southwest. And while I think we nail both of those categories with flying colors, I know that my home city also features may more cuisines from across the globe.
As a resident, it's been exciting to eat at new openings around town, which run the gamut from award-winning pizza parlors to quirky cocktail bars. Nine Phoenix restaurants and chefs were semifinalists for the 2022 James Beard Awards, and one included on my list of favorites won for Outstanding Restaurateur.
Another thing I love about dining in Phoenix is that our restaurants seem to have mastered the art of ambiance. Al fresco dining is popular year-round thanks to outdoor misters in the summer and outdoor heaters in the winter.
I'm always game to try a new restaurant, but the real test for a favorite for me is if I want to visit the same place over and over again. These eight places pass that test and set the bar with delicious dishes and enchanting spaces, and I think they're must-tries for every visitor.
Palma opened in 2021 and, in my opinion, immediately captured the cool, desert oasis vibe of Phoenix. It's located downtown in the trendy Roosevelt Row arts district, an urban area known among locals like me for its art scene and hip crowds.
The venue is large and spans 21,000 square feet of rotating indoor and outdoor space, according to What Now Phoenix. There are umbrella-covered café tables near a fountain, plush sofas indoors, and lounges with outdoor fire pits. The eclectic menu has a mashup of Korean fare, comfort food, and salads, and sushi, including vegan sushi, which as a vegetarian I found delightful. The cocktail program is creative, too.
On the same property, there's also Châm Pang Lanes, a bowling alley-meets-champagne bar, and Ghost Donkey, a mezcal and tequila bar.
For me, the Palma venue has become the go-to spot in downtown Phoenix for a laidback outing with friends.
If you're after a slice of pie during your time in Phoenix, I'd go to Pizzeria Bianco. This was one of the first restaurants I tried in the valley over a decade ago, and it's remained a favorite.
Located in a rustic brick building in downtown's Heritage Square, it's a bustling lunch spot with outdoor patio tables, but I've found it also has a romantic ambience at night with bistro lights and a cozy interior.
The restaurant serves both classic and signature pies, including one of my favorites, the Biancoverde, which has fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and arugula. There's also a selection of sandwiches, small bites, and fresh salads.
Besides the Biancoverde, I'm a fan of the classic margherita pizza, but in my experience, you can't go wrong with anything you order. I also appreciate that it's budget-friendly — you can get out the door for under $30 a person for a whole pie and drink.
Bacanora is another restaurant that's new to the Phoenix scene. It received a lot of buzz after opening in early 2021, and was nominated for the 2022 James Beard Foundation Awards.
It's a small venue on the west side of downtown on Grand Street, located in a unique triangular-shaped space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Sonoran native chef Roberto Centeno whips up dishes over an open flame, and keeps the menu centered on Mexican comfort eats like pollo asado, tostadas and burritos with carne asada, and rotating daily specials.
I recommend a classic burrito, and think it'd be a bad move to skip ordering a side of the elote, corn on the cob which comes hot and topped with crema, lime, and spices.
For my favorite steak in town, I head to Steak 44 in central Phoenix, an area which locals like me refer to as CenPho. It's a fine-dining steakhouse that's a splurge, but the experience is worth every penny, in my opinion.
I'm always impressed with a night out here. The staff has a stellar attention to detail — linens are crisp white, napkins are folded the second you step away, and I've never had an empty glass. Plus, the food is so delicious, I savor every bite.
My husband and I often choose Steak 44, or its sister restaurant Ocean 44 that focuses on fish, for celebratory meals, like birthdays and anniversaries. It's a great place to go if you want to be treated like royalty. We never regret a single dollar spent here, even when we spend a lot of them.
Bitter & Twisted
Bitter & Twisted is a cocktail parlor in downtown Phoenix that's been open since 2014 and has an inventive, rotating menu. Over the years it's earned awards from the Arizona Restaurant Association, Tales of the Cocktail, and more for its quirky beverage program.
And since first visiting, I learned a fun fact about the bar's history — it's housed in the historic Luhrs building, which was the former home of the Arizona Prohibition Headquarters during the 1920s.
I love flipping through the menu, which is designed to look like a book, to see what's new before placing my order. The selection is always changing, so if you're unsure what to get, I'd ask the bartender for their recommendation based on your preferences.
I find the dining menu just as exciting, as it also changes and sometimes is in partnership with a local restaurant. The small bites and appetizer selection typically stays the same, in my experience, and includes comfort eats like jerk wings, spicy hurricane popcorn, and sweet plantains.
Lux is a hip coffee house and wine and cocktail bar in a large, industrial building in midtown Phoenix. I used to spend a lot of time here when I lived in the area, thanks to its large menu, free Wi-Fi, and long hours.
It's open from 6 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on weekends. In my experience, it's buzzy all day long, with shifting crowds for early morning coffee, brunch, and late-night drinks. The meals are simple American fare like steak and eggs, tomato soup, and grilled cheese, and they also sell house-roasted coffee beans sourced from around the world.
I also appreciate how Lux brings together an eclectic clientele. When I've been, in one corner there's always a group of students working on a project, in another an entrepreneur working away on a laptop, and across the room a meetup of local creatives. It has a welcoming, communal energy that I think every coffee shop should strive for.
Ocotillo is a go-to when I want to take advantage of sunny Phoenix weather and enjoy contemporary American fare in a laidback venue. It's a partially open-air and covered property in midtown Phoenix with the restaurant, a cocktail lounge, beer garden, and lawn with outdoor seating.
It's open for dinner and brunch on Saturday and Sunday, with a large menu of fine cuts of beef, seafood, and house-made pastas. My two favorite dishes are the rock shrimp raviolis and roasted whole sea bass.
This is also one of my preferred restaurants in Phoenix for large group outings thanks to the giant, picnic-style tables outside and general spaciousness. My friends and I have hosted several large-group events here, and the staff is always kind and accommodating, even when there are 20 of us ordering different items.
The Mission Old Town
If I'm looking for a place to eat in Old Town Scottsdale with good character and tasty dishes, I go to The Mission. This restaurant is located next to the historic Old Adobe Mission, built in 1933, and I think it perfectly nails the laidback but sophisticated atmosphere that Phoenix is known for.
The interior is dimly lit by candlelight and a wall of Himalayan salt blocks, and outside there's a cozy beehive fireplace. The pan-Latin menu includes chilaquiles and pozole for brunch, and tacos and Peruvian fried rice for dinner. I'm a huge fan of the fish tacos and margaritas, and every time I visit I order the table-side guac, which is made in front of you so you can customize additions like onion, pepper, and seasonings.
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