Scottsdale has 600-plus restaurants―and more important, both it and neighboring Phoenix now have quality to match the quantity. In fact, as popular as the cities already are with sun seekers and spring-training baseball fans, the food alone is now attracting tourists.
Ask an old-timer in Phoenix or Scottsdale what the food scene used to look like, oh, 10 or 15 years ago, and you'll be painted the bleak picture of a ghost town in a spaghetti Western―minus the spaghetti. But that was before chef Nobu Fukuda ingeniously introduced sushi to tapas at Sea Saw, before the young William Bradley redefined the American steakhouse at Vu, and before the Barrio Café's Silvana Salcido Esparza gave the grateful barrio her own inspired take on Mexican fare.
Read on for the tables where we're most excited to pull up our chairs―and look for the sun icon, sun seekers: Several of these have great outdoor patios.
This little high-energy spot is a riot of color. You won't find burritos, but you won't miss them with such comforting, robust fare to choose from as poblano chiles stuffed with chicken, apples, nuts, and cilantro, or blue-corn enchiladas with crab and Mexican goat cheese. $$$; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun, brunch Sun. 2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix; 602/636-0240.
Sit at the ceviche bar and watch the chefs toss tuna with soy, citrus, and cilantro, or shrimp with roasted tomatoes and avocado. Douglas Rodriguez, the granddaddy of Nuevo Latino cooking, is consulting chef, and the menu takes classics like duck confit and wraps them in preparations like tamales steamed in banana leaves. Don't miss the Argentina-inspired churrasco of beef, a tender fillet served with a tangy chimichurri sauce (here made with basil instead of the usual parsley). The menu encourages multiple tastings with ceviche, soup, and entrée "samplers," so taste away. $$$$; dinner Wed-Sun. Westin Kierland Resort, 6902 E. Greenway Pkwy., Scottsdale; 480/624-1015.
The dining room's stunning views of the mountain-rimmed Gila River Indian Community are matched by the fabulous Native American-inspired cooking from the kitchen. Don't miss the Sioux-raised buffalo tenderloin with cholla cactus buds and saguaro-blossom syrup or the zippy olive oil made from fruit pressed by local tribe members and served up with warm, seeded breads. $$$$; dinner Tue-Sat. Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, 5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler; 602/225-0100.
It's no surprise that Chris Bianco won a 2003 James Beard award for "Best Chef Southwest." Pizza fiends call his the best pies in America, and even when the mercury reaches 110°, folks still line up 40 minutes before opening. Why? Ingredients are impeccable, combinations are fresh but never wacky, and the pies are baked in a wood-fired oven. $$; dinner Tue-Sat. 623 E. Adams St., Phoenix; 602/258-8300.
The same standards that made Pizzeria Bianco such a critical success guide this 2-year-old take-out sandwich shop near Steele Indian School Park. Ingredients like tuna with arugula, lemon, and niçoise olives, or housemade mozzarella with fresh tomatoes and basil, are layered in crusty focaccia rolls (baked in-house, naturally). In the Italian tradition, everything is kept very simple and close to the source. $; lunch Tue-Sat. 4404 N. Central Ave., Phoenix; 602/234-2100.
A former ski patrolman, chef Nobu Fukuda combines inventive Japanese tapas (think whitefish carpaccio with skillet-baked scallion bread) with left-of-center wine pairings. Watch him work his magic from one of the handful of seats at the exhibition bar. $$$; dinner daily. 7133 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale; 480/481-9463.
At 30, chef de cuisine William Bradley has turned the steakhouse concept on its ear. The dining room is desert-sleek, the ingredients carefully chosen, the preparations ambitious. Bradley understands that aroma is the better part of flavor, so tender young greens are served with a lemon verbena-scented vinaigrette, and delicate John Dory fillets are finished with heady twin sauces of curry and sorrel. $$$$; dinner Mon-Sat. Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch, 7500 E. Doubletree Ranch Rd., Scottsdale; 480/444-1234.
Isn't it nice to know that, even on the edge of the Sonoran Desert, you can still get a good steak au poivre and proper pommes frites? Zinc Bistro brings a little Parisian flair to an upscale Scottsdale pedestrian mall. Have a kir at the zinc-topped bar and slather some pâté on crusty bread. $$$; lunch and dinner daily. Kierland Commons, 15034 N. Scottsdale Rd., Ste. 140, Scottsdale; 480/603-0922.
Chef and owner Deborah Knight earns accolades for her ambitious menu at Mosaic―ostrich fillet with green chile pozole (for adventurers) or a more sedate veal chop with lemon-scented spaetzle. $$$$; dinner Tue-Sat. 10600 E. Jomax Rd., Scottsdale; 480/563-9600.
More great eats
At the La Grande Orange Grocery, owners Craig and Kris DeMarco have turned a corner of Arcadia into a foodie mecca. $$; breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 4410 N. 40th St., Phoenix; 602/840-7777.
Brides in the know rush to Tammie Coe Cakes to place their cake orders with Coe, who is a master of multi-tiered confections. Open daily. 610 E. Roosevelt St., Ste. 145, Phoenix; 602/253-0829.
Mary Elaine's is the place for milestones and marriage proposals: a French mix of romance and opulence. $$$$; dinner Tue-Sat. 6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale; 480/423-2530.