Some of Arizona's most talented artists don't use brushes or paint. Dishes are their canvases, and menus are their art. Of course, we are talking about chefs, many of whom draw upon global inspiration from their childhoods, cooking careers, and particular ingredients when working on their culinary masterpieces.
Thanks to them, the Valley has evolved from a mecca for national chain and franchise restaurants into a melting pot of diverse flavors and ingredients around every turn.
Certainly, authentic Mexican food tops the list of global cuisines most readily available here, with icons like James Beard-nominated Silvana Salcido Esparza and her Barrio Café as well as The Original Carolina's Mexican Food and Los Reyes de la Torta leading the way. New kids on the butcher block including Rene Andrade and Roberto Centeno, who have created a love letter to food from across the Sonoran Desert with their James Beard-nominated Bacanora, also come to mind.
Outside of desert-inspired dishes, Phoenix is also a celebration of epicurean adventures from around the world. Here are some worth a taste.
Where: 60 W. Vaughn Ave., Gilbert
What: This Asian-inspired kitchen and craft cocktail bar, which now has buzzy locations in both Central Phoenix and Gilbert, has earned acclaim nationwide for its authentic take on flavors, ingredients, and techniques from across Thailand, Korea, China, Vietnam, Japan, and Indochina.
Contact: TheCleverKoi.com 480.306.4237
Where: 7299 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
What: Roka Akor stands out for its robata, a Japanese grill that uses charcoal on a flat, open fireplace. It is also one of only 30 U.S. venues licensed to source meat directly from Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture.
Contact: RokaAkor.com 480.306.8800
Where: 2333 E. Osborn Road, Phoenix
What: Chef-owner Pornsupak “Cat” Bunnag is an icon known across the Southwest for her ability to dream up dishes from Thailand’s northeastern Isan region. She also takes great care to offer several street food dishes inspired by her hometown of Bangkok.
Contact: GlaiBaanAZ.com 602.595.5881
Where: 5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Phoenix
What: Arizona’s only Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond restaurant, Kai shines a light on native ingredients while paying homage to the culinary traditions of the Gila River Indian Community, both the Maricopa and the Pima tribes.
Contact: WildHorsePass.com/Restaurants/Kai 480.225.0100
Where: 4921 E. Ray Road, Phoenix
What: Often mistaken for a national chain, this locally owned restaurant offers fresh Greek, Mediterranean, Lebanese, and Middle Eastern dishes. The menu centers around the principles of the Mediterranean Diet, and there are copious filling plant-based offerings.
Contact: PitaJungle.com 480.785.7482
Café Lalibela Ethiopian Cuisine
Where: 849 W. University Dr., Tempe
What: Recently named among the top black-owned restaurants in Phoenix by the NBA, Café Lalibela has been introducing guests to the spicy stews and vegetable-forward dishes of Ethiopia for two decades. Whole Foods Market and Natural Grocers also carry several signature Lalibela dishes to go.
Contact: CafeLalibela.com 480.829.1939
SFIZIO Modern Italian Kitchen
Where: 21050 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix
What: At this hidden gem, chef-owner Rocco Pezzano – a native of the Calabrian region of Southern Italy – delights in showcasing bountiful ingredients, hearty flavors, and decadent dishes inspired by his favorite childhood memories, sourcing key ingredients directly from Calabria when possible.
Contact: SFIZIOItalian.com 480.687.8107
Where: 9719 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale
What: The Mick pays homage to ingredients and techniques from across the French colonial empire, from Creole and African to Indian and Southeast Asian, as well as France itself.
Contact: TheMickAZ.com 480.210.5500
Alison Bailin Batz
Best-known as @ABSeesItAll online, Bailin Batz is a writer on travel, wine, food, and spirits for media across the Southwest. “AB” truly does want to “see it all,” and then share it all with you.