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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Have Fork, Will Travel

By Shelby Tuttle

While not quite considered a culinary mecca just yet, our great state is home to numerous award-winning restaurants and the chefs who helm them. Earlier this year, a combination of 12 Arizona restaurants and chefs were named as semifinalists for a James Beard Award — the equivalent of an Oscar in the food world. Whether you reside in the farthest reaches or the most populated parts of our state, a culinary journey can sometimes be just the ticket to indulging your itch for adventure. Read on for a delicious teaser of just some of the past and present Arizona James Beard nominees worth making a road trip for.

SCOTTSDALE

Andreoli Italian Grocer

A 2022 Best Chef: Southwest finalist, Giovanni Scorzo opened Andreoli Italian Grocer in 2007 with a handful of recipes that he made growing up as a child in Italy. And for a while, the small, unassuming space located in the corner of a strip mall off Via Linda in North Scottsdale flew under the radar with the masses. A dining room, market, and deli all in one, Andreoli serves up some of the best pastas, salumi, and house-made burrata you’ll find in Arizona. www.andreoli-grocer.com

El Chorro Lodge 

Originally built as a school for girls in 1934 by John C. Lincoln, just three years later it was converted into a restaurant that quickly became a Paradise Valley hotspot visited by celebrities like Clark Gable and Milton Berle. The historic haunt is known for its Southwest take on exquisite preparations of various meats and fish, but may be most famous for its coveted Sticky Buns, served with every entree before the meal. Its historical and cultural significance to Valley residents earned the venue a James Beard America’s Classics award in 2005. This award is presented to locally owned restaurants at least 10 years old that have “timeless appeal and are cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their community.” www.elchorro.com

FnB

Named a semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest five times before taking home the win in 2019, FnB’s Charleen Badman is recognized among Valley culinary circles as “the veggie whisperer” for her unforgettably flavorful and vegetable-forward menu that beautifully highlights Arizona’s growing cycles. Additional nods from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, and the Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame prove this chef and her prowess are not to be missed. www.fnbrestaurant.com

ShinBay

This upscale modern omakase hotspot was named a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2012, followed by semifinalist nods for chef and owner Shinji Kurita for Best Chef: Southwest in 2013, and most recently for Outstanding Restaurant in 2022. The restaurant offers two exclusive seatings each evening for diners to enjoy multiple, exceptionally prepared small courses of seafood, sashimi, and nigiri, along with a sizable selection of Japanese wines, beers, and sakes. www.shin-bay.com

Virtù Honest Craft

Under the leadership of chef Gio Osso, this Mediterranean-inspired gem is nestled away in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale’s Arts District as part of the Bespoke Inn. Opening to major acclaim in 2014, the restaurant was quickly named one of Esquire Magazine’s “Best New Restaurants in America” and Thrillist’s “Top 21 Best New Restaurants in America,” in addition to garnering consideration as a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation the same year. It has since earned praise from Food & Wine and was named to Open Table’s “100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants” and “100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America.” Osso’s signature polpo — grilled octopus with lemon chickpeas, arugula fennel, and Calabrian chile butter — has earned mentions in nearly every review written on the restaurant in the last 10 years and was also featured as Chef Monti Carlo’s favorite small plate dish on the Cooking Channel’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Osso has since expanded further into Old Town Scottsdale with two spinoff concepts, Pizzeria Virtù and most recently, Piccolo Virtù. www.virtuhonestcraft.com

PHOENIX

Bacanora

Dubbed “the most electric Mexican food in Arizona” by Condé Nast Traveler, this small Grand Avenue locale keeps guests coming back with a mix of fire-grilled Sonoran specialties and top-notch artisanal cocktails. A small number of menu staples make up the bones of Bacanora’s menu, with a list of daily specials rounding out a series of substantial selections that invite restaurant-goers to keep coming back for more. Since its opening, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Sunset, and Esquire magazines have all cast a very bright spotlight on this shiny Phoenix gem. In 2022, the restaurant was named as a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, and this year, chefs Rene Andrade, Roberto Centeno, and Derek Christensen were semifinalists in the race for Best Chef: Southwest. www.bacanoraphx.com

