DINE LIKE A LOCAL WINNERS | DOWNTOWN, CENTRAL & UPTOWN
Originally published by TEXAZTASTE on March 28, 2022.
I am thrilled to have partnered again with The Scout Guide Phoenix & Scottsdale on the Dine Like a Local Contest. For the last two years, TSG Phoenix/Scottsdale has been polling readers for their favorite local restaurants around town. This year, they split the categories into four areas of the Valley: Downtown/Central/Uptown, Old Town/South Scottsdale, Biltmore/Arcadia/PV, and North Scottsdale. This is the first of four posts covering the contest, which coincides with the launch of TSG Scottsdale & Phoenix Volume 2 on April 5. Subsequent posts will be published on a quarterly basis in July, September, and December.
In each category, the winners are listed first, and one of my choices from the list of restaurants nominated is listed next to the star*. My hope is for you to try some of these spots, and as always, please drop me a line to tell me what you think! If your favorite is not on this list, be sure to nominate and vote in the fall of 2022! In the meantime, eat and drink well locally!
Coffee, Tea & Sweets
First Place Coffee (www.firstplacecoffee.com) First Place Coffee was launched in 2018 by Devon McConville, a former competitive runner—hence the inspiration behind the name—who left her career in finance to dive into the science of roasting and brewing coffee. Housed in a red and black 1970 Chevy P10 former ice cream truck named Mathilda, First Place Coffee has a loyal following who follow the rotating seasonal menu. Favorites you can find year-round include the Honeycomb, a latte made with local honey, cinnamon and vanilla bean, and the Lavender Espresso with oat milk.
Where to find Mathilda? Helton Brewing Company on Indian School Road on Fridays, Phoenix General and the Framed Ewe on Saturday and Sunday mornings and at The Churchill on Mondays.
*The Dinersaur (1339 W. Thomas Road, Phoenix | www.thedinersaur.com and @the.dinersaur) Originally opened as an online bakery in 2016 by Oliva Girard, The Dinersaur now occupies a charming spot in the Encanto neighborhood offering seasonal cakes—like poppyseed with blackberries and thyme whipped cream—and pies (think key lime and banana cream) alongside some customer favorites such as custard popovers and chocolate chip and pecan tea cookies. I started following Olivia on Instagram when she was doing a one-year stint as pastry chef for Chris Bianco and have been fascinated by her creations. For my husband’s birthday, I ordered one of her custom-made carrot cakes and it was a huge hit. Definitely follow her on IG to order her seasonal cookie and pastry boxes which sell like hot cakes! 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday.
Brunch & Lunch
Otro Café (6035 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85014 | www.otrocafe.com) Otro Café is the sister restaurant—get it..otro means “other” in Spanish—to Doug Robson’s first concept, Gallo Blanco Café. Born in Mexico City to French Vietnamese and English parents (plus he attended high school in my hometown of San Antonio), Chef Robson certainly has the credentials for making delicious modern Mexico City cuisine. With daily brunch from 8 am to 4 pm, plus dinner from 4 pm to closing, Otro Café offers tasty dishes like Queso Fundido, Paella Mexicana, Posole Blanco, an array of street tacos, plus plenty of vegetarian options, like the Vegan Breakfast Burrito.
*Welcome Diner (929 E Pierce St, Phoenix, AZ 85006 | www.welcomediner.net) Sloane McFarland opened The Welcome Diner in a 1940s prefab trailer in the Garfield neighborhood in 2004. In moving a few blocks south to Pierce Street, Welcome Diner serves breakfast all day and on weekends is open until midnight. Check out one of their four choices of Chicken + Biscuits, Grilled Cheese made with cheddar, gouda and muenster cheeses, or the Chili Fries, shoestring potatoes topped with veggie chili and pimiento cheese. Plus, don’t miss the house made pies and Spiked Prickly Pear Lemonade.
Dinner & Date Night
Gallo Blanco Café (928 E Pierce St, Phoenix, AZ 85006 | www.galloblanco.com) Having relocated from the Clarendon Hotel to the Garfield neighborhood in Downtown PHX, Gallo Blanco is Doug Robson’s original Mexican concept that, interestingly enough, he conceptualized as a culinary school project. Order some of the Antojitos like two of my personal favorite Mexico City dishes: Chicharron de Queso (Manchego cheese crisp), and the Envueltos (al pastor and melted asadero cheese served with corn tortillas and pineapple). Family-style tacos are a must, as is the Tres Leches Cake.
*Persepshen (4700 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012 | www.persepshenarizona.com) With an intense focus on buying local and processing as much as they can themselves, Persepshen on Central Avenue sources whole animals from local organic pastures and uses only local organic produce for everything on their weekly changing menu. If they don’t make it, they don’t serve it, in the words of Jason Dwight, co-owner with pastry chef Katherine Dwight. If you are in to the most local of all local, then Persepshen is for you! How about this beautiful Arizona citrus salad and Korean fried chicken?
(Overall Winner) Pizzeria Bianco (623 E Adams St, Phoenix, AZ 85004 | www.pizzeriabianco.com) What can be said about Chris Bianco (incidentally a 2022 James Beard finalist for Outstanding Restauranteur) and Pizzeria Bianco that hasn’t already been said? There are two locations, one in Town and Country Mall and the other in Downtown PHX in Heritage Square. The food is stellar, and the wine list is on point with some lovely Italian reds to pair nicely with the pizza. Hubby and I love to order the Antipasto platter and a Farmer’s Market Salad before dipping into our favorite pizza, the Wise Guy, with wood-roasted onions, house-smoked mozzarella, and fennel sausage. Just know that they do not take reservations so prepare to wait for a table.
*Richardson’s (6335 N 16th St, Phoenix, AZ 85016 | www.richardsonsnm.com) Richardson’s was our go-to when I first moved here 30 years ago, and I still love it, even though the original burned to the ground in 2008. Labeled as a New Mexican concept, not all menu items are New Mexican (burgers? Don’t get me started), but take it from me, go for the New Mexican food. I love the Prickly Pear Margaritas, along with (because one must drink margaritas throughout the entire meal here as it will cool down the spice) the New Mexico Enchiladas, a choice of 3 enchiladas—green chili pork, chicken, vegetable, grilled shrimp, beef, cheese, or smoked turkey with rice and beans, red or green chili.
New & Noteworthy:
(tie) Bacanora (1301 NW Grand Ave Unit 1, Phoenix, AZ 85007 | www.bacanoraphx.com) Named for a type of agave spirit from Arizona’s Mexican neighboring state of Sonora, Bacanora has been the center of much ado lately, for its outstanding food and standing as 2022 James Beard finalist for Best New Restaurant: Southwest. Chef Rene Andrade, who honed his skills in Valley kitchens such as The Mission, elements, and Ghost Ranch, was raised in Sonora, and brings his incredible asado skills on an impressive wood-burning grill to the forefront of his cuisine for which Sonora is known. The menu features seasonal specialties, so try a seafood dish, a vegetable dish, and the pollo asado served in a delectable salsa verde, which I understand is one of their year-round staples.
Valentine (4130 N 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85013 | www.valentinephx.com) Valentine and the back bar, 1912—named for the date of AZ statehood of February 14, 1912—is in the Melrose District in a former laundromat. Owners Chad Price and Blaise Faber, who met while working at Chris Bianco’s Tratto, have created something very special with Valentine, what the AZ Republic called a “Love Letter to Arizona”. Deeply committed to highlighting the foodways of the Southwest, superstar Chef Donny Hawks’ menu includes items indigenous to our desert climate, like tepary beans and mesquite flour, plus foraged items, like wolfberries, combined in a way that blends Chef Hawks Korean roots with Southwest cuisine in a deliciously creative way. Just put your faith in the hands of your server, and order items such as the Elote Pasta with Hassayampa asiago and crispy corn, or the Ribeye with green chili pork tepary beans, flour tortillas and huitlacoche butter, and wash it down with the Cotton Cocktail (pictured below), dedicated one of our state’s cash crops, with pistachio milk, Olorosso sherry, lemon, egg whites and topped with a pistachio cotton candy.
*Stoop Kid (901 N 1st St Ste 107, Phoenix, AZ 85004 | www.getstoopkid.com) The website for Stoop Kid in bold letters says, Coffee, Bagels, Burgers, and that is pretty much what it is. From Steve McMillen of Berdena’s, Stoop Kid is a burger and New York-style bagel joint inside The Churchill that opened November of 2020. Coffee is served all day, for breakfast there is a choice of two bagel sandwiches, one with meat and one veggie and a choice of two burgers come online at 11, the Pobrecito and the x. Brooklyn-born Charlie Blonkfeld provides his Valley-famous Bagelfeld’s bagels, and I recommend the Yam and Cheese bagel sandwich, with red pepper romesco schmear, chili-glazed sweet potato, sprouts, tomato, cucumber and avocado on an egg bagel. If you are missing East Coast bagels, then Stoop Kid is for you.
Highball (1514 N 7th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85007 | www.highballphx.com) Mitch Lyons, former beverage director for Barter & Shake Hospitality (of Century Grand fame) oversees the beverage program at Highball, a speak easy-style bar located in the Willo Historic Disrict. Playing on classic cocktails with a modern twist, Highball’s menu rotates throughout the year, but delivers with an inventive bar menu that also includes wine, shots, and bar snacks, like Kimchi Popcorn, Ceviche, and a Turkey Melt. Try one of the Shots, like the Passion Fruit Daquiri for $8, or if with a group, go for the Share-A-Bowl for $85.
*Little Rituals (132 S Central Ave 4th Floor, Phoenix, AZ 85004 | www.littleritualsbar.com) Little Rituals is a cocktail and bar lounge located on the 4th floor of the Residence Inn/Courtyard by Marriott in the heart of downtown. Ross Simon, of Bitter & Twisted, Lylo, and Don Woods Just Say When, partnered with Aaron Defeo, former mixologist for Tucson’s Casino del Sol, to create this hotel bar that is anything but a hotel bar. With exceptional food, coupled with an innovative menu of food and drinks, the menus celebrate the little rituals that go into creating outstanding craft cocktails, including house made infusions and tinctures, house aperitifs and liqueurs. Order the Big City Nights, with Blackberry Botanist Gin, Suze, Dolin Dry Vermouth, herbed cinnamon syrup, lemon, and egg whites with a colorful topping of the Phoenix skyline printed on edible paper.