Barrio Café 

This small 16th Street eatery in Phoenix is the first concept born from culinary mastermind and chef Silvana Salcido Esparza. Long-regarded as one of the best Mexican restaurants in Arizona and the region, the food served at Barrio Café is modern and elevated. Diners won’t find items like chips and salsa or beans and rice on the menu, nor will they find yellow cheese melted atop any of their dishes. Instead, Esparza opts for a menu of carefully perfected recipes built on layers of complex, robust flavors to create dishes that honor the culinary traditions of the Mexican regions she traveled post-graduation from culinary school. Esparza is a 7-time James Beard Best Chef: Southwest semifinalist and was most recently named a 2023 finalist for Outstanding Chef. www.barriocafe.com

Binkley’s

A list of must-visit Arizona restaurants would not be complete without mentioning chef Kevin Binkley. Since 2008, the renowned chef has been named a semifinalist or finalist for Best Chef: Southwest 11 times. His restaurant namesake, Binkley’s, was a 2022 semifinalist in the category of Outstanding Hospitality. Known for precisely executed tasting menus that change with the availability of the best meats, seafood, and local produce, Binkley’s is an experience every self-proclaimed foodie must experience at least once. With just one seating for 20 lucky guests four nights a week, weekend reservations for this culinary event can be hard to come by. www.binkleysrestaurant.com

Christopher’s

Chef Christopher Gross rose to culinary prominence in 1995 when he garnered his first-ever James Beard Award. His restaurant, then located at the Biltmore Fashion Park, now shares a hilltop location with the Wrigley Mansion — a move that made diners and local culinary circles take notice. Gross took up residence as the executive chef of the mansion while he waited out the four-year construction process (notably due to pandemic delays) of his new eponymous project for which he most recently earned a nod as a 2022 James Beard semifinalist in the Outstanding Chef category. At the new locale, diners can take in a panoramic view of Phoenix through floor-to-ceiling windows while enjoying traditional French classics like foie gras terrine, duck two ways, and classic country pate. Pay a visit to Christopher’s on the weekend to indulge in an elaborate eight-course tasting menu. www.wrigleymansion.com/christophers

Fry Bread House

Tucked into a small parking lot off 7th Ave in Phoenix’s Melrose District, Fry Bread house has been serving up Native American staples since 1992. A family-run business started by Cecelia Miller of the Tohono O’odham Nation, the restaurant’s fry bread is served topped with a bevy of flavorful options like ground beef, beans, cheese, chorizo, and chilies. A delectable dessert version is served with sweet chocolate. In 2012, the James Beard Foundation honored the humble eatery with an America’s Classics award, pointing to the significance of Indigenous recipes and food in our state. When tribes were moved to reservations long ago, a forced reliance on food provided by the federal government meant creating dishes from basic pantry staples. These basics — flour, lard, salt, and baking powder — were turned into the delicious, pillowy fried dough we know as fry bread today. www.frybreadhouse.com

Lom Wong

Within just one year of opening their quaint Thai restaurant on Roosevelt Row, co-chefs and owners Yokata and Alex Martin have received prestigious recognition from the James Beard Foundation as a semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest 2023. The couple met in Thailand and aim to share with visitors to Lom Wong the dishes they perfected with close friends and family. The menu’s Arai Kodai option takes diners on a customized culinary adventure through the various — and delicious — cuisines of Thailand. www.lomwongaz.com

Pizzeria Bianco

Superstar chef Chris Bianco received his first James Beard win as Best Chef: Southwest at the helm of Pizzeria Bianco in 2003. In addition to being lauded by the fine folks at the Beard Foundation, his pizza has earned praise from the likes of Oprah, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and more. His culinary pursuits have included the production of his own line of highly sought-after canned tomatoes, while the expansion of his restaurant empire — to include three Pizzeria Bianco locations (two in Phoenix and one in Los Angeles) and DTPHX restaurants Tratto and Pane Bianco — earned him the James Beard win for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2022. www.pizzeriabianco.com

Vincent On Camelback

In 1993, Chef Vincent Guerithault won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest, which was preceded by being recognized as a finalist in the same category in 1992. He was a semifinalist for Outstanding Chef in 2008 and 2009, and his namesake Southwest-influenced French restaurant was a semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurant from 2010-2013. It also received a nomination for Outstanding Service in 2000. A Valley favorite since 1986, Vincent on Camelback’s notoriety for exceptional cuisine and attentive service make this a must-visit for Arizona residents and tourists alike. www.vincentsoncamelback.com

The Larder + The Delta

A significant force in bringing Southern food to the forefront of the Valley’s culinary scene, The Larder + The Delta has been serving up delicious dishes since its first inception as The Yardbird + The Larder inside DeSoto Central Market. In his current home located at the base of Portland On The Park, chef Stephen Jones turns out dishes that dispel the notion that Southern food must be heavy, fried, or greasy. Inside these walls, Jones focuses on the use of local agriculture and produce to inform the menu items for the week. His unofficial motto, “vegetables are sexy,” is ever-present in his signature cauliflower dish. Crispy, airy, and lightly tossed with smoked blue cheese, pickled celery, and Cutino’s hot sauce, it’s sexy, indeed. Jones’s cooking has garnered attention from the likes of Travel + Leisure, which named his restaurant the “Best Farm to Table Restaurant in Arizona” in 2016, in addition to the coveted James Beard Foundation who named him a semifinalist in 2020 for Best Chef: Southwest and Outstanding Chef in 2022. www.thelarderandthedelta.com

TUCSON

El Guero Canelo

El Guero Canelo specializes in a unique Mexican specialty: Sonoran hotdogs. With three locations in Tucson and one in West Phoenix, chef and owner Daniel Contreras has been treating Tusconians to his bacon-wrapped dogs since 1993. Contreras owns the bakery that his traditional bolillo rolls come from to ensure quality control down to the last detail. His recipe for the perfect Sonoran dog is topped with mayo, mustard, onions, beans, and a jalapeño sauce not for the faint of heart. In 2018, El Guelo Canelo was recognized by the James Beard Foundation with an America’s Classics award. www.elguerocanelo.com

BOCA Tacos y Tequila

A competitor on Top Chef Season 18, chef Maria Mazon of Boca Tacos y Tequila is no stranger to the limelight. She is a two-time James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest and her food has been featured on the Travel Channel, Food Network, and Cooking Channel. The menu at BOCA is straightforward, consisting of — you guessed it — tacos! (A small handful of entrees and appetizers round out the menu). Mazon regularly rotates in a new selection of truly inventive and unique salsas to delight and tease the palate. Past flavors have included mint and peanut butter, pickled jalapeño and honey, and fresh garlic and chai tea. www.bocatacos.com

Barrio Bread

 

This Broadway Village hole-in-the-wall may reside in an inconspicuous location, but its popularity has made it a stand out among bakeries across the U.S. Owner and baker Don Guerra has been the recipient of much media attention, including a powerful 2021 feature in The New York Times highlighting the use of ancient grains and the importance of the locavore movement within his industry. His baking prowess earned him semifinalist nods for the Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker award in 2010 and 2020, while he most recently took home the win in the same category in 2022. Depending on the day of the week, Guerra and his staff produce between 11 and 20 varieties of bread daily. Get there early to ensure your favorite doesn’t sell out. www.barriobread.com 

Tito and Pep

Midtown’s Tito & Pep is the real-life dream of chef and owner John Martinez, highlighting ingredients native to his hometown. Serving up mesquite-fired cuisine in a neighborhood bistro setting, Martinez opened in late 2018 and quickly caught the attention of the James Beard Foundation. His great culinary skill and attention to detail earned Martinez a semifinalist spot for Best Chef: Southwest in 2022. www.titoandpep.com

Tumerico

Serving up Latin-inspired vegetarian and vegan dishes in the Sam Hughes neighborhood of Tucson, chef Wendy Garcia prides herself on using locally sourced, organic, fresh ingredients to craft her food. Originally started in 2013 as a table at the farmers market, she reached an audience hungry for Latin flavors but who didn’t need — or want — the meat. Garcia worked to modify her family’s generations-old recipes to satisfy this segment of the market and eventually opened her own brick and mortar shop where her signature butternut squash tamales are always on the menu. Garcia was recently listed as a 2023 semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest by the James Beard Foundation. www.tumerico.com

SEDONA

Elote Café

Chef Jeff Smedstad has been a fixture on the Sedona culinary scene for over 15 years and has earned a reputation for high quality, creative Mexican cuisine. Through his travels to Mexico and time spent studying in Oaxaca, Smedstad discovered his love for the culture and flavors of the region. In 2007, he poured this love into the opening of Elote Café, which has earned national praise from Fodor’s, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Gayot, and more. His dedication to his craft earned him a 2017 semifinalist spot for Best Chef: Southwest and a second nomination in 2020. www.elotecafe.com

The Table at Junipine

From the imaginative minds of chefs Brett Vibber and Jaren Bates comes The Table at Junipine. This unassuming space at the Junipine Resort on the banks of Oak Creek treats diners to an exclusive menu that highlights the very best of not only Arizona, but Sedona ingredients. Chefs Vibber and Bates regularly forage the surrounding woods to create the restaurant’s ever-changing menu and combine those ingredients with produce grown on property, as well as ethically sourced meats and seafood. Their creativity is on full display with every dish and menu, earning the chefs a 2023 semifinalist spot for Best Chef: Southwest. www.junipine.com

FLAGSTAFF

Atria 

Opened in December 2021, Atria’s reputation for farm-fresh, thoughtful, modern American fare quickly caught fire. The restaurant’s executive chef, Rochelle Daniel, was named a semifinalist in the category of Emerging Chef for the 2022 James Beard Awards. Daniel is a culinary whiz who has competed on Food Network’s “Chopped Grill Masters,” and whose culinary talents earned her the title of “Best Sous Chef” from The Arizona Republic earlier in her career. At Atria, Daniel’s focus is to create a menu rooted in local ingredients whenever possible. www.atriarestaurant.com

Proper Meats + Provisions 

This all-in-one butcher shop and deli prides itself on being the first local, whole-animal butcher shop in Arizona. Each of the meats offered here are humanely and sustainably raised, and the shop partners with other local and regional producers to procure various types of produce, cheeses, and breads to create the mouth-watering menu of sandwiches and other items offered on its extensive menu. Last summer, The Arizona Republic raved that the best pastrami in Arizona can only be found at Proper Meats + Provisions, and just a few months later, the restaurant received a notable nomination and semifinalist spot on the 2023 James Beard list for Outstanding Restaurant. www.propermeats.com

Shift Kitchen & Bar

A former executive sous chef for the prestigious Amangiri Resort in Utah, chef Christian Lowe leads the kitchen at Shift Kitchen & Bar on Flagstaff’s familiar San Francisco Street. From an open kitchen inside the modest and cheerful space, Lowe crafts family-style plates to make the dining experience a shared one, relying on local ingredients to create elevated yet unpretentious food. The James Beard Foundation nominated Lowe this year for Emerging Chef, for which she was made a semifinalist in the competition. www.shiftflg.com 

WHITERIVER

Café Gozhóó

Celebrating Western Apache cuisine, Café Gozhóó lies just off State Route 73 in Eastern Arizona at the site of a former gas station. Since late 2021, this small diner has served Native American specialities such as nada’ban, squash stew, red chili, and acorn stew. And while the preservation of these historic recipes and traditions is paramount to the Indigenous community and beyond, equally important is the restaurant’s community-based vocational training program. Café Gozhóó partners with the Rainbow Treatment Center’s Working 2 Wellness program to create jobs, promote professional development, and equip individuals in recovery with job skills while helping to revitalize the Western Apache food system. This year, executive chef Nephi Craig was named as a semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef: Southwest award. www.cafegozhoo.com.

Keep up with the best places to go in Arizona in our Travel and Savor sections!

